Thursday, May 31, 2018

Tic Douloureux

One day in May 1954, my father staggered under a sharp, stabbing, incapacitating throb on the right side of his face. He felt as though someone had smacked him with a hot poker.

The local doctor sent Dad to Mayo Clinic. "Tic douloureux is one of the most unbearable nerve disorders known to humans," the Mayo doctor said, "certainly more painful than a migraine headache, even more painful than childbirth." He set a date for surgery.

Dad returned to his top-floor hotel room in Rochester, Minnesota, to wait. He walked to the window. As he stared down at the street, he thought about jumping.

It wasn't just his tic douloureux. It was the Teamsters. 

True, Jimmy had not bothered him for several years, but Dad watched the little guy creep closer and closer to Nebraska. Along with Jimmy moved his gangsters. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018


Jimmy flew into Nebraska from New York when his Teamster contract with Dad's truckline lapsed on June 1, 1950.

And wouldn't you know it,  Jimmy wanted Dad to sign that same old Central States contract, the one with that terrible featherbedding clause they'd fought about in 1947 until "The Little Guy" had dropped that clause.

Dad protested.

"Sign or strike," Jimmy said.

Dad, still unhappy with his 1947 contract that transformed his twenty-five drivers into Teamsters, decided to resist. 

He collected from his drivers all those union cards that Hoffa's contract had forced Dad to distribute. He returned them to the Teamsters.

Then my father hunkered down for a fight.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Big Cheese

The wind whipped Teamster Jimmy Hoffa's dark brush cut. He caught his breath as he stepped out of the airliner, hat in hand, that May 1947. Back in bush-league Nebraska after nine fuckin' years. He saw an empty paper cup streak by as he strode across the tarmac. 

Think of that, a damned greenhorn then. But no longer. Now a Big Cheese. Got every Detroit Teamster riding in my blasted hip pocket. Plus most of Michigan state's damned locals, for cripes' sake. He jutted his chin out. And now it's me negotiatin' a single contract for fuckin' 125,000 drivers in twelve Midwestern states. 

Includin', these bumble-fuck Nebraska truckers. 

Except for this Coffey's Transfer Company. Coffey just don't get it. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

“Faster, Faster!”

I was still fifteen that May 1953 when the Harlan County Dam halted the Republican River and created a huge lake almost seven miles long.

Dad and I had looked forward to this day. Together we'd built a big wooden boat from a kit. I started hundreds of screws, and he finished them.

At last we launched the big boat. Out across the huge Harlan County Reservoir we spun! 

I took my turn with my sisters riding on the flat surfboard Dad towed behind the boat. 

How I loved the speed and the spray!

"Faster, faster," I screamed, and Dad would rev his big engine up, watch me fly across the glimmering water. 

Then he cut the engine and grinned as my surfboard slowly submerged, and I fought immersion.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Out of Step

On June 10, 1952, the US Army Corps of Engineers dedicated its $45-million Harlan County, Nebraska, dam and reservoir. 

The all-day celebration drew ten thousand people from the Republican River valley. 

A huge parade in Alma, Nebraska, my home town, kicked off the celebration. A color guard led eleven bands, twenty-eight floats, a drum and bugle corps, ten saddle clubs, a fire department truck, and a line of massive construction trucks used to build the dam. 

My sister, Margaret, led the Alma High School band. I marched with it and carried a heavy glockenspiel, its bulky keyboard shaped like a lyre. When I hit its steel keys with a mallet, a bright bell-like tone sliced through the air. 

As we neared the end of the hour-long march, I spotted Dad standing in the crowd. Afterward, I scampered to him. "How'd I do?"

"Oh, you were terrific!" A smile played across his face. "Everyone was out of step but you."