In my religious upbringing, I decided that swearing, or cussing as we called it in Missouri, was a sin and should not be done. When I heard someone swear, I'd think, boy I hate to hear that. Now I'd say dadgummit, and gosh and darn and stuff like that, but nothing worse. The general observation I made was that the people I noticed swearing were not people I would associate with anyway. Then it slowly changed. As our gang grew older, I noticed that some of the guys did swear, and that confused me. How could you be as cool as they obviously were, and still cuss? Well, as I hung out with them more and more, I decided that it must be OK to swear, but it just wasn't for me. Then as they ALL swore occasionally, I began to stand out as different - to ME.
So I thought I'd better start swearing or they'd think I was weird. We were playing baseball over in Skip Hughes' back yard one summer day and I got a base hit, rounded first, then trotted back. Jim Dornan was playing first base. I looked at him, and in my toughest voice said, "You may not think I cuss, but HELLIT, I do."
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I hope you never went through this, but when I was playing baseball one summer, I noticed that lots of major league baseball players would spit between pitches as they were batting, pitching, playing the outfield, standing around - any time. So I tried it a few times during a game, and really liked it. I just kept it up. Well, you talk about an addiction. By mid-summer, I was spitting every ten seconds. I could NOT stop. Everybody started commenting on it, and at first I thought it was cool that they noticed it. Then I began to hate it, because I couldn't stop. I needed Spitters Anonymous, SA. I don't remember the details, but somehow I quit.
When I was a freshman in high school, Mom wrote an essay in my name to try and win a go-kart. She submitted it but didn't tell me - probably intentionally, because she felt guilty. Anyway, the subject was that I was the middle child, always got hand-me-downs from my older brother, but my younger sister had to get new clothes, of course. In reality, I never thought once about this or cared, but it seemed to bother Mom some. We were in the car uptown for Mom to buy groceries when my friend Kent Cable, the son of the grocery store manager who was having the contest, came running up and said, "You won, you won." I started to say "Won what?" but Mom came out of the store just then, and said, "Bob come here and help me quick," interrupting Kent and cutting us off. Then she told me what she'd done, and gave me instructions not to say that she had done it. So I went along with the plot, of course, and collected my go-kart. It had a cowling around it and was white with red trim. It was powered by a lawn mower engine, and was pretty lame. But I loved it. I'd come home every night from school and drive it around. After a couple of weeks the rear axle broke. Dad and I took it uptown to his friend's machine shop, where they fixed it. Then a couple of weeks later it happened again, and we decided that I was probably too heavy for it. It sat around for a while and we finally sold it for $50.
My friend Bill Washburn (I pronounced it Warsh'-pern then, but Wash'-bern now) and I used to go up to this hangout owned by Roy Raines. It was called Roy's Recreation Parlor. They had one great pinball machine where you had to make the ball hit each of ten spots scattered all around the machine, and if you did, you'd win a free game, marked by an unforgettable THWOCK, as the games-to-play window changed from 0 to 1. What a rush I'd get. It was then a little easier to get the second free game. Once in a while I'd get really hot and rack up about eight free games. I honestly believe I became hooked on this. Bud Walton was paying me $3.00 a week for working in the dime store. I got paid on Thursday evening, and Bill and I would go to Roy's. My machine cost a nickel a pop, and by the end of the weekend I'd have about a quarter left to save toward college. After a few months of this, and in a rare moment of clarity, I decided that I was addicted to this machine. It was a very different kind of fun than it was in the beginning. It was sort of an "I have to have this fun" feeling. So I quit for about four months. I met Bill at Roy's one day before we went to a high school dance, and I played my machine again. This time it was just as much fun as the first time I had played it. I had none of the MUST PLAY feelings I had had when I quit. Anyway, I sort of rationed myself from then, like oranges, and it continued to be fun.
