Growing up in a big house that sat on a big lot came with a lot of perks. One of them being that our personal space to run around was enormous. We had close to 1/2 acre of lawn, trees and an area we called "The Jungle".
The Jungle was a grove of trees at the very back (south end) of the lot that were so thickly spaced that the only thing that grew beneath them were weeds such as poison ivy, itch-weed and sporadic saplings that made an attempt to shoot up to any remaining space in the canopy to begin their own journey as a young tree. The rest of the floor of the Jungle was dirt and exposed roots and fallen dead branches.
It was dark and cool in the Jungle. Often, in the hottest of summer days it would become unbearably hot and humid in the midst of all the shade as any breeze drifting across the flat South Dakota prairie would pass around this huddled mass of vegetation. Some days it was the perfect place to hide out and play... on those hot days, though, it was the last place you'd want to be.
It was the perfect area for building forts and digging holes. From my youngest days I remember going down into the Jungle to try to help Chris and Tom Schreurs piece together a make-shift hut out of left over lumber from something that Dad had torn down. There were times that even the adults helped pitched in and would supply us with pieces for a nice place to build. Tom's dad ran Splitrock Telecom and he gave Tom and Chris a large wooden spool (about 6' diameter) and Chris and Tom put the circle sides to use as the floor and the roof to a cylindrical fort/building. 2 x 4's were placed as supports and the whole thing was wrapped in 70's wooden paneling. A salvaged door was installed and the entire thing was painted a brick red. It was an awesome creation. I think we even hung a leftover phone from the telecom in the room.... not hooked up to anything, but I'm sure Chris and Tom and hopes of hooking that up to some phone line that ran near the property somehow. Over time, the fort gave way to the elements and decay. Other younger kids found their way onto the back of our property without detection and would vandalize it and at some point, we knocked it down to see what pieces we could salvage from it for another newer fort.
Later, and I still don't know the details of this build, but a tower was constructed. I suspect Chris and Tom again, but I'm not certain.Basically, this time it involved 5 telephone poles placed into holes in the ground in a clearing in the middle of the Jungle. Four of them in a perfect square about 5' x 5'. The fifth just a couple feet over from one of the squarely place poles. At the top of the four, a square platform or deck was built and then the fifth pole was used as the right side of a ladder using one of the corners of the tower four. They were not the TALLEST poles available, but they were tall nonetheless. I would estimate that the deck was about 15 feet off the ground... not the safest idea in the world for a bunch of kids. A quick climb would put you right up into the sun in the midst of the canopy of the trees growing around the tower.
I don't remember that tower ever coming down, so I'm curious now how long it lasted. I feel like it was still up there in 1991 when I moved out. I'll have to do some research and find out from the people that moved in there and that live there now.
Besides those few forts, we'd also dig tunnels and put together contraptions in the Jungle. We'd attempt to dig holes to China. I think we made it 6 feet deep once. I remember we needed a ladder to get in and out of the hole. It was at about 4 feet that we realized that the removal of dirt became exponentially more difficult. We had grand visions of how big the hole could get and the things we could do with an underground cave built as a sort-of bomb shelter or hangout for us kids. We even speculated on how to get power down to the hole through a ventilation shaft that would also supply fresh breathing air as we knew that the candles we had planned to use were only going to burn up the oxygen. I mean, we weren't COMPLETE idiots.
Many tools were left laying in the midst of the weeds. Hammers, shovels, screwdrivers, nails, screws, all left for the archeologists to discover and try to interpret what was going on in this little chunk of space. 'Clearly this was a working area as we found tools of all sorts and countless metal objects. There was multiple burn pits, so we think this was an area of lodging AND working. We think it may have been a military trading fort as there was various buildings and a tower that could have been used for line of sight or for defense.' We certainly did our best to confuse them.
