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Three score and ten or more

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Automotive adventures, part I

I was scanning my favorite blogs awhile ago, and came across one on Thotman (I spent twenty minutes making a link here and couldn't get the program to accept my html, so if you want to read the post, go down to the blogroll and click) brought back real memories. One of his family had had a collision with a large cow, and both the cow and the car (but thankfully not the people) came out somewhat the worse for the collision. It brought to mind some of my own automotive adventures. One of these, was a confrontation between myself, my car, and a Hereford bull, and I told that story as a comment on his blog. This led to contemplation of other automotive adventures, so I felt that I really wanted to tell, what I think was the first of my real automotive adventures.

The summer between my Junior and Senior years in High school was one of the first “put yourself on the line, start early, end late and work your buns off jobs that I ever had. Just before school let out, I started looking for a job, and the manager of the Idaho Concrete Product Plant in Pocatello just happened to mention to my dad, at some kind of Stake Bishopric Meeting, that he was looking for some summer workers for the plant. Dad told me instantly, told me that the man (whose name was so familiar back then) would look for me the following Wednesday evening. I went in, interviewed for the job, and went to work the day after school let out. The job paid $1.25 an hour, you started work at seven A.M. finished at either five P.M. or so, worked once in awhile on Saturdays and got in anywhere from forty nine (the minimum) to about fifty five hours a week for which we were paid time and a half for everything over forty hours. The salary ended up being really pretty good for the time. A lot of men (including some of the regulars there) supported families on less.

One of the guys in my class, Mark Hancock also got a job there and there were two or three others of high school or college age doing summer work. The work started out as real grunt work. The plant was one of two. Our plant in Pocatello made concrete pipe of all sizes from six inches in diameter to about six or seven feet in diameter. The plant in Idaho Falls made concrete blocks in several sizes and shapes, as well as what we called sheared block (they had a fancier name for it in the advertising) which were about eight inches by eight inches with colored mortar but standard white pumice inside. When they were sheared in half they made a standard four by eight inch brick, and lots of houses in that period were made from them. (Actually they had thinner ones and longer ones and some variety in that too.)

At our company we did a lot of brick sorting and some block sorting to get rid of culls but the main thrust was concrete pipe (I also made a lot of irrigation head gates, that fell to my responsibility for quite awhile.) In priority, the factory jobs went from sorting and stacking (lowest) to making specialty things (a little higher) to mixing mud for the big machines, (still higher) to running one of the big machines (highest). I was a little jealous of Mark for awhile because he got on the one of the pipe machines pretty early. But, I mixed mud and made headgates and sometimes went out on the big truck to pick up cement and deliver- - whatever. We had two forklifts, a really big Hyster and a little blue one. I became the ex officio driver of the little one which was one reason I was sent out on the big truck. We would load the cubes of brick, and then load the little forklift on the truck. It was fun. There were slots on the truck bed for the forks on the forklift. You just ran those forks into the slot, pushed the button and the forklift went up to the truck bed. It was really hard work, and I probably got into the best condition I had ever been in.

After a few weeks, the boss came out to where I was working on headgates and asked me if I knew how to drive. I answered yes, so he had me put a cube of blocks on the pickup and go out and deliver them.

This really presented a conundrum that I hadn’t thought of before, and didn’t think much of at the time, but I thought a lot about it a month or so later. At that time, you could get a driver’s license in Idaho at fourteen years old. It may have been a “learner’s” license but you could get it. I had tried to get my dad to let me have a license for almost two years. He had told me that I could have a license when I was sixteen, which would have been July 23 in the summer under discussion. In the meantime, he had taken me out to the airport and along country roads and pretty thoroughly taught me to drive, but I hadn’t yet reached the crucial sixteen year age yet and so I didn’t have a license.. The boss hadn’t asked me if I had a license, he had asked me if I knew how to drive. In the Machiavellian mind of a fifteen year old, I hadn’t lied, I just hadn’t told the whole truth.

The boss was very happy with the speed of my delivery and within a week, I was driving the pick-up at least four hours a day, delivering block or brick, or sometime picking up culls, or whatever. I had a number of really interesting experiences driving the delivery pick-up. It was a large, International brand one ton pick-up so I could haul a lot of stuff on it. A cube of concrete blocks had (I think) eighteen blocks to a layer and was generally six layers deep which equaled about 180 concrete blocks. I am not sure how much that weighed, but it was a lot. If I was hauling sheared blocks (or brick, as it were) it was still heavier because a cube would have the same dimensions, but blocks have three or four big air spaces or holes in each one while brick had none. The weight made the pick up tricky to drive sometimes, especially around corners, but it was fun, I was getting paid, and I felt important.

On one route where I made quite a few deliveries there was a big German Shepherd dog that would come chase me on almost every trip. I am not sure why this irritated me, the dog certainly couldn’t get into the pickup and bite me, but it irritated me. I told the guy who drove the company eighteen wheeler about it and he told me that if I would tie (or actually tape, with duct tape) half of a burlap bag to the front wheel of the truck just before I got to the block where the dog was, that it would break the dog of chasing me. I don’t think I appreciated what he said, but I decided to do it. The next time I went that way, I taped the bag into place around a spoke in the wheel, and then went on down the street. The dog came out chasing me, barking like crazy then snapped at the burlap bag. It caught his teeth, flipped him over and threw him about a hundred yards into an empty lot. He got up whining and screaming and limped off into the distance. I’m still not sure I didn’t kill the poor thing, and I felt terrible about it, but he never showed up to chase me again. I certainly was glad no one saw. I probably would have been arrested for cruelty to animals.

The most exciting adventure with the truck was yet to come. I have to set the scene a little bit. Pocatello is in a valley between two rows of mountains. On each side of the city there is a section of the mountains that is flat, and lower than the peak and those segments are referred to as the east and west bench. At the time of this story, the east bench was mostly wheat fields, sagebrush fields and the city water tower. The west bench, however was in a state of pretty active housing development. The roads up to the bench were pretty steep but the houses at the top were pretty large and expensive. (The fields up at the top were the places where high school students went, after movies and dances to “look at the city”, “look at the stars”, or, in short, to make out.)