A typical day at the dime store went like this. After school, I'd take the bus into town, and go into the corner drug store, usually with Bill Washburn. We'd have a root beer. Then I'd take my books over to the dime store and put them in the bathroom. I'd open the large can of red, oily dust compound, get a bunch in a small box, and find the least busy area of the store. Then I'd carefully throw the compound onto the hardwood floor, well-worn over the years. Next, I'd get a broom, and sweep the compound, together with the dust it'd combine with, into a few piles. Finally I'd get the dustpan and pick them all up. That'd cover about a third of the store. Then I'd do the rest of the store in a similar manner - about a third at a time. I'd usually stop a time or two in the candy section, reach in and get a couple of pieces of candy (I had permission). On Tuesdays, they would have cut about the top inch off of the front cover of the outdated comic books and I'd have first crack at them. I'd take them home, and sister Shirley says she remembers these slashed comic books as her favorite part of my job. Once a week, I'd wash the outside windows. Some days, there would be boxes which needed to be moved up or down from the basement. This was in the early days, when I wasn't working full time.
It was normal when I was in high school, that I call Robert S. Kimpton, our science and physics teacher, "Mr. Kimpton." Then when I graduated, he was still Mr. Kimpton, and now I'm 49 years old and he's still Mr. Kimpton. Other people call him Bob, but I can't seem to. Anyway, he was a breath of fresh air in a stale room. He used to come in scowling and we'd know he was in a foul mood. If somebody didn't pay attention, he'd sometimes throw a piece of chalk at them. He bought an Edsel when they first came out, and rumor had it that he offered to put a $20 bill on the floor in front of the passenger riding shotgun. If you could pick up the money when he "floored it," it was yours. To the best of my knowledge nobody ever tried it. Bill Kauffman, Bill Washburn and I used to go to Mr. Kimpton's when we were juniors and seniors and play scrabble. Mr. Kimpton had mechanical calculators, one for each of us. You added each score to your previous total with a stylus - either sliding it down, or up over and across, if it involved "carrying", in the addition. We had hours and hours of fun over the years playing scrabble. Mr. Kimpton had a pet skunk - neutered of course. I think its name was Chloe. He also had lots of plants and loved the Kingston Trio. He often wore a red jump suit and was the inspiration for my interest in science and physics. And scrabble.
Versailles being the Gateway to the Ozarks, there were many hillbillies within thirty miles or so of town. My friend Bill Washburn's older sister Sally, a year older than I, told me this great story of a young hillbilly woman who came into her dad's office (Dr. J. Loren Washburn, who delivered my brother, my sister and me), and asked Sally, who was working at the reception desk, "Is Derr in?" Derr rhymed with burr. Sally had to ask her to repeat her question, which came out the same. So the lady had to patiently point out that Derr was painted on the door, and was obviously the first name of the doctor, "Dr. J. L. Washburn." Uh, yes he's in.
Bill Washburn was a year younger than I. We were partners in a lot of stuff. His family was members of the Rolling Hills Country Club, and in the summer, on Monday afternoons, I had a half day off from working at the dime store. Most times, Bill would invite me out, and we'd go swimming at the pool, checking out the girls. Randy Cox was the lifeguard. It was the most fun when a new girl would be there that no one knew. We'd be really cool showing off our cannonballs into the water and real macho, girl-impressing stuff like that. We didn't ever get any girls, not that I knew of anyway. Bill used to love to sleep in. I'd come over to his house at 10 am on Saturday morning and he'd still be sleeping. His logic was that he wanted to get tall, and staying horizontal put less weight on his bones, so they would grow longer. He had this vibrating-action football game that I used to love to play. I'd say, "Bill, keep sleeping, I'll play football for a while." That usually got him up, and our day would get under way.
