Here’s what we all looked like in 1959. Where is that cutie Frank Slyter now? Some of us are bald, some are grandmothers and grandfathers, and some are no longer here on Earth thanks to drugs and the Viet Nam war.
My 7th and 8th grades I went to Island City School. The 7th and 8th graders were in the same classroom, just as the 5th and 6th graders had been, so if we wanted, we could learn what the other class was learning. We could also learn what was coming up the next year. And we could whisper when the teacher was working with the other side of the room, at least until we were caught and punished.
Our teacher, Mr. Lovely, was boring. When he should have been teaching us, he would tell war stories, which the boys loved, of course, but which I found to be sleep-inducing. I was not nice to him and acted like I wasn’t paying attention. He’d ask me a question to catch me, and I’d always know the answer. That drove him nuts and he had a conference with my mother about me. I don’t know why I didn’t tell her that he was wasting the taxpayer’s money by sitting on his butt yapping about the war and calling that teaching. Or maybe I did and that was as far as it went. Parents in those days were not as proactive as parents today, and they always believed a teacher before they believed their own child.
In these two years, I did very dumb things. One of them was to stick my tongue on the frozen bars of the swing set because Barbara Hyde goaded me to do it. Oops. Mrs. Crouser had to bring water out to pour on my tongue to get it off.
We had a chemistry set in our room, and when Barbara Hyde and I were looking at it, I saw there was nitrogen and also some glycerin, so I told her to pour them together and she would have nitro-glycerin. I had watched some TV show, probably Perry Mason, and knew that nitro-glycerin blows things up. Then we got scared and told our teacher what we had done. I think he got scared too, because he wasn’t smart enough to know if we actually made that or not, and so he said he was going to pour it down the sink in the teacher’s room and if the septic tank blew up, we were in trouble. We watched it, but nothing happened. Even though the whole thing was my idea, because Barbara did the pouring, she got in trouble and had to do detention. She hated me from that day forward and taunted me every way she could until we graduated from high school. Some people hold a grudge forever!
One day in the 8th grade when Mr. Lovely was boring us, he asked a question to which the answer was volcano. He called on Sally Bond, and when she went to answer, she belched instead. That was so funny, because she was the smartest person in the room, and out came this belch. One other funny thing she did was step on Governor Mark Hatfield’s foot when she met him. How embarrassing!
Sally and I were in the same 4-H cooking group and we did demonstrations together. We did an excellent job, and the year we demonstrated how to make bread, we also did funny things to make the audience laugh, and I thought of them. When the direction was,” Now you knead the bread,” I stuck my knee up there and started moving it around on the dough. Then it was Sally’s job to explain the word was “knead” not “kneed” and we showed how that was done. The audience enjoyed our demonstration. I should have gone on to stand-up comedy.
Because our classes were so small—8 kids in each grade—all the girls got to be cheerleaders and wear the turquoise cheerleader skirts. (I think Carol is wearing hers in our 8th grade picture.) We yelled cheers like, “Rickety-rackety-ree, Kick him in the knee! Rickety-rackety-rass, Kick him in the…other knee.”
For P.E. we mostly had square-dancing, and sometimes volleyball. I loved to dance, but that meant touching boys who were a foot shorter than we and 20 lbs lighter, and boys had to touch the girls in the dos-y-dos which they hated to do. What an uncomfortable situation. We often had to perform for events, such as PTA or school board meetings. Sometimes we had regular dances where my usual function was to hold up the wall. I still remember that brown, shiny pressboard wall in that tiny gym with no sidelines.
I loved volleyball too, one sport where I could moderately excel. I could serve the ball over the net almost every time, so I was a valuable team member for once in my non-athletic life. I could even get the ball back over the net most of the time as well. Our school played other schools our size in the Grande Ronde and Baker valleys. After the games, which we usually won, Barbara Hyde usually tried to pull off my towel or snap me with hers. At those times, I’d wish to be invisible.
I love music, but music with Mrs. Crouser was hilarious. Not because of her piano playing, or the great songs we learned in the little brown songbook (EVERY person who was a kid when I was knows what I mean by “the little brown songbook”), but because Frank Slyter and Reid Bailey would change some of the words around and Mrs. Crouser never even knew, even though they shouted them at the top of their lungs. For example, “Don’t SHIT under the apple tree, with anyone else but me, till I come marching home.” In the song, “K-K-K-Katy,” they sang, “When the m-moon shines, over the cow SHIT, I’ll be waiting…” We all laughed and Mrs. Crouser just thought that singing made us happy. She seemed happy plunking away on her piano. Come to think of it, she was probably just glad to be off her feet and anything else good was icing on the cake.
We had Christmas programs at Island City School too. One year it was going to be the Nutcracker Suite and every classroom had a certain part. My sister Skeeter got to be a sugarplum fairy and she had the cutest outfit made out of pink material on the top and a crepe-paper skirt. She had a pink bow in her hair and she was just darling. I did not fare as well. I got to be a walking, talking, singing, dancing tree STUMP. Of course, I was the best stump I could be, but still. So much for my stage career.
Once, in the 8th grade, the school had a super Halloween party that I was allowed to attend. There was a hayride, and for days before, the girls planned with whom they would sit and make out . The planning was much more passionate than the real thing, however, because parents also rode, and boys and girls were effectively separated. Besides, not too many boys were interested in romance, at least not in front of parents. The old-fashioned bobbing for apples was fun. The boys had threatened to push everyone’s head in the water, but again, parents squelched that fun by manning the dunking barrel. Afterwards we had a dance and more refreshments.
Schools aren’t allowed to have Halloween parties anymore. If kids get to dress up at all and play games, it’s called a harvest festival. This is because church and state must be separated and some Christian fundamentalists believe that Halloween is a religious event worshipping the devil.
We used to dress up in costumes and sometime during the day parade through all the other classrooms and let them look at our costumes and put candy in our baskets. Then each class came to our classroom and we got to look at their costumes and put candy in their baskets. Does that look or sound like Devil worship to you?
While I kept up in 4-H cooking and sewing, everyone in our 7th and 8th grade also had 4-H leather craft projects to make for the fair. I really enjoyed the process of tooling leather to make a design and then sew up the sides of things and stain them once we got past bookmarks to make wallets and then on to belts. I loved the smell of the leather and the stain, and being able to gift or use something that I had created. Perhaps this is the way Mr. Lovely fulfilled state requirements for art in the classroom. The school didn’t pay for this, however; our parents did.. I was sternly told that my projects had to be done well and not to goof around and waste money.
For our 8th grade graduation we had a field trip to the Marcus Whitman Mission and to the Washington State Penitentiary. Woo-woo! I did learn a piece of history and I did get to travel, but exposing kids to inmates in a penitentiary? I believe this was done to put the fear of God in us so that we would not travel down the wrong path. Another smooth move by Mr. Lovely. We were told that the inmates where we walked along the fence in our tour would yell at us and they might say naughty things, and to not talk to them. I don’t remember anything of that tour other than the inmates yelling naughty things. We were scared shitless and whether Mr. Lovely’s plan was effective or not, I have no idea since I don’t know where any of the kids are today, except for Reid, Randy, who I saw once on a La Grande visit, and now since Facebook, Carol.