Tag Archives: College memories

Memories Decoded

IMG_9013This square actually contains two stories, both of which have been requested. I’ll tell the story of the other one tomorrow.

When I published the photo of my memory box, I promised to tell the story of any square in it that someone requested I tell. Two people have requested I tell the story of this one, so I’ll tell it first. If you’ve requested other stories, they will be coming up in the near future, one a day.

The year was 1966 and Christmas was fast approaching. That year, my sophomore year at the University of Wyoming, my folks had let me bring to college the little red Ford Galaxie that my dad traded a combine, two horses and a bit of cash for my junior year in high school. The way my sister and I learned my dad was buying us a car was that he told us to get in his pickup, we were going to White River. What for? A surprise. When we got almost to White River, 23 miles away, he pulled off the road into a lot filled with a number of machines, cars and farm equipment and pulled up to a little red Galaxie, told us to get out of the car and tossed us the keys. My sister and I soon got the message that this was our car. I was 16 and had just gotten my driver’s license. My sister Patti was 20. We got in the car, stared at the stick shift and revealed to my dad that neither of us knew how to drive a stick shift. Well, he guessed we’d learn on the way home, he said, and took off in his pickup. He was right, we learned on the way home.

The thing about stories is that every story has so many stories attached to it and so it is with this one. At any rate, with no further digressions. Since I was one of the few girls in the sorority house who had a car and since I was always up for adventure, shortly before Thanksgiving, I decided I would take friends up to the Snowy Mountains to cut a Christmas tree for the Chi Omega house where I lived. With a bit of squeezing, the back seat could accommodate four; the front seat, with its gear stick on the floor, could accommodate two. So, six of us piled into my car in the early afternoon, sure that we could get to the Snowy Range, cut a tree and be back by our ten-o’clock curfew that night. Included in the group were three of my best friends since my freshman year and two new pledges, both from California.

Our troubles didn’t actually start until we had arrived in the mountains. Because the dirt road was very narrow and steep, there was really no place to pull off, so all I could do was to pull as far over to the side as possible and hope no traffic came along. We knew the chances were remote, as it was a timbering road meant for the trucks that went back and forth to the lumber camp at the top of the mountain, the road being too small and rough for regular traffic. We set off scouting out a tree and soon found one the right size and proceeded to chop it down, not too skillfully, I might add. It had started to snow as we set out from the car but we were so intent on finding and chopping down the tree that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the snow was falling more and more heavily.

It was as we were dragging the tree back to the car that we heard the loud beeping of a horn, which in the muffled air of what was now a snow storm sounded more like a fog horn than a car horn. As the other 5 dealt with the tree, I ran out to the road to discover a huge lumber truck pulled up behind the car. My friends wrestled the tree into the trunk and I tied the lid down with the top few feet of the tree sticking out behind the trunk. We piled into the car and since I could not get past the truck to head back down the mountain, I was forced to drive further up the mountain—up the deep ruts of the frozen dirt road that were quickly filling up with snow, the lumber truck close on my heels, now and then sounding its horn if I slowed down too much.

As the snowfall got heavier and heavier, I found it harder and harder to see, the windshield wipers barely keeping up with the accumulating slush at their corners as well as the newly fallen snow. It seemed like an eternity as we drove farther and farther up the mountain. On one side was a sheer drop-off. On the other side, a steep mountain bank and trees. The mood was tense in the car as we searched each side for a possible place where we could turn around to go back down the mountain. As I type this, I can again feel the tension—a feeling of fullness in my chest—a panicked sensation of something gathering and swelling in my throat. It was panic, a growing fear that there was no way we were going to get back down that road, even if we were able to reach the lumber camp.

“I think we’re going to be spending the night at the lumber camp,” I remember thinking—and perhaps saying. The one good thing about our situation was that truck behind us, which could help us if we got stuck and which could also lead us to shelter in the lumber camp. But when we finally did get to the top of the mountain and a dirt space large enough to turn the car around, whoever was driving the lumber truck just parked the rig, jumped out and headed down through the trees. Not knowing where he was going or how to find the camp, we turned the car around and headed back down the mountain.

By then it was so dark and snowing so hard that the only way we could see to stay on the road was to open all the windows and hang our heads out, shining flashlights out of each window to see where the edge of the road was. We drove slowly for what seemed like hours, the tires sliding on the icy road until finally, the car went into a skid and started to go over the side of road. Knowing that it was a sheer drop off on the side we were skidding toward, I pumped the brakes, then as it seemed sure we were going to plunge off the side, I jammed down on the brakes and pulled the emergency brake as well. As the car went over the edge, however, the banked snow and frozen dirt stopped us. With the two passenger-side wheels hanging out into the air and the rear driver’s side wheel barely making contact, the only thing keeping us from going down the side of the cliff was the wheel and undercarriage under me. I knew it was necessary to get as much weight as possible out of the other side of the car, and yelled at the passengers in the back seat to slide as far over to my side as possible and to jump out of the back window–the side nearest the road. Then I told the person in front with me to climb into the back seat and to exit by the same means. As she did, I opened the glove box and emptied its contents into my purse. A package of chewing gum, five packets of ketchup, an extra flashlight, matches, a lighter–I don’t remember what else–but I knew we might have to survive for awhile on whatever was there. When all of my friends were out of the car, I opened my door and jumped out into the snow, fearing that without my weight the car would go on over the side.

