WOSTER: Cider, watermelon, simpler college timesI still remember the smell of the cherry cider and the coolness of the glass of the gallon jug.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I talked somewhere recently about stopping at a roadside cider stand in some small town between Sioux City and Omaha on my first trip to Creighton University as a freshman.
My dad was driving me and my big sister to college. There are many things I’ve forgotten about that trip, but I still remember the smell of the cherry cider and the coolness of the glass of the gallon jug. I was nervous, already a little homesick and excited to be an almost-college-freshman, and all those feelings return for just an instant when I catch the aroma of cider or see a farm family selling produce at a roadside stand in the shade of tall, old trees with drying, turning leaves.
I only lasted at Creighton for a year, and when I transferred to South Dakota State, my best friend from third grade through high school was transferring there from Northern. We decided to room together, and I was permitted to take the 1957 Chevy for the first trip to campus in the fall. I had to bring it home the first time I took a break from college and leave it until spring, but I got to drive myself to college my sophomore year.
My longtime friend and college roommate-to-be didn’t have a car of his own, either. Not many kids did in those days. When we were in high school, most kids — from grade school through senior year — walked. A few from the far reaches of town caught a ride, but that was rare. A few country kids were allowed to drive, usually with four or five other country kids packed into a 1952 Ford or 1955 Chevy spattered with mud.
These days at an average South Dakota high school, the parking lot is jammed with vehicles. My older son used to argue that he needed to drive to Riggs High School when he was a junior and senior, never mind that the entrance to the school parking lot is exactly two blocks from my front porch.
Back when I was in school, 10 or 12 well-used cars were about all a person would see in the parking lot on the flat down the south hill from the high school building. I used to walk to school with a couple of kids who boarded down the block. They lived down past Academy, and their families would drop them off on Sunday night and pick them up on Friday night. Too far to drive, I guess.
As I said, my friend Mike didn’t have a car, so he hooked a ride to college with me. It’s indicative of how different the times were that both of us took basically all the clothing and other essentials for a year’s worth of college living in that four-door Chevy. He had a transistor radio. I had a portable, manual typewriter. We would take turns using both during the school year, and if we wished to see a television program, we’d walk four flights of stairs to the lobby of the dorm and try to win a majority vote of the assembled students for the program of our choice.
That first trip I made to South Dakota State was a bit like the first one down to Creighton. We traveled what is now Highway 50 up to Lee’s Corner, caught Highway 34 to Madison, hung a left up to the Arlington corner and entered Brookings from old Highway 14. The route took us past Forestburg down in the James River Valley, and we threaded a course among a dozen melon stands beside the old highway. Naturally, we couldn’t pass them all.
We purchased a massive watermelon for later, got just across the river valley and decided it was late enough. The aroma of a ripe watermelon, slashed open crookedly with a pocket knife, filled the ’57 Chevy the way fresh cherry cider had a year earlier and a couple of river valleys away.
It took a couple of hours to wipe away all the sticky watermelon juice and most of the seeds. Cider in a jug is no tastier than watermelon on the front seat, but it sure is neater.