I loved to play croquet in the summer. I got some clothes pins to stick into the ground at the corners, some string, and I measured out a course in our back yard. I got a rule book, and used the dimensions to set up the course, the wickets, the sticks - exactly right. Then if no one was around to play with me, I'd alternate between six colors, playing each one of them. I'd say, "OK, I'll be the black." Then I'd play each color in turn. We'd play partners if there were four or six, but my favorite game was "Poison." You had to go through the whole course, but miss the stick at the end. Then you were poison, and all you had to do to knock anyone out was to make your ball hit theirs.
There was a gravel road that ran between our house and the White's house. I had an old baseball bat that I would use to stand in the gravel road, pick out a rock, toss it up in the air, and hit it as hard as I could. I put a million dents in that old bat. There were a couple of houses just out of reach, but I'd try and try to hit them with a rock. I couldn't quite make the rocks go that far. Lucky for me.
George had a white and orange bicycle that he gave to me when he stopped riding bikes. He called it "Nebacudnezzar." I used to like to get it going down the street past our home at 405 South Oak, then get up and stand on the seat, bending over and holding the handle bars, and whiz by our house. Mom worried that I'd crash, but I never did. The year before I got my driver's license, a bunch of us used to ride our bikes up on hot summer nights to the local Dairy Freeze. We'd drink cokes and shakes and stuff, but we'd take our bikes up the street a block or so, then ride as fast as we could past the Dairy Freeze and into the gravel parking lot next to the Chevrolet Dealer's, now owned by my classmate Jim Dornan. The idea was to slam on your brakes as hard as you could and get the bike to slide and spin, hopefully doing a 180 or even more.
Somehow I became the owner of an Ooga horn. You know - a horn that goes "Ooga" when you press it. I mounted it on the handlebars for a while. I loved the raspy sound it made.
During the summer, when I was junior high school age (there was no such thing as junior high school in Versailles at that time), I played Babe Ruth baseball. I had a uniform and shoes with spikes, and I bought a pair of flip-down sunglasses from some kid. I was ready. There was only one problem, the coach hardly ever played me. Now I thought I was pretty good, but I was kind of small and not a big noisemaker. I was a pitcher and outfielder. When I'd get up nerve to ask the coach if I could play, he'd usually say, "We have to keep somebody out in case of an injury. We'll try to get you in later." But I played maybe one or two innings every third game or so. I played around with batting left-handed in practice, and I seemed to see the ball better that way. I'd make better contact, but I only batted that way once, and popped out to the shortstop.
I've since then decided a very interesting thing about vision. I thought all people saw the world the same way, more or less. But professional baseball players talk about "seeing the rotation of the baseball" as it is coming toward the plate at 90 miles an hour, and "seeing the stitches rotating" to know whether it was going to be a curve ball or slider. Well this was news to me! Now I know why I couldn't hit the ball very well. I would make a guess at where it was going to cross the plate and swing there. If I was right, I would hit it, otherwise I wouldn't. I always thought everybody hit that way. I never saw any stitches.
We had this clock that sat up on a shelf in the kitchen. Its face had roman numerals. The interesting thing was that the "four" was not IV, but was IIII. Every half hour it would strike once. Every hour it would strike the number of times of the hour. I remember waking up in the night, and hearing one gong. So I'd think," It's either something thirty or it's one o'clock." I'd get so interested in which one it was that I'd stay awake another thirty minutes to hear the next one. Then sometimes THAT one would be one gong too. So that meant the first one was either twelve thirty or one o'clock, so this one was either one o'clock or one thirty, so I'd stay awake another half hour, then maybe hear two gongs. Ah, two o'clock and all is well, and I'd drift back to sleep.
More fun was when I'd wake up and it'd be gonging, and I'd count five. Then I'd think, "Is it five AM, or is it six and I just slept through the first gong?" Then I'd hope it was five and go back to sleep.
Update 2003: Today the clock sits on the fireplace mantle of sister Shirley's Overland Park, Kansas home.