It didn’t, but we knew it was not safe to stay in the car as it could go over at any minute. But what to do? We were all dressed warmly except for one girl from California, who had no socks and no gloves. I had earlier taken off mine and given them to her when they had gotten out of the car to push at one point. We were not equipped to survive in a mountain snowstorm, however, and I knew we needed to find shelter. In spite of the fact that we had noticed no cabins on our way up the mountain, finding one would be our only hope of survival. We had, as I recall, four flashlights, and since it seemed important to stay in contact with the car, I devised a system whereby I would stand as far from the car as I could so I could still see the car and shine a flashlight in front of me. The others would walk together shining one of the three remaining flashlights in front of them, fanning the area around them looking for shelter. They would walk as far as they could so long as they could still see my flashlight. When they had walked the furthest possible still seeing my light, one person would stand and turn on her flashlight, fanning the surroundings as they had before. If they saw nothing, that person would again shine the flashlight in a forward direction into the woods parallel to the road and the other three would walk forward together, fanning their flashlights to look for a cabin for so long as they could see the light being held by the second person. When they got to the furthest spot that they could see her light, one more would stop and shine her light for the remaining two. In this way, it would always be possible to find their way back to the car. And luckily, when they were almost to the furthest place where they could still make out the third light, they discovered a cabin, tightly boarded up for the winter. They blinked their flashlight twice, the girl above them turned and blinked her light at the one closest to me, who turned and blinked her flashlight at me and I blinked my light twice to let them know I had seen them, then grabbed the axe, thinking we might need to chop some firewood, and headed down the mountain toward lights number two, three and four!

Little did I know that I’d be using the ax to chop down the door to the cabin, which was nailed tightly shut, as were all the window shutters—a precaution against bears! Luckily we hadn’t considered the possibility of bears. The cabin was as cold as the outside air, however, and we knew we needed to get a fire started as soon as possible. The prospect of cutting down a tree and getting wet wood to burn did not appeal to us. Luckily, there were wooden chairs which we chopped up—but what to use to start the fire? Finally, we stripped insulation from the walls to stuff under the pieces of the chair and lit a fire in the cookstove. What we had not taken into account, however, was that the owners had put a coffee can over the smokestack before closing up for the winter to keep it free of critters and snow, so the cabin quickly filled with smoke.

As a result, we could just spend a few minutes in the cabin before going outside to breathe the clear air, and this was how we spent our time for I know not how many hours, taking turns standing outside to watch for any possible light coming up the road. Could there possibly be another lumber truck? Who else would be out on a night like this in such a remote spot? It was past midnight when one of the girls came running into the cabin to say she had seen a light. We all ran out, waving our flashlights as a pair of headlights made its way up the mountain. As the rangers’ four wheel drive vehicle pulled up on the road above us, we all went running up the hill, screaming, waving our arms as three men piled out of their vehicle.

Long story short, they were park rangers, who winched our car out from its precarious position, put out the fire in the cabin and wedged the door shut, then loaded three of us into the park rangers’ vehicle and the other four into my car, insisting that one of them would drive my car. We made our way down the mountain to the entrance of the park, at which point we were met by highway patrol cars. Those of us in the park rangers’ vehicle were transferred to a highway patrol car. “I can drive my car, now,” I protested, but a highway patrolman slid into the driver’s seat and we proceeded to the Laramie city limits.

At that point, we were transferred to a city police car for a brief ride to the University of Wyoming campus, where the campus cops assumed responsibility for us, driving us up to our sorority house where every light in the house was blazing and every girl in the house was waiting inside the entrance to the house, along with our house mother. By then it was 3 in the morning and they had been waiting up for us all night. When we hadn’t shown up for curfew, friends had admitted that we’d gone up to the Snowies to cut down a Christmas tree. Our house mother had called the dean, who had called the police who had called park rangers. Search parties had been sent out both from the University of Wyoming and the park headquarters. It had been 1 in the morning when they had received word we’d been found, but by then the story had been picked up by A.P. and U.P.I. and broadcast nationwide.

The next morning, we did not go to class, but slept in. We’d be seeing the Dean of Women in the early afternoon to face the music. When I woke up the next morning, the phones had already starting ringing—the press, wanting to hear the story first hand. Unfortunately, the person who answered the phone calls was Kathy Mulcare, the California girl who was the one I’d loaned my gloves and socks and boots to. Were we warmly dressed? The reported asked, “Yes, everyone but Judy Dykstra from Murdo, South Dakota. She was in low-cut shoes with no gloves!” And that was how the story went out nationwide.

When I called my parents the next morning, wondering how I was going to break the news, I said, “Hi, Mom. Guess what?” She said, “You mean how you were stranded in the mountains while cutting a Christmas tree last night?” My heart sank. It turns out that they had been up all night listening to the radio, knowing only that six girls from the U. of Wyoming were missing in the mountains after going up to cut a Christmas tree. No names had been given, but my mother said, “Ben, I just know one of them is Judy!” My dad said “Don’t be ridiculous. There are thousands of girls in the University–what are the odds that one would be Judy?” But he, too, waited up until they learned they had been found. No names, though, until I had been the one to tell them that alas, it was their daughter.

Yes, we were campused for the next semester. In addition, once the names had been announced, my dad came in for a lot of ribbing from his coffee buddies in Mack’s Cafe. “Can’t you afford to buy that daughter of yours boots and socks and gloves, Ben?” they teased. My mother advised that I not come home for Thanksgiving that year. “If you do, your Dad is going to take your car away.” And that is how I came to spend Thanksgiving in Thermopolis, Wyoming, with two of my friends who had shared the great Christmas Tree Adventure, and yes, there was another big adventure awaiting us in Thermopolis. But that is a story for another time and place and this is the story for that particular square in my memory box. Why the elephant and dog? That, too, is another story entirely.