We would sleep out down there from time to time. Matthew, Jeff Hove, Arvid Machino and myself. We'd set up a tent, get a fire going and be real outdoorsmen. Often we'd run around until the wee hours of the morning... scouting out the entire town as it slept. Doing our best to avoid being spotted by the policeman on duty. Which now makes me think about who the policemen were that served our fine town. Jim Martens, Patty Ferguson, ______ Koens, Steve Kirten, maybe others could comment and fill in my missing blanks. Those are the few that I can remember.
I remember sneaking around and even going up on the roof of the drug store and watching the cop car drive by on Main, worried that he'd see or hear us and corner us up there. We never got caught.
We'd sit by the campfire and make jiffypop popcorn... always so good, even if it burnt. We'd steal some of dad's pipe tobacco and make our own cigarettes and all take turns becoming masters of not coughing as we learned how to properly hold a crappily made cigarette without burning ourselves. I remember being fascinated with trying to come up with some version of our own cigarettes. We'd try taking brown shopping bags and roll them tight into a solid cylinder and smoke just the paper, or maybe try adding lawn clippings or pipe tobacco. None of them tasted good but we felt so cool as we did what WE wanted to do. I think only a couple times did we ever dare get our hands on ACTUAL cigarettes. We were really adventurous when we did that. We knew that if caught, that would lead to serious trouble.
We'd wake up in the quiet cool mornings with summer dew around us. The light smoke smoldering off the fire pit still and if we were really ambitious we'd get the fire going again and I'd run inside and grab a few eggs and we'd make scrambled eggs. For some reason, I'd also grab the sliced green olives and tabasco and thus began my love of adding those two things to my scrambled eggs.
Packing up the tent after those nights usually took a couple of days. Partly out of laziness and procrastination, partly out of the hopes that maybe we'd stay out multiple nights in a row. Also, the tent just needed to get aired out from the smell of smoke and sweaty kids.
The Jungle was OUR hangout.... Chris, Matthew and mine...but we also invited our friends in and we all enjoyed it. Be it camping or playing army, building forts or digging holes... it always seemed to be the "place to be" when we looked to seek out some sort of adventure.
But there were times that it also was invaded by unwanted guests. Kids from around town made their way there and would vandalize our work. One particular kid comes to mind and Arvid and I did our best to keep him at bay.
Arvid and I were probably 12 years old or so (maybe 14 at the most) and we'd still be hanging around in the Jungle from time to time as we just enjoyed chopping trees down and building things still. This younger kid would come snooping around and demanding to play with us, even though he was probably 8 years old or so. We knew he was coming in there when we weren't around because he was spray painting our tower and forts and we were not happy. So we decided to set some traps... things to deter him from WANTING to come around. I remember the "spider web"... quite simply, a spool of fishing line strung along the side of the Jungle that we assumed he entered. We emptied the spool. Cross-wise, high, low, up, down, back and forth we strung that sucker out. If he was going to come in there, he was going to have to work for it. Then we also blocked certain other pathways that led into the middle. we used logs and boards to force him to walk to certain particular pathways were we would then set the final traps. We took trips straight out of Vietnam. We dug a few holes and covered them up with thin sticks and leaves and grass. We pulled back saplings and rested them on other trees that would spring out into his body if he brushed against any part of it. Then the best ones I remember, and these were genius... we'd dig a shallow hole and put a board down half over the hole and half behind the hole. Cover the hole side with leaves and the side resting on the ground with dirt, sticks and other hard objects. The thought was that he'd step on the hole pushing the the board down into the hole and like a see saw, the other side would flip all the dirt into his face. We built and test multiple designs before we perfected the size of the hole and board and how much crap we could put on the throwing side to be effective. Lever angle and length, weights, forces applied... all these were factors into the resulting desired outcome. It took a lot of work and if we had documented it, we probably would've received some extra credit in school. Instead we were basically being mean to a little kid. It wasn't my proudest moment, but we had to teach him a lesson about coming into the Jungle and defacing our crap.
