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