Postscript: The strange thing was, no one ever asked us to pay for the damage to the cabin, and, although the news story ended with the quote “the little Christmas tree they had risked so much to get was left behind in the mountain blizzard,” in fact, they didn’t confiscate it. Nor did they ask if we had a permit to cut it, which we didn’t.

Although the original post was made in June, and I started this post then, I evidently got distracted. Forgottenman just found it in my drafts. So here it is, three months late. You can see the entire memory box HERE.

Why Second-hand Adventure is Good Enough for Me

(Click photos to enlarge and read captions.)

Why Second-hand Adventure is Good Enough for Me

There was a time in college when we thought we would go camping.
It took  a lot of packing and some walking and some stamping
to rid the site of red ants and to cut away the bushes,
to find a level spot for our bedrolls and our tushes.
It’s good that we were youthful, and accustomed to reversal,
for when it came to camping, this was our first rehearsal.

None of us were nature girls. This was our trial run.
We came for something different, just to have some fun.
We brought a giant bottle of cheap rosé and chips.
Some white bread and bologna. Some mustard and some dips.
Our hopes were grand and hopeful. We were fervid in our dreams.
We lugged all our equipment down faint trails and forded streams.

Lugging a giant cooler, water and some some spray
in case there were mosquitos, slowly we made our way
down to small rude patch of ground that sloped down to the creek.
 My German Shepherd Gretchen went ahead of us to seek
out squirrels and other wildlife that she had a chance to get,
scouting ahead for creatures that might have posed a threat.

The day passed without conflict. We hiked and talked and ate.
We had no trepidation about what would be our fate.
Our night was spent less pleasantly as we slowly slipped
downward hour by hour until finally we dipped
our feet into the water of the creek just down the hill.
Certainly by sunrise, we three had had our fill

of the stones and bugs and soakings that we all had  faced
as all night long my dog barked, ran back and forth and chased
imaginary creatures hidden in the dark
In the end, our camping wasn’t such a lark.
We had a hasty breakfast and as we packed up our gear,
we apologized to others camping far and near

for my dog’s disturbance for the whole long night.
from the first star’s appearance to the first morning light.

And then they told us something we hadn’t known before.
We were camping in bear territory, and they said, “What’s more,
if you had foodstuff with you, your dog did you a favor.
Bears are very partial to young ladies of your flavor!”
And so that first time camping turned out to be our last.
Our setting up went rather slow, but breaking down went fast.
We packed our car and sped right down those twisted mountain roads,
right back to the city. Right back to our abodes.
I gave the dog a juicy bone and flipped on the TV,
sure that second-hand adventure was good enough for me.

 

Prompt words today are fervid, reverse, youthful, giant and camping.

This was a real-life adventure with my good friends Jean and Joan Lenzi who were twins and my college roommates. R.I.P. Jean and Joan. We had many adventures together and this was one of the first ones.

Orderly

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Fulfilling Order

How does one get orderly?  I fear I must confess
the only way to get  there is by first making a mess!
Since I have put this off for years, the fault is all my own.
Procrastinatiion is a fault for which I must atone.

I sort the photos into piles by topics or by years––
photographs of family and landscapes and my peers.
I wish my album stuffing were not in such arrears.
They’ll take a month to organize, or now it so appears.

I locate half-filled albums  and plastic sleeves and pages.
It seems I haven’t filed a single photograph for ages.
I try to be most organized and get them into line,
then fall into reflection of the lives of me and mine.

I have company coming and a meal that I must cook.
I’ll find the table easier to clear if I don’t look,
but oh that slumber party that the boys decided to crash
and all those tame adventures where we thought we were so rash.

Who knew that all this sorting would lead to this great mess?
and yet I am enjoying it.  Who would ever guess
that sorting under pressure would still lead me to this?
Memories of parties, of camp and that first kiss.

Sixty-seven years of life all spread out on my table.
I’ll clear them all by nightfall, then cook if I am able.
Too bad the nearest Colonel Sanders is so far away,
or I would save the cooking for another day.


One “find” in the thousands of photos I have yet to stow away in the headboard filing cabinet of my bed that has been recently cleared of poems was these photos of the night John Kuckleberg and Doug Tedrow raided our slumber party.

This was not as racy as it looks. The fellas were there before the shortie pajamas were donned, and by the looks of it, boys danced with boys and girls with girls.  The fish, by the way, were plastic ones from my dad’s den in the next room. There has been some progress since the 7th and 8th grade party. Looks like I’d tiled the floor, my sister Patti and I had painted the walls and she had painted a somewhat strange mural of a man leaning against a cactus to take a siesta. I think this was my junior  year. The ceiling had not yet been installed by my dad and me! It must have been Rita’s birthday as we seem to have been giving her a spank for each year.

The prompt for today was “Orderly”   https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/orderly/

Forked!

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1967–Off  on the SS Ryndam on a four month around-the-world study adventure. Ga Ga Dowd was the oldest student aboard. She seemed ancient, but was actually one year older than I am now.  The other two girls, whom I had just met, were to be my best friends on the journey.  They are Susan (in polka dots), who was also a U. of Wyoming student whom I had never met before and Pamn, from Berkeley. I don’t know why the wind chose to blow only my hair.  Perhaps I had invested in less hairspray?