I was given the job, one day, to go up onto the west bench, to one of the housing developments, to pick up a load of cull brick. I drove up empty, spent much of the morning stacking brick in the back of the pick-up and set off to take them back to the plant. As I started down the bench the pick-up started to pick up speed, so I put my foot on the brake to slow her down and my foot went clear to the floor. I had no brakes at all. I had never tried it, but I had heard that you should slow a car down in a situation like that by shifting down to a lower gear, but when I shifted out of high and tried to put the thing in second I just grated the gears, so there I was in neutral, whizzing down this curvy hill. I had one car in front of me and I just passed him as if he were standing still and was going about seventy miles an hour down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, there was a stop sign, and the road took a ninety degree left turn. Just beyond the stop sign was a fence, a pile of firewood and someone’s back yard. I was amazed that time seemed to slow down, so that I could contemplate my fate, but I just closed my eyes, prayed, and assumed I was going to die. At the bottom, I plowed through the stop sign, into the guy’s chain link fence (which worked a lot like a safety net) and through his wood pile. A bunch of bricks came through the rear view window, and a bunch of firewood came through the windshield, but , except for bruising my chest on the steering wheel, which knocked me silly for a few minutes I wasn’t hurt at all. I got out of the truck just as the lady of the house came running out to see if the world had ended. I walked into her house, borrowed the phone and called my boss. He asked if I was hurt, or if anyone else was. Hearing that there were no injuries he told me to call the police, that we were covered by insurance and he would be right along. It was at that time, that I had to tell him that I didn’t have a driver’s license. What followed was one of the longest silences in history. He then said to sit where I was, and he would be right along. I assumed that I was fired, but he came, made arrangements for the truck to be towed, made arrangements to repair the fence, re-stack the firewood and repair the lawn of the ladies house. He then invited me to get in his car and we started back to the plant. I started to say something and he just held up his finger and shook his head, so we drove back in total silence. Instead of taking me to the plant he took me home, told me that he would check me out at the time clock and that he would call my dad. He then began to yell at me about the driver’s license and I said, lamely, “Well you asked me if I could drive, you didn’t ask me if I had a license.” There was a pause, and he said, “You’re right”, then he told me not to come back to work without a driver’s license. I got out of the car and went in to tell my mom I had been fired. When my dad got home from work, he had already talked to the boss about what had happened (I didn’t know you could call someone at the railroad shop). He sent me to bed after a discussion about lies of omission. The next morning, my mom took me to the sheriff’s office to get a driver’s license, and the following day I went back to work. As soon as my chest was better, and as soon as the truck was repaired I was put back on deliveries. I don’t think I have ever done something that stupid without being raked over the coals, fired, been grounded or something, but it was if it had never happened..

Thursday, December 29, 2005



Not an almond or filbert or walnut, but still the kind of nut that gets a little cracked around holidays. I do love holiday times. I don’t have quite as much fun working up to Christmas as I used to (before the time, not too long ago, when I was hanging decorations on the window valences, and, forgetting I was on a ladder, stepped back to look at them from a distance. I have mostly healed but still take naproxen every day so that I can use my right shoulder.) my dear wife gets really fussy when I climb the ladder to hang lights around the house, or rake the pine straw off the roof, or for anything else. That takes some of the oomph out of holiday decorations. I still love holidays.

This holiday has been one of “those” holidays. You know, the kind where you gradually sense a little black cloud hanging over your head at all times. It started off very well. My daughter, the wildlife biologist, called from South Carolina, to say that the army wouldn’t let her come for the whole holiday week, but she would be here two or three days before Christmas, and she wouldn’t have to be back at work till Tuesday morning after Christmas. My son, the college librarian had written that he would be here for the whole holiday. (It is the first time in awhile that he could drive home, since he just relocated to Oxford, Mississippi). The daughter in Florida couldn’t come since her daughter was just being released from a hospital stay with a serious episode with diabetes. (She has come to the conclusion that when she takes her insulin it makes her fat.) and my daughter was still taking care of her grandson (I am a great grandpa, that really makes me old.). The computer geek son and his four children were staying in
Washington,(but I can’t really complain about that since I had given him and family a timeshare week in a Washington resort, for the week before Christmas.).

Things began to look a little dark when I started to come down with a cold. In my case this is a big deal. I really almost never get colds (I think it has something to do with a crazy fixation on antioxidants, if there is an antioxidant that I don’t take, in large doses, every day, it is an oversight, or the pharmacists and health food stores have been struck by lighting). But this cold hit, and hit in the worst place. It made my voice useless. My family (actually the daughter and I, and some sons), were scheduled to sing in church. I had been looking forward to it for a long time. The kids sing a lot, and have been in some great choirs, and I do a lot of singing in public, but we rarely get the opportunity to perform together in public. We were scheduled to sing a great Gaither quartet piece, It’s Still the Greatest Story Ever Told, and I was to sing lead, and when we tried to rehearse it together, I just squeaked a lot. I “probably” could have sung bass, but that was not in the cards. I DID want to sing, but I satisfied myself by listening to son and daughter sing a duet.

We had decided to have the “big” Christmas dinner on Saturday, to avoid needless confusion on the Sunday/Sabbath/Christmas. (We’re church goers, what can you say? )
I just had no enthusiasm for cooking a turkey, and all the other fun Christmas stuff with a church service in the middle. I am the official turkey cooker in my house. I have my own dressing recipe, my own spices, I make superb giblet gravy and even hide the giblets where those guests who find the thought of giblets revolting can’t find any visible trace of them in the gravy. With my cold, this involved a lot of hand washing and fiddling to keep everything sanitary. (I used to use a “turkey bag” to speed things up, but was not fond of some of the results so I have reverted to “non-bag” turkey cooking.) Many hours later, the darn plastic gismo that is supposed to pop-up didn’t pop. I got out my trusty meat thermometer and the temp of the dressing read OK, as did the meat test in the thigh, so I said “fie on the plastic gismo” and took out the bird. As I was slicing, I began to find signs that the lovely, juicy, bird was undercooked, to I took that which was sliced, put it in plastic bag and shoved it in the microwave until it was “safe”, took the rest of the bird, shoved it in a turkey bag, and put it back in the oven for an hour or so. I then served, what to me was now a kind of crumby” dinner, ate about half of mine, excused myself for my cold (which was trying to drown me) and went to bed for a few hours. I presume dinner came out all right, because most of it got eaten. The turkey that was “bagged” was boned out and was nice and juicy for sandwiches, and the family was well into the destruction of a wonderful chocolate cake which the librarian son makes with Guinness Stout, melted with bittersweet chocolate and a bunch of other stuff and it makes on of the biggest, chocolatest, cakes ever made.

