JT's Country Club
When I was in 6th grade, my interest in learning how to golf was peaking at a time that culminated perfectly with a garage sale up the street at the Lerdahl's place. They lived about 2 blocks up the hill on 3rd street on the south side of the street next to the driveway that went back to the farmhouse where the LeMair's lived out towards the base of Bunker Hill. The Lerdahl's neighbor to the west was VJ Engebretson and across the street was John Theodeson, but I'll touch more on the layout of Garretson at another time. What's important now is that the Lerdahl's had a youth golf bag with a junior set of clubs for sale for about 50 bucks. I saw the rummage sale listing in the Garretson Weekly that came out on Thursday and the rummage sale was on Friday and Saturday.
I was nervous that I wouldn't get up there in time to buy it first. It was summer and as soon as I could on Friday morning, I rode up the hill on my blue Raleigh 400 dirt bike and went into their sale and found the clubs right away. It was a hard golf case with a faux blue leather outer wrap on it and white plastic edging. The clubs that were cut to 3/4 length were Sam Snead Specials and a Driver, a 3-Wood and a silver right or left-handed putter. A single tall zippered pocket on the side to hold tees and about 8 golf balls. I loved it. But I didn't have any money with me. I had been too concerned with getting up there to see if they had sold yet to worry about bringing the money I'd need with me. I asked the Lerdahls if they could hold the clubs for me and that I'd be right back with the money.
I hopped back on my bike and rode right down to the drug store to ask my dad if I could get $50 out of my account at the bank to buy these clubs. I'm pretty sure this was the summer of 1981... so I imagine the drug store MAY have still been in the old location and when I went to the bank to get the money out, it was right next door at the OLD bank. Both of these are now the Garretson Area Historical Society Museum.
I got my money, returned my bank account book to my dad to put back in the safe at the drug store and then hopped back on my back and bee-lined for the Lerdahl's once again.
Straight up 3rd Street I went across Main, past the Splitrock Telecom building and the gravel church parking lot (later to become the site of the new fire station), across Center Avenue and past the Catholic Church on my right, the green Koen's house on my left, up the hill past the Christiansen's house, the Schreur's house. Up past the old hospital and our house, hit the dip and past the VanHunnick's and Rachel Jordahl's.... getting closer now as I continued to climb the hill, getting nervous that they maybe sold them while I was gone, a few houses past the Sanders' and there I was at the rummage sale again. I jumped off my bike and went back to where she was sitting with the money and the clubs were still there. I handed them my money and they gave me the clubs and then even threw in a handful of driving range balls out of a bucket that they had sitting there. I was beyond thrilled. This was my first major purchase for myself... even predating my purchase of the Olivia Newton John cassette tape I will be buying in Miller, SD later that coming fall at my uncle's drug store.
The bag had a single strap for carrying and it took some wrestling to adjust it so I could get on my bike and hold it. I eventually figured it out and coasted down the hill home. Now, more excited then ever to try them out.
By later that day, Jeff Johnson and Craig Hillestad were over to check them out and we were hitting balls around our big lawn. Soon we turned our pitching and chipping into a game. We selected a certain target tree across the lawn and all took turns as if we were on a golf course working our way to the target. Whoever picked the tree also selected the "par" and pretty soon we had a fair number of "tee off" spots and their corresponding "pins" for trees. It was a great way to introduce some short-game practice.
Somehow we managed to never break a window or hit anything too valuable. Which, given how I had just started this new sport was probably a miracle. We got tired of hitting the same trees over and over and we soon realized that we needed more courses.
So we did the same thing at Hillestad's place. The variety was fun. We alternated courses every other day or so. We treated it like we were on a real course. I even made score cards on 3x5 index cards. Soon, I took that same attention to detail into an attempt at a full marketing campaign for the course at our place. I called it JT's Country Club. I made a letterhead, business card, scorecards and even dismantled some matchbooks and rebuilt my own using white tagboard with my logo drawn on them. (I even reglued the striker strip onto my matchbooks). I think I made 3 of those... one for each new member of the the country club (me, Jeff and Craig).
I eventually graduated up to a full size larger course... going with my brother and some of his friends over to the Brandon 9-hole golf course by the river. I may have been not the strongest of hitters out there for a little skinny 7th grader, but I had a good clean swing and could hit the ball as straight as an arrow. My brother and his friends let me hit from the lady's tee the first few times we went out. One particular day this was especially relevant.
On hot July days, in the middle of the day on weekdays, we'd have the course almost to ourselves. There'd be maybe a couple of other individuals out there trying to improve their game in near 100 degree heat. But often it was Matthew, Brad Sylliaasen, Eric Hammer and myself. We'd be scorching and though we weren't supposed to, we'd take our shirts off and be out there in just our shorts and shoes, trying to stay cool.
