The summer before my Junior year of high school, I was signed up to go to Cross Country Camp at SDSU. Yes, Cross Country Camp. Camp for running... it exists. Get over it. Looking back at that week and the next year when I went to the camp again, I have the fondest of memories of the people I met from all over the region and of my time getting to know the campus of SDSU which helped me to make my decision to attend that school the spring of my Senior year.
But that first attendance was filled with nerves and uncertainty. I knew I was a good enough runner to keep paces with the others that were going to be there, but I wasn't completely concrete in those beliefs either. I wasn't sure how much running we were going to be doing. I was bit nervous about meeting students from places that I didn't know. I had a history of bad first days at camps in the past (look for these stories in future chapters under the category "Shetek"). This first year signing up didn't include anybody that I knew firsthand other than the person from Baltic that had signed up with me: Jamie Rydell. And we didn't even know each other that good other than we ran against each other often in Cross Country meets and in Track. We were actually going to be picking him up and taking him to Brookings with us.
In the days before cell phones and internet, this was quite the exercise in trust. We talked on the phone a few times leading up to day we were to head up there, but we didn't talk long or very often. I do specifically remember asking if he played tennis as our family did and on many summer nights my brother and I and maybe a couple friends would go to Brandon or to Valley Springs and play tennis under the bright lights at their courts. Jamie did play and I told him to bring his racket so we could play.
The other preface for going to this camp that I have to set the stage for is that earlier in the summer, my brother Chris and Robbin had gotten married up in Clear Lake, SD and at their dance at the VFW, I met a cute blonde there who was a year younger than me and classmates of Robbin's little sister, Karleen. This cute blonde was with a few friends and showed up at the dance to have some fun with their friend and classmate in that steamy and loud little town's VFW. Mogen's Heros were playing and we were all dancing up a storm. I was still looking sharp in my white tuxedo and had even gotten up to sing with the band and my brothers (I think we sang "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" ala Tom Cruise in Top Gun).
This cute blonde and her friends were standing in a group near the front of the dance hall in the middle of the pack talking to Karleen when I came upon them. I think there four girls in that group but I was immediately drawn to the cute blonde that was wearing a white miniskirt and a peach top. Karleen did her best to introduce me to all of them and I think I shook all of their hands but everything went fuzzy and sounds went numb and I had NO idea who was who or even what the cute blonde girl's name was. I stood their awkwardly trying to think of something fun or cool to say to keep the conversation going. I know I was hot and sweating so I suggested we go outside so we could talk where it was a bit more quiet. We all went outside and in the cooler air, I got a better look at the girl I would learn who's name is Stacy. I was immediately smitten. The band was on break, but I asked if we could dance. She had a tight curfew (I learned later because of some trouble she had gotten into just days before). Eleven o'clock was falling fast and the band would be playing until after that time. She said that she should really just get home. Because I was the youngest of the brothers and cousins there that night, and because I just didn't drink back then, I was the designated driver for anybody that needed it. I was holding the keys to my grandma's car that we had driven up and I offered my services to give her a ride home. Me not really knowing how far she even had to go but she agreed to a ride and we walked over to the car and I held the door for her and then drove her to her house.
I was incredibly nervous and I can't remember what I even said to her other than that I hoped we could exchange numbers and addresses and maybe be in touch following the weekend. By the time I had initiated the conversation, the ride was over. She lived just over 3 blocks from the VFW. I would've been smarter to offer to walk her home. I would've got more time to talk to her! I drop her off and made sure she made it up to the door before pulling away, and then I returned to the VFW to some friends of her's that were smiling and some guys that I didn't know that seemed to look me over and give me a look that seemed to say "Way to go!". I wasn't sure what to make of that and found Karleen and the other friends who I then learned were Shawna and Kelly. They were able to hang out for a while at the dance and I had fun getting to know them even though all the while I kept wishing that I were getting to know Stacy better.
But this worked out because I think I was making a good impression on two of Stacy's best friends. The night closed out later as fairly uneventful and I gave rides home to a few of the wedding party and then made it to bed in the hotel in Clear Lake where I stared at the dark ceiling and thought about this new girl that was going to be on my brain for many nights to follow.
The next day, we sat around Robbin's folks' place where they were opening gifts which quickly wore out it's novelty on me and Karleen and I went out on the front sidewalk and just sat in the sun and talked when a pickup truck pulled up with three familiar girls. Kelly, Shawna and.... Stacy. What followed was something that I was thinking was going to be awkward and weird but instead was very comfortable and natural. We talked about the previous night and how much fun we all had and that it was too bad that Stacy couldn't have stayed longer. But we did exchange numbers and addresses and while I was a little worried that in the light of day, my first impressions of this cute blonde might get dented up a bit and realize that I have been overly zealous with my memory, I was very relieved to find out that my first impressions may have been a bit conservative if anything. We all sat around and talked for a while and by the end of the day, I was entirely hooked. We drove back to Garretson and I couldn't wait to communicate with Stacy.