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I believe I was a freshman or sophomore when Larry Hutchison, the only child of the couple who ran Hutchison's Ice Cream Parlor, collected a bunch of us to be a part of an APBA baseball league. Larry was my brother's age, four years older. I think he wanted to take advantage of us because we were younger. The others were Corky Hall, James Dee Finley, Colon Washburn, Bill Washburn, Paul White and Skip Hughes. Another group of us got together amd formed an APBA football league, but we didn't ask Larry.
This company, whose name we pronounced by saying the letters "A-P-B-A," each year produced one card for each professional baseball or football player. You took two dice of different sizes - a red one and a white one, and rolled them. Then there was a series of lookups on the players card and a results board. You could have a guy get a single, or get injured and be out two games. If you rolled 66, that was usually a home run, unless it was a pitcher or some defensive second baseman or something.
The baseball was fun, but the football was stratospheric. The guy whose team was on offense would place a die down on the table, hiding it with his hand. It would be a 1 (long pass), 2 (short pass), 3 (run), or 4 (plunge, or short run up the middle for one or two yards, usually to get a first down). The first year, I got the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Bart Starr was my quarterback, and I used to throw long passes, Starr to Billy Howton all day long. Anyway, when the offense had his play set, the defense would call out a 5, 6 or 7-man line, trying to guess the best defense. Then the offense would roll the dice, look the number up on the quarterback or runner's card, look that number up on the big board, and it would say something like 15 yard gain, or 2 yards and fumble. Later in life, my California roommate Jim St. Laurent from Traverse City, Michigan, had played APBA baseball when he was a kid too, but they pronounced it "ap'-buh." I loved all the statistics involved in APBA football especially, something which I often think about during my Fantasy Football seasons.
The town of Eldon was about 17 miles east. When the older guys, like Randy Cox and some of the others, began to get their driver's license, we'd go over to Eldon, where they had a bowling alley. The real reason was to see if there were any girls bowling, but I don't recall ever even talking to any, so we bowled. The first game I ever bowled was a 122. I had the knack. After bowling for 35 years or so, my average is about 122.
When I was a freshman in high school, a week or two before school started, we were playing "tackle football" (as opposed to "touch") in a field next to Ricky Lujin's house. I ran the ball and got tackled, with everybody piling on top of me. As they got off of me, Paul White's knee was in my face (he didn't know it though, because of the big pileup) and he put weight on his knee - directly in my left eye socket, as he got up. "Ow, ow, ow!" I said. Man, it hurt, and I had to stop playing. My eye was really sore, but it eased up after a half hour or so, and that might have been the end of it. Except a couple of evenings later, Rodney Uptergrove and I were shooting baskets, playing one on one, just goofing around. I took a shot and Rodney swiped at the ball to try and block it, and you can guess where his fingertips hit. Yep, right in my left eye. It took it about five minutes for the egg to form underneath the eyelid. It was pretty scary. I went home, and don't recall if we went to the doctor's but we must have. Anyway, my eye was big and lumpy when I started school. I tried to wear sunglasses to hide it, but they sat at an odd angle because of the swelling, so I gave it up and just went around looking ugly. After a week or two, the swelling went down, but I still have a little knot in my left eyelid - like an elongated BB. Cool, huh?
When George went away to college, I had our bedroom to myself. There was a thin wood strip that went all the way around the room, about two feet below the ceiling. I would take a half-gallon cardboard milk carton, cut out the top and the bottom, and staple it at one end of the room, away from my bed, over the dresser. Then I'd get a small rubber ball off the end of one of those paddles with a long rubber band stapled to the ball. The idea of the original toy was to paddle the ball again and again, not missing. Anyway, I scavenged the ball from one of those, and used it as a miniature basketball. I'd spend hours shooting at the milk carton from all over the room. After a while, the milk carton would rip down, and then I'd cut a new one.