Soon, our prediction came true and he came along to see if he could hang out with us older kids. Most any other time we didn't want him around but now we wanted to see how our defenses held up. We climbed the tower and watched as he came strolling towards the Jungle. He immediately solved the riddle of the spider web and walked 15 feet around it. "dang it", Arvid whispered to me... we wanted him to get tangled and hung up in the string where we'd have to cut him out and he'd go crying home in frustration. No, he just walked around it. The blockades did divert him towards the pathways we wanted, but he then didn't trip our whipping saplings. Thanks for nothing nature. He then continued right towards our pits of death. He walked right past all of them. He didn't fall in any of the holes and he didn't set off any of the "Lever Traps". Within about 10 seconds he was at the base of the tower looking up at us asking us what we were doing.
We climbed down an told him we didn't want him spray painting our stuff. He denied doing it, but his name was right there painted on the tree.... kind of hard to deny unless there were more of kids with his name around, and there were not.
Arvid and I went to fixing up the traps to make it more likely that he or anybody else would step in them and we didn't care if he was there watching. We figured if he wanted to help us, we'd get him to help us to further test the traps. When we asked, he gleefully obliged... just happy to be helping.
We took him to one of the lever traps and explained it to him and even demonstrated on another how 'press down HERE, the stuff flies up HERE and it looks like an explosion and the person is scared off. He thought it sounded pretty cool and wanted to test one of them. Standing right by the pathway where we had set the other traps I reached over with the shovel and pointed at the pile of leaves and loose dirt covering the hole-end of the lever trap and said "jump on this... right.... here." ..... as Arvid and I stepped back. He looked at us with a look.... like, really? I GET to do this?.... We stared in anticipation, not really certain HOW well it was going to work. He took a slight step back then sprang, both feet into the air and JUMPED directly onto the hole. All the while looking right down at the spot and making sure that his feet hit right where I had made a mark in the dirt.
What happened next was beyond Arvid and mine predictions of success. That lever threw everything directly up and slightly back directly into his face. More specifically, into his mouth. He dropped to the ground and spit out a mouthful of dirt and leaves and let out a whimpering scream. As soon as we were sure he was ok, he got to his feet and was blinking his eyes rapidly getting the remain dirt out and still drooling and spitting out dirt. We couldn't hold back our laughter and as he ran home, Arvid and I quickly cleaned up our tool and got out of the Jungle before that kids' parents came looking for us.
Just another day in the life of the Jungle.
Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. (or, in this case... the guilty)
The statue of limitations should have expired by now and as much as I'd like to use names, I'm going to do my best to not implicate people who might not want to be associated with the following recollection of this incident.
It was July of 1991. I was spending my second summer as the pool maintenance manager. It was a fun job, a decent job... a job where I was able to do things that were classified as work (cleaning, scrubbing, testing water, sweeping, backflushing filters, vacuuming the pool, sterilizing the bathrooms, etc.) but also hanging out at place that was recreational. When I was in between jobs or when I was done working for the day, I could just hang out at the pool and be there in case anything needed to be checked on or cleaned. This was still years before I'd ever have a cell phone and if something broke at the pool or if something happened that needed me there, the pool office would have to try to reach me at my house or call my dad and he'd try to hunt me down. We didn't even have an answering machine... so checking in at the pool was a necessity.
There were times when I knew that checking in frequently was necessary. For instance, when the temperatures were particularly warm, the electric motor that ran the pump would overheat and trip the breaker. I'd need to be up there to reset the breaker and get the pump primed and running again and also to open the two doors to the pump room to allow for a cross breeze to help keep the temperature down in the pump room. There were times that even that was futile and I would try to lay a wet towel over the enclosed housing of the electric pump, like a damp washcloth on the forehead of somebody with a fever, I would do my best to keep the pump tempered down best I could. As soon as the wet towel was hot, I'd go dip it in the pool and start over... as far as I knew, every degree helped. I would do whatever I could.