One particular hot day, we had just completed putting on the green that was as far from the club house as possible and in our walk over to the next tee box, there was a bunch of gophers popping up and down out of a whole slew of holes not too far from us. I confidently proclaimed to the older guys to "watch this" as I swiftly side-armed my golfball right at a group of 2 or 3 of them. 'THUNK!'.... I pegged one right in the head. The blow flipped it up and out of the hole and the little furry rodent lay on the ground convulsing and bleeding out of it's nose. It quickly expired and my brother expressed vocal disapproval for my action. I took one of my clubs and lifted the little carcass off the course and over to the field just to the north of us. We played the next hole out incident free, but still giggling about my awesome throw.
As we went up to the NEXT tee boxes, the guys told me to stay back behind them. This hole was now a par 5 and the differential distance between the men's teebox and the women's teebox was considerable (probably at least 30 yards or so). I continued over to the red lady's markers and they continued to harp on me to get behind them. I continued to proclaim that I'd be fine. It was way over to the left, almost a 45 degree angle from where their target path was. Matthew continued to get upset that I wasn't listening to him. He stood there with his ball tee'd up and holding his driver wanting to swing, but my presence was pissing him off. I gave in a little bit and moved to the back of the tee box and way over tot he left side of it. He glared at me. I stood behind my blue golf bag that stood on the tee box. I yelled at him to just "GO!" and then jokingly crouched down behind my bag and peeked around the blue fake leather while holding onto the top white strip. Matthew set up at his ball, settled into his stance, loaded up on the backswing and released his swing.
I should mention here that while I hit light and straight, the older guys were notorious for hitting hard but NOT straight. That might give you further foreshadowing as to where this is going.
I saw Matthew's club strike the ball, then I saw the ball getting bigger and bigger. As the ball got about halfway towards me, I heard the striking of the club to the ball, the sound finally reaching me then as I ducked back behind the bag, I heard him yell "FORE!!!!" just as the ball struck my right knee that was poking out to the side.
I'd never felt pain like that before. Everything went black for a second and I regained my bearings while simultaneously becoming overwhelmed with a deep throbbing nausea. I was too "out of it" to notice if the guys were laughing at me or if they felt bad. I do remember that Matthew said to me as he got up to the lady's tee box that he "told me to get back"... and that that was payback for the gopher.
His ball actually deflected off me and went straight down the fairway. At least I helped him out a bit. My knee was red with the dimples of a golfball the rest of the day and I distinctly remember having a bruise that lasted for about 2 weeks. I know I never stood in front of another golfer since that day.and I'm especially conscious of who's ahead of me when I'm hitting. Maybe that's where I picked up some of my deep empathy that I can tend to have for others. Thanks Sam Snead... too bad that lesson had to be so painful.
When I was in 7th grade and playing basketball, an incident arose that slapped me with a nickname that stuck for a while. This is my defense of that incident.
We were playing at Salem. Back in the time before McCook Central when their games were played in the Armory gym. It was a fairly decent gym to play in. All the bleachers were on one side of the gymnasium so they went up further than we were used to seeing at the little gyms of most schools. The teams' benches were across from the crowd and as the crowd looked at the court, Garretson's bench was the one on the left.
I wasn't sure in my memory banks if this incident happened when we were in 7th grade or in 8th grade. I was pretty sure it was 8th grade, but then I remembered that there was a cheerleader from Salem that we all thought was cute. I distinctly remember that she was older than me and that I wanted to impress her. This was a recurring theme in my thought process in my formative years of 7th grade through college and beyond.
We had a pretty good team. We always seemed to put a pretty good team on the field in any sport. We had a very athletic team and if we had worked at it a bit harder, we probably could've gone to state but we were always just on the cusp of qualifying. We always ran into tough competition in a very difficult region and in our class of basketball, only one team from each region made it to state. I'll save other stories of those challenges for another time. This was our formative years in junior high. Our shooting skills were developing, our ball-handling skills were developing, our communication skills were developing.... our basic basketball rules were developing. This last point is important.
The 7th grade game was always played before the 8th grade game. Coach Sylliaasen was the coach for both the 7th and the 8th grade teams. How he kept us all in line, I'll never know. Both teams and the cheerleaders bussed to all the games at the same time and I don't remember another teacher or chaperone coming along, but MAYBE Mrs. Garry did for the cheerleaders. I'm not sure. Maybe somebody can verify that to me... either way, Coach had his hands full with a couple dozen 12-14 year-old boys.
We suited up immediately upon arrival. The eighth grade boys went and sat on the bleacher and flirted with the cheerleaders and acted like they were watching our game. The 7th graders came out and warmed up... layup drills, shoot around and free throws. Then finally we'd start. Back in 7th grade our starting 5 was usually made up of Loren Vandeberg, Craig Albers, Craig Hillestad, Bruce Vollan and myself. Rodney Kasma would be in there from time to time as well, if I remember correctly.
We were a team that won most of our games at this level and this game was no different. By the end of the first half we were winning and feeling pretty good about our performance as we trotted into the locker room for a pep talk and quick rest. My life was still normal up to this point. I put in my solid few points (as usual) and I was feeling confident that I'd put in a few more in the second half (as usual).
This is where the events get sketchy. We came out of the locker room and warmed up much like we did in the first half. The details of this phase of the story are important. We came out at warmed up on the same basket that we used for the first half. We're supposed to switch baskets. But we didn't we used the same basket. I remember thinking that this was odd, but not impossible. What did I know... I was a fricking 7th grader... there MUST be a reason for the adults to make us do this. Whatever. I'm going with it.