Early on after our guest’s arrival, but before the cooking, the hot water stopped in the back bathroom. “No problem” says I, and, opening up the front of the water heater for that section of the house, I pressed the reset button and quickly hot water returned. About half an our later my daughter called me to the family room (which is on a slab, on a lower level than the rest of the house). “Look”, says she. Then she walked across the carpet, making little splashes all the way. We had about an inch of hot water all across the room. I checked the water heater and, sure enough, this was the source of the water. After turning off the water inlet, we got out the shop-vacs and the carpet shampooer and vacuumed up a lot of water. With this added to my cold, I got a little surly (I was a mess). After emptying the closet wherein the water heater sat primly, I dried the floor and looked for the source of the leak. All the parts that usually put water on the floor seemed fine. I turned the heat back on, and, almost instantly had a floor full of water again. Without a single curse word (out loud, anyway) I got the kids to vacuum the water back up, turned off the heat , and we made it through the holiday with one shower. The last two days have been filled with the very efficient folks from serve-pro tearing up the carpets, removing the villainess water heater, boxing up the possessions from the family room, and taking decongestions for my cold. I am currently waiting for another appearance from the insurance adjustor and muttering inanities to myself. Somehow, I am not optimistic. It has been that kind of a weekend. At least my cold is going away.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Shooting off my mouth

Shooting off my mouth.
I haven’t really offended anyone by shooting off my mouth in a long time. Today I went through a meditation that seems to indicate that this is the time, though if I were wise (as old coots are supposed to be) or immune from criticism (as some old coots seem to be), it probably wouldn’t be a problem.

When I first moved south in 1970, I heard a phrase for the first time that quite puzzled me. After hearing it a few times I sorted it out. The meaning was – to behave obnoxiously, and to be stubborn and defiant, particularly with relatives or with very close friends. The phrase was “Showing your (or his, or her) ass."

Now when I think of that phrase (I have just spent the day out following the “return your gift” crowds, and shopping, and you might think I was prepared to deal with obnoxious shoppers or gift returners, which were out in large numbers today, but you would be wrong) I can only think that it must apply to about sixty percent of the women between sixteen and thirty years old who are bending over to pick up, put down or look for almost anything. ( I somehow wish that some magic process would drop 360 degree mirrors around women with pants that only come up a little way, and tops that only come down a little way, so that women were forced to see themselves all the way round -like they are in that fashion show What Not to Wear).

I have previously noted in this blog that I think most (if not all) women are beautiful. I truly admire women and enjoy seeing them do almost anything, but with today’s styles, even with the occasional butterfly or star tattooed in the appropriate (or inappropriate) place I can’t think of anything that irritates me more than an otherwise attractive female, "showing her ass” -physically, accidentally or on purpose.----- Maybe if I were fifty years younger??? Naaaaaaaa.
My female friend tell me that it doesn't even work for plumbers, and that is a years long tradition.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Carol pictures

I’ve had a couple of comments and a couple of Emails asking me to post a clip from A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be) no one took video or film of the performance. I do have some still shots that I will show. The first is, I think, is Marley's ghost. The second is Scrooge discovering that the ghosts spared him and he is alive. The next two are Dickens with the Scrooge nose pulled to the back of his head, closley followed by a close-up of Scrooge. We then see Dickens confronting his “inner” child (which happens, at the moment, to be “outer” in the picture).

The final picture (that I can see) is Dickens at his desk.

I sent one of Scrooge at the Fezziwig's Christmas Party and I tried twice to send one of Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Present. None of these seemed to appear, but they might show up when the post is published. I have discovered that this program has a mind of its own about where pictures show up. Forgive the ego trip, but some of you asked for it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