I would even go up there in the middle of the night. There were times that this was imperative such as when a thunderstorm would come through and any electric surge from lightning strikes in the area would cause the pump to shut off. If I heard thunder or sensed lightning flashes, I'd crawl out of bed and get my essential clothes on for a run up to the pool to re-prime the pump and get it running.
I'd jump in the El Camino, insert the smoothed out 25 year old key into the ignition in the dashboard and give it a quarter turn clockwise. The 296 would rumble to life, I'd run the windshield wipers a couple times to clear the leftover rain on the windshield and then I'd back down our long driveway and out onto third street and then west down the glistening pavement puddled with the remains of the storm that had just gone through. Sometimes there were still sprinkles still falling, other times the stars were already out. There were even times that I headed up to the pool just before the storm was about to hit or was in the middle of hitting. Whatever the case, I'd get up to the pool and park on the east side of the pump room, unlock the padlock on the fence gate guarding the door, then unlock the door and open it into the room.
The pump room was only about 10 feet by 8 feet. As you walked in, directly to the right was the 500 gallon white plastic soda ash container that held a slurry of water and soda ash and housed a motor on top that kept the solution mixing, like a huge shake mixer. There was a plastic hose running down to the bottom from a pump that then pumped the soda ash fluid into the return line from the main pump to the pool. The soda ash was used to balance the pH of the water that would become acidic from the chlorine. Further west into the room and directly adjacent to the soda ash container was two big cylindrical sand filters. The pump drew the water in from the skimmer lines and the main drain and through a screen filter, then through the pump that then threw the water up the 10" line 5 or 6 feet up and two the two filters. The return lines came out of the bottom of the filters and down into the the basement pit under the filters and out to the plumbing around the pool to the return jets set into the walls of the pool. The basement pit wasn't there to be simply a basement, it also had a drain in the floor. Every couple of days, I needed to backflush the sand filters. It was essentially running the water through the sand layers in the filters backwards and then out a dump line into the pit basement. extra dirt, debris and sediment would come off the sand and out through the backflush. It would take a minute or two depending on how dirty the filters were (judgement on the process was by eyeball) and a lot of water would get flushed out into the sewer in the process. But it was a necessary process to keep the filters working efficiently. While I was backflushing, I'd already start refilling the pool with the fill valve, which was like a large faucet under the short diving board. Replacing the water dumped in the backflush would take quite a while, even if it were on full blast (I rarely filled it at full blast as it wasn't quite a TON of water but I was told by the city to limit the strain on the water tower, so half-power or so was more than enough water to refill the pool over the course of an hour or two). I always logged the amount of water going into the pool so we'd be able to look back and see if an extra amount of water was unnecessarily being added which would indicate a leak somewhere in the system which would be a nightmare and involve tearing up concrete to find a leak. The pool was already over 25 years old by this point and SOME of the plumbing HAD been replaced but the pool board and city was well aware that a major overhaul was due in the near future.
On this particular summer night, I made a run to pool at about 10 pm to check on the heat of the pump, open the doors to the pump house and see if there was anything out of the ordinary. There were times that I would even go up on those hot nights to just shut the pump off to give it a break from the heat, and shut the valve so I wouldn't have to reprime the motor before restarting. While the pump was off, I'd just hang out at the pool. Once in a while, especially if it were hot enough, I'd just slip into the water briefly and float around to cool off. Basically, I'd ty to give the pump as much time as I could to cool off as much as possible. Sometimes I'd be there for 10 minutes, sometimes I'd chill for more than an hour.
The pool was a quiet place in the middle of the night in a little town like Garretson. Even if all the streetlights and houselights were on, the stars were very bright and while floating in the dark pool with just the light from the door to the pump room streaming out onto the concrete I could stare up at the stars and watch for shooting stars or make out satellites inching across the black sky. I'd try to be as quiet as possible, especially if it was just late in the evening as I didn't want people around town to hear me in the water. Attracting that kind of attention was never smart, even if it was ok or not that I was in the water, and it was amazing how the sound of the pool travelled all across the town, even in the middle of the day with all the noise of life going on. You could always hear the splashes and laughs and shudder of the diving board when the pool was being used. It was the call of the pied piper to kids wondering if anything was going on.