The first girl I liked was Sally Washburn - my buddy Bill Washburn's older sister. She was a year older than I. I think my feelings for her peaked when I was a high school sophomore. Before then, I would go over to Bill's to hang out with him, but as I began to have these feelings for Sally, I'd also hope she was around when I went over. She had two friends she ran around with - Janie Cox and Becky Huff. As you have probably gathered, I lived a lot of my life in my imagination. I would invent endless scenarios and then be totally shocked if any of them actually happened. For example, we were walking into the school together one day, even as I was daydreaming about her. "I had a dream about a certain sophomore boy last night," she said to me, with twinkling eyes. I was shocked and I didn't know what to do next, so I didn't do anything.
I eventually asked her out though, to a dance at the Rolling Hills Country Club. I danced the slow dances with her and Larry Houchens, who must not have had a date, danced a lot of the fast dances with her. She always asked if I minded. I did, but said I didn't. I'll never forget the smell of her perfume.
Colon (Coe'-lun) Washburn was two years younger than I. His dad was a dentist (the good one) in Versailles, and the brother of Dr. J. L. Washburn. They lived on a corner of the highway that passed through town, where the road made a right angle. They had a big two-story, colonial-style house with an attached breezeway going to a two-car garage. Bud Walton was great friends with Colon's dad and Bud never had a son, so he felt kind of special toward Colon. And guess what, Colon was an executive vice president at Walmart for a long time, but I think he left a few years ago. Anyway, they had a big yard on one side of the house, almost a field, and in the fall and winter we used to play touch football on Sundays - Colon, James Dee Finley, Corky Hall and others. It was great fun. I was usually a quarterback and wanted to play in high school, but I had to work at the Ben Franklin after school every day, so I never got to play. James Dee started at quarterback after we seniors graduated, for two more years.
I bought a traditional red kite and attached about ten or fifteen feet of ripped cotton quilt for stability in strong winds. It had a picture of the Lone Ranger on Silver - rearing up, all in black silhouette.
Didn't every kid call him the "Long Ranger" the first time they heard his name? I remember George trying to teach me the correct way to say it: "It's the LONE Ranger." "It is not, it's the LONG Ranger," I'd say.
I got an old fly rod reel, and fastened it to a board about six inches long by two inches wide by a half inch or three quarters of an inch thick. I'd stuff this down the front of my pants, with just the reel sticking out. Then I'd let the wind take the kite up. When I was finished kite-flying, I'd just reel it in with the fishing reel. It was assembly line kite flying. I wanted to put it up and take it down a hundred times. When I got up to 75 or 80, Mom accidentally put a big pot of green beans on it and broke it. The Lone Ranger couldn't get out of that one. While it was flying, though, I would rig up a handkerchief like a parachute, tie strings to the four corners, tie a weight or a small soldier to that, then tie a fish hook with the barb filed off to that. I'd then let the wind carry the parachute up the line, until it almost got to the kite when I'd pull in about six feet of string with my right hand, then let it pop back. It sent up a wave in the line, and when the wave got to the parachute, it would drop off, floating back to the ground. I tried various ways of putting metal diverter pieces on the string near the kite so the hook would slide off the metal pieces, but they never worked as good as popping the line.
One spring Friday or Saturday evening, we decided to find out if my kite would stay up all night. So we put it up in a strong breeze late in the day, watched it for an hour or so, then went home. The next morning, I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, and raced over to Corky's expecting to see the kite up, but during the night the wind had died down, and the Lone Ranger was just lying on the ground.
Brother George played the trombone in the high school band. The summer after my seventh grade, I started taking lessons, and used a crummy high school trombone for a year and a half, till George graduated from high school. Then I got his trombone. After I went off to college, Mom and Dad sold the trombone to buy Shirley a new clarinet. During my four years of high school, the fifty minutes after lunch was every day's highlight. I loved the band practices. It was wonderful - the rest of the world just disappeared as we practiced and practiced. All the girls I liked were in the band so they'd be there too. There was nothing quite like playing a piece of music I liked a lot, playing it well, and having Mr. LaRue say nothing. You see, usually he screamed and yelled. That meant we had made a small mistake. But if he didn't say anything, then I knew we had done well. The biggest part is that we were always practicing FOR something - like the state contest, or the district contest, or the tri-county contest, or some concert, so our practices were towards a purpose. But playing for an audience was fun too. That was sort of like a "final exam."
