The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Winter - Spring 1984
Flakes of snow were in the air as Ken pulled his car to a stop in front of Judy's house, where she was waiting for him. She threw her backpack full of textbooks into the back seat, got into the front, and scooted over to sit next to Ken, who put his arm around her. "Well, Crip," he said. "This is the last trip for this old wreck."
"You're getting rid of your car?"
"Yeah, it's getting to be winter, and this thing is getting to be too old to trust, especially with all the miles we're putting on it."
She frowned. "This came on kind of quick."
"Oh, I've been thinking about it for a while," he said. "Then Bob called me last night. We talked about our canoe trip next summer for a bit, and then he told me that one of the guys down at the feed mill is willing to trade me out of this heap for a newer Pontiac Sunbird, plus cash. Bob says it runs good, so we're making the deal tonight."
Judy realized she hadn't seen Bob Watson for weeks -- or Lori, for that matter. "How's he getting along with Lori away at Western?" she asked.
"Not well," Ken commented. "He keeps worrying that she'll find someone else up there."
"As tight as they were before school started, you'd think there wouldn't be much for him to worry about," Judy said. "Oh, well, only two more weeks till semester break, and then they'll be together for a while. I suppose Western breaks about the same time we do. I'd like to see her again."
"How does she like it up there?"
"Oh, pretty well. She's written me a couple of times, and she says she likes it. You know, I wish we could move up our plans to go there by a year."
"Why's that, Crip?"
"The big thing is, the more I study the physical therapy program, the more I realize that I can't finish it up at Western in two years on top of what I can get at Hinckley," she said thoughtfully. "I mean, it's possible in principle, but I have to take full class loads and still a minimum of one summer semester. There's only so much I can get from Hinckley, if I want to press on with physical therapy."
Ken thought for a moment. "Well, as far as the class work goes, I don't suppose it makes any difference to me. I wasn't sure I could handle college level courses. We haven't gotten our grades yet, but I'm pretty sure that won't be a problem. What's your other reason?"
Judy shook her head. "I'm just getting awful tired of mother. I mean, every day, I get a lecture about how college is too hard on me, or I get bawled out because I don't want to go out with Tommy Fetzer again, and she just won't get off the subject. Even if we go to Western next fall, I don't know how I'll hold out until then."
"Think of the static you'll get if you tell her you're going to Western," Ken said unhappily.
"I know. I can hear it now." Judy launched off into a good imitation of her mother's voice: "But Judith, dear, there will be just so many problems with living by yourself that you won't be able to handle, I just don't see how you can manage. I think you'd just better give up that idea and stay home where I can take care of you."
"Sure makes you want to introduce Sylvia to her, doesn't it?" Ken laughed.
"Not really," Judy said. "She wouldn't be willing to learn from what's in front of her eyes." Judy stared out the windshield for a moment, lost in thought, before she went on. "Here's an idea," she said. "Maybe the thing to do is to talk with Lori over Christmas."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"Mother knows that Lori used to help me out a lot. Maybe, if we could get set up to be roommates up there, and she knows that you'd be around to help out, if needed, it might not bother her so much."
"It might work," Ken conceded. "But, you know what you ought to do is leave my part out of it. I think your mother kind of resents me for taking you away from her."
"She does," Judy nodded. "She won't admit it, but she does. I just didn't want to put it that way."
"Not surprising," Ken said, then changed back to the main subject. "Talk to Lori about it and see what she thinks. It's not like we have to make a decision about it today."
"There's no way we could," she said with a frown. "There's the other problem. The money."
"Yeah," Ken agreed. "There's a reason to go to Hinckley for another year: it costs so much less. I can stretch my savings farther at Hinckley. Considering the farm and Dad's health, I can't ask my folks for another cent."
"Me either," Judy told him. "I know Daddy is stretching to give me what he does."
"We can save a little money working this spring and summer," Ken said, "And we need to look more seriously at scholarships and loans."
"True," Judy agreed.
"I'd hoped to avoid going into debt," Ken went on, "But I guess I'll have to look into it."
"Oh, well," Judy sighed. "We've got eight months to solve that problem."
Judy was hoping for a while Christmas, but a couple days beforehand the ground was still bare and the weather reports were not promising. Without telling her mother, she and Ken spent the day driving up to Athens to check on the idea of going to school there the following fall. It was long after dark in the early winter evening when Ken dropped her off and went home.
"Judith, did you have a good time at Ken's?" her mother wanted to know.
"We ate in town," Judy said, not mentioning what town it had been.
"You got some mail from the college," her father told her. "I think it's your grades."
Judy stopped. All of a sudden, a curtain of worry came over her. She felt that her grades must have been good enough to make the "C" average that her father had said she had to maintain to stay in school -- but now, at the moment of truth, she was afraid to find out. "Open it for me, will you Daddy?" she said. "I'm scared to look."
Norman took off his glasses and used one bow to open the envelope, then put his glasses back on to read the flimsy slip of paper. "Well, Judith, you didn't get a 'C' average," he said flatly.
"I'm sorry, dear," Irene said, "But I warned you that might happen."
"You did get a 'B plus' in Freshman Biology," Norman said. "But the rest of your grades are all 'A's."
