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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A DAY OF ADVENTURE , 1942, Alameda/Pocatello, Idaho

On my first entry into this project, I stated that once in awhile I would post something that I had written in the past, but not successfully peddled to publication. The first entry I made of this kind was actually something that I had sold (in an edited version-magazines are like that) and been paid for but that had not been published. It was mostly a real event with slight adornments to cover that fact that it happened about sixty years before it was written. Now, because my brain has fried, and I can't seem to get one coherent thought after another I have decided to post another childhood adventure. This one, with the exception of names changed to protect the guilty, happened almost exactly as it is written. For the two of you who seem to read this blog, it seems like this is the only way I can do the job for this day.
Richard B. Johnson

Some school days are better than others at Roosevelt School, but today, the second Tuesday in October was one of the "others". I didn't do my homework and Mrs. Spriggs made an example of me in front of the class. I got picked last for the softball team at recess, and fumbled a fly ball, and everybody on the other team laughed. I didn't want to play softball anyway, that was mostly for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.

I started to have a good time when I went to the bathroom, after lunch, because, when I was coming back to class, I heard somebody talking under the coat rack of the other third grade class room. I looked to see where it was coming from, and found this hole in the wall right under the coats, with slats across it like a venetian blind. When I laid down next to it, I could see and hear everything in the class. Steve Palmer was sitting right next to the hole and he was scratching his behind with a pencil.

I pretended I was a spy, and that they were Nazis, and when Miss Griffin was talking about subtraction, it was really code for bombing the Army Air field out toward American Falls. Just as I was trying to translate the code, to save the Air Field, somebody grabbed me from behind, and I screamed out loud. I guess I thought the Nazi's had caught me but it was only the Principal. It was funny though, how, when I screamed, everybody in that class jumped up and stared at this vent-hole in the wall where I had been. Miss Griffin came running out into the hall with three or four of the kids from her class, and Mrs. Spriggs came running out of my class and there I was, hanging under the principal's arm like an old bag of spuds. He told them to go on back to class, that no one was hurt, but that somebody might be hurt before the day was over. Mrs. Spriggs gave me a dirty look, and they all went back, then the principal lugged me on back to his office.
When he set me down on the ground, he told me I had no business looking in at the other class, and that hiding under the coats and peeping at the class made me a snoop and he wasn't going to stand for snoops in his school.

I was still kind of pretending to be a spy, so I stood up as tall as I could, looked him straight in the eye and didn't say nothing. I thought what Van Johnson or John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart would do if the Nazi's caught them, and just stood there. He seemed to get mad that I didn't talk so he told me to hold out my hand and he whacked it hard with a ruler. It hurt, but I knew Van Johnson wouldn't scream out if he was being tortured so I just bit my teeth together and stood there. He looked at me, and his face got red, and his eyes kind of bugged out some, and he hauled off and hit me three more times. The last time he hit me it really hurt, and it came to me that until I quit being a spy and cried some, he was just going to keep on whaling away, so I put my hurt hand in my other arm pit, looked down at the floor and cried some. Truth is, once I quit being a spy, it wasn't a bit hard to cry. My hand really hurt.

When I cried, he put his arm around my shoulders and told me to be a man, and dry my tears. Struck me funny that, when I was trying to do that, his face got all red and he hit me, and I almost giggled, but it struck me that wouldn't be a very smart thing to do, so I didn't. He made me sit there in his office till school was out but he didn't call my mom. I was glad he didn't call my mom, cause I didn't think I'd like it if he called my mom.

When the bell rang, I went to get my jacket and Mrs. Spriggs came out and gave me a bunch of homework to do to make up for missing class. The day wasn't getting better at all.
I was just about to go on home when Delano Busby came along and asked me if I wanted to walk with him to Primary. I had forgotten that this was Tuesday, Primary day, and I had to walk on up to the church for Primary. I told Delano "Sure, and started off with him, but I really wasn't sure. Most times I really liked Primary. I liked the singing, and I really liked it when we made soap carvings, and kites, and colored pictures and stuff, but the way this day was going, this was going to be one the Primary days where we spent a lot of time listening to the teacher talk about how Jesus loved the little children, and that he loves us, and that we should love one another and be kind to one another, all that stuff, and the way I felt, I figured that if that was the kind of Primary we were going to have today, I was going to puke.

Delano and I started off the nine blocks to the church. By the time we got to the railroad tracks, he and I, and Donald Duckworth, (wouldn't you like to have that name, and have to get all A's in all your classes too) some little kids, and three or four of the girls from the church were all walking together. (My primary teacher and my mom told us that we had to let the girls, and even the little kids walk with us because we had a traffic light and the railroad tracks between us and the church). We usually made the girls and the little kids walk behind us a little ways, but this day we were all walking together except for some fifth grade boys, who made us all walk behind THEM.

When we crossed the tracks, Del took us up the right-of-way a little ways to show us where the Section Hands had stacked up a bunch of old railroad ties that they had pulled out from under the track. No one was there working, but there was a big tractor, a long piece of new rail and a big pile of crushed rock and gravel along with some tools lying around. Most of the ties were stacked neatly but some were just dumped by the track like a bunch of old pick up sticks.
Del and I climbed up on the stack of ties and challenged everybody to a game of King of the Mountain, but Donald and the girls said they were taking all the little kids and going on to Primary. I was going to call Don a sissy, but just then a guy drove up the track in a yellow pick up truck and told us all to get away from there, so we jumped down off the ties and went off to Primary with the rest.

