It’s Saturday August 2nd, 1980, I turned 20 last March, and I’m living in a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis by myself. I’m on holiday until September 2nd, because the 1st is Labor Day.
My job’s not too bad for a high school grad; worked my way up from stockman to Assistant Manager in two years. I have a $1000 ready reserve, and I just bought a ’76 Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan with only 20 thousand on the meter. While beige isn’t exactly my favorite color, it was a great deal at 880 bucks, and I couldn’t pass it up.
My younger brother Ben had the idea to come and live with me, so I asked and got permission to have legal custody over him until he’s 18, only for another 6 months.
I leave at 7am for a 5-hour cruise to Milwaukee and pick him up at his guardians’ house. His few possessions don’t even fill the trunk. I’m remembering when I left home 3 years ago, and he even has less to his name than I had.
After a quick lunch in an A&W we hit the road for the Mini Apple. Ben digs through my 8-track tapes and puts one on. He’s all smiles, finally free!
“So, brother Ben, we have some serious business to discuss.” I put on a grave look, but I’m completely transparent (never could lie and get away with it) so he laughs. “We have to decide what we’re gonna do for the next month. That’s serious enough ain’t it? Any ideas?”
“Not really, and you?”
“I miss our old home. I’d kinda’ like to visit the Going-to-the-Sun Road for old time’s sake. You remember how Dad used to take us up in the mountains?”
“Don’t remember much. I was only 5 when we left. I’m in for it!”
“There are maps in the glove box, we can plan the trip right now, maybe leave Monday morning? We’ll get ready tomorrow, and you can settle into your room.”
Ben opens the glove compartment and pulls a worn-out black leather right-hand men’s glove that was on top of the maps. It looks like it’s been through a war. “Hey, what’s this?”
“I didn’t even see it. The maps were already there when I bought the car. There’s only one?”
Ben rummages around a bit, pulling out all the maps. “Looks like it. Just one.” He looks through the roadmaps and finds one of the USA. He puts the others on top of the glove in the compartment. “We can take the I94 through North Dakota to Glendive then straight across to the Blackfeet Res.”
“I90 runs close to Anaconda, doesn’t it?”
“Do you remember that movie theatre all decked out in copper?”
“No. You remember the movie theatre but you forgot that I was too young to go. It must have been beautiful if you remember it so well. Wonder if it’s still there?”
“Let’s find out, instead of going north we’ll take the I94 all the way to Billings and catch the I90, OK?”
“Sounds good. What about a stop at Standing Rock? It’s on the way.”
“Looks like a plan, you remember Hana, my crush? I still have her photo.”
Monday morning, we hit the road and when we get out on the open highway, I let Ben take the wheel. We lunch in Fargo, and I take the wheel again to Bismarck. We stop in a gas station, and I go to a pay phone to call Hana on the Standing Rock Reservation (Her number is still in my little black book).
“Hi Hana, guess who?”
“I still have the photo you gave me; holding pom-poms in your ‘Chieftains’ cheerleader outfit, and there’s a note on the back: ‘To Tony my blue-eyed angel, from Hana. So you won’t forget my cheerleader legs.” And you know what? I’ve never forgotten you. How could I?”
“Tony! It’s been so long! Where are you?”
“In Bismarck with my brother Ben. We’ll be on the res in less than an hour. Got new wheels if you wanna go for a ride!”
“I’m engaged, Tony.”
“Oh, come on, you’re not married yet. You can still have a little fun, can’t you?”
“But my fiancé would probably flatten your face if he found out.”
“I’ll take the risk if you will.”
“Meet me behind the elementary school; you know where it is?”
“I’ll find it. What time?”
“How about 8, OK?”
I don’t need her photo to remember how beautiful she is. We were 16, now we’re 20, and I can’t wait. I ask the attendant how to get to the nearest liquor store, where I buy 4 6-packs, a bottle opener, and a bag of ice and put them in a cooler in the truck. Putting the opener in the glovebox I notice the glove on top of the maps. A chill runs through me.
“Say Ben, you been playin’ with the glove?”