So I made my appearance at the pool that night, shut the pumps off, swam for a bit and then headed for home well before 10:30 pm.
It's a couple of hours later that the rest of the story kicks in. At about 1:30 am, three of my friends, none of whom I knew were planning on going UP to the pool to pull off their OWN midnight swim (a common occurrence for the youth of Garretson to pull in the summer, especially if they knew that the city police officer was otherwise pre-occupied somewhere else). Larry, Curly and Moe decided to climb the fence by the door to the pump house and then dropping off all of their clothes behind the diving boards by the pump room and going for their swim. As usual, the sound of the pool travelled across the football field and down into town. With three of them swimming, it didn't take long for the sound to carry far enough to the ears of the officer on duty that night. He was driving up Center to the south and heard the ruckus immediately. Being wise, he shut off his light and turned on the gravel road for Tandberg Field and began sneaking toward the pool. Larry, Curly and Moe finally had the wherewithal to sense a car coming down the road and immediately knew that that wasn't a good sound. They leapt out of the water scrambled to grab their clothes and shoes and other belongings and back over the fence. They threw on the clothes they could as the officer, now coming up around behind the pump house saw them scrambling over the 6 foot high chainlink fence and threw on his lights and punched it towards them. They scurried and scattered out into the alfalfa field to the east of the pool grounds where the current crop of alfalfa had grown to about 2 feet high and was close to needing a cutting.
The officer threw on his spotlight and tracked the guys out into the field and drove his car up to edge of the field. He could see them moving slightly still and decided to drive out into the field to try to hunt them down with his lights. Each of them had shot off in different directions, so their odds were improved but he was determined to catch somebody. He circled around a couple of times to where he remembered seeing some movement, but by now the three guys were holding perfectly still and watching the lights of the police car slowly pass over them and continue it's sweeping movement. When the saw only taillights they'd scramble further and further away, all the while trying to stay as low as possible. Eventually they all scrambled far enough away and in one piece while the police officer eventually gave up his search in the field.
Upon his return to the scene of the crime though, he was pleasantly surprised to find some clues left behind. Some shoes, a shirt and a wallet.
It turns out that each of the guys had left something behind and their evidence was now in the hands of the officer. Since they were all on foot, and since they had scrambled off in different directions, it took them a while to find each other in the middle of the night. I'm guess that they all met back at whomever's car was closest to the pool. That detail was not divulged to me.
Fast forward to the next morning and I headed up to the pool and begin my morning routine of hosing everything down. Always the entire bathrooms using the sanitizers and then a rinse. Then depending on how much vacuuming I needed to do or skimming of leaves and loose debris on top of the water, I'd try to hose off the concrete pool deck to provide a clean area for the pool goers to layout. By cleaning it off, it kept the dirt out of the pool too. So I'd play fireman and sweep right and left, section of concrete by section of concrete towards the outside or toward the drain on the pool deck. By my recollection, I don't remember seeing anything out of the ordinary from the night before.
6 blocks away, where Larry slept, the police officer followed the clues on his driver's license to his address and knocked on the door. He answered the door and was presented with questions about where he was last night at 1:30 am.
"Hmm..... home in bed by then. Why?"
"You weren't up at the pool swimming in the middle of the night?" the officer continued while holding his wallet out in front of him.
"Oh no... I wasn't..." pausing for a moment before brilliantly saying, ".... but I was AT the pool last night after closing." The officer perked up and leaned in. "But I was there after closing with JT while he finished up cleaning and backwashing the filters. He said he needed a hand so I helped him. We did go swimming and I put my clothes by the pump room. That's probably where I left my wallet. Why did something happen?"