So at the end of warmups I'm thinking, "ok, same basket. Got it." Then we come out for the second half jump-ball and the person making the jump faces THEIR own basket. Bruce came out and the refs had them face their baskets. But now Bruce is facing the OTHER basket, not the one we warmed up on. So now I'm confused a bit. But I'm going with it mentally... in my head, I'm like 'ok, I guess it's now THIS basket... the one behind me'.
The referee throws the ball up and Bruce skies for the ball and easily tips it right back to me. In my view, he's hitting the ball directly towards OUR basket and I'm the only one back here. It's my lucky moment.... if I could slam dunk in my life (ever) THIS would've been a great moment for the most kick ass slam dunk ever. That 8th grade cheerleader would've been like "who's THAT guy?"... I saw this all happening in my next few seconds. What did happen was I made the easiest layup I'd ever made. I was still proud of myself. Our lead went up by two points. I added to my stats. Rock on. Then I turned around after making the layup.
My entire team was sulking, their heads either held with chins up in frustration or hanging in embarressment. Both benches were laughing... their players clapping for me. One player patted me on my back. Coach had his hands tangled in his hair as he tussled it and stared at the ground. I tried to briefly plead my case to the ref then to the guys on the team but the points were added to the home score and not ours. I had to throw the ball in right away to one of the Craigs to bring the ball up. I continued to apologize and plead my case. They just shrugged me off and said "I got this... let's go". Play continued. But I know I was right.
I dreaded the first time-out after that. I knew what Coach was going say, what he was going to do, how he'd look at me. And I was right. I also got plenty of attitude from my fellow teammates including the bench players that continued to giggle at me and what I had done. Coach first coined the nickname for me at this time and said to the Craigs, "You guys bring it up, Wrongway, you go down and post up".
So "Wrongway" it would be, at least for a while. A few more games... a couple of years probably. We won this game. I learned to thicken my skin. I was probably blushing for a few days. That 8th grade cheerleader must not have been impressed with my layup... or my blush. I got over it. I never did it again... I made sure of that. I do remember that through all my games through all of my years of playing basketball, at the start of the second half, I always clarified with Craig Albers or Bruce or Loren which basket was our's as play started again. I'd point to the basket that I was sure was our's and then wait for the reaffirming nod. It was half joking and half serious as I know to this day that I was right, but I learned that I better check... just in case everybody else once again decided to play the wrong baskets.
I don't know what year they started, I don't know for sure what year they stopped doing them, but they were an essential for most kids from elementary to high school. They showed your school spirit. They were blue and white. They were useful for many things. They were the Garretson Booster Gym Bag.
Very simple in their design (one big pouch made by two circles of fabric that made up the ends, sewn to a rectangle of the same blue ripstop nylon that closed in the middle at the top with a long zipper that eventually broke. White nylon straps straddled the cyclinder and were perfectly functional). It seemed everybody had at least one. I think we'd each get a new one every year whenever they sold them.
I'm not even certain who sold them. I don't know if it was an FHA thing, a band booster thing, a Letterman's Club thing, or maybe even just business selling them on Main. I just know that I always had one. When the zipper broke or the seams started to tear apart and repair was beyond mom's skill on her sewing machine, a new one would just appear.
On one side of the bag would be the white imprint of the words "Garretson Blue Dragons" with the standard snake-like profile of our dragon logo in the middle of the words. On the opposite side of the bag would be a grid of the sponsors on the bag. "Jesse James Mini-Mart"... "Theodeson Law Firm"... "Garry Insurance".... "First National Bank".... "Johnson Drug".... "The Hairloom".... "Sanders Printing".... "Engebretson Hardware".... "Virg's IGA"... and many more. But these always seemed to be most of the standards.
Our gymbags were our all-purpose piece of equipment. You could stuff all your books in them along with your pens and pencils for your everyday to and from school. They could be used as a literal gym bags to transport your clothes for gym class or for school sports. I know that for myself, I bet I took mine to every cross country meet, basketball game and track meet. On any given school day, I'd need to bring my homework AND clothes for practice in a bag, maybe two... sometimes having to use my leftover bag from the previous year with a completely useless zipper.
They were useful year-round for all kinds of trips. When we'd go to the lake or when I went to camp, the gym bag was my second small bag that I'd stuff full of the "extras" (books, journals, magazines, walkman, tapes, batteries, more batteries, games, more batteries yet, etc.) . It was usually this bag that would be by my feet on long trips in the backseat of the car. It was this bag that would be by my side in the school bus on the way to track meets.
The gymbag was useful for taking things up to the pool in the summer. Extra swimsuit, towel, flip flops. In the summer, particularly around the 4th of July, it was most handy for carrying my full arsenal of Whistlers and Roman Candles around with me to have handy whenever we'd all get together and decide to have Bottle Rocket Wars somewhere.
