The next morning, I went to HamCo with Daddy and Robbie, to find parts for his broken Nack.
As much as Robbie liked such things, he didn't hold a candle to my dad. Daddy must be the biggest nerd in the world. And he loved HamCo.
HamCo's been around for a while; Daddy says he doesn't remember them not being around, and his daddy said they were around in the 20's.
It's not exactly an upscale affair, like a Radio Shack or a Dillard's. It's more like a five and dime, but for consumer electronics.
No two stores are alike, except that they tend to be big, with a showroom in the front, and a crowded warehouse that customers could peruse at their leisure. This one had a glass facade, with cardboard signs posted on the inside. There was a banner over the door, but it was vinyl, not anything flashy.
The bell above the door tinkled when we entered and a middle aged man in bright lemon pants and a yellow cotton shirt under a sweater vest the color of mustard came in from the warehouse. He was white-haired and olive-skinned, but didn't look Latino. He was stocky, and thick about the middle, so that he actually looked like a lemon in all that yellow.
"Welcome," he said vaguely in an accent I couldn't identify." I will be with you shortly.
Robbie darted past me and immediately went for the display counter, where new products and accessories were kept.
Daddy took a deep breath and smiled at me. He had a twinkle in his eye that I rarely saw, save when he looked at Mother. They fought sometimes but they were both devoted to raising us kids and being good to each other.
He was in his element.
"Look Dad," Robbie squealed, looking at something in the glass case, "they have new ones. You could by me one."
"I don't think so, sport." Daddy tussled Robbie's hair and bent down to look.
The proprietor approached them hopefully. He saw my brother as a lever that he could pull to extract money from Daddy's wallet.
"Is there something you'd like to see?"
Daddy shook his head, but Robbie was practically jumping up and down.
"Dad, dad, that's a Nack-757..."
The man behind the counter went to retrieve it.
"No, no. I think you can fix yours just fine."
"No more of this, young man, or we'll leave right now. You already got me in hot water with you mom. I saw how you snickered at her."
He gave Daddy a mean-looking frown.
"Stop...now I mean it. If you're going to live to the ripe old age of eleven you're going to have to learn to live with women, I mean authority...I mean women in charge.
"Son, there are three secrets to living with a woman: one is that there is a time to let her win, regardless of who's right.
"The second is that the time for that is right now."
"What's the third?"
"Always lift the seat."
Robbie gave him a funny look but turned to see that the salesman had taken out the new Nack and had set in on the counter.
"Can I see it Daddy?"
"I suppose, but don't break it. What series is yours, now?"
"It's a Nack-313, way old. I could do so much more with this."
"Dad, it's better than mine."
"Why, because of the number?"
"No, because it's a higher number."
Daddy shook his head. "That doesn't make sense."
Robbie sat down on the floor, back against the glass case and turned the device on. He was grinning like it was Christmas.
"Dani," Daddy said, beckoning me over. "I want to show you something."
I went over and stood by him. He was looking into the high-dollar case, the one right beside the register.
It was made up like a display, with red, white, and blue bunting and confetti of every color. On the left, a new Nack, called an N-976 sat in front of a sign that said "Get the Nack. $750." On the right was an entirely different contraption, and its sign said "Get a Grip. $450."
I'd heard of the Grip; it was a competitor to the Nack, a little newer and supposedly easier to use. It was grey and shiny, unlike the matte black plastic of the Nack. It was about a foot square with one corner clipped off. There was a handle set into the short side, a grip with trigger buttons.
It also had a keyboard like a typewriter, not a calculator, and a shiny grey-green screen that didn't look like Robbie's Nack but did look very much like the screen on its competitor and neighbor, the N-976.
"Have you seen one of these?"
"No," I admitted. "What does it do?"
"Pretty much anything. But I bet you could use one in school."
"Homework. It has a typewriter function, so you can type on it and save it on tape. You can use it to record lectures, play music, and take dictation. You probably won't get much use out of the calculator or bread board...that's the little white pad over the screen."
"What is it for?"
"Electronics projects mostly, but you can hook a microprocessor to it. You can even..."
"Daddy, what would I do with it? This would be great for Robbie."
"He needs to learn the value of money. I'll fix his Nack, but he'll probably be getting a newer one for Christmas."
"Then why not buy him this one? It's a lot cheaper than the other."
"I guess you're right. Are you sure you don't need something like this?"
"Daddy," I scolded him, "if you want it for yourself, why don't you buy it? You know I won't use it much, if at all. If Robbie gets his paws on it, you'll never see it again. Admit it, you want one."
He grinned like a boy and shook his head. "Why is it you Yerdley women are always so sharp? I could never fool your mother either."
"Men and boys are just alike. You have to let them have their toys, or they'll never be happy."