Communications DID continue and we had many conversations on the phone and by mail. Phone conversations were tricky: long distance phone calls were a touchy topic for both Stacy and I. Our parents both watched the bills closely and long chatty conversations were a no-no.... but also inevitable with myself on one end of the phone. We'd try our best to make sure we only called after 7pm and after 10pm as those were the times when the rates were WAY cheaper. Phone calls could easily rack up bills of over $10 or more for whomever made the call.
By the time I made it to camp at Brookings, we had talked enough to where we thought we could maybe try to meet up while I was in a town that was only 30 miles from Clear Lake.
Then, days before I was going up to camp, in the middle of all my excitement in preparation for getting to see Stacy and hang out with her again, there was tragedy in Clear Lake and there was a death of one of her classmates and fellow cheerleaders. Where our plans were originally that Stacy and maybe somebody else would drive down to hang out at some point, now I wasn't sure if I'd even get to talk to her on the phone.
And there came the first problem... now that I was on campus and living in a bare dorm room, the only phones I could use was the pay phones in the lobby. This was before prepaid calling cards were even a thing. My only option for reaching Stacy by phone to see if we were actually going to meet up was for me to call her collect. I didn't necessarily want to get her into trouble, but I so terribly wanted to see her again.... so I called her collect. I hoped for the best that SHE would answer the phone and not her parents. What happened was almost worse: Her older brother answered and the operator asked "Collect call from JT, do you accept the charges?".... his response was golden: "Who?"... ha ha ha ..... I had to blurt out to the operator "For Stacy for Stacy!". She added to him"...for Stacy" and he relented with an "I guess" and he called out for Stacy. So my first impression with her brother was that I was a cheapskate.
Stacy said that she would be going to the funeral tomorrow and wouldn't be able to come down to Brookings. I was disappointed but then looked at my schedule for the next day and realized that MAYBE I could figure out a way to get UP to Clear Lake. It was only 30 miles... maybe one of the guys that drove to camp could give me a ride and chill with us.
So that's what happened. One of my friends at camp that I was worried about getting along with stepped up and whole-heartedly agreed that this new girlfriend who is grieving the loss of a friend would want me to come up to her. The next problem was that I didn't really bring any nice "date clothes". Not that this was a date, but I didn't plan on making a 'call on a lady'... most (if not all) of my clothes were running clothes. I brought this up to my other running companions and another kid stepped up and offered me some of his clothes for my "date". He had a very cool vertical striped Chaps shirt that sort of resembled a sailor's shirt. I had my guess jeans and my boat shoes so I was set.
I felt the need to get her something considering the crap she was dealing with, so I went to the book store and found a cute little stuffed Jackrabbit that had one ear wrapped and a tear coming out of one eye and his name according to the tag was Bunny Boo Boo. I also got a card for her and that with a couple of letters that I had written and one silly note from one of my running friends that asked her for help because I was being mean to him. HA!.
I bundled everything up and had it ready for following the after lunch run when we'd then have a few hours of free time before dinner and then an evening run. We came in from the run, I showered and then Russ from Jamestown, ND gave me a ride in his LTD up to Clear Lake. We had no plans on meeting anywhere in particular or at any certain exact time. I realized that this might make this whole plan fall apart as we pulled into Clear Lake and I was starting to think that maybe I should've planned this better. We drove around a bit and I think he was beginning to think I was maybe make all of this up about this girl when all of a sudden on Main Street we met Karleen driving toward us! I waved at her and she stopped. I thanked Russ for the ride and jumped into the car with her. I made sure that she could get me back to Brookings (which she could) and then Russ took off. Karleen and I drove around a bit and then we found Stacy. She jumped into the front seat with us and I gave her the letters and card and Bunny Boo Boo.
We hung out and drove around and eventually decided that we needed to all go out to eat and we should go out to the little diner a few miles away where Chris and Robbin held their rehearsal dinner. So we did and in the middle of dinner, I started to do the math and realize that the time to finish eating and travel time to Brookings as well as getting ready for the evening run was running out. We snarfed down our last bites and even took some of it with us in the car. We drove like crazy people back down to Brookings and straight to the dorm where I was hoping to run in and get changed for the run. When we pulled up in the parking lot, everyone was stretching for the evening run and were taking off. I slinked down in my seat of the car as everyone ran past our car on their way out on a 5 mile run... I waited for a minute and then said goodbye and snuck back up to the room. I later learned that the girls got home too late and were in trouble too. Oooops.