Bottle Rocket Wars would take place when 4 or more (sometimes over a dozen people would divide into two teams and stand about 20 yards apart and then proceed to shoot at each other. Looking back, it wasn't the wisest decision a bunch of teenagers could make, but then again, it wasn't the worst. My gymbag would be packed full of a few grosses of whistlers and a couple dozen roman candles... I'd have along a lighter and a pack of swisher sweet cigars for lighting them as they gave me the best "A-Team-Leader-John "Hannibal" Smith"-look".
Shooting styles of the different weapons varied. Some people opted for holding a small light hollow tube like a pipe or section of tent pole, lighting the whistler, dropping it in, extending from the body and aiming at where you wanted in to go and then hope for the best. I compared this to musket fire in the revolutionary war. Effective, but randomly so. Others shot them right out of their hands. These people were idiots and apparently had no nerve ending in the skin on their hands. This was about as effective as the first method. The throw method was my favorite as it was random, but had a good secondary effect. I'd light the fuse wait a second and then, with an underhanded throw motion, launch it toward the opposing side at about 45 degrees up and out. If I timed it right, just as the fuse-lit whistler was going past the peak of it's arch, it'd ignite and shoot down at 45 degrees towards somebody on the opposing line. If place right, it could much more effectively shoot down to their feet and find their ammunition stores setting off a specacular show. This only happened once, but it was worth it. I actually got to the point in my technique of doing this where I would launch the whistler at a lower and faster angle and just try to pitch it to their feet and let the whistler do the work shooting around at ground level. Then I started doing two at a time or three. The battles would go much quicker, but they were a great way to pass the time and end up smelling like gunpowder. Nobody ever lost an eye and other than a few powder burns, nobody ever got seriously hurt. **disclaimer: kids, don't ever do this at home.
Which leaves the question. Where can I get one of these awesome bags? Did somebody hoard them? Did anybody stockpile them? Was there a worldwide shortage of ripstop nylon? Did the entire world switch from gymbags to backpacks at the same time? I remember distinctly my first JansSport backpack at college. So cool having a front pouch for pens and a hanging snap loop inside for keys... but I'll save that for another day. For now, I'll leave you with the glory that was the blue gymbag.
[ If I had a picture of one, I'd insert it here... I'm looking but I can't seem to find one. If you have one... send it to me and I'll feature it here and give you full credit. Bonus credit for one without a broken zipper]
Down at the bottom of Second Street, right across from the school stood the Wangsness House on the corner of Main Avenue and Second Street. My relatives built the house and lived there for a few generations, but as I went through adolescence it had become the "Jacobson House". The new third grade teacher, Shirley Jacobson and her husband "Jake" lived there and were beginning their new family in this community as a teacher and a saleman, councilman and eventually Mayor. It was a big house, built in 1901, painted white with a nice front porch that faced the school to the west across Main and to the north across Second was the American Legion.
The school was set at the lowest geographical section of town, where the gullies funneled to as they dumped into the Splitrock Creek behind the railyard next to the school. This low placement is important to the story.
As an young child (probably still preschool), I had a green bike that was a hand-me-down from my brother. Chris and Matthew had gotten matching, but different size bikes when I was just a baby and now Matthew was moving up to the bike that Chris had and I was finally into the bike that Matthew had. Mine, that I was finally being handed was very small, but perfect for me. Dad put the training wheels back on for me and I'd ride around and around and around our concrete patio in back. Eventually, I got past the training wheels and could pedal up and down the sidewalk along Third Street. I'd ride from the corner to the west all the way up to Rachel Jordahl's (the Albers' place now). Once in a while I'd stop at Rachel's and knock on her door and see if she had any candy. Sometimes it'd be a butterscotch candy, sometime it would maybe be an anise hard candy (Chris called them "anus" candy... ha ha... I don't know if that was because he didn't know better on how to pronounce it or if that's what he thought of the candy. I loved them: deep crimson cubes of anise flavoring and sugar. I had to look it up and here's what I just found out about anise from webMD:
"Anise is an herb. The seed (fruit) and oil, and less frequently the root and leaf, are used to make medicine.
Anise is used for upset stomach, intestinal gas, “runny nose,” and as an expectorant to increase productive cough, as a diuretic to increase urine flow, and as an appetite stimulant. Women use anise to increase milk flow when nursing, start menstruation, treat menstrual discomfort or pain, ease childbirth, and increase sex drive. Men use anise to treat symptoms of “male menopause.” Other uses include treatment of seizures, nicotine dependence, trouble sleeping (insomnia), asthma, and constipation.
Some people apply anise directly to the skin to treat lice, scabies, and psoriasis.
In foods, anise is used as a flavoring agent. It has a sweet, aromatic taste that resembles the taste of black licorice. It is commonly used in alcohols and liqueurs, such as anisette and ouzo. Anise is also used in dairy products, gelatins, meats, candies, and breath fresheners.
In manufacturing, anise is often used as a fragrance in soap, creams, perfumes, and sachets.
How does it work?There are chemicals in anise that may have estrogen-like effects. Chemicals in anise may also act as insecticides."
I'm not sure what I think about anise any more.