"Yeah, there were three young gentlemen up there trespassing illegally on city property. They ran before I could get a good look at any of them. These shoes were out on the grass that one of them dropped. Would you mind if I had you try them on. It would help prove to me that they aren't your's."
He tried them on and couldn't get his foot into one of them and upon insisting that they are NOT his shoes the officer relented and thanked him for his time, but not before adding, "Now if I find JT at the pool, he'll be able to confirm that you helped him?"
The officer pulled away from his house and as soon as he was out of sight, Larry ran in and called the pool. He had been a lifeguard at the pool for a few years himself, so he knew the number at the office and he hoped to God that I would answer the phone right now.
Luckily for him, I did answer. "Yellow..."
"JT, there's not much time to explain. Last night myself, Curly and Moe went swimming at the pool and I dropped my wallet and Curly left his shoes out on the lawn and Moe forgot his t-shirt. The cop was just here questioning me about my wallet being there and I told him I left it with you up there when you were cleaning after the pool had closed because you needed my help and that we swam and I must've dropped my wallet. He even had me try on Curly's shoes and thankfully they didn't fit! Just cover for me and he should be cool." I think he said it to me in one breath. I was exasperated just listening to it and trying to comprehend what had happened and what I needed to do.
No sooner was I left thinking about that than I could hear the car coming down the gravel road by the football field toward the pool. I had the pump room doors open and the officer parked his car and got out and came walking in the pool deck area where I was just finishing up the hosing that I needed to do.
I had never met him and he introduced himself and we shook hands. He asked if there was any mess left in the pool last night (I'm sure he was digging for any clues) and went on to explain what he had come across last night at 1:30-ish. I tried to act like it was the first time I had heard the story, which technically it was from his point of view. He told me just the basics. He said nothing of what he had found afterwards.
He then asked if I had been here late in the evening after the pool had closed. I explained that, "yes, I try to vacuum every couple days and it takes a couple of sets of hands to block the skimmer lines and get the vacuum hose hooked up, so Larry had been here helping me."
"Well, he told me that's what he was doing here too... he must've dropped his wallet while he was here. It's cool that you guys swim after hours?"
"Oh yeah, happens all the time. Usually only do it if there's somebody else here with me. Safety first, you know."
He laughed and said, "Well, keep up the hard work!"
"You too... good luck catching those guys." Which is where I should've stopped, but my jaw kept moving.... it was like it was in slow motion as he was disappearing into the pump room to leave... "hey, at least you got a new pair of shoes."
I could see the words hit the back of his head. He stopped, pausing at the edge of the darkness and slightly cock his head. He didn't look AT me, but he was thinking.... I could see him thinking it... "did I TELL him I found a pair of shoes?"
No... no, he hadn't. I was prepared for him to ask me that and I would just say that he had. But he continued into and through the dark room and then into his car. I continued to hose the deck, even though I was done. I was just avoiding looking up at him. I could sense that he was probably still looking at me and wondering about that shoe comment.
Larry later told me the full story about what had transpired and how he had been the one that the officer had followed out into the field. He confessed that he just about got run over a couple of times but he missed him by a couple of feet... once less than a foot. Thank God he had his shoes, or at least that his feet didn't fit into Curly's shoes.
Too bad Curly lost a pair of shoes. I guess that was the cost of admission that night.
At Garretson (and many small schools, I imagine), Prom was not restricted to seniors and juniors only. It was PRIMARILY for the upper grades, but the banquet held before the dance was for juniors and seniors and their dates and the waiters and waitresses were selected sophomores (I assume selected by the seniors, but somebody may have to refresh my memory of the system in place for that selection if otherwise). After the banquet, once the dance was started, the waiters and waitresses could bring a date to the dance. This was in the days before a Grand March (that whole concept was foreign to me until I went to a Prom in another town when I was a senior. Yeah, it was weird for me to parade in front of a town that didn't really know me). This will not be about my senior date with Susan Brown, or my junior date with Sonya Darland.... or even about when my date didn't show up when I was a waiter and Nikki Jones had to run at Howard Wood and then was going to come to Garretson and maybe stay with the Schetnans (a HUGE storm came in that night and they went home to Viborg). No, this will be about the time I went to prom as one of the rare freshman as a date with a sophomore waitress.