“The Zoad In The Road”
                                                          by Dr. Seuss 

Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad?
Who came to a sign at the fork of the road?
He looked one way and the other way too –
the Zoad had to make up his mind what to do.
Well, the Zoad scratched his head, and his chin, and his pants.
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance.
If I go to Place One, that place may be hot
So how will I know if I like it or not.
On the other hand, though, I’ll feel such a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it’s too cool
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue.
So Place One may be best and not Place Two.
Play safe,” cried the Zoad, “I’ll play safe, I’m no dunce.
I’ll simply start off to both places at once.”
And that’s how the Zoad who would not take a chance
Went no place at all with a split in his pants.

Born in a time before television and the internet and even private telephone lines, (we shared ours with two other households), periodicals took on a special importance. We subscribed to three newspapers: The Murdo Coyote (my hometown rag), The Mitchell Daily Republic  and Grit–a newsy national weekly newspaper. My dad subscribed to Saga, Real West, True West, Argosy and probably a few others; and my Mom got Saturday Evening Post, Journal, McCall’s and Redbook.

One special feature of Redbook  over the years I was growing up was that they published the poetry of Dr.Seuss. I don’t know if the poem above was ever published anywhere else, but it was one of my family’s favorites, and I think I still have it out in a plastic storage case with other old letters and paper memorabilia. It is well-worn and wrinkled and yellowed, glued to a piece of cardboard to aid in its preservation.  I think I had used it as one of the poems I chose to memorize (along with “Out to Old Aunt  Mary’s,” ” The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “The Children’s Hour”) when I was in grade school.

I don’t know how much I actually listened to the messages of poems back then, but I do know that something prompted me not to just dream of those forks in the road but to make a decision and to take a chance.  Perhaps it was this poem.  Perhaps it was the fact that my parents rarely held me back when I had a chance to travel or experience something different.  Well, no, they didn’t let me take the Seventeen trip to Europe when I was eleven, but short of that, they encouraged me to reach out and experience life away from the town of 700 where I lived.

When I was a teenager, I traveled all over the state for district meetings for my MYF.  I attended church camps in the Black Hills and Lake Poinsett and traveled by bus to a U.N. Seminar when I was a junior in high school.

When it came time to go to college, I was quick to choose an out-of-state college and in my junior year again chose to travel–this time around the world on the U.S.S. Ryndaam as a student on World Camput Afloat––a university extension of Chapman College in Orange, CA.  We traveled for four months, stopping in countries around the world, studying their cultures, taking practicum side trips and in some cases taking off on our own.  The first country I did this in was in Kenya, where my newly met friend Pamn and I rented a little Fiat and took off on our own to have a few adventures.

My sister told me afterwards that she had been the one to encourage my folks to let me go, telling them it would get the travel bug out of my system, but if you’ve been following my blog for long, you know that just didn’t happen.  Immediatley after college, I emigrated to Australia and after a few years there, I traveled overland as much as possible to Africa, where I stayed for two years. After that travel was a summer and vacation experience until I moved to California thirty-five years ago and then Mexico fifteen years ago.  At each of these junctures, there was a fork in the road of my ife and each time, I made the decision and took it. Nine times, by my own counting, and in that time, although I’ve split a few pants seams, it was more due to local cuisine than to indecision.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/fork/

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Generation XYZ.” What can you learn from the generation immediately in front of you or the one immediately in back of you

                                                    Generation “Haven’t A Clue!”

I really do not know what name was given to my generation. Someone born into a small town in the forties was more or less protected from being classified into any generation, at least for their first eighteen years.  The mass-education and pasteurization of the internet had not yet happened.  We didn’t have television until I was eleven–when the first transfer station was built in my part of South Dakota.  Even then, the programs were idealized. Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, The Danny Thomas Show , Leave it to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show presented squeaky-clean prototypes of the American family for us to gauge ourselves against.

Drugs had not yet worked their way into the American mainstream.  The first time I even knew about pot was in college, when a few kids of California opened up a network, via the post office, for educating the naive plains states kids about the glories of escaping the pressures of homework, exams and pecking order by escaping on a cloud.  Crystal meth had not yet been invented, nor crack cocaine, nor any of the other drugs that have since given so much of the developed world society a total escape–and in the offing, created huge social problems.

All-in-all, I’m grateful that i was born into the generation I was born into.  Although the world of computers, texting and social networking have reached out and grabbed us, we nonetheless have a memory of a time without–when books were held in the hand and messages were delivered mouth-to-ear with a hand held in front to prevent information leakage.  Today’s world with instant texting with a camera attached is just an invitation for bullying and the sharing of private information and acts that should never have occurred in the first place. Every bully becomes his own broadcasting network and increasingly violent programs on the television and both big and tiny screens have desensitized the world.

Witnessing act after act of violence and cruelty and a world obsessed by “reality” shows makes us numb to reality–as though it is not enough.  We crave sensationalism even as we tsk tsk and shake our heads at it.  I am truly afraid for the generations that continue to be exposed to this widespread compulsion to view each violent act–be it on the news, via YouTube or on the fictional screen of choice.

Screens get ever larger or ever smaller, so they fill the wall in our media room or get lost in our pockets; but whatever the side of our viewing device, our brains slowly fill with depravity that rivals the Colosseum, the gulags or the German concentration camps. This wholesale violence is the real lethal drug unleashed upon our world, and I don’t know a way out of it.  It is no longer of influence primarily in the big cities, for with the advent of the internet, the entire world has become one colossal city.  We know of the most violent act of the flogging of bloggers in the Mideast or the stoning of homosexuals in Iran or raped women in Africa.  We know of senseless and seemingly motiveless mass murders in churches and schools and fast food restaurants, beheadings in Mexico, suicides of bullied teens and murders of children by their mothers–but all of them occur too far away to be influenced by any action we might take.