Judy had never thought she would have seen her mother at a loss for words. It was beautiful.
Judy's hopes of a white Christmas were disappointed, but it was the only thing she found disappointing about the day.
She was still in her pajamas and robe when she came out of her room Christmas morning, to find several large boxes under the Christmas tree that hadn't been there the night before. Opening Christmas presents was special for her, like so many other people, but in years past, her presents had run to books or sensible clothes. She had no idea what could be in such large boxes.
"Open that biggest one first," her father told her. "But be careful. It's not packed too well."
Judy carefully took the wrapping off, opened the box, and dug through a huge pile of wadded up newspaper. As papers littered the floor, she found herself not believing what she found. "Daddy!" she cried finally, "How could you afford an Apple?"
"They upgraded the computer system at the office," Norman said. "And there's no market for used machines, so I got a deal on this one. This is the one that used to sit on Marjorie's desk at the office."
"Oh, Daddy," Judy said, throwing her arms around him. "You're wonderful!"
"Norman, I didn't know you were going to do that," Judy's mother said, a little uncertainly.
Norman smiled. "I knew she wanted one, and this came up at just the right time. She ought to be able to use it in her studies. I know Marjorie likes to use it as a word processor."
"Sure, Daddy," Judy bubbled with excitement. "I can use it to write papers and like that. Oh, thank you!"
The scattered wrapping had been picked up and everyone had gotten dressed when Ken appeared at the Niven door, carrying a large package. "Merry Christmas," he said.
"Ken, you didn't have to do this," Judy replied. "I didn't know you were getting me something."
"Well, it's supposed to be a surprise."
"Don't just stand there, open it," Norman said. He knew what was in the package; Ken had asked his advice about it a couple months before.
The box was heavy. Ken carried it into the living room for Judy, who got down on the floor to take the wrapping off. "What's this?" she said when she got the package open. "It looks like a collection of motorcycle parts."
"Close, but no cigar," Ken replied. "Guess again."
Judy looked at the box again. There was a motorcycle-style handgrip, but nothing else she could describe. "I'm stumped," she said.
Irene looked over Judy's shoulder and frowned. She had no idea, either, of what this present could be, but surely it couldn't be good.
"I'll give you a hint," Ken said. "The real reason I got rid of the Chevy was that it had a stick shift."
Judy frowned. What did that have to do with anything?
All of a sudden, comprehension flooded over her. "Ken, you wonderful guy, you," she said, throwing her arms around him.
What Ken had given her was a kit to convert a car to hand controls.
"That ought to do it," Norman said. "See what happens when you gun it now."
Ken twisted the handgrip. He and Judy's father had spent the morning in the Sorensen farm shop putting the hand controller on Ken's Sunbird. "Seems to work all right," he said a moment later, and shut the engine off.
Norman began to wipe his hands on a grease rag. "Just one thing," he warned. "I know Judy's been driving tractor a lot, but this is going to be completely different, so she'll be slow learning it."
"I know it's going to be different," Ken replied. "I'm even going to have to learn how to drive with it. At least there's nothing big to hit out in the pasture. We'll practice out there for a while, and then go get her a learner's permit."
Norman nodded. "Do me a favor, will you?"
"Don't let her mother see her driving this. She'll have a fit."
Ken nodded. "She had a big enough one as it was."
"I think I've got her believing that Judy won't use this much," Norman continued, "So let's just let her think that."
"I'm sorry I touched off such a scene," Ken said, "But it seemed like the right thing to do."
"Oh, I've gotten used to it," Norman admitted, continuing to wipe his hands. "This has happened every so often since Judy has been going with you, and Judy and I have learned how to handle it. I've got so much to thank you for, I'm willing to put up with my wife."
"I don't get it," Ken said.
Norman put down the grease rag. "You remember what Judy was like a year ago?"
Ken nodded, and Judy's father continued. "I was beginning to worry if she'd ever become her own person, instead of just her mother's doll, and there was nothing I could do that could change things. Then you came along. All I can say is, don't stop now."
Ken and Judy only had a couple days to practice driving in the pasture before a real snowstorm came on New Year's Eve. The next day, Ken didn't want to risk his own limited skill with the hand controller on the slippery roads, so he borrowed Tom's pickup and drove into town to see Judy. "Come on," he told her. "I've been waiting for some snow. I've got something special to do."
Judy was a little surprised to see Ken turn into the driveway of Tom's house, right across the road from his parent's home. Out in the barn, Ken went into a stall and led out Candybar, who was equipped with a horse collar, and a full set of harness complete with bells.
Ken led the horse into a side part of the barn, and Judy followed. A broad smile crossed her face when she saw Ken hitching the old horse to an old-fashioned sleigh.
"I had it all planned," Ken admitted. "I was going to borrow Roger Griswold's horse trailer, take her into town with the sleigh in the pickup, and drive her up to the door to deliver the hand controller. But, the weather didn't cooperate."
"Where did you get this?" Judy asked.
"I didn't," Ken said. "It's been in the family for at least a hundred years. At least, my grandfather used to say his grandfather remembered it as a boy. That puts it back a long way."