The rest of camp went off without many problems.... I made friends with people who I am still friends with to this day. Many of them went sneaking into the Brookings swimming pool at about 1 in the morning. I went walking around campus during a beautiful thunderstorm and was awed by nature's light show. I fell in love with the campus as I walked around and sat on the steps to the campanile in the middle of the night. Jamie and I played tennis on the courts over by the library. I logged many miles on the roads of Brookings and got to meet some interesting people such as an Asics representative, a Nike representative, Dick Beardsley (who at the time held records in a couple marathons as well as an American record). The highlight of my camp experience was running a pacer workout (a 400m run at a certain goal speed and then rest for a minute then another 400m run at a slightly faster pace. This repeats and repeats faster and then slower and slower) with Dick Beardsley himself timing them and while everybody was apparently competing to impress Dick with their speed, I kept coming in last... but also right. on. the. exact. time that we were supposed to hit. He even told me that he was impressed that I was hitting the time exactly. I WAS pretty good at knowing my pace, it's something that Coach Sylliaasen instilled into my skillset. I was proud when coach told me to lead the team on a 3 mile run at aa 7:00 pace and we'd get back to the school at 21 minutes flat. Boom. Nailed it.
I went to camp again the next summer, but while I was still seeing Stacy, the adventures weren't nearly as exciting but my comfort with the campus grew and my friendships solidified. At the time, I still had dreams of becoming a Jackrabbit that wore the blue and gold out on the Cross Country course and on the track, but between graduation and fall of my freshman year, that dream had fizzled away. I did become a proud Jackrabbit, but only one who cheered on those guys that I had gone to camp with and also a proud Jackrabbit that knew his campus in and out very well on the first day that I was on campus... Every time there was a thunderstorm I remembered that week of camp. Every time I walked by the tennis courts on the way to the library and somebody was playing, I remembered playing tennis with Jamie. And when I saw people going out for an evening run by Young Hall, I felt the need to slink down in my seat.
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]
Before we had Facebook to remind us when everybody's birthdays and anniversaries were, we had the Garretson Band Calendar. It contained the birthdays and anniversaries of every individual and couple in Garretson that cared enough to have their name listed for 25 cents.
I couldn't find an example of the calendar itself, but I did find the receipt for an order placed by a citizen with a band student. In this case it was Dr. Marvin Wingert's bill for 16 listings and 2 calendars (He probably needed one at home and one up at Splitrock Clinic in his office.).
The calendar also predates the school calendar .pdf that is downloadable at any school's website now. This calendar came out at the beginning of the school year and contained all the school sporting events and holidays. I seem to remember the top part was a gridwork of advertisements and an image of the school band lined up in their uniforms or sitting in the concert semi-circle or some other image of the sort. I don't know who sold the ad spots... I don't remember needing to collect anything for those, maybe Sanders Printing took care of the collection of the logos and money from the sponsors or maybe the band booster parents did that part, I'm not sure.
Band members would go out door-to-door and sell calendars for $2.50 each and a spot on the calendar for a quarter. As per indicated on the receipt in the image, the was done in the spring and then they were printed in the summer and we'd distribute them at the beginning of the school year come August or September.
I remember that as a younger kid, I thought it was so cool to have my name in print and that when August 17th came around, EVERYBODY was looking at my name. I don't remember if I had to share the date with anybody, but I do remember that certain days on the calendar had multiple people listed. Other days in August right near mine were stacked with birthdays. August 13th, for example, always had 4 or 5 people lilsted on it as did a few other days in August. I think I shared my birthday with the anniversary of Allan and Ruth Hammer.
I don't know how long they continued this project, I'll have to ask around and see... probably right up to the advent of online .pdfs and/or Facebook. I do remember that we kept our's on the side of the fridge. I'd watch the days click by, watching for family members' birthdays or maybe a classmate's. It was the first social network spot that provided so much trivial information. I kind of miss that.
The following was a writing that I stumbled upon in a bunch of old journal writings. I kept true to actual writing best I could, although I did have to edit some spellings and a few grammatical errors. Most of these old journal writings were written on my old typewriter and in one quick sitting. Kind of like how I write my other entries except for those old ones, they just went into a folder and were never "broadcast". Well... maybe now I can actually share them. Enjoy!
It was the first day of track practice. Basketball was done and we were about to begin the rigorous training "out on the road"... instead of "in the gym". Out running had become my happy place. I wouldn't have guessed it a few years before that, but by my junior and senior year, I loved to get out and run.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.