We know too much about a world where we have no influence, and so all that happens is more hate, disgust and a further drawing away and warlike attitude toward societies that we don’t understand enough to judge.  And so we hate an entire society instead of hating the violent part of that society that, as in our own society, commits the violent acts that we judge the entire society guilty of.

In the meantime, our politicians are drawn ever more into judging their actions according to economic results rather than humanistic or ecological considerations.  So our cars get fancier, our kitchens are turned into little museums of opulence, our TV screens turn into movie screens and our hand held devices fit on our wrists.  Yet we increasingly turn to takeout and what we watch either warps us, disillusions us or totally removes us from a world of performance and action.  Technology has made it possible to wage wars without leaving the control room–to spy with drones and mount combat with missiles.  We find romance by watching staged reality shows, watch others plan their weddings and pick their wedding dresses, watch million dollar staged weddings and then day-to-day reports of the divorce a few months later.

Yes, the world is crazy, and growing crazier with each technological advance.  So you might have surmised that I would not have chosen to have been born at a later date than my 1947 birth.  And in spite of my yearning to be out in the wider world for most of my earlier life, I am not sorry that my explorations began in my twenties.  I saw the world with new eyes–not having seen The Wild Kingdom, The Discovery Channel or any of the other programs that show us idealized views of far off worlds.  All of my shocks of discovery were purely my own and many of the countries I visited were undeveloped.  I took ferries across rivers now bridged, strolled the dirt paths of towns now paved over and filled with tourists.  I lived in countries I knew nothing about before I lived there, formed my opinions according to my own experience. I was naive, uninformed, ignorant and young.  What better way to see the world?

So, long story short, I would not have chosen to be in any generation but my own.  I did not participate in demonstrations until my fifties when I was an expat living in Mexico.  I was not a flower child, didn’t live in a commune or go vegan.  I was too ignorant to protest the Vietnam war until it was over. But neither was I exposed to crystal meth, heroin or crack cocaine. My mode of escape in college was bridge, not texting, and in my youth it was Monopoly, Cops and Robbers and Drop the Handkerchief!  Perhaps it is pure nostalgia that makes me say I prefer my generation to all others, but I don’t think so.  I think it is the realization that I’ve lived in two worlds and appreciate the perspective this gives me.  Perhaps this is true of every generation, but if so, I wonder what horrible future will render the events of this generation a patina of nostalgia.

Linger

It is those times
over dinner
when we have lifted a glass
or two–

those times
without husbands, who are home
watching a game
or out with gun and skeet–

those times
with long-ago college schemes
or scandals
remembered–

when, although no longer hungry,
we nonetheless order a dessert
with three forks
as an excuse to linger.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Linger.” 

John Wayne and I

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When the Union Pacific Railroad was finally completed on May 10,1869, it was a cause for great celebration. A very good source describing the somewhat hilarious ceremony may be found here, but a segment from that source follows as a background for my own story:

A railroad linking America’s east and west coasts had been a dream almost since the steam locomotive made its first appearance in the early 1830s. The need for such a link was dramatized by the discovery of gold in California in 1848 that brought thousands to the West Coast. At that time only two routes to the West were available: by wagon across the plains or by ship around South America. Traveling either of these could take four months or more to complete.

Although everyone thought a transcontinental railroad was a good idea, deep disagreement arose over its path. The Northern states favored a northern route while the Southern states pushed for a southern route. This log jam was broken in 1861 with the secession of the Southern states from the Union that allowed Congress to select a route running through Nebraska to California.

Construction of the railroad presented a daunting task requiring the laying of over 2000 miles of track that stretched through some the most forbidding landscape on the continent. Tunnels would have to be blasted out of the mountains, rivers bridged and wilderness tamed. Two railroad companies took up the challenge. The Union Pacific began laying track from Omaha to the west while the Central Pacific headed east from Sacramento.

Progress was slow initially, but the pace quickened with the end of the Civil War. Finally the two sets of railroad tracks were joined and the continent united with elaborate ceremony at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. The impact was immediate and dramatic. Travel time between America’s east and west coasts was reduced from months to less than a week.

The ceremony at Promontory culminated with Governor Stanford of California (representing the Central Pacific Railroad) and Thomas Durant (president of the Union Pacific Railroad) taking turns pounding a Golden Spike into the final tie that united the railroad’s east and west sections. As the spike was struck, telegraph signals simultaneously alerted San Francisco and New York City, igniting a celebratory cacophony of tolling bells and cannon fire in each city.
“It was a very hilarious occasion; everybody had all they wanted to drink…”
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/goldenspike.htm

It will probably come as no surprise that in 1969 it was decided to have a huge ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of the “Wedding of the Rails” in Utah. To that end, two trains set out—one from the easternmost point of the track and the other from the westernmost point. These trains were destined to meet at the original point of their joining, but since they were filled with dignitaries, they made numerous stops along the way with celebrations at each point where they stopped.