“Didn’t touch it, why?”
“I could swear it was under the maps, now it’s on top.”
Ben smiles and laughs “OOOH-OOOH-OOOH, you are about to enter another dimension…the GLOVEBOX ZONE!”
I laugh with him, but still have the chills.
We show up right on time in Cannon Ball and wait. We’ve started in on the beer.
“Are you sure she’s coming?” from the sound of his voice, Ben’s sure I’ve been stood up.
“She’s coming. When a woman says 8, it means 9.”
And at 8:45 Hana arrives, on foot, with a young Lakota princess by her side.
“Hi Tony, Ben, you remember my sister Amitola?”
“Hi! You can call me Ami.”
I do remember her little sister in pigtails, but what a difference a few years have made! I’m struck by her beauty, but Hana’s my age and Ami’s Ben’s age. I’m so happy to see Hana that it’s written all over my face.
Hana notices me gazing at her sister and laughs “Don’t get any ideas Tony, she’s still a little girl.”
Ami speaks up “No I’m not! I’m a senior this year!”
“Me too.” Ben is mesmerized.
Hana climbs in the front with me and our two siblings share the backseat. “Where to?” I ask, “Someplace we won’t be seen.”
“Go back to the main road and turn left. I’ll tell you where to turn after.”
We find ourselves parked in a small, wooded area on the banks of the Missouri River. While Hana and I catch up on water under the bridge, Ben and Ami are getting along like nobody’s business. They’re already holding hands and I’m sure that all it’ll take is a few beers before they’re in each other’s arms. I bring the cooler next to my open door and open 4 beers. When I open the glove compartment, I don’t see the bottle opener, and then I find it under the glove, almost as if the glove was grasping it. ‘Must have rolled around under there.’ I reassure myself.
We’re parked facing west, so we sit enjoying the sunset and the warm summer breeze. Ami and Ben are immersed in discussion and anything we say will likely go unheard.
“I have a confession to make.” Hana coos softly as she takes my hand. I notice there’s no ring.
“You’re not engaged, are you?”
“You got it. Not that I haven’t had proposals. I couldn’t see myself living with any of the men who’ve proposed to me. Still, there are a couple of them who’d mess you up if they knew you’d been with me. Another thing, I’m responsible for Ami. Our parents died in an accident last year, and it’s just us two now. Dad took out life insurance, so we’re OK. When she finishes high school, we wanna leave the res and shack up together somewhere where we can get work. Maybe we can even continue school.”
“So, you’re completely free.”
“Yeah, except for my obligation to Ami.”
“I have an idea.”
“We’re headed to our hometown on the Blackfeet res in Montana. My dad worked there, like he worked at Standing Rock when we met. There’s a magnificent road that winds through the Rockies called ‘Going-to-the-Sun Road’.”
“Why don’t you both come with us and spend the month together, the four of us? It’ll be fun!”
“Sounds tempting, but I dunno.”
“What’s holding you back?”
“Ami’s still a virgin, and I want it to stay that way.”
I laugh, “Ben too! We’ll chaperone!”
“Ami honey!” Hana gets her sister’s attention. “You wanna go on a road trip with our friends? We’ll be back before school starts.”
The two in the backseat are both beaming. Ami nods enthusiastically.
“We’ll leave tomorrow morning. Can we sleep at your place?”
“Better not. Neighbors will talk.”
We don’t bother finishing the beer, we’re all too excited. We head back to Cannon Ball and leave them at their home. They’ll pack their things, and we’ll leave in the morning. Ben and I head back to Bismarck, get some pizza, and find a room in a motel. Neither of us can sleep, we drink, talk, and laugh all night. Our road-trip is turning out better than either of us had imagined.
We pull into Billings the next afternoon and I find a Montana campsite guide and a sporting equipment store where I buy a couple of two-person tents. We get some things to make sandwiches. It’s good the trunk is big. There’s a campsite 45 minutes from Billings where we pitch our tents for the first night. We’ve only been all together one day, and it’s an endless one.