My grandma and Grandpa Johnson lived in Pocatello, Idaho, on Lander Street, 1226 East Lander, I believe. Some of the things I say here may be vague, but I am now writing about memories that shift in and out, and deal with the time when I was very young. My Grandpa Johnson is one of those memories. I don't really remember him very well except that, to a little boy, he seemed very tall, (his picture is at the right) and I seem to remember white hair and that he bounced me on his foot and sang (Swedish spelling not guaranteed) LUNKEN EFTER VATEN, LUNKEN EFTER VATEN, HOOOCHIE HOOCHIE, LUNKEN TA HEM, LUNKEN TA HEM, SKOOTAVESTET, SKOOTAVESTET. My father also played this game with me and his translation was "Run after water, run after water, draw it up (from the well) draw it up. Run home again, run home again, Jump up the steps, Jump up the steps."
The most significant memory of my Grandpa Johnson is that his death was the first memory I have of the reality of death. I don't remember how old I was, but I vividly remember going to his funeral, seeing the flowers, and seeing my father cry, and being shocked that a father would cry (No one who knows me would ever be shocked by tears. I run like a leaky faucet.) I really think that I was so young that the memory of bouncing on his foot may have been told to me, and made real by the fact that my dad did that same thing to me.
I have another memory or series of memories, that follows up on Grandpa's death. Grandpa was buried in Lund, Idaho where he had homesteaded upon arrival in the U.S., and, following his burial we established a tradition of going to Lund almost every memorial day (or Decoration Day, as we called it) to decorate Grandpa's grave. I'm sure that for my dad, this was a solemn occasion, but for me, it was one of the holidays I always really loved. We drove to Lund up (or down--southwesterly) on Highway 30 north cutting off somewhere near McCammon to go through Lava Hot Springs. We went through Lava, up a cutoff and over what was called The Fish Creek Divide, down the divide to Lund. The trip was always exciting. I'm not sure what kind of car we had at first, but it seems to me that it was black and had fuzzy upholstery. When I was about six years old, my dad bought a NEW car. A green, 1941 Plymouth four door sedan that was OUR car for many years until I finally killed it coming home from my first college football game my freshman year in college.
Anyway, back to the trip, Maybe I’ll fill you in on the death of the Plymouth later on another occasion. The basic pattern of the trip was always the same, at least in my memories. Mom picked, what seemed to me to be, VAST quantities of Peonies from her flower garden (once in a great while she bought them from a second cousin who came up from Utah every year with a truck load of Peonies that he sold in Pocatello), packed a lunch which usually included fried chicken, sandwiches, along with lemonade which was carried in an old greenish grey gallon thermos which was still in the family after I married and moved away. The flowers were put in the back seat of the car in a vase. I remember it being on the floor, but I also remember flowers being up on the car seat between Doug, my brother who was three years older than I, and myself, wrapped in moistened newspaper. I suspect they were put there to keep Doug and me separated, since we fought a lot on trips. As we drove to Lava, we sang songs together (somewhere, I will write down all the Lyrics of the songs, not that they are that unusual, but many of them stick in my mind like glue, and somehow they are an important part of me. Among the favorite songs were THE OLD APPLE TREE IN THE ORCHARD, A SPANISH CAVALIER, old Stephen Foster tunes, and World War I camp songs like TENTING TONIGHT ON THE OLD CAMP GROUND, along with rounds like ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT, and FRERE JACQUE. (I really loved to sing with my dad.) Once in a great while we would get away with 99 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, but Mom didn't like that, so I always felt delightfully wicked when they let us sing it for a while. I have a vague memory that we counted telephone poles, though I can't think why one would do that, and that we sometimes played the Alphabet Game, looking at signs, but that may just be a transfer, because that was a game that I always played with MY children when WE traveled.
Not long after we left McCammon, the main exercise was looking for the "L" that was up on the mountain over Lava Hot Springs. Somehow we always thought that the major part of the trip was over when we saw the "L". It was a beautiful drive, through valleys and small canyons crossing the Portneuf river several times. I always got a special thrill when I saw horses out in the fields, and I think that, once or twice, we saw a deer.
We stopped at Lava Hot Springs to have lunch in the park near the "Natatorium" or big hot spring swimming pools at Lava. I think that once or twice we may have gone swimming while we were there after the children got older, but most of our swimming at Lava was on special trips there, not on the "Decoration Day" trips. We did always get to "feed the fish". There were enormous trout in the Portneuf there at Lava, and they congregated under the bridge between the parking lot and the pools. Everyone would throw small pieces of bread in the river and the fish would almost make the water seem to boil as they fed. It was an enormous thrill to see, what seemed to be, a yard long rainbow trout smash through the water to snatch "your" piece of bread away from all his brothers. Occasionally a smaller one would jump clear out of the water, shaking his tail in scorn at those more timid ones. I don't think any picnic ever tasted better than those "Decoration Day" picnics at Lava. (Actually they weren't on Decoration Day. Memorial Day was on Monday, and we usually left for Lund on the Saturday before.)
After the picnic we would pack up the blanket that had been spread on the ground, put everything in the car, and the hair on the back of my neck would begin to bristle, thinking about the Fish Creek Divide.
The road out of Lava was bordered by outcropping of Lava rock and small cliffs with great clusters of small aspen and chokecherries along the banks of the Portneuf and the creeks that were tributary to the river. It was quite a long uphill drive out of Lava, and my favorite part was when Dad would begin to put the car in second gear and the old car would sing out its frustration at the uphill grades. It was really quite a long drive from Lava Hot Springs to the top of the divide, and I suspect that if the road still exists it has probably been widened and all the excitement has been engineered out of it, but it was exciting to me even on the first trip (when, it seems to me, that I was in the front seat, between Mom and Dad, and Doug was in the back, by himself.) I probably had complained about car sickness. I occasionally did get car-sick riding in the back, which had the advantage that I could occasionally get up in front, or I could get away with hanging my head out the window--for air).
It may be a trick of memory that remembers the road over the divide as a very narrow gravel road, but the view of the valley from the top of the divide was breathtaking, and we always stopped the car to look at it. You could see the wide flat plain down below, covered with winter wheat and other crops. Three distinct towns could be seen from there, Lund, another little village the size of Lund, the name of which I can't remember, and, off in the distance, the clump of trees that identified Soda Springs. The ride down from the crest was the peak of the whole trip. Switch backs back and forth with the road so narrow that Dad never went around a curve without honking the horn, in case another car was coming up. I looked down the steeps at the side of the road, knowing in my heart that the wheels of the car were really hanging out in space and that momentarily we were all going to slip off sidewards and careen, bouncing and crashing down the cliffs to our collective doom. I always reached the bottom of the divide with the distinct feeling that I hadn't breathed since we left the crest.
The events in Lund stick in my memory less significantly than the trip. I think there was less of a pattern but some things were more or less universal.
We stayed at the home of my great-uncle Arthur Peterson, who had many acres that he farmed primarily in winter wheat. When I was little there was a horse that I sometimes got to ride, chickens to chase (and eggs to hunt), all the things that you think about when you think about going to "the farm". I remember how broken hearted I was when the year arrived that we arrived at the farm to find the horse gone, the chickens gone, all the things that we think of as "farm things" were missing. When I asked Uncle Arthur where they were, he said that the kids had moved away and didn't need the horse, and that winter, after the grain had been planted he and Aunt--I THINK it was Aunt Ida, but I am not sure--had decided to go the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, and then couldn't find anyone to take care of the horses, chickens, etc., so he had sold the "whole kit and kaboodle". All he was going to worry about from now on was wheat.
He had to plow a fallow field, so he took us out to look, and he got in a great big yellow Caterpillar tractor, with disk harrows that appeared to go out thirty feet to each side, and four or five units deep. He completely worked a field that must have been forty acres in size in just about twenty minutes. It was really impressive, but it didn't take the place of the horse.
The other memories that really stick from the visits to Lund were the visit to the graveyard, which was a small country graveyard, haphazardly cared for, and I remember at least once when Dad borrowed a push lawn mower and a rake from uncle Arthur and we went out and mowed and raked around the Grandpa’s grave which had a small, white stone, as I remember. I seem to remember something about the family getting together and replacing the first stone, though it may have been changed since that time. At any rate we always made the area look nice, and then Mom would arrange the flowers in two or three groups, with different names on them. Sometimes Grandma Johnson would come with us, sometimes she was already in Lund when we got there (Uncle Arthur was her brother, so she stayed with him as well) but she came out to the graveyard with us, and when she came early, she had already gone out to the grave and put flowers there. I remember some really intense discussions between her and Mom about just which flowers would go where, and what colors went side by side, and together they picked and picked for what seemed to me to be an awfully long time to make sure everything was just right.
We usually made a trip to the town of Soda Springs where there was a naturally carbonated spring from which the town took its name. I think the actual name of the spring was "Hooper Spring" or something like that, and Dad usually referred to the spring itself as "Beer Springs" because, he said, that's what everybody called it when he was little. We would each get a glass of the water and say something about how neat it tasted (which it didn't). At least once, my mother took some Hires root beer base which came in a little round bottle, mixed it with some sugar and poured the Soda Water over it. It was better that way, but not great, it seemed to go a little flat when it was flavored.
One of my favorite things about the Memorial Day trips was that dad would take us around and point out landmarks of when he was a boy there in the valley. He told us about school, and pointed out where the little school was that only went to the eighth grade, and that he had gone through the eighth grade two or three times, not because he flunked, but because there wasn’t a high school, and there wasn't much else for a thirteen or fourteen year old boy to do when the snow got deep, and there weren't so many chores on the farm. When we got older he told us about the teacher that took all the older boys out behind the school in this valley of Mormon immigrants, and taught them how to smoke cigarettes. Another story was of a time when he and another boy contracted to break some horses--I don't remember whether they were wild horses that had been caught and brought in or whether they were just young, but, according to the story, he was riding a horse that was bucking, and got thrown up over the neck of the horse. When he was seating himself back in the saddle the pommel of the saddle got caught in the buttons on the fly of his jeans, and he was caught. He couldn't get all the way back down on the saddle, and couldn't get off so the horse just bucked until the buttons broke and he was finally thrown off. He said that his "belly-- and other parts" were so bruised that he couldn't finish the job that day, and couldn't even walk the next day, but he finally got finished with the job and got paid.
There were lots of other stories, but I can't remember them, which really irritates me, and is one of the reasons I am writing this. My children may be bored with these stories, but they will have them to refer to.
Somehow, the trips home don't stick with me as vividly as the trips going TO Lund. Maybe we went home by a different route, or maybe Fish Creek wasn't as scary going up as going down, but I honestly can't remember the trips home. There is a strong possibility that after two or three days in a strange town, with lots to do, picnics and graveyards, chickens and horses, that a young boy was plopped in the back seat and slept all the way home.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Well, thanks to Davo, Patrick, Mahndisa and ExMI, I think I have finally figured out the blogroll and link thing. I got some sites up, still have a few to go (If I remember tomorrow what I have learned today, a thoroughly doubtful premise.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I don't like to whine (yes I do, I'm afraid this blog, taken as a whole, proves it, but I don't like to admit it), but last night I posted an article named Christmas Ham which I toyed with, fiddled with, and searched my heart about. After I had finished it, I toured my usual blogs, finding that Patrick had tagged me, so I posted a second "thing", confessing to my various wierdnesses (at least those I was willing to go public about.) I can't help getting the feeling that those who read the Tagged post thought that they had already read everything that preceded it. If you are one of the two or three who follow this blog, and you didn't read Christmas Ham, do it. I think it has something useful to say. If you have already read it, consider this a useless whine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tagged? ME?????
I have been tagged by Patrick, the Born Again Redneck. That means I am supposed to reveal five things about myself that are weird. Here it is, 1:30 AM and I have been meditating all night to think of something weird.