In 1969, I was attending university in Laramie, Wyoming. It was announced that John Wayne and Glen Campbell would be on one of the trains and that they would do a whistle stop where they would both say a few words before continuing on to the ceremony. Now it just so happened that this event coincided with Sigma Chi Derby Days—an annual event that consisted of a number of challenges whereby campus groups could assemble points. What the prize was I can’t remember, but I do remember that one of the contests was to gain the signature of the most famous person, and I happened to know that John Wayne himself had been a Sigma Chi. If I could somehow gain his signature, we would have it made in the shade for that particular challenge.

And so on the prescribed day, we were off, fully laden, with five of us filling the seats of my little red Ford Galaxy. How we would get close enough to the train to gain the autograph, I did not know, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

There was, as may be expected, a huge crowd at the Laramie train station, and we waited in anticipation for the train. Finally, it came up, sounding its whistle, flags waving. Several men came out to a small stage that had been constructed just in front of the train. Finally, Glen Campbell came out, but no John Wayne. We were puzzled when the speeches started without him. What could have happened to John Wayne? Finally, I was hit with one of those instant inspirations often depicted by a light bulb going off over someone’s head in cartoon bubbles.

“I bet he got off the train to fly back to California!” No one disagreed and it was my car, so off we sped to the airport, which was several miles outside of town. We drove well over the speed limit down the two-lane nearly carless road. As we approached the airport, we could see no larger planes loading, but there was one smaller private plane. We went speeding up to the airport. “I’ll go see what’s going on with that small plane,” I told my friends, springing from the door almost as soon as the car had come to a screeching halt. I went running out onto the field—not hard to do in a small airport in those years before airport security­—and ran smack dab into a man who was walking toward the plane from the opposite direction. “Well, whoa, there, little lady. Where ya goin?” said the brick wall I’d just run into.

“I’m trying to find John Wayne. Do you know if he might be in that plane?” I asked.

“Nope, I’m pretty sure he’s not,” said the man, “because he’s standing right here!”

I looked up—way up—and sure enough. There he was with his hands still on my forearms where he had caught me just before I ran into him broadside!

Yes. It was a surreal experience. And it was even more surreal when I explained about the points and he said, “Well, would it give ya more points if instead of delivering my autograph you could deliver me?” I said it sure would, and we had reached my car and my somewhat astonished friends had piled four in the back for him to climb into the front seat with me when a harried looking man came running out from the landing field shouting, “John, John! What are you doing?”

Long story short, John Wayne did not come back to campus with us. His manager managed to persuade him it was not in his best interests given that something in California was important enough to warrant his immediate return. But, I did get his signature and no, I did not turn it in for Sigma Chi Derby Days. To this day, it resides in a square of a memory box—one of the kind popular in the sixties and seventies that is made out of an old newspaper print box—and as proof, I include a picture below.

And yes, of course John Wayne was three sheets to the wind, for in keeping with the original rail-joining ceremony, “It was a very hilarious occasion; everybody had all they wanted to drink…”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/whoa/

DSC00166
For another great story about how Garry Armstrong met John Wayne, go here: http://teepee12.com/2016/01/08/the-duke-and-garry-a-pilgrims-tale-garry-armstrong/

The Prompt:  What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?

My earlier post wouldn’t pingback to the Daily Prompt site, so I had to repost.  Here are comments from that earlier post:

lifelessons
grieflessons.wordpress.com
jubob2@hotmail.com
189.169.119.208

This seems to be a day for synchronicities. Did you read Mark Aldrich’s piece? Today is also my best friend’s birthday and I need to call her as well. Your mentioning your birthday reminded me of hers, so the chain goes on. Thanks for your kind words, Anton.

Mark Aldrich
thegadabouttown.wordpress.com
markaldrich68@hotmail.com
68.174.46.193

I wonder why that did not ping properly.

That is a treasure of a story.

Anton Wills-Eve
antonwillseve.com
willseve@aol.com
78.144.91.230

Judy you should have been a journalist! One of the best and most interesting posts I’ve ever read.Well done, but tell me, how did you know May 10 was my birthday? Seriously, it is. Anton. 🙂

Mr. Cole

Mr. Cole

He lurked out in the hall as we all took our seats and came to order.  He took a drink from the water fountain, putting down what looked like a new briefcase as he did so.  He picked up the briefcase and made for the door, then turned and walked back to the fountain, putting his briefcase down as he took another drink.  He started for the door again.  Changed his mind and returned for another drink.  Then he squared his shoulders, picked up his case, re-rounded his shoulders and entered the room.

He was a little mole of a man—sniffy and hunched with scrunched-up eyes behind thick glasses.  When he entered the classroom, he looked straight down at the floor, as though he wasn’t sure one foot would follow the other without great attention.  He maneuvered his way to his desk and stood with his back to us.  He slammed his briefcase onto the desk, then removed it again, as though in indecision over whether he really wanted to stay at all.  Then he slammed it down again.  Removed it.  Slammed it down.

Finally, he moved around to face us and assumed a more teacherly demeanor.  He actually looked at someone in the front row for two seconds, before retreating back around to the back side of the desk, perhaps seeking some protection.

It was the first day of my freshman year in college. Next to me was a very new friend who not only lived in the same dorm but who also had just pledged the same sorority. We sported our bug-like black pledge pins on the fronts of our sweaters, a hand’s distance above the nipple, as we’d been instructed to wear them.  It was a bit like being in enemy territory, for we had already learned that the English department and the dormitories were not the best places to display our new status as Greeks so openly.  Our sitting together was a bit like circling the wagons on a westward journey.  We had each others’ backs.