That sophomore was Sonja Johnson. We weren't dating or anything but had been friends for a long time. Since childhood really... Our parents were friends and we only lived a few blocks apart. We'd often play together in the summer. Sonja had a cat that was continually having kittens and we'd often play with those kittens until they were given away. I don't know where those kittens all went, but I bet they were the primary supplier of kittens in Garretson for a few years there. If I remember correctly that cat of her's lived to be about 18 years old or so.
Sonja and I WERE always seeming to be with somebody else. I know for a while in 7th grade, I liked her, but she didn't like me. Then she liked me and I was "into" somebody else. This happened, I think, back and forth about six times all by the time I was a freshman. I liked her, but as we put it back then: I didn't LIKE her like her. I was tired of the back and forth and by the time I was a freshman, I had been exposed to girls from other towns.
When the time was approaching for people to lock in their prom dates (probably the start of track season or so... Prom was always the same day as the Howard Wood Dakota Relays (second weekend in May)), I don't know WHO my interest was in, but it wasn't Sonja. I didn't have any ambitions to go to Prom and wasn't thinking of it in the slightest when I received a phone call. It was from Amie Johnson. Sonja's best friend.
"HEeeeyyy JT...." was Amie's singsong greeting. She continued, "....are YOU going to Prom with anybody?"
I wasn't sure how to answer. 'No', I thought, 'who would I go to Prom with?'. I knew who she was calling for... those two were two peas in a pod. I'd heard some scuttle about maybe asking me to Prom, but I hadn't given it much weight as moods change, minds change and I knew my history with Sonja the last couple years hadn't been steady, so I didn't even WANT to consider that I might be asked to go with her. Thinking back, I feel like maybe I was in crush mode with Susan Hammer. I know it was track season that she and I kind of liked each other, but we never went steady or anything... the main problem being that she was a few years younger than me and also I was best friends with her older brother, Eric. Any romance that started to blossom seem to get quickly squished by something or other.
So I was on the phone with Amie.... trying to NOT answer 'Nobody', but also trying to be honest. I replied with a tentative, "Why do you ask?"
"Well, IF you don't have any plans and were looking for something to do, I'M thinking that you should go with Sonja. She really wants you to go with her."
I rolled my eyes and before I could finish the eye-roll, Amie interjected quickly,"ONLY AS FRIENDS! It won't be as a boyfriend/girlfriend... only as friends".
My silence was brutal. I stared at the blue shag carpet in mom and dad's room where the second phone was. I didn't know how to answer. It wouldn't kill me to go, but I didn't want to send the wrong message to Sonja that this was going to be "us" as a "thing" now. I waited a few more seconds before giving in with even a response.
"Mmmm.... I, don't know Amie.... I don't really want to go through this again with Sonja."
"No, it won't be like that... this is just as friends, I swear. PLEEEASE JT... she just needs a date for Prom. Please?"
More silence. Then a little more....
"[sigh] ... fine.... I'll go."
I had put up my best fight, but I finally gave in. I think in my head, I was holding on to some hope that maybe there'd be a way out. Maybe Prom would be cancelled. Maybe Sonja would get mono or perhaps I'd break a leg running the mile in track (You know, that high-risk extreme sporting event known as the mile run, lol).
The logistics were worked out, details were set and the day finally came. I didn't need to get a tuxedo or anything crazy like that. Sonja said a suit would be fine... she even said that I didn't need to provide the corsage, she'd take care of it.
