July into August
As summer continued to click by, nights would fall sooner and fall cooler. The crisp July nights were a sharp contrast to the hot and humid air of the days spent lazily around the pool. Baseball season was winding up for the different leagues... Pee Wees would be done first, then Midgets, followed by Teeners and then the Legion Team would be playing after everybody else had wrapped up. Their games were the most interesting to watch; the older guys were like watching the pro's to us youngsters. When I was in 5th grade or so, going down to Tandberg Field was as good as a trip to Minneapolis to watch the Twins. Chris and his classmates fielded a pretty good team and I remember when they first donned the baby blue uniforms similar to only the Kansas City Royals at the time. Not many were ready for Garretson to be anything besides Royal Blue and White and these light blue pants and v-neck tops were pretty alien to all of us. They wore navy stirrup socks that matched the navy and white piping that ran up the sides of the pants and then around the collar and sleeves. "Garretson" in Brush Script across the chest and the American Legion patch was sewn on the sleeve. There were no names on the back... just a number... as the jerseys had to be used over and over and over again by many different people over the course of as many years that could support the stitches of the fabric... or until so many of them went missing that they'd be forced to buy a new set.
I would ride my bike up to the ball diamond on the nights of games after supper, or if the night was still hot, I'd go to the pool and swim for a little while until I saw them gathering on the diamond down the hill to to the west of the pool. I'd give myself enough time to get dried off and dressed and then scurry down to the bleachers on the top of the hill overlooking the cutout into the hill surrounding the diamond. It was a natural stadium that Garretson had. It was an fantastic setup for a ballpark. Unfortunately, though, our infield was gravel and though they would drag it on every gameday, the rocks just worked their way up and litter the enormous circle of orange. Seemingly small and insignificant, they would pose dangerous threats to the path of ground balls rocketing in the direction of the infielders locking themselves into a position to prepare themselves for the ball to do one thing when, in fact, the ball would go and do something else completely random. Often, to the chagrin of those infielders, that random direction would be upward at their face. Or at least it seemed like it would happen that way often. It probably only happened once, but sometimes that all it took to put the fear of God into that third baseman that valued the set of teeth that was still intact.
The orange rocky circle was flanked originally by two dugouts that were literally dug out into the ground, but over time the elements took their toll on their structure and every spring and every heavy summer rain, they'd fill with water and prove uninhabitable. At some point in the 1970's those dugouts were replaced by above ground cages like you'd see at any other softball complex today. For the longest time, those new dugouts did not have roofs which of course would have been nice for those players sitting there on those afternoon games baking under the sun..
I'd take my place on the bleacher and watch my brother and his teammates warm up... once in a while if I'd get there early enough and I had brought my glove, I'd get to go play catch with one of the guys if their numbers were odd. Again, it probably only happened once, but to me that meant that it happened often. I'd sit with my friends up in the bleachers and work on a a mouthful of sunflower seeds... perfecting the spitting of the shells out into a little pile. We'd size up the competition as they took to the field... we'd look for familiar players from these other towns that we'd maybe recognize from basketball games, wrestling matches, football games or track meets. We'd see these "enemies" from those other towns... the green ones from Salem, the orange and black from Dell Rapids or the blue and gold from Baltic.
The outfield didn't have a arched fence but utilized the same chainlink that encompassed the football field that made up right field and center field in the off-season. directly between right and center straight at the bus barn's east end behind that fence was the white scoreboard made up of two telephone poles, some slightly crumbling playwood painted white and nailed to a slightly crooked frame that was leaning forward ever so slightly. Black lines painted up a grid of 9 innings and a home and away row with some hooks. I don't know who was given the responsibility of throwing those number boards on those hooks, but that system was outdated soon after the dugouts were replaced which was probably just as good because the forward lean of the that scoreboard with the little ledge on it for that person to walk on was getting less and less safe. I would venture to guess that whomever was scoring those games was probably up to date on their tetanus booster shots, or at least they should have been.
It seems that about the time the dugouts were replaced was when they put in a score keepers "nest" behind the homeplate fence that looked down on the field and housed the scoring controls for the football field scoreboard way out in center field a the back northwest corner of the fencing rectangle. It was out there that a long hit ball was a sure-fire in the part homerun, but one that you'd have to work for should you hit it there.
It was also back into that corner that on those quickly cooling humid summer evenings would slowly change into a cooler night with a gentle breeze sliding over the town and into the face of the batter. The cooler air coming in from the lower part of town down by the river would drift in and a slim layer of fog would begin overtaking the center fielder first, then the other outfielders then it would make it to the orange oval of infield and the banks of lights shining down created a glowing dome around each tower of electric lumination.
It probably only happened once, but in my head, I feel like it was like that at every game I went to. I know in my heart that it wasn't... but if it happened once and it lives in my memory as clear as the smell of the popcorn drifting out of the concession stand up at the pool, then it lives forever and it DID happen all the time; It happens every time that I think about it. Like now when I'm out for a walk and the sun is setting and I can feel the cooling air from the northwest... and I can smell freshly popped popcorn in my head and taste sunflower seeds. These early August nights churning away on the last days of summer and autumn will be here soon. Uniforms packed away, an orange circle that doesn't get dragged every day anymore and the leaves will begin to change. Another year will be gone. One more summer behind me. One less in front of me. Time clicking away once inning at at time. One out, one hit, one ball, one strike. The fog will roll in and envelope us all eventually. The lights growing less intense with the thickness of the fog deeper into those late innings in the end games of our season.