“My name is Mr. Cole,” the dwarf said. “This is the honors section of Freshman English 101.”  He had facial ticks and a way of floating off into dreams.  Sometimes the end of a sentence just sort of wandered off, as though some other matter of greater importance had intruded upon his thoughts.  We did not disturb him in these reveries.  My new friend Linda and I would exchange looks and she would giggle the sexy little laugh that was her only laugh.  We both admitted, finally, to having a bit of a crush on him.

It was my first of many crushes on “different” men.  Men who had facial ticks or personality disorders that made others look on in horror or disgust just seemed to intrigue me, and my new friend was someone who gave validity to my strange behavior.  She, too, thought he was intriguing.  When we invited him to be a faculty chaperone for our pledge dance, he asked if he would be expected to function in the capacity of a bouncer and I assured him that no, it was more of an honorary position. To our surprise, he accepted, showing up with a tall willowy English department assistant who seemed herself to be of a literary bent.  I don’t remember if they danced, but I believe they dated for the rest of my college career.

You can see by my relation of these details how little I really knew about this man. On that first day in Freshman English, I remember being frightened and feeling inferior to the big town kids in the class.  If the truth were told, most of them were probably small town kids themselves, but coming from a town of 700, I thought of a town of 6,000 as a city , and I was sure that my own excellent academic record was more a result of comparison (there were 15 in my graduating class) than of true prowess.  Mr. Cole explained that instead of studying grammar, sentence and paragraph construction, that as honors students we would be expected to write an essay or story a week which would then be read in class and commented upon.

The night before our first writing assignment was due, my insecurity had kept me from committing a single mark to paper.  We had been given no topic and no direction.  This paper was to function as a sample of where we were on the continuum of writing skills.  This was to be my introduction to the strange gnomish man who had studied under Roethke.  Although I had no idea who Theodore Roethke was and no easy way of determining who he was in this pre-computer, pre-Google age, I had made one of my rare forays into the college library and found a whole section dedicated to his books in the poetry section.  So, I was about to be read by the student of a very important American poet.  And, I didn’t know what I was doing, really.  Our composition efforts in high school had been for the most part limited to essays and term papers.  I’d once written a humorous sonnet about Goldwater and Johnson and that was about it.  How did one go about writing a vignette, which as I recall was our assignment?  Midnight, one a.m., two a.m. ticked away on the smoking room wall as I sat looking at the blank page.

A fly, brought back to action by the hot light of my study lamp, worried my ear before buzzing off to pin itself to the wall. The smoke of my cigarette curled between us, and suddenly, in a sort of astral projection, I was that fly on the wall getting high on the fumes of a doobie that smoked in the ashtray beneath it.  The room was filled with the imaginary bodies of stoned kids splayed out on the floor or with headphones on their heads.  I started to write.  Forget that I had never smelled or seen marijuana, let alone smoked a joint. It was easier for me to imagine that fly getting high than to imagine myself doing so, but within a half hour, I’d completed the essay, set my alarm clock and had joined the fly in its herbally-induced sleep.

The next day, I placed my own sheet on the pile of papers on his desk.  Mr. Cole entered as usual, slamming the briefcase, removing it, slamming, slamming.  I had never been introduced to the term “Tourette’s Syndrome,” but many years later I wondered if perhaps this accounted for some of his oddness.  He would stand at the desk and crane his neck upwards, roll his eyes.  Sometimes he would look at one back corner of the room and then at the other, as though he were privy to some world and audience we had no access to. Seeing a film on Roethke, I wondered if he had patterned some of his odd behavior on his former teacher. This is just a scrap of a remembrance, so perhaps I dreamed it.  In this era of YouTube it would not be hard to check out.

Three days later, he was ready to discuss our vignettes.  There were many in this class, he revealed, who were able to put words down on paper but who were not writers.  There was one student, however, who had portrayed the truth in a way that the others had failed. This student had displayed courage in telling about a part of themselves that no one else had been willing to be vulnerable enough to display. He then read my essay as an example of superior writing to the entire class.

What I felt? Relief, certainly.  Pride?  Sorry, but yes.  I enjoyed being singled out.  After the class, other students came up to me saying they would not have had the courage to write the truth like that or to admit they’d smoked pot and applauded my success in exactly expressing what it was like to be stoned.  On the way back to the sorority house to do our pledge duties, my friend giggled and admitted she had never smoked pot.  “Neither have I,” I confessed, with a sideways grin at her.

I took three classes from Mr. Cole. In Honors Freshman English, I earned an A.  When I took creative writing from him a year later, he seemed to have me completely confused with another student who had taken a class from him the semester before.  He kept calling me Jenny and commenting on how my writing had improved.  The next semester, I took another class from him and in the margin of one of the first poems I wrote for him, he said, “Not quite up to the sudden fine standards you set for yourself last semester!”  I knew then that he was still thinking of me as Jenny and was disappointed that I’d returned to my former standards of mediocrity.  He’d given me a B+ on the poem.  I tried harder for the remainder of my last semester in his class, earned another A and would like to believe I lived up to his expectations. Of Jenny.

We do not always stand out in the memories of those we admire with the same clarity that they stand out in ours. What happened to Mr. Cole, I do not know.  As with many in our lives, when his importance in my own life ended, so did his existence.  I tried Googling his name once and found nothing, which may mean his own poetry books were published in a pre-computer era.  When I Google my own name, there are 209,000  entries listed, probably most having to do with some other combinations of my name, but most of the ones really referring to me have to do with writing. Probably all of those entries deserve a footnote of thanks to Mr. Cole, who was the first to find merit in my words and also the first to be deceived by them.