1. Is it weird that, with six kids, I perpetually got mixed up on the names so that, years ago, I gave up and started calling all of them Fred? Which ever one of them was closest, and heard me knew that it was for HIM or HER. As a result, three of the six either have, or have had sweatshirts with the name Phred on them. (They apparently are not much for spelling) My youngest daughter is still called Phred by most of her friends who knew her in high school and college.

2. Is it weird that when I'm praying (which I don't do as often as I feel I should, but still do pretty often) I often fall into conversational mode and listen for answers.

3. Is it weird that, even though I haven't worked in my studio for awhile, that I built an air-conditioned, heated, insulated, eight by sixteen studio in my back yard where I sometimes make Santa dolls and am currently trying to teach myself how to remake Barbie dolls into little naked faeries. (and sometimes I just go out into my "studio" just to SIT.)

4. Maybe it's weird, though I feel like a neuropathy is a good excuse, that it takes me over a half hour to put on my shoes and socks. (one of the hardest things I do).

5. I know that it's weird that I feel a compulsion to organize every thing that I have, so that everything has a place and is in its place, then once the organization is complete, I never put anything away until things get so confused that I have to start the reorganization all over again.

I'm being smarter than Patrick. I'm not going to ask anyone in my house what is weird about me. I'm not sure that I want to hear the answers, but I'm pretty sure that the list would be both longer and weirder.

Christmas Ham

Christmas Ham
I said at the conclusion of my last post that I was going to tell the story of my production of Rebel Without a Cause at Twin Falls High School In 1959. I lied. Actually I will tell the story sometime, but I was caught up in the season and decided to try a different tack.

In 1966 or 67 (I could look it up, but I am a bit lazy tonight) I packed up my family (four boys, the youngest was just under a year old, the oldest almost eight) and went to Finland on a Fulbright-Hayes grant to complete my dissertation, which involved a translation of one of the great plays of Finnish literature, some productions of it, and –other stuff. To be honest, I had finished my dissertation the previous spring, but when the Fulbright grant came through, I scrapped the last half of it and went to Finland to work in the Finnish National Theatre, and at the offices and archives of the Aleksis Kivi Association. There are lots of things that happened there in Finland that I could write about, but I am going to stick to a couple of Christmas experiences. I must start out by noting that we lived in a multi-story apartment complex in Puotila, a suburb of Helsinki. By the time Christmas came along, we had adopted a fifth child, an exquisitely beautiful little half-gypsy girl, through the good offices of the Save the Children Federation. I probably will write about a several Christmas experiences before the season is over, but I will mention only two.

Since our new daughter had been born within a couple of months of our youngest son, we called them the “twins” and bought one of these “twin” strollers to provide mobility.
One day we packed up the children for a walk (In Finland, at that time, you became a walker almost by default) down to the little group of stores that served our apartment complex and the two that were next to us. As we approached the little shopping center, our three year old began pulling at my hand and chanting, Santa, Santa, Santa, (actually, I think he was using the word Joulupukki which technically means Christmas goat, but which is the Finnish word for Santa.) I thought he was just excited about the season, but finally I looked in the direction he was pulling me and coming down the road, in a sleigh, with only one reindeer (and though Clement Moore said “tiny reindeer” there is not much tiny about a Finnish reindeer). Santa arrived at the little “shopping center” just as we did. He had two or three little passengers in the sleigh, and they all jumped out into the arms of their parents as they arrived. There was a lot of sleigh bell ringing as Santa got out of the sleigh, patted the reindeer and fed it some hay. He then turned to our three year old, extended his hand to the boy and said, in Finnish, “Would you like to have a ride in my sleigh?”. Ryan backed up a little and grabbed my leg, but as I translated the message he excitedly went to Santa and jumped up in the sleigh. I actually can’t remember if the other boys went too. If they were with us, I’m sure they did, but the oldest may have been in school, and I don’t remember the second son’s participation very well. I just remember that three year old, glowing and grinning and bouncing up and down on the seat. The “twins” were too young to go by themselves, but they held out some hay for the reindeer from their seats in the stroller and were also excited as the reindeer snacked from their hands. There were some local children who got up to ride, and Ryan, after I convinced him that he should quit bouncing on the seat, went out and rode around the block in Santa’s sleigh. It was quite wonderful.

A different experience involved an article in the Helsingin Sanomat, the local newspaper.
They had one of these pre-Christmas stories that every newspaper has about the people in the city who were going to have a sparse Christmas. One elderly man who was quoted in the newspaper complained that things were so difficult that year that he and his family were not going to have a Christmas Ham (The Finns in those years weren’t big on turkeys or geese, ham was the generic Christmas dish, and Finnish ham is really remarkable anyway.) I read that to my family, and they universally decided that we had to get that man a Christmas Ham.

I called the newspaper office to see if I could get the man’s name and address, which they refused, but when I went there personally, and pointed out that I had given one of their reporters a lengthy interview a month before, and I told them our motive, they gave me the name and address of the man.