I would ride my bike home after the game was done... peddling fast to get home, the lights of the ballfield still on behind me... their glow casting my shadow out in front of me as I peddled into the darkness. I would race to get home. To tell mom and dad the the score of the game if they hadn't been at the ballpark themselves. They usually were at the games too and I'd be trying to beat them home. I'd want to be there to see them pull the station wagon into our long driveway and watch them as they wondered how I got there before they did. But it seems that they would usually be there waiting for me. Mom would be in the kitchen or upstairs already and dad would be in his chair, with a freshly fixed drink and he'd be lighting his pipe. .. his initial smoke drifting off the bowl of the pipe and out his mouth and nose and filling the air around his head. It'd be drifting across the living room and carrying the aroma of a sweet tobacco... the smell of my dad. It'd hug my face as I walked through it and as I plopped down in the couch and we'd watch the news. I'd play with the drifting waves of smoke in the air and everything would be good. At least that's how I remembered it once.
I wanted to be...
When I was younger, I was sure of very little. My future that was out in front of me extended a few days, maybe a few weeks. In the summer the time was marked out a little clearer starting with "how many days until the pool opened". Then once into the days of summer, it was all about "How many days until baseball is done, so we can go to the lake?"... which rolled directly into "How many days left of the lake before we have to go home?" and "How many days left of summer?"... each mark of benchmark that we reached came too fast or too slow depending on the amount of enjoyment we were getting out of the current situation. Summer in general flew by way to fast. I couldn't do enough nothing to fill it up and make it go slow. The only time it seemed to be perfect, the only time I can remember being so amazingly content that I vividly remember the moment was when the hammock was up in the back yard and the day was perfect for a nap.
Dad had buried two 8" x 8" posts that were about 7 feet long out just out from the deck behind the house at angles away from each other... like this: \ / .... the hammock hung perfectly between them and was a comfortable place to just chill out in back.
On one particular summer afternoon, mom told me to go take a nap. I think I was in about 9th grade or so and while I wasn't real big on taking naps, it sure seemed like a pretty good idea. I went out and sat in the hammock and just kind of swung there and stared up at the gently gliding white clouds in the blue sky. The birds were chirping and it had to be a perfect 70 degrees in the shade as I remember I was perfectly comfortable and when mom brought out a fleece blanket and laid it on me, it was none too warm, but a perfect way to fall right to sleep. It must've been late in summer as the walnuts had dropped off the tree and you could smell the bitter sap of the green walnuts that had been hit by the mower or stepped on and the green hull had started to rot. We never harvested those and tried to clean the walnuts, but I do remember picking them up in the fall and throwing them in with the leaves.
But I remember sleeping so soundly out in that fresh air for a couple of hours and I remember thinking about how perfect that moment was.
But besides thinking about the days of summer left or a few weeks or months to the next holiday, every so often I would have these visions about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Some of my earliest ventures into predictions included being a radio DJ. Who couldn't admire those cool cats on the radio playing the hottest tunes. Who didn't think Johnny Fever was the coolest guy on tv? Exactly! After a few failed demo cassettes of myself trying to sound cool, it was upon listening to my own voice that I didn't like the way that I sounded and figured that this dream was not worth pursuing.
So then I moved onto wanting to be a stuntman. Burt Reynold's antics in Smokey in the Bandit and Hooper (a movie about stuntmen) led me to this thought. I remember trying to figure out how to take a fall off my bike onto grass but couldn't ever get the guts to speed up the lead up to it so instead of a controlled accident, it was really just me tipping over on my bike.
I wanted to be a fireman for a while, but that was usually just whenever I was playing with the hose... I think we've all been there.
I wanted to be a motorcycle cop for a while... CHiPs was a pretty cool show and Ponch was the coolest. I could emulate the idea, but quite impractical on a bmx bike.
I did want to be an artist for a while when I was younger, but the future of it didn't seem like a great idea... Garretson didn't even have art in the high school, so there was no instruction (albeit for a couple of years when Ron Borstad taught a group of students in some capacity... I took it at the same time as my chorus and would go to art one day a week and then meet with him on the side for independent study as well. But then that ended and I never had art again until college.
Archeology was really my focus in high school... I loved history. I loved science. I was really focusing myself to become an archeologist or paleontologist but starting with a Chemistry and Biology degree was going to be my first step. Plan B was going to be utilizing my Chem and Bio for Pharmacy. Then, Chemistry 151 hit me and it hit me hard. My lab instructor at SDSU was Chinese and he did NOT speak much english and did NOT care that we did not understand him. He spoke quickly and demanded that we follow along. He assumed that we all had the Periodic Table memorized and didn't seem to care if we struggled because our atomic weights weren't fresh in our brains.. I was about in tears in college that my future in science was going away quickly when one night it was like a lightbulb went off and I pulled an immediate 180 degrees....