But my new bicycle, my new found freedom and vehicle to freedom, while it was an nice bike, an adequate bike, it had it's flaws. Mainly, it was a lot like a tricycle in that the pedals ALWAYS turned if the back wheel was turning. There was no coasting with the pedals. It was not built for speed.
Mom and Dad always said to stay close to home I could ride within the block of home as I had mentioned and my freedom started to expand to about a block away to the Hammer house down across from Grandma Gert. But that was as far as I was supposed to go. ever.
Well, back in those days, I hung out with Matthew and Eric Hammer and sometimes Matt Wingert as well. We'd all do things together and sometimes if Matthew or Eric weren't around, it'd be just Matt and I. Matt was not the best of influences on me as a kid and was constantly trying to get me into trouble, it seems.
One day, as he and I played, he suggest that we should just run down to the school and play on the playground equipment. "It's only, like, another block or so".... I knew resisting him would be futile and besides...what's the worst that could happen? [note - upon thinking about it... my brother Matthew MAY have been involved with this now the more I think about it. I think they were just willing to let me come along down to the school}
We rode down Second past Hammers and Grandma Gert's place. We continue further west past Marty and Elaine Eitreim's where the hill begins it's descent toward the school again. I kept control as we crossed Center but then the last hill drop was in front of me as the playground was within sight. They warned me to go slow as I'd be picking up speed as we went in front of Froseth's. Picking up speed was an understatement. My little green steel bicycle accelerated to escape velocity in a few feet and as hard as I tried to keep my feet on the pedals, the harder it was to maintain control of my bike.
My shoelace on my right shoe had come untied and the long dangling end of the lace was being hit by the wildly spinning pedal on the right side. Just as I was getting close to the Jacobson House and I thought that I was maybe in the clear as I would be able to hopefully steer clear either into their yard or just cross Main and hope for the best, my dangling shoelace whipped around the post of the pedal and with the spinning it continued to wrap tighter and tighter, pulling my foot closer and closer eventually my foot was right against the pedal and though you would think that would help slow down the pedal and the bike, it was at that moment that I reached the jump. Yes, built into the sidewalk for some unethical and inhumane reason was a ramp. A ramp approximately 8 to 10 inches high and the length of one sidewalk square. I seriously wonder to this day what the purpose of it was other than to watch kids like myself inadvertently hit it with their bicycle at top speed and see if they could clear the driveway in world record jump attempts.
I hit that ramp then everything just went quiet and into a sort of slow motion. My shoelace was still wrapped around the post, My companions were still at the top of the hill riding down after me. The terrified expression in my face began tensing up for the inevitable impact that was about to happen as my bike and myself twisted in mid-air and slammed into the ground across their driveway and slid to a metal on concrete screeching stop straight out from the Jacobson's north door.
Mrs. Jacobson was in their kitchen at that moment and just happened to be looking out the window when the green bike and blonde haired kid, tied together, skidded down their sidewalk in a blaze of crying glory. I looked up to see her come running out just as Matt come upon the scene of the accident.
I don't remember much else about that experience other than I didn't think I'd be able to quit crying by the time I got home in my scraped up situation. I didn't break any bones that day. I don't think I hit my head. I think it was all knees and elbows and skin grows back. Chicks dig scars. The one thing I took from that day was to quit hanging out with Matt Wingert so much, or at least listening to him. That, and to get a bike with brakes in the near future. Brakes are never to be underestimated.
Jeff Hove and Steve Tyrell would show up to hang out with Matthew as the late summer sun was setting. In the dusk of the evening we'd often all just hang out on the front porch of our house on third street. There was a couple of perches bridged by a railing on the little porch in front of the door facing third street. On the east post, facing away from the house was our American Flag. One of my duties in the summer was to put it out every day and put it away at night.
We'd sit on the perches and talk about what all 13, 14 and 15 year boys talked about: Cars, girls, football, school, tv, movies and the future. I wish somebody would have recorded the conversations we had or at least kept minutes. I was the youngest of the crew and was only allowed in as long as I kept my mouth shut most of the time. Sometimes others would show up to partake in the conversations we had... Eric Kooistra, Eric Hammer... I don't think girls were allowed. This was a different time... we didn't practice equal opportunities for girls. Besides, girls would have just confused us or at least relegated us into an awkward silence.
As the sun receded away and the darkness overtook us, we would want to continue the conversation and continue trying to figure out the meaning to life. So many times I know we were close just as we'd have to call it a night. Sometimes we would do our best to continue the summer night meetings to the very last minute of our allowed curfews. We would maybe turn on the light on the front porch, but often this would just attract mosquitos, junebugs, moths and other bugs, so it was really not much of an option. The answer to our problem lay at the end of the driveway.
Our house was set back from the street about 75 feet or so and getting up the driveway could be a jaunt. All the Nelsons that lived at 905 Third Street became skilled at speed reversing down the driveway. This task especially impressive because of the two concrete brick posts that used to anchor a gate at the end of the driveway back in the days when Dr. DuVall lived there. They were painted dark brown to match the highlights of the house which was painted yellow with brown trim and they were daunting to the beginner using reverse down the long driveway but I got to the point of thinking of them as goalposts and I just shot for the middle and punched it. I'm really surprised I never hit them. I'm surprised I never hit them pulling in to the driveway, particularly on the days that the end of the driveway was all ice. I guess I was lucky in all those years of driving there.