My buddy Bill Washburn and I used to sit together in the choir and sing bass. I'd always go to both Sunday School and Church - both one hour long, but Bill usually slept in and just came to church. I'd always be a little disappointed when he wasn't at Sunday School. Anyway, when the sermon started, Bill and I invented this mindless game where I'd hit him once, in the arm or leg - LIGHTLY of course. It WAS church, after all. Then he'd double that and hit me twice. Then I'd hit him double that or four times. Then he'd hit me eight times. Then I'd hit him sixteen times. Well thirty-two times is kind of time-consuming, so he'd open all ten fingers like he was going to strike a big chord on the piano, but play the chord on my leg with all ten fingers, and that'd count for ten hits. I mean we only had so much time. Then he'd do that two more times, making thirty, then poke me with two fingers. OK, thirty-two. My turn. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, sixty-four. OK, Bill's turn for 128.
Randy Cox was an only child, had red hair, a crew-cut (didn't we all) and drove his family's Renault Dauphine (pronounced Ruh-nalt' in Versailles in 1960), an aqua blue-green, sewing-machine engine, fifty mile-per-gallon car. Randy was cool, because he had a good nature, and basically no preconceptions about what could or couldn't be done. He'd say some evening when we were cruising around Versailles, "Hey, let's go to Jeff City." Well, that was about an hour drive, and to just do that on the spur of the moment would always blow me away. I mean we wouldn't even check in with our parents or ask them if it was OK, we'd just do it. Or rather, Randy would do it, and I would go along. His parents were really cool too. One year, our high school band went to the State Fair about an hour away in Sedalia. Most kids took the bus, but this year Randy went with his parents and arranged to come back with them.
Well, as a test, they left Randy at the fair and went home without him, to see what he would do! He finally called home and learned that they were already home, then hooked a ride with somebody, and never got upset about it at all. He thought it was no big deal. During high school, Randy was the lifeguard at the Rolling Hills Country Club.
Another time, Randy said quietly to me, in a whisper-like level, "I've got something I want to tell you. You're my friend so I know I can trust you." I said, "OK, what is it?" Then Randy said, "I'm not from this planet." Typical Randy. We all already knew he wasn't from this planet.
Update 2003: Randy and I connected via that great communication tool, the internet, about three years ago. He claims to know nothing about the leaving-him-behind-at-the-fair story, and said his parents never did that. He also laughed and said he didn't remember the not-from-this-planet story.
Corky Hall's older brother Kent was a biology major, and as I recall, had a PhD. Kent got Corky into cave exploring, or "spelunking." Then Corky got Randy Cox, Bill Washburn and me into it. My gear was some rubbery pants over my blue jeans, and a warm top over my shirt - usually a hooded sweat shirt. Then boots and gloves, and a good flashlight with fresh batteries, some string and maybe something to eat. We'd hear about some cave, and take off. We'd park the car near the entrance, and in we'd go. The entrance might be dry or muddy or even wet, but we'd soon get around a corner and into the darkness. You haven't seen dark until you've been in a cave with no lights. We'd usually have a description of some passageway somebody had seen, and we'd follow that or try a new one.
First we were nice and clean and dry, and would try to stay that way. After a while, the ceiling would drop down and we'd be bent over and walking. Then it'd drop down further and finally we'd have to get down and walk like a crab. Then it'd drop down more and we'd be on our knees. Later we got those knee pads that carpet layers use, but they usually just slid from our knees to our calves as we crawled along. After a while it'd get even lower and we'd be on our bellies slithering along in the mud, and have mud coating our entire being, including the flashlight lenses. Then, if it was extra special, we'd hit some water. At that point, we had to decide whether to turn around or go on. If we went on, the water would be cold, and I'd would think about how warm it was outside in the sunlight.