I remember the night that the "enlightenment" happened. I lived in Brown Hall, fourth floor. It was the quiet floor of the quiet dorm. The two sides of the building were not connected except for on the ground level. So while the west wing was girls, we only saw them in the lobby. I had befriended a girl from Mitchell and a couple of us from 4th east were over in her room hanging out on 4th west. We were sitting around, about 4 of us just trying to visit and watch tv, but the girl I knew's roommate was sitting in the middle of the room on the floor with a large pad of paper drawing and drawing and drawing. She was working feverishly on one drawing then another and I didn't even pay her that much attention until curiosity from my artistic side finally spoke up and asked her what she was drawing. She said that this was homework and that she needed to get her "out-of-class drawings" handed in by the next day. "Drawing homework?... for what class?" I asked her. She explained that they were for drawing class. ..... I was floored. "We have drawing classes up here? For what?", I asked.
She had to then explain to me that there was ya whole art department... art degrees... graphic design degrees... printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, painting, drawing.... "You could even be an art teacher." And there it was.... the perfect chord was struck. My Plan C had always been to become a Chemistry Teacher as I just loved the idea of teaching, and now with the epiphany I had bestowed upon me, the two pieces went perfectly together.
This was the day before heading to Spring Break, I believe and I couldn't wait to go change major and get myself a new counselor. I was over to the art building immediately in the morning and talked to the secretary there about declaring a new major and getting started in the right courses the next semester. She assigned me my counselor, Helen Morgan, and I think I even got to meet with her right away.
I went home for break with a new sense of purpose and contentment knowing that I wanted to become an artist. It was what I had dreamed of doing a long time ago, but just never had the push to continue down that path by any teacher. It took a roommate of a girl I kind of knew and her homework to remind me what I really LOVED to do.
Later, I can go into some of my memories of what I remember from art classes and my journey to become an art student and maybe someday a teacher (spoiler alert, I have never taught), but I did enjoy the education I got and the friends that I made on the way.... besides, tipping over on my bike probably wouldn't have paid much.
SDSU Cross Country Camp
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.
When I was a kid, I used to make a quick snack all on my own that was a breeze to make and required very few ingredients. I'm not even going to list the ingredients here as that would give away the surprise. Here's the instructions on how to do it on your own:
1. Get two pieces of white bread.
2. Spread each slice with butter.
3. Lightly sprinkle sugar onto each slice.
4. Place sugared sides together (assemble sandwich)
5. Enjoy your "sugar sandwich"
6. Visit Dentist.
7. Pay hefty bill.
I wondered recently just why i started eating those when I was a kid as for the longest time I've always just assumed it was because I liked sugar and particularly sugar with butter. (This stems from all the lefse with butter and sugar I've eaten since birth). But then it dawned on me (seriously...all of a sudden) that I had picked up this trick and habit from my mother.
My mom would make this snack. In reality, it pretty much is just like lefse with butter and sugar. The ingredients are quite similar and it tastes very similar as well. It was an easy snack that I could run inside and make myself in the middle of the afternoon on a summer day.
Those hot summer afternoons at 905 Third Street.... where we didn't have air conditioning. We had "open windows". The routine was to wake up and as soon as the outside temperature was warmer than the inside of the house, we'd close up all the windows and pull down all the retractable blinds. We would rough it like that for years. When the sun went down and the air cooled off, the blinds were lifted and the windows opened. The cross winds would drive cooler air through the house. If a storm moved in, we'd have to close up the windows most of the way (at least on the side of the house getting the rain driven into it). The task of opening and closing the windows was often my job, but really it was up to anybody that wanted to be comfortable.
I can list the windows I had to open. The storm door on the front of the house, the door on the west side of the house, the two kitchen windows. On the second floor, there was the bathroom window, my bedroom, the windows in the sunroom, two in the master bedroom that faced north, two in Matthew's room and two in the sewing room. Then, last but not least, there was three windows up in the attic bedroom that would allow the warmest air to rise in the house and escape out the top like a chimney. We'd place fans strategically throughout the airflow of the day. Sometimes the fans would drive the air in and other days we would place the fans to draw the air out.
Eventually the "windows only" method wasn't enough to keep us cool or even comfortable and dad broke down and we put in a window unit air conditioner on the main level by the living room. There were nights in the midst of the stretches of summer heat that we would sleep downstairs. Before the window unit (and maybe this is what the deciding factor was) we spent the night at the drug store where the central air kept it very comfortable. I only remember doing that once, so maybe only once was all that dad needed to pull the trigger on a window unit.
And then eventually further, we put another window unit upstairs in the sunroom. The sunroom opens up to both the master bedroom and to my bedroom. While I was in high school and Matthew was still around, he'd sleep on the floor of my bedroom every so often in the cooler air.
All these memories stemmed from the recollection of eating sugar with butter on bread. Those hot summer days, warm nights and easy snacks... even if they weren't the healthiest snack around.
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.
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.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.