But down at the end of the driveway then right across the street was a streetlight. The streetlight provided us a spot of light to hang out that was away from the house so we were more in the open but still be able to see each other as we talked.
The first times we hung out there, I'm sure we just sat on our bikes and maybe on the curb of the street and just conversed. But soon we realized that we all wanted to sit and visit. So thus began a tradition that was fantastic. Moontanning.
We started to bring lawn chairs down to our parking area. Lounging style lawn chairs that we'd set up side by side by side... like we were on the beach at a resort. What else would you need if you were at the beach sitting on a lawn chair?... Mountain Dew. Considering it was around 1983 or so, those Mountain Dews were likely 16 oz. and in a glass bottle. I could write a whole entry about my memories of the fact that we used glass bottles and the things we would do with them after we were done drinking our soda. We also needed snacks. The forefront of our snack list was dill pickle potato chips. It was almost always dill pickle potato chips. So salty, so dilly, so tart... perfect to get us thirsty for more Mt. Dew.
So there we'd be, whoever showed up that night for the gab session. It might be two of us... it might be 5 of us. We'd lounge, we'd talk, we'd drink Dews, we'd eat dill pickle potato chips... and... we'd wave at the cars as they would drive by. Likely, they were confused by our mere presence. We'd pretend we were lounging in the sunlight. We'd put on shades and look up to the sky as if we were soaking it all in. We called it moontanning.
We'd spend ours getting our "moontan" on. We'd waste away the summer nights that would get progressively cooler and cooler... the looming first day of school that had seemed like an eternity away were now creeping closer and closer. We had thought of so many things that we were going to do over the summer, but now those things were clearly not going to happen. Our depression of self-realization of our limitations began to set in. School supplies were being purchased. New clothes being tried on. The first days of fall sports weighed on our minds.
The first couple days of football would be physical testing. Sprint testing, bench press, agility drills, many others as well as the mile run. Those lineman did not much care for the mile run.
Football didn't really loom over me like it did over the older kids. I was just going into 7th grade when Jeff Hove was going to be a Freshman in high school. I expressed my worries to me about what life was going to be like for me in 7th grade while he worried about 9th grade. He was going to be playing football (and freshmen football players were NOT treated the best.) and I was going to be student manager of the football team with Jay Schleuter. I had my reservations about all the stuff that I would be needing to do, but at least I was not going to be running the mile test. My days of filling water bottles and carrying ball bags to and from the school up to the football field everyday are stories for another day.
Summer would close out and the lawn chairs, Mt. Dew, dill pickle chips and us moontanners quit spending time down by the street as summer rolled into fall but the streetlight kept shining & waiting for us to show up again... which we would eventually, at least every summer for a few years in a row. I don't remember the last time I moontanned but I'm sure if given the opportunity, I would jump all over it in a summer second. Or... at least I'd lounge all over that chair, have some dill pickle chips and soak up that moon.
Squirrel #1 & Squirrel #2
A lot of the next things I write are going to have to be fact-checked and substantiated by others, but this is the things that I remember. I think I just wrote the forward to my book.
Coach Sylliaasen taught math to the 7th and 8th graders at Garretson. People seemed to know him best for his coaching cross country and track. His intensity at the meets was unparalleled by any other coaches, he'd often run further at a cross country meet than the athletes, I think. He was known for his effectiveness and spirit. His oxymoronic screaming of "RELAX" seemed to be anything but relaxing, but he was always there on the course where he needed to be. "Catch that guy" or "Go NOW" were phrases we needed to hear at moments when we were lagging or falling back. He kept giving us a task or a goal when we needed it most.
He also coached 7th and 8th grade basketball. But other than the time I scored a basket for the other team, I don't have much to say about that. (I'll save that for another story... I have a legitimate defense!)
But my primary concern right now is Coach's classroom. His lesson often hustled through lesson after lesson at breakneck pace. But having grown up around Coach since my younger days playing with his sons, Brad (who was a year younger than Matthew) and Tim (who was a few years younger than me), I was always very comfortable around him and always felt I could get away with more in HIS classroom than in any others. This didn't always go over so good with Coach.
I was (and AM) very chatty and would often talk in the classroom to the point of getting in trouble for not listening. For a while in school, they used a name on the chalk board and checkmark discipline system and I think my name was on every teacher's board. (After you got a checkmark or two, you'd get detention... I only got it a few times, so I did HAVE some self-control, but often I didn't practice it.)
In Coach's classroom, I think I had my name on the board every day. He did his best to separate me from those that would instigate my chattiness... often it was Peter Caffrey, sometimes, I think it was Mary Koens. He would put me in a desk up in the front of the classroom in the corner and the other chatty person would get a desk in the other front corner. They were reserved seats for Squirrel #1 and Squirrel #2. I would proudly take my place in my little throne. Many times, I was just trying to be the class clown and by putting me up front, Coach was just giving me a stage. I seem to remember the desks for the squirrels eventually were next to him on either side of his desk facing forward to discourage any interaction with others and clowning around.