The Prom banquet was at 6 on Saturday. I would need to be over to the Johnson's at 7:30. It was a gorgeous day outside. Very unusual for a day that notoriously had rain (Howard Wood Dakota Relays is associated with rain). Late in the afternoon, I was still trying to finish up my chores. I distinctly remember that around 6 o'clock, I was still riding our red riding lawn mower (the Snapper) on the empty lot just north of the Rekstad place (now the Markell Gnadt place) which eventually was the site of the house that Bob Arends had Al Bower build for him. I was riding back and forth looking down the street past Hammers and where the hill dropped down where Marty Eitreim used to live and I remember thinking about how Prom was started and here I am on a lawn mower cutting this long green grass. I also remember having my cassette walkman on my side and I had Queen's A Night at the Opera blasting loud enough to hear over the Brigg's and Stratton popping away behind me. I loved that album and was mesmerized by the song Bohemian Rhapsody. This was before the movie Wayne's World and before that song was so overplayed that everybody was sick of it. This was when the song was cool and dark. ---We even convinced Helen Mogen that we should perform that song at the Spring Program. She was awesome enough to agree to it. We had auditions for the different solo parts and I landed my first solo ever, the first part of the song: "Momma, just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he's dead." ... as I said: dark. --- So I used my time on the mower to run through that song again and again and again.
I eventually finished up the mowing and put the mower away in the back of our old garage. I ran in and got showered up. Put on my tan suit and sprayed on some Drakkar Noir or maybe some Polo. Since it was nice, I walked down to the Johnson's as soon as Sonja called that she was there. Matthew, who was a senior, was taking Susie Hokenstad, who was a waitress too, and we planned on all meeting at the Johnson's and then riding up to our house for pictures before the dance.
It was still a beautiful evening and my walk to the Johnson's was full of anticipation. I wasn't sure what was going to happen with Sonja and I that night or after that night, but as I walked past my Grandma Gert's house and across from Hammer's, I remember thinking how I wondered if Susan Hammer saw me heading to Prom. I continued down the sidewalk to the Sylliaasen corner and then turned and went south down the hill. A quick knock on their familiar front door and a ring of their doorbell and as the door opened, there was smiling Sonja. I was glad to see her as I could hear a lot of voices up in the kitchen of their house. Sonja assured me that she was almost ready and said she'd be right back. Gloria, her mom, said to "Come in, come in...." from the top of the stairs. I followed her voice up and there was Gloria and Jim, Susan and Matthew and Amie. I don't remember if Sonja's older sister was there or the older brothers. I don't think that they were, but I think that maybe some of Gloria's friends were there. The Davis' or maybe the Schreurs' were there, I think... I just remember thinking, 'let's get these flowers on and take a picture so we can leave'.
Sonja popped back into the room and went to the fridge and grabbed the corsage and the boutonniere and we went about the little dance of trying to attach them without too much awkwardness. I'm sure we failed at that miserably but really, it was my first attempt at that. We had our picture taken in their living room as a couple and then as a group. The whole while, Gloria is beaming, Amie is beaming and then there's me... wondering what's going on. IS this JUST as friends? ... as soon as we're done there, we all pile into Matthew's car (which, for the sake of this story and my lack of memory, almost HAD to be the navy blue Monte Carlo.) and drove up to OUR house to take pictures there before heading to the dance.
At our house, we set up for pictures in front of the fireplace. We complete our couple's pictures standing there and then we all plop onto the white loveseat for a group shot. There's not nearly the excitement that existed at the Johnson house, and by now I'm just ready to get to the dance. The plan is to go to the dance for a while and then we're going to end up back at our house and maybe watch a movie.
I wish I could remember more from the dance. I do remember slow dancing with Sonja with sweaty palms and I do remember having a crush on Sonja, even that night... but it just never worked out. We did get to Prom together, but the dance just never sparked anything between us. I guess it just isn't always meant to be. The sweet memories I have do hold value to me as they fill me with times that were good and of people that made me happy. Even if they involved silly flowers and clumsy dances. At least we made a memory.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.