Primary was just what I though it would be. Boooring. Jesus loves the little children and all that stuff. I could hardly wait till it was over. After class, we were all supposed to assemble for a closing song and closing prayer, but Del, and I, and Art Sparks, who was a fourth grader skipped out early. Del lived right there by the church, but he offered to walk part way home with me, so he and I and Art headed down to the tracks to show Art the ties and stuff at the track side.

When we got there, we each put a penny on the track in case a train came, so it would flatten the penny out. We sat and waited for a while but no train came so we decided to play King of the Mountain. Art was enough bigger than Del and me that he pretty much was king for awhile. He stayed up there and didn't even get dirty while Del and I kept getting tossed down and getting tar all over our clothes, and black tarry slivers from the ties into our clothes. We got pretty mad, and Del and I decided that Del would get some gravel out of the pile and throw it at Art, then if Art came down off the pile to get some gravel, I would get up on top, and call myself king, and only let Del get up with me.

It didn't work. When Delano started throwing rocks, Art just covered up his face so he wouldn't get hit in the eye, and began yelling curse words at Del. I got the idea that I could climb up the loose ties that were at the side of the pile and sneak up on Art while he had his eyes covered. I got almost to the top of one tie, and was going to jump over behind Art when the tie moved. I lost my balance, slid half way down the tie on my belly, then hit an old railroad spike that hadn't been pulled out and it tore the whole sleeve out of my jacket. I fell down to the ground with my wind knocked out and could hardly breathe.

When I got my breath, I looked around and both Art and Del had taken off. I think they thought I was killed and they would be blamed. I was really sore. I had BIG BLACK slivers in me, all over. To top it off, my nose started to bleed, and I was bleeding all over my clothes.
I walked up to the crossing where the road crossed the tracks, trying to stop my nosebleed, trying to pull out slivers (those slivers have creosote tar on them and burn something awful) and trying to think of how I was going to explain to my mother that I ruined my jacket, when, just as I got to the road, along came a car, and just screeched to a halt beside me. And who jumped out but Mrs. Spriggs, my third grade teacher. That made it even worse, because then I remembered that the homework she had given me was lying up there beside the pile of railroad ties.
I turned around to run back and get my homework, when she snatched me up like I was a little baby and hugged me so hard I couldn't breathe. She, kind of panted for a minute, then she set me down. She was crying. "Are you all right?", she said, "What happened? Did you get hit by a car, or a train?" "What could have happened to you?"

I remembered the look she gave me when the principal had me, and the way she talked to me when she gave me the extra home-work to make up for missing class and I thought that maybe I hadn't better tell her that I had been playing on a bunch of railroad ties up the track that the railroad man had told me to stay away from.

"I, I, I'm not sure. I was coming home from Primary," I recited, "When I saw this little girl walking over by the railroad track. She was a little girl, maybe three or four years old, and she was kind of dirty, and she was crying. I called to her to get away from the tracks. Just then, I looked up, and there was a switch engine coming down the line with three or four cars in front of it. I knew the engineer would never see her with those cars in front of him, so I took off running to her, calling her to come to me. I must have scared her, cause instead of coming to me, she ran away, right out onto the track and fell down between the tracks. I ran as hard as I could, and I grabbed her, and jumped out from in front of the cars. Then I heard this loud noise, and everything turned black, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting there in the borrow pit, and the train was gone, and the little girl was gone, and I was bleeding and my jacket was all tore, and I have slivers all over in me. I got up and looked all over for the little girl but I couldn't find her,and I decided I better get on home, cause my mom'll be worried, Primary was over a long time ago."

She pushed me back a little, and gave me a long look, and I thought maybe I had gone too far. But then she picked me up and gave me a hug and put me in her old Ford. She walked up the track a little calling "Little girl, are you alright?" and bent over and touched some of the blood I had been bleeding along the roadside. By now, I had pulled the sleeve off my jacket and was using it to try to stop from bleeding all over her car. When she got back to the car, I could see that she had blood all down her right shoulder on the yellow blouse, and I hoped she didn't notice for a while. I could see that she was sympathetic, but she still had this big "question mark" look on her face.

She took me directly on home and marched me up on the porch where she knocked on the door. I told her I could just walk on in the house without knocking, but she held me right there. When mom came to the door, Mrs. Spriggs looked my mother right in the eye and began to talk. "I think it is possible that your son might be a hero." she said, doubtfully, then proceeded to tell mom the whole story.

Mom hugged me, put a piece of ice on my lip, under my nose, like she always does when my nose bleeds. (I bleed a lot.) Then she sat me down, and pulled out two or three of the big slivers that showed. She then put iodine in the spots where the slivers had been, and it burned almost as bad as the creosote. "Ow," says I, and she said "Hush! It will probably hurt more than that by the time we get you fixed up." Then she went in to say good bye to Mrs. Spriggs.
I have a bad feeling. Mom usually uses peroxide or Mercurochrome on my cuts when she thinks I've had an accident I couldn't avoid. Today she is using Iodine. She's probably going to ask a lot more questions than Mrs. Spriggs. It has been that kind of day.

Copyright C July 1984 Richard B. Johnson


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