We bought the largest ham that we could afford, and plotted our trip to the man’s house early in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. (Christmas Eve is when everything “Christmas” happens in Finland). We bundled the children up in their warm clothes and then took the streetcar to the closest stop. As we got out of the streetcar, the conductor expressed reservations about these Americans who were taking their children into, what he described as, a “huono” or bad neighborhood. I felt like we would be fine and told him so, then we started walking. The temperature was WAY below freezing, (as it usually in during a Finnish December) and we walked for close to a mile before we even reached the right street. I will have to tell you that, for the children, the romance of our good deed had pretty much deteriorated even before we arrived at the street, and we still had to walk a couple of blocks to the address. When we arrived we debated how to do this. We thought about just placing the ham on the porch and leaving, but we decided that, if the man weren’t at home, the ham could end up eaten by local dogs. We finally decided to put the ham on the porch, ring the bell, and walk a little distance away to see if the door was answered, and if someone came to the door we would just be walking away as if we didn’t know a thing.

Now doorbells in Finland at that time were mostly not electric, it was not just push a button and run. The doorbells were round bells fastened to the inside of the door, and the doorbell was rung by twisting a butterfly shaped knob that was connected to the center of the door. With the children and Janet down on the sidewalk, I placed the ham next to the door and twisted the button. Before I could retreat, or even breathe, or for that matter stand up straight, the door jerked open and there inside was a skinny red faced man with white hair and some sort of a cudgel in his hand. “What do you want?” he shouted, then he proceeded to inform us that he had been watching through the window as we stood in front of his house, and he was sure we weren’t the kind of people who lived in his neighborhood. I backed slowly away, and pointed to the ham. I told him that we hadn’t planned to disturb him but that we had read his comments in the Sanomat, and had determined that he should have a ham for Christmas. He became redder in the face, picked up the ham and shook it at me screaming a bunch of things that, even though I was very fluent in Finnish at the time, I didn’t fully understand (I suspect that he was using language that I wouldn’t have wanted my children to hear, if it had been in English). I got the gist, that I didn’t need to think that the Finns were so poor or so lacking in pride that they had to take charity from rich Americans (Oh if he had only known the truth about rich doctoral candidates), then he threw the ham at me and slammed the door. Janet and the children were absolutely crestfallen. They couldn’t understand much of what he said, but they got the point. If they hadn’t been standing there, freezing, I don’t think that they would have been so disappointed. I grinned and said something on the order of “Well, it looks like we have a nice ham for Christmas.” And Jan pointed out that we had our Christmas Eve dinner all fixed at home and that the ham was supposed to be a gift. We walked disconsolately but quickly back to the streetcar stop, and when we got there, waited in the cold for the next car. When it came, after we had everyone aboard, I explained to the conductor what had happened, and asked him if he knew of a charity that could use a big ham. He knew of one that was on our route home, so he stopped at the place (I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was the Salvation Army) and held the car in place until I could go in and give them the ham.

We rode the streetcar home, went up to our apartment to wait for Santa’s arrival (He comes to visit the children on Christmas Eve, and gives presents to all, it is quite a ceremony.) It was then, I think, that our children, as they thawed, learned that no good deed goes unpunished.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Back to seventy plus

Back to seventy plus
No one seemed much interested in my ramblings on opening up and looking objectively at all points of view (in case somebody knows some truth that you or I don’t know) so I’m going back to a review of some of the things that are involved with being three score and ten plus years old.  I spent some time thinking about this on one of my two or three times a year trips to the Medical College of Georgia where they try to keep my old body ticking.  It is a two hour drive so I have plenty of time to think.  
Good Things about being seventy plus:

  1. You can wear a black leather jacket, and no one mistakes you for a juvenile delinquent.  (I have had a couple of wizened old Harley riders look at me askance)

  2. You reach the stage where nationally known specialists call you by your first  name.  Today I was dealing with my glaucoma guy and the neurologist who “treats” my neuropathy.  The have begun to treat me as if we were old buddies.

  3. You know how to do things that confused the heck out of you just a few years ago.  Today was the day for a “Vision field test”.  You hook your chin in sling, put a patch on one eye, and look in a little gizmo where you stare at the center of a white dish and push a button any time miniscule white dots show up on the periphery (I know that you would never guess that this tests your peripheral vision, which is, apparently the first thing to go with glaucoma.  The first time I did this, I staggered out of the office like a drunk, and was still seeing little lights for about half an hour.  Now, like the old vet I am, I just stick my chin in the sling and start pushing buttons with aplomb (Actually I push them with my thumb, I don’t even know where my aplomb is located).

  4. Nobody thinks you’re drunk when you stagger down the hallway trying to get from Eye care to the EMG lab in three minutes or less.  Today I even collected a very attractive black nurse who took me by the arm and walked with me till she was sure I knew how to get where I was going.

  5. You have an excuse for almost any kind of stupid behavior, and you get to park in the handicapped spots (actually the spots are not all that handicapped, they are just available for handicapped old geezers.)

Of course there are still some unadvertised disadvantages.  I went to Sam’s Club while I was in Augusta, and as I wheeled my empty basket down the aisle where they give free samples (today, chunks of broiled boneless chicken breasts, precooked chicken filets, little cups of clam chowder, and something cold, in a cup, that tasted like spiced koolaid and pieces of taquitos)  all the serving ladies gave me the gimlet eye.  I suspect they thought I was a local homeless man come in to scrounge a free lunch (except for the homeless bit, probably not far off the mark.)

I will give another report on over seventy sometime soon.  My next report will be on the high school production of Rebel Without a Cause that I directed in 1959.

Saturday, December 10, 2005



I have been somewhat struck by the confidence that so many in the blogosphere have in their own feelings. There are repeated posts that imply that “anyone who disagrees with me is wrong.” As a crusty old conservative curmudgeon, I have to confess to the occasional expression of such a feeling. I do feel, however, that sometimes, picking blogs that agree with us, and, if we read those with which we disagree, attacking with passion (My latest memory of an example in one blog that I enjoy, without frequent agreement, was the comment “Bullshit” in response to a relatively informed and gentle comment made about the Iraq war and the soldiers who fight therein.) can result in our failure to really inform ourselves about many things that happen that can affect our lives.

To those who don’t care for religious references that follow, I apologize. The following is a revision of a column which I wrote some years ago for a listserve which dealt with writings by and about Mormons and their religion. In a discussion of a particular issue, there was a really frequent use of the sentiment “Bullshit” without really using the word. Strong feelings showed themselves on both sides of that issue. There are scriptural and religious references in the text which do not require acceptance in order to get the point of the column. I could have re-written this thing to substitute political or literary references for the religious ones but frankly I am too dang tired and lazy to do that job.(three score and ten plus). If you can read this, and consider the religious references only as examples to make my point, I think you can get something out of this. If the mere mention of religion, Jesus, or Pilate, fills you with such a rage that you can’t read more, then don’t (You will fall into the category identified at the end of the column as folks who defend their own paradigm through selective perception or, probably more accurately through selective exposure.)