Coach's chalkboard, besides being used for names and checkmarks, was also used by students working through problems when we'd be in the middle of a lesson. When Coach was lecturing and going through a lesson, he'd use the overhead projector. He would project the screen onto a white pulldown screen that was retractable up into it's metal case mounted at the top of the chalk board. When pulled down, it was held in place with a loop of a rope on a nail or hook or something. I'm sure that early on in Coach's teaching days, the hold-down rope wasn't used but that after an unforeseen and unpredictable immediate retraction of the screen, Coach probably developed his back-up anchor system.
When using the projector, you need to write on a clear piece of plastic. The problem is, if you used one sheet at a time, you'd need to hold it down while you wrote... plus the sheet would fill up immediately and often later parts of a series of mathematical lessons would need to refer back to an earlier part. Finding the sheet that had the part you were looking for would be very difficult if not impossible to find that part. So Coach used a scrolling clear piece of plastic. It was just a long piece of plastic that went from one spool then across the projection screen area then to a receiving roll. Each had a little handle on them for spooling the film in either direction. If Coach had to refer back to some part earlier in the lesson, he could just scroll the film back. Then scrolling back forward again to new clean film he could continue where he had just left off. This was all done with blue or green or sometimes red dry-erase markers, so that when the scroll was all filled and he was sure that everybody had the lessons down, he could go back and erase the entire scroll blank again.
Coach didn't have the best of handwriting, but it was legible and we "got it". But sometimes, we'd need to ask verification is what he wrote was a 1 or a 7, or a 5 or a S, Things like that. But not a big deal. We got it. He made math fun. His preparation for us for upper levels of math (trigonometry and calculus and such) were very helpful, and I remember even in high school that I was able to go to him and ask him for help with whatever we were working on. I knew that his explanation style and temperment was easier to deal with that going to Mr. Olinger, who would come off as a little, umm... intense at times. We often avoided spending more time with Mr. Olinger than we needed to. Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed his classes, but there were times. (If you didn't get Mr. Olinger's sense of humor wasn't everybody's cup of tea... if you got it, you got it... if you didn't, you were lost and probably didn't like his class).
Back to Coach and his scrolling overhead projector. Every day, we knew Coach would do a few scrolling-forwards-worth of lessons. One day, Coach was late getting to class. We never knew where they were, they were just not there. We always just assumed there was a big teacher party going on in the smoke filled teacher's lounge down by the old gym. Some sort of party where they all talked about the bad kids and schemed up plans make our lives hell. Realistically, he was probably just going to the bathroom, but we always assumed the worst. But before he got back to the classroom, Jay Schleuter, went up to the projector and scrolled the clear film ahead a page or two and with a permanent marker wrote the words "Coach is a roach" then scrolled it back.
Fast forward to the middle of our lesson that day and as Coach frantically wrote and talked he scrolled ahead a few times and at some point he was mid-sentence when he scrolled ahead again, stopped (clearly he saw the words) he turned and saw them on the screen, he licked his thumb and tried to quickly swipe the words off. The giggles of the class turned quickly to laughs as the words didn't come off and he tried again to no avail and finally sighed and scrolled the screen further ahead. He let the laughing die down, he eyeballed the classroom to see if the guilty party was maybe laughing louder than the others, but we all laughed terribly loud. There was no clear culprit.
I'm sure he figured it was Squirrel #1 or maybe Squirrel #2. How wrong he was... or was he?
Once a year, in South Dakota, there comes a time when you get a chance to win a trip to a concert. YOU are in the concert. But you better be prepared, because you might get spot checked. I'll explain.
The South Dakota High School All-State Chorus and Orchestra concert is held every fall at a selected site. In recent years, it seems like it's always in Sioux Falls or Rapid City (and maybe that's true, I don't really know for sure), but back in the 80's when I was able to try out for it, the concert was held in Aberdeen, Huron, Watertown, Sioux Falls, or Rapid City.
Schools with certain enrollment numbers would be eligible to send a certain number of quartets. Garretson, being in the smaller enrollment portion of the state, could only sent one quartet. The larger schools (Lincoln, Washington, O'Gorman (there was no Roosevelt yet) and such) would send at least 3 or 4 quartets. While I later become a comfortably good singer, when I was a freshman and sophomore, I was still trying to find my voice. I spoke with a deep tone, but could sing quite high and comfortably would sing Tenor II "high". (At times, I would pull off the Tenor I part if somebody needed to cover a note, but mostly I stayed away from that upper Treble Clef whenever possible). The singers at Garretson were quite skilled and there was considerable competition for the individual parts in that quartet. As a freshmen, I had to face my own older brother in the audition as well as a few very skilled juniors going for the seat as well. My brother was a much better singer than I. He was solid and confident in his notes. He knew how to hold a note, read music and sing parts MUCH better than I. I remember trying out, but realisticly not even hoping for one of the spots. I believe that year was in Huron, so I wasn't too disappointed as I had no real desire to spend more than one day in Huron, SD anyway.