The absolute best was when the passageway would be about 90 percent water with a little air pocket at the top. I'd hold the flashlight up there with one hand, have two knees and one hand touching bottom to give me forward motion, have to tilt my head to breathe, having one ear in the water and the other one out, and my chin would be getting a little wet. Then somebody would say, "Man, this is really cool." And finally we'd be actually floating in the water, just pushing ourselves ahead with the fingertips of one hand against the bottom. The forward-most guy would say, "I don't see any clearing, let's go back." And the others would be grateful, but say, "Oh man! Oh well, OK."
When I was at MU we went cave exploring too. I went with my new friends Wally Williams, Clarke Garry, Ricky Joe Green and others. It was just as muddy, just as great.
I got a small hatchet for Boy Scouts, and I soon discovered the real purpose of it. I could be Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett and throw it at one of the elm trees in our back yard. I could pretty consistently get it to stick with one revolution, I could hit about 50% for two revolutions, but the real challenge was to stick it after three revolutions. I think I got about one out of five. And Dad thought it was the Dutch Elm Disease that killed the trees.
I loved the Tuesday night Summer Band Concerts. Our high school band would sit in chairs on the court house lawn on the southeast corner and play ten or fifteen pieces. I played trombone, and the great thing was that all my friends were there. Now the memorable thing that characterized these concerts was that the rest of the town would drive up to the court house square in their cars, park as close as they could to the band, and listen to the music from their cars. The kids would get out and tumble around on the lawn. When each piece was finished, the audience would applaud by honking their car horns three or four times. It was perfectly normal then, but today as I think about it, it tickles me to no end.
One summer, before I could drive, Gale Papen had a '53 powder blue and white Chevy. He was a year older, and after the summer band concerts, we would go riding around town, stop at the Dairy Queen, and just see what was happening. Lots was happening, because everybody else I knew was also cruising, and we'd see each other all over town, all evening. Or in other words, nothing was happening. Bobby Guenther was the son of a banker in town, and was a year older - Gale's age. He had the use of his older brother's red jeep one Tuesday July night after the concert. Three girls - Sally Washburn, Becky Huff and Janie Cox all went with Bobby, and the rest of us young bucks got in the car with Gale. I'd guess there were maybe four or five guys. Bobby Guenther challenged Gale, "I'll bet you $5 you can't follow me wherever I go tonight." Oh yeah? Well, the excitement for the evening was set. Gale followed Bobby and the girls all over town, eventually leading to the railroad station behind our house, where there was a twenty foot embankment at a steep angle. Bobby stuck it in four wheel drive and scooted right up. Gale said, "I can do that." He backed way up to get a run, and charged the hill. Up, up we went, but only about two-thirds of the way. Then we stopped and started slipping back down in the dirt. We jammed the tailpipe right into the dirt when the car reached the bottom, and the Chevy died. It just coughed when Gale tried to start it. He got a screwdriver and began digging out dirt as Bobby and the girls drove up. "I'll take my five bucks" said Bobby. Gale paid him quietly. "Hey maybe we can do this again next week, and I'll follow you," said Bobby, and they drove away. Gale got enough dirt out to start the car, and it blew the rest of the dirt out.
Gale's dad was in heavy construction down at the Lake of the Ozarks. The next Tuesday after the band concert, the same people were in the same cars. Gale said, "I'll bet you double or nothing you can't follow me." "You're on," said Bobby. So we drove down to the lake, to where Gale's dad had his huge bulldozer parked. Gale got out and fired it up! What a crack it made in the night as it roared to life. "Get on," he said to us, and we all climbed on, grabbing what we could. "Hey, that's not fair," Bobby said. "Wanna give me the ten bucks now?" said Gale. "No." And Gale took off for the woods. He drove right into them, bulldozing trees as big around as fireplace logs. Our spirits soared as the dozer roared. Bobby and the girls tried to follow, and his jeep stuck - bottomed out on top of a tall tree stump Gale had knocked over. Gale had to hook a line from the bulldozer and pull the jeep off of it. Gale pocketed the ten bucks. "I still say that's not fair," said Bobby. "It's as fair as my Chevy following your brother's four wheel drive jeep," said Gale, And it seemed fair to me. We all went back into town and celebrated at the Dairy Queen with our third Pepsi of the night.