WELL HERE IT IS: (note that I have inserted a few “capitalized” current references or comments just for this blog)

The Mormon hymn book contains a hymn that presents us with a repeated question. “Oh Say What is Truth?” The question was originally presented, in a somewhat sarcastic way, by Pilate in John 18: 38. The question was asked in reply to Jesus statement that he was born into the world to bear witness unto the truth, and to His further assertion that “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”


There are several considerations here, not the least of which is Christ’s statement that everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice. Somehow we must identify who those are who are “of the truth” for it is they to hear the word of the Risen Lord.

There is no clue in the quoted passage of scripture. The next occurrence in John is Pilate’s offer to free one prisoner in honor of Passover, and the only conclusion that can be drawn from the crowd’s preference for Barabus is that, at least, those present are not among those who are “of the truth” and who therefore would hear the voice of the Lord.

We can look at the hymn for clues as to nature of truth, and who those are who are “of it”, but the evidence is sparse. We learn of broad general conclusions about truth, but of very few of the characteristics that might help us to identify the truth or those who are of it. In the first stanza we are told that truth is “the fairest gem that the riches of earth can produce”, and that the priceless value of truth will only be identified when the Crown Jewels of kings become “dross and refuse”. In the second stanza we learn that it is a bright prize which we all should pursue to the utmost, but again are not given any real identifying characteristics. The third, following the same vein tells us that the pillar of truth will outlast earthly ambitions and rulers. The fourth stanza tells us that it is important and eternal, and then gives us the first clear characteristics: That truth is the sum of existence, Eternal, Unchanged Evermore. But if we use these as identifiers, what is left is the concept that truth will not be recognizable until we see what is left after everything else is destroyed. Most of us would prefer to identify truth soon enough to be those of whom He speaks when he says that “He bears witness to the truth and everyone who is “Of the truth” heareth My voice. Unfortunately the responses of some of those who profess to hear His voice cast doubt on the final words of the hymn- “Eternal, Unchanged, Evermore.

A study of language and of psychology tends to indicate that though the Lord’s truth may be eternal and unchanged, OUR truth is very individual and frequently changes from “holder” to “holder” and time to time, at least in the minds of those who think they know what “it” is. This has been vividly impressed upon me as I listened to friends and read their comments. An example: Not long ago, someone in a congregation where I attended expressed his hesitation at contributing to the discussions in his church class because those who contributed used such long and complicated words. Try as a would, I couldn’t think of any “long and complicated words’ used commonly in that class, that day, but then this discussion took place at a time when I was spending a good bit of my time at work each day reading articles in professional journals. In the journals of my field (paradoxically, Communication) if the language in an article has any clear relationship to the everyday English of a normal person, the editors send it back to the author for re-complicating. As a result, my concept of long and complicated words is bound to be totally different from that of this average member who was a day laborer and spent his time DOING things rather than reading about them and trying to sort out clear meanings from complex language.

A second clue regarding the difficulty in sorting truth from– whatever else is out there- came when I read an essay, posted on computer list in which the author poignantly described some of the difficulties and problems he faced in his local congregation for having been publicly identified as an “intellectual” by some of his fellow members of the church. The difficulties he encountered struck such a true bell with me that I had tears in my eyes as I finished the essay. Rejoinders flooded into the discussion list almost immediately. I was struck, in particular by one that said “Oh Boo Hoo. You guys are breaking my heart. Stop whining and just get busy and fulfil your callings (offices in the church).” How could any thing be so true to me and be seen as a sample of pure whining and complaining to someone else?

Part of the explanation lies within the structure of language itself. Scholars of language, students of semantics and semiotics have long been attempting to point out the ambiguous relationship of word to meaning. Whether one approaches the language by the semantics of Hayakawa or Korzibski, or though semiotics such as the analysis by Post Modernist language scholars (I’m a classic example, the term Post Modern is, to me, such an oxymoron that I have trouble paying close attention to anyone with that label), the universal conclusion is that there is little or no linear, direct of absolute connection between word and meaning.

The most obvious examples would be in attempts to communicate using different languages, but even in the same language the most common words almost certainly have at least slightly different meanings to all the individuals who use them. These differences in meaning are affected the differences in age, by regional influence, by ethnic difference, by education, by political affiliation, and by the context in which they are spoken. Such context has to take into account the relationship of speaker and listener (or sender and receiver, since much communication is non- verbal), the time, the place and the objectives of the speaker(s) and the listener(s), as well as the emotions that are shared, the variety of shared experiences, etc. etc. etc.

Other problems are created by the variations in speaking or listening skills or even the willingness to listen at all. Many of us “turn of” if the subject conflicts with our own deeper feelings, our political tendencies or a variety of other social sensitivities. (I include in the listening in the broadest possible context for the same problems are included in all means of sending and receiving messages; hearing, reading, seeing, etc.)

So many times we are locked into paradigms or patterns of thinking that lead not only to selective perception (unconscious distortion of ideas) but to selective exposure (refusal to listen to that which opposes - How many Democrats tune into a Rush Limbaugh program, or how many Republicans rush out to listen to Al Franken or Nancy Pelosi?. As these paradigms lock us into behavior patterns, we tend, when do expose ourselves to someone outside our paradigm to engage in what is sometimes called the monologue, or dialogue of the deaf. In this situation, listening is not an active attempt to receive or interpret the concepts involved but is only active to the extent that we can use the time to build counter arguments for the conclusions we already have drawn.. (Assuming that OUR time will come). At such times, our egos or self images have become so dependent on maintaining our own current paradigm that we lay ourselves on the line to prove to ourselves and to others that we are “right” in our own minds.

Is it any wonder that one person hears a particular sermon and finds it inspiring while another finds it wordy and irritating. A relative once expressed to me the feeling that he hated maudlin church meetings where people think that tears are an indication of sincerity. Carefully avoiding the possibility that he would ever hear me speak in church meetings (I weep a lot ), I expressed a differing opinion which led to him turning and stomping out of the room. We can only understand within the boundaries of our own experience, unless, of course, we are willing to expand our experience to try to or our imaginations to try to understand how a message fits into a broader context or another’s paradigm.

How does this all relate to the initial question; Oh Say, What is Truth? It should be clear that we are not going to clearly discern truth, or become those who are of the truth just by reading, or listening to others with whom we agree, or contending with others with whom we instinctively disagree.. How can we become those who hear His voice? (OR WHO HAVE A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF “TRUTH”?)

In the first chapter of John, John the Baptist states that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” In the 856h Psalm it states that mercy and truth are met together. That is, showing and receiving mercy joins us with truth. In John 7 : 21 It tells us that he that doeth truth cometh to the light, but if we are still trying to figure out What is truth, how can we do it? John 7:17 basically tells us that we shall know the doctrine if we do his will. I have always felt that this means that if one has a question of the validity of a doctrine, living it will tell whether it is true or not. Finally in John 15:26 -27 it tells us that the spirit, the comforter will testify the truth unto us if we open ourselves to him. Stepping out of the scriptural, find out the truth of all things (both those with which one agrees and with which one disagrees) by putting them to a fair test -by living them or making a real effort to really understand those who ARE living them.