The next year I still had to compete against a couple of strong other males for the spot, but at least at this point, I was getting better and there was a beginning of some self-confidence. The auditions went well, but I knew that they weren't ready to pass the torch to me quite yet. Again, though, the concert my sophomore year was held in Sioux Falls, so technically there would be no school sponsorship of a hotel room for the kids going to rehearsels and the concert, BUT our teacher, Helen Mogen, decided that if we WANTED to, we could get hotel rooms at our own expense so that we'd be closer for travelling. By the way, I DID make the alternate quartet that year, so I was in on the travelling to the rehearsels and concert.
One other important aspect to this whole ordeal leading up to the week of the concert was the weekly practices within our district. All the local schools would bring their quartets together and run through the music. Every week we'd meet at one of the different schools and the host school would also provide some food for the night. Most kids from all the schools got there with wet heads having left straight from practice and were starving teenagers. The schools that I remember practicing with were Baltic, Tri-Valley, Dell Rapids, Dells St. Mary's and Chester. When Garretson hosted, the music booster parents threw together crockpots of chili and soup and coolers of soda and water. I believe we'd practice for a while, take a break to eat, then finish up with a little more rehearsing then everybody would get into their school van or car and get back to their town. We would send our quartet and the alternate's to the rehearsels, so it'd be 8 of us and the director. It was always fun to start to visit and get to know the kids from the other schools. Many friendships that still exist today began during those unifying rehearsels.... the fear of the dreaded spot check looming over each and every school as we headed closer and closer to the All-State week.
Spot check was a random selection of 40 quartets from the schools there to be tested by the music over-sight committee to make sure that a standard of quality was being met by the schools sending their kids into this concert. There was always the chance that some school wouldn't rehearse or be sending the kids that knew how to sing, I guess and they did their best to keep them out. Just the fear of the spot check kept me nervous for the three years that I was involved with the concert. Even as an alternate, I was afraid Garretson would get spot checked as I had invested my own time and effort into the rehearsels and a failure by the quartet would indicate that I failed as well. We didn't get spot checked. And going as an alternate was the best thing ever. We didn't have to stand in the risers during all the rehearsels as those spots were for the kids in the concert. Instead, the alternates hung out up in the chairs of the arena, typically near other alternates. We'd do our best to continue to follow along with the practices and singing our parts, but it was easy to get distracted with the girls from other towns sitting around us as well as the fact that as we got closer and closer to the concert and nobody on the "first team" showed any signs of illness, any hopes of getting called up slowly faded away. My disappointment was replaced by a few names of girls that I would meet from different towns. Not many would send alternates, but the local ones would and I remember in particular meeting girls from Washington High School.
The next year, the concert was held in Aberdeen (picture above of our quartet... Scott Smith, Amie Johnson, Susie Hokenstad and myself... the tall guy was the guest director) and on my senior year it was finally in Rapid City. That was the trip I looked forward to the most. We'd get to leave even earlier than previously and we'd be far from home for a change. And by the time my senior year rolled around, I had found my voice and was confident and comfortable singing whatever part the director needed me to. It was also by my senior year that I was very good friends with the kids from around the district as this was our third year singing together in some cases. And I also knew that as a senior, my status had gone up with the ladies... as had my confidence. I was a social butterfly and was on the go as soon as we hit the hotel.
As any free time allowed, we'd roam the spaces looking to meet cute girls. Find out who they were, where they were from... maybe get a phone number. Aaron Gnadt and I (along with Chris Johnson who wasn't at All-State) had just formed a embryonic "rock band" that we christianed "Five Flat Nine" and when we went to Rapid City, we were all about letting the girls know about us. We had business cards printed up (Chris' dad worked at a print shop) and we passed them out to any girl willing to take one. We also brought along a couple of the school's instructional (and cheap) acoustic guitars. We ran up and down the hallways looking for groups of people gathering in rooms that we could bust in on and start playing. We only knew about two "half songs" ("Should I Stay or Should I Go" & "Blister in the Sun"), but we knew enough that once we started playing it everybody would start singing along and then it didn't matter what we'd play. We made a LOT of friends jumping around like that testing our strumming skills and also building up our confidence.
But we'd eventually make it through all the rehearsels and the running to dinners and also the culmination of the week, the concert. We never did get pulled into a spot check and I wonder if Garretson ever has... I would assume by now they probably have (those poor unlucky kids).
The real beauty of the concert was the music. It's music that I still recognize today if I hear it. We would run through it over and over and over and over again at school and at the district rehearsels on those Monday nights. I still know my part if I hear any of the songs and I wonder if I could still pass a spot check if one were to be given to us.
The additional bonus to the concert and to meeting all the new girls and to getting to know the ones from our own district better, was that the event was filmed by SDPBS every year and then rebroadcast at some point (I think around Christmas (maybe Thanksgiving)). I would turn the tv on and relive the concert, song by song, note by note... carefully watching the screen as they zoomed in on the kids as much as they could, and I'd look for any of the girls that I had just met or maybe even a glimpse of myself. It was such a joy to get to take that trip and I'll always hold them fondly as some of the best days of high school that I was able to experience.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.