(You can see a 25-minutes YouTube video on Theodore Roethke here. Other than his reading style, he really doesn’t have much in common with Mr. Cole at all.)

The Prompt: Teacher’s Pet—Write about a teacher who influenced you.

“Adult”ery

 

JudycurlsJudycurls - Version 2

Unfortunate hairstyles of the past

 

“Adult”ery

I don’t remember, as a child, ever really thinking about what it would be like to be an adult in terms of where I would live or what I would choose as a profession. I do remember, however, two things I worried about.

First of all, I worried about what instrument I would play in the school band. I had two sisters, one eleven years older and the other four years older, who both played saxophone. As a matter of fact, there being 7 years difference in their ages, they both played the same saxophone! When I entered the sixth grade and was old enough to play in the starter band, I knew two things. #1: I had to play in the band because both of them had done so. #2: I had to find a way to be unique in doing exactly what they had done, and so I had to find a different instrument. This resolve was strengthened by the fact that my sister Patti was still using the “family saxophone.” As long as I was being different, I decided to stretch my uniqueness as far as it would go. No one in either the starter or the regular band had ever played a flute. It was exotic and not very heavy to carry. I would play a flute!!! Or rather, I would attempt to play a flute.

I faked it for two years, blowing energetically into the little hole as we sat in the band loft at games or marched along behind the regular band, practicing for parades or football games; but I never really developed much of a tone and my memory of which note was which was limited. It was really easy, though, to carry that little case about as large as a large pencil case the two blocks to the auditorium where our band practice occurred. My band instructor could not afford to be picky as there were only 200 students in the entire school system—grade school and high school combined—so every warm body available was required to flesh out the physical body of the band. If a few were miming, so be it. As long as they could stay in step for the marching band and didn’t play any really loud false notes, who would ever know?

When my sister left for college, she left the sax behind; and when I headed out for my first band practice as a high school freshman, I left that dread flute behind as I took sax in hand to continue the family tradition. I was not a whole lot better at it, but found something held between the lips and teeth was a lot easier than something held sideways and blown across and although the sax was heavier, it was held in a much more sustainable position than the flute, which was an exercise in arm isometrics as I held it aloft!!

The second worry I had about growing up was how I would wear my hair. I would lie awake nights worrying about what hairstyle I would adopt when I could no longer sport the sausage curls my mother formed around her finger each morning. Shirley Temple, who had already grown to adulthood, needed to be replaced! My hair was too long, however, to duplicate Shirley’s bouncy little curls. It hung in fat tubes down beside my cheeks, offsetting my tight little bangs curled up each night in pink rubber curlers. For some reason, both my mom and I thought this made me look real good, and I am not exaggerating when I admit that there were nights when I’d lie in bed, tears streaming down my cheeks, worrying about what I would do when I grew up and could no longer wear curls!!

So now you know why I dropped the saxophone as soon as I graduated high school and why I had to move to Mexico to escape the shame of all those years when I allowed my mother to shape my esthetic sense of hair. I haven’t owned a curler of any type for 20 years. That saxophone was handed on to the next generation of my family and its mouthpiece, at least, met its demise when it snapped in two as my niece tried to grip it with the fourth pair of teeth in three decades. With a new mouthpiece, it survived four more years—hopefully this time with someone with more talent than I. I know not where it ended up. Probably in some second hand store or donated to some child who couldn’t afford an instrument. I hope it wound up with some talented individual who could restore its pride in itself.

Now that I have been an adult for many many years, I have conquered most of its demands. I have found many hairstyles, only a few of them more ridiculous than sausage curls (see my college picture above as an illustration of this fact) and attempted only one additional instrument, the guitar. Having played only solo or in duet with a college friend who tried to mold me into Joan Baez but failed, I did learn about seven chords and learned to adapt a whole succession of seventies songs to fit into those seven chords. I played for sing-alongs with the kids I counseled at summer camp and for groups of little neighbors around the world, who would come to my house on Saturday mornings to sing silly songs. And I have that guitar to this day. But I haven’t played it for years and harbor no illusions about my prowess. It is there for visiting friends who want to play for me and as a big, cumbersome, hard-to-store reminder that I can choose my own failures as surely as my own successes.

I am an adult like other adults—growing more childish year-by-year, but in my regression toward soft food and adult diapers, I will never sink so low as to repeat some mistakes of my youth. Never ever more sausage curls or flutes held aloft like punishment. And never again will I try to be different just to be different. “The Far Side” has shown that this is nothing that really needs to be aimed for. We all grow odd enough just following the path of nature, thereby furnishing the humor for all the generations that follow us.

The Prompt: As a kid, you must have imagined what it was like to be an adult. Now that you’re a grownup (or becoming one), how far off was your idea of adult life?

P.S. Thirty years after high school, when I was doing an art show in Oregon, a man walked by my display and then did an about-face and came back and said, “You’re Judy Dykstra, aren’t you?”  I admitted the fact and asked him how he knew me.  He said he was 5 years behind me in school in the small South Dakota town where I grew up.  He was a country boy and since we’d never been in school together, I didn’t recognize him but did recognize the family name.

“How in the world did you even know what I looked like, let alone recognize me thirty years later?” I asked.

“Well, a bunch of us used to collect in the the school library and look at old annuals,” he said.  “I recognize you from your high school picture.”  Suddenly, it all came clear.

“You used to look at them to laugh at all the funny hairstyles, didn’t you?”   Sheepishly, he laughed and admitted it.  I had hit the nail (or the girl?) right on the head!!!!