I consider that to be the ultimate opening of a paradigm. All the communication skills of listening, trying to examine through a variety of experiences, opening ourselves to others, treating others with mercy and accepting mercy will bring us to the stage that we may not always be able to demonstrate the truth but we will be able to answer for our selves the question What is Truth” and that we may be “of truth” that we may hear Him. (or, again stepping out of the scripture, that we may put “truth”, with all it’s ramifications in effect in our lives.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I have been thinking it over, and have concluded that, other than whining about how the  distance from almost every public place to the closest restroom is always too far, that there is perhaps a place when one is over three score and ten years old,  for demonstrating some perspective relating to NOW, and BACK THEN.  While standing backstage at A Christmas Carol (for one of the few moments I wasn’t ON stage, I overheard a cast member who is a recent recruit to the teaching ranks comment about how much more difficult student discipline is than it ever was before. (I am sure he picked that up from some Education class, and, thanks to a generic tendency on the  part of many parents nowadays to blame the teacher for everything, there is a kernel of truth in it).  The truth is, that for the most part it just aint so.  I can give you one example from the beginning of my teaching career, extend that a bit and let you draw your own conclusions.

My teaching career began in a relatively small city in Idaho named Twin Falls.  It is a wonderful city, and the high school there was, for me, a wonderful school, and I am still a bit non-plussed  about having made the decision to leave there to go get my Master of Fine Arts degree.   I was a teacher of Speech (now generally amplified to Speech Communication, as if all speech isn’t at least an attempt at communication) and Drama (my real enthusiasm).  It is a given, that for many in the schools, Speech and or Drama are/were frequently regarded as, what we called, “gut courses.  (The place where you send a student who can’t cut it in regular English classes).  It is easy to disabuse students of this concept, and you can judge your success, when you first start, by the number of apparent dipsticks who quickly drop your course.  The fact remains that academic advisors (faculty) tend to send those who can’t cut it to Speech, as if it were Underwater Basket Weaving, or some related course.

My first Speech class had a fair supply of those who had been shunted there (I found out later that students used to enjoy making my predecessor cry).   In my very first class, I turned to the board and wrote my name thereon, only to hear a loud voice behind me say, “F##k yourself Johnson.”  I turned, and shouted “Who said that?”, only to see a young man with a black leather jacket, with a buzz cut on top of his (probably bleached) blonde head, curls above his ears and carefully spaced spit curl bangs across his forehead waving his hand casually at me.  (It is important to know that some rules in school were slightly different in 1959 than they are now, and that in our classrooms, each room had two doors, side by side, that opened in different directions- one out, and the other in).  I stormed down the aisle, grabbed the miscreant by the seams in his black leather jacket and jerked him up out of his seat.  When my hands reached my head level and I realized that his feet were not only still on the ground, but his knees were still bent, and that his shoulders were, perhaps, four inches wider than mine (as I looked up at them) I quickly drew the conclusion that perhaps my movements had been both premature and poorly chosen.   Wondering what my fate would be if he chose to resist, I shoved him up against the out-opening door, pushed it open and shoved him out into the hall, and sternly said “Don’t come back without a note from the Principal.”  I then closed the door and said (in my mind only) “Please!!!!”.  I was not small, but, had he chosen to, he could have dribbled me down the hall like a basketball.

He didn’t return until the next day, when he returned with a note from the Principal informing me that he could return to class and was on detention for several days.  Apparently Gary (we will call him Gary Jones for the moment) had told the Principal approximately what happened and had apologized (or something).  From that moment, for the next month or so he was an acceptable, if not really enthusiastic, student who did some of his assignments, sloughed others, and fit generally into the mainstream.

A couple of months later I was “asked”, (read drafted), to be the chaperone at one of the school dances, which was held in the school cafeteria.   The dance went on for an hour or so.  If I remember correctly there was a pretty good student band fronted by a student named Gary Puckett,(who later became a well known singer nationally with his band, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap—He was NOT the Gary of this tale).  Suddenly a panicky looking young girl came running up to me to tell me that there was a fight out behind the cafeteria.  I ran outside to find about a hundred students standing in a circle.  Within the circle was standing my old friend Gary Jones, facing another black leather jacket clad young man, of about his same size.  They each had switchblades (or some other long narrow blade knives with eight to ten inch blades).  With more guts or stupidity than common sense, I walked up almost between the two and shouted (and I CAN shout) “All right you two, break it up and get out of here before I call the police.”  The other young man disappeared almost in a flash, but not Gary.  He faced me, and mumbled something that I can’t remember in a voice which made me clearly aware that he had been drinking something much stronger than the high school punch.  He then moved in closer to me and began, sort of, randomly thrusting his knife toward me.  This probably only lasted for twenty or thirty seconds, but to me it seemed interminable, hours maybe.   Finally I looked at Gary and told him that if he was trying to scare me, he had succeeded,  I was so frightened, I thought I might wet my pants, and that I couldn’t take it any longer.  He had better, I told him, stick that knife in me in front of a hundred witnesses, and reconcile himself to a long prison term, or put the damn thing away and get out of there.  He looked stunned for a minute, backed up and then folded up the knife and went away.   In retrospect, I did it all wrong, I should have called the police the minute I saw that knives were out, or I should have at least called the police after it was over, but I didn’t.  I just told the students around to break up the crown and get back in the dance before I started taking names and giving detention.  As close as I could see, they broke it up and went back, and that was the end of it.

The next Monday , Gary came early to class (He was in a first period class).  I don’t mind telling you that seeing that great hulk in the door was not one of my best moments.  He came in and said (roughly), “I’m really sorry for Friday night.  I was drunk out of my mind, and didn’t even know who you were at first.  I would never pull a knife on you.  You are the only one around here who doesn’t treat me like an idiot, a@@hole, juvenile delinquent, and I think you’re pretty cool .  I will really try to do a lot better”.

From that moment on, he was a changed man in class.  He worked hard (didn’t get great grades but. . . ) and I don’t think anyone had much trouble with him till he went to a basketball game in December, and as the opposing team was leaving the floor for halftime he stood up and broke a full whiskey bottle over the head of one of the opposing players. (He actually may have only tried to, but the result was the same).  Gary then left the confines of our school, and I suspect that he continued whatever education he got in much more restrictive circumstances.

This is as much space as I have, but I will have to tell you about directing the play Rebel Without a Cause in that school.  It was a story in itself, but I have to come up with a lot of phony names to avoid --- well, whatever you avoid with phony names.