"Did your mother tell you that?"
"No, Gina did?"
"Yes, you should be watching her, not me."
"Maybe you're right."
"Of course I am. You could buy it now, play with it for a few months, and give it to Robbie for Christmas. Then you could use his Nack."
"Thanks a lot. Why do you want to give away my Grip?"
"Now it's your Grip? You're incorrigible Daddy."
"I know. But I think I'll buy one back home. That way it'll be a surprise for the boy."
He took a sales brochure and turned to Robbie.
"Come on, son...let's go look for some parts." They headed back to the stock room, Daddy in tow.
"Oh, and Daddy, one more thing."
He turned back to me.
"What is it pumpkin?"
"I'm not a woman."
We left Dallas by noon and picked up a late lunch on the road. Our trip had been fun, mostly, and my family knew more about me than they ever had. I was reading the Rarin Report and a picture was emerging in my head of a hopeful wonder-drug dashed by the reality of slow-acting side-effects.
Just outside of Denison, Daddy pulled the side of the road and stopped the car.
"What's the matter dear," Mother asked him, looking into the side-view mirror and then over her shoulder. "Did we get pulled over?"
"Then what's wrong. Is there car trouble?"
"No. I want to do something for Dani. Sugar, would you like to drive?"
"Me?" He'd let me drive before, but only in town and on back roads. He said I had to learn somewhere and there weren't any hayfields in St. Louis.
"Sure. You'd have your license already if those pinheads in MoDOT would pull their heads out."
"Mitchell," Mother admonished him, but he didn't back down.
"They are wrong, dear, and that's all there is to it. If a man wants to teach his daughter...excuse me, Dani...if a man wants to teach his teenager to drive on an empty highway, then who's to say it's wrong?"
"Off hand, I'd say the Texas Department of Transportation?"
"Piffle, and other comments. Do you want to drive, Dani, or not?"
"Yes," I cried, getting out of the car and reaching for the keys.
"Are you sure it's a good idea, dear?"
"Of course it's a good idea...I thought of it."
"You are not clever, mister. Now answer that question again."
"It is a good idea. Dani needs practice, and I could use a break. You've already taken your turn at the wheel, and I thought some driving time would be just the thing to show her that we trust her."
"I suppose," she said, "but you sit up here with her. I'm taking the back seat."
"Okay." We all swapped seats and he gave me the keys.
I had a little trouble with the clutch, but we eventually got a smooth ride. And I had trouble seeing over the wheel, but found I could see the important part of the road between it and the dash.
Of course, I did have to adjust all the mirrors.
We crossed the Rio Grand and into Oklahoma and I felt exhilarated. I loved the feeling of freedom this afforded and wished again I had my license. It wasn't fair.
We made pretty good time through the Chickisaw Nation and before I knew it we were passing through Caddo.
"Slow down when passing through towns, sweetheart," Daddy advised me. "There are more likely to be cops around."
"Yes, sir," I replied dutifully and let off the accelerator. We puttered through the town, passing a lot of old japolies but few late model cars. I saw a gold-colored Choctaw Police car. It's only markings were a tribal symbol on the door and a bubble-gum-machine type light on top. I watched it like a tuna watches a shark until it was gone, then I sped up.
Twenty minutes later we passed through Atoka and Mother told me find a gas station.
"Let's get through town first, dear, then we'll get fuel and change over if you like."
I wound my way carefully through the town, cautious of the police but generally proud of myself. This was the longest I'd ever driven, and I felt like I could drive all the way home.
Outside Atoka, I sped up again.
Ten minutes later I was flying up US-69 with the window rolled down and the Beatles on the radio. I felt like a million bucks.
I saw a sign that said 'State 43 merges right' and all of the sudden there were three cars trying to get in my lane.
I swerved left and accelerated around a green Pinto.
There was not very much traffic besides these three cars, only a pickup in the distance, the Pinto I'd just passed, and a gold sedan, across the divided highway going the other way.
"Dear," Daddy called, but I though he was talking to Mother.
The gold car slowed and did a u-turn across the median. That's illegal, I thought. You're gonna get busted.
A couple of minutes later we rounded a curve and there was a Mack truck hugging the inner lane; I didn't slow down a bit, driven on by the wind and cool air and the drone of the radio.
I noticed something odd about the light. It was no later than four o'clock, but already the sun was low in the sky, flickering red on the windshield. I turned to look at Daddy, who was trying to say something and saw he was gibbering in panic. I'd never seen him so pale.
Mother, too, had become loud and hysterical, which she never was; she saying something to me but I couldn't make it out in the din.
Then it occurred to me that there were red and blue lights alternately flashing from behind.
I looked at my rearview mirror and saw a gold car on my tail, in hot pursuit with his siren blaring to beat the band.