We arrive in Anaconda the next afternoon. The old Washoe Movie Theatre is still going after all these years! ‘The Blues Bothers’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ are playing. The girls both want the horror movie and Ben and I both want John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They’re showing back-to-back, so we take in both. The horror movie was the late one and as we leave the theatre, we’re all a bit shook up. We take two separate rooms in a motel at Deer Lodge for the night. As I go to get the campsite guide out of the glovebox to plan all of our campouts, the glove is on top of it. ‘This is getting weird’ I shudder.
The next day we head to our final destination, going past Flathead Lake, and we find a campground there for the rest of the month. I’d forgotten how beautiful the place is. Seeing it again was like discovering it for the first time. The girls are overwhelmed. Everything is like a dream.
One day we decide to go fishing. The bait is in the glovebox, and as we go past the car, I ask Amitola to get it. Seeing the glove, for some reason she decides to put it on. Her face morphs in front of us, becoming a man’s and gnarling at us “It’s time to work hand in glove!” Her gloved hand thrusts at her own throat, gripping it in a choke. She tumbles backwards and we race to her, Hana and Ben screaming. It takes the three of us to pry Ami’s own hand off of her throat, and I jerk the glove off of her hand as she struggles to catch her breath. The empty glove twitches on the ground like a dying creature. I run and grab the gas-can out of the trunk, douse it, and throw on a strike-anywhere match. As it goes up in flames, we see a man’s form rise in the smoke and vanish.
We all console Ami and Ben is cradling her in his arms. It’s a road trip we’ll never forget. But who would believe us? We all decide never to mention the glove.
The rest of the summer goes too fast. The night before we’re to leave, Hana and I are sitting holding hands in front of Flathead Lake under the starry Montana sky. I start to talk despite the lump in my throat. “This has been great, hasn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun, except for the glove, but I think that brought us all closer from the start.”
“Yeah, too bad it has to end.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I don’t want it to end.”
“Be realistic Tony, it was a lot of fun, but it has to end. I have my life on the res, and you have yours in Minneapolis. That’s just the way it is.”
“It doesn’t have to be. We can change it if we want. Hanna, I love you. I want to spend my life with you.”
“You just love my legs!” She laughs.
“Your legs are a pure marvel, but really, no one has ever made me feel the way you do.”
“That’s called infatuation, not love.”
“How do you feel about me?”
“To be honest Tony, you’re really someone special, but I can’t imagine how we could stay together. We’re from different worlds. We’ll say goodbye tomorrow, and we may ever see each other again.”
Our eyes meet. She can’t hide the emotion that she doesn’t want to admit.
“So you’re holding back, is that it? You don’t want to fall in love when it’s not in line with the life you think you’re cut out for. Shakespeare wrote “It's not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” You said that you wanted to leave the res when Ami graduates. You can do it. I’ll wait for you. It’s only 9 months. You can both come to Minneapolis and we can shack up all four of us together. I’m sure Ami and Ben would love it.”
“I’ll have to think about it. I’m responsible for her you know, and this isn’t fun and games.”
“Tell you what. Take all the time you need to think about it, OK?
We go back to the tents and wrap our naked bodies together in my one-person sleeping bag one last time.
Before daybreak we start the long drive back to the Standing Rock reservation, and while everyone tries to be cheerful, all hearts are heavy. Silence reigns in the car, with each of us lost in our own thoughts. We stop about halfway at a little town called Jordan. There’s a café (just one) so we eat lunch and move on. I’ve already driven 7 hours, and I’ve as many to go. It’s OK with the cruise control though.
We lose an hour driving east, and finally arrive at Cannonball after 10 that night. We drop the girls off at the schoolyard on the res and after kisses and hugs they wave goodbye as we pull away. That instant I know, deep in my heart, that we will never see them again. One little month has changed each one of us, and only the memories will remain.
I drive down to the wooded area on the banks of the Missouri River where we went with the girls a month ago, and we pitch a tent for the night. Neither Ben nor I want to talk. Tomorrow is Labor Day, and we’ll be home. Back to work and back to school. Life goes on.