Now there are some strange things in the world, but nothing stranger than when a guy you've known all your life says something from Mars. We were driving around in Gale Papen's Chevy after a band concert, when we pulled up beside Bobby Gene Fields in his car. "Do you wanna drag?" said Bobby Gene. Stuff like this scared me, because I always imagined getting caught by the police or else having a terrible accident. "OK," said Gale. "I'll get the chains," said Bobby Gene. "Huh?" I thought, "What are chains for in a drag race?" But I couldn't say anything like that to show my ignorance.
"What are the chains for?" said my friend Bill Washburn, who wanted to know, and was unencumbered by self-doubt, like I was. "To tie the bumpers together," said Bobby Gene. "Huh?" I thought, " How can you have a drag race if you tie your bumpers together?" Anyway, the idea was to back the cars up to each other, chain the rear bumpers together and try to pull the other guy - sort of a combination of a Tractor Pull and a tug-of-war. When Gale figured out what was being offered, he opted not to wreck the bumper of his Chevy.
Bobby Gene was actually a pretty cool guy. Once in grade school, when we were playing softball, he hit a grounder, and it was fielded and thrown to first base, where the call was very close. Bobby Gene never stopped. Without hesitating, he rounded first, ran to second and stopped there, to wait and see what the verdict at first would be. The first baseman was too stunned to throw the ball to second. I can't recall whether he was finally called out or safe at first, but hey, for this story, it doesn't matter.
Larry Houchens was a year older. He was a good-looking, very confident high school halfback in football, excellent on the trampoline, world's best jitterbug dancer, owned a black Mercury convertible with red leather interior - you get the picture. There was a girl who would show up in the summer and stay with her Grandma. She lived in Colorado I think, and her name was Tana Fenimore (pronounced Tan'-uh). Anyway, the first summer she showed up, Larry Houchens dated her all summer, and that gave her a great mystique to all of us. The next summer, I worked at the Ben Franklin store for Bud Walton, and for some reason which totally escaped me, she went after me (Larry had a new girlfriend). I was really flattered, not that I knew what flattered meant at the time. No girl had ever paid so much attention to me. She'd come into the dime store and say, "Guess what? WE got invited to a party." And I'd spend about two hours thinking of the cool way she said WE. Anyway, when the summer was over, she went back home, and I went to college, and that was the end of whatever tiny thing there had been to start with. My sophomore year at MU, guess who shows up? Tana Fenimore. To me, she seemed out of place in college, and we never went out. Sort of like seeing your sister show up in Roy's Pool Hall. I think I fixed her up a time or two, but I knew by then that she was not the girl for me.
One summer James Dee Finley had access to the basement of the Methodist Church, where he was a member. They had a ping pong table and supplies, and James Dee was really good - a great slammer. I was a pre-beginner. Anyway, I wanted to learn to play and was willing to put up with endless defeats just to practice. That was my secret. He would beat me 21-1, 21-2, 21-4 all night long. We'd take a break, go up to Myer's ice cream, have a Pepsi and go back at it to beat me some more. We played all summer. About halfway through, I acquired the skill of sensing where his slam was going, moving my paddle there, and angling it so the ball would simply bounce back across to James Dee's side. He was shocked.
About two-thirds of the way through the summer, I started slamming back. He couldn't believe it, and then the real fun began. He would still beat me, but now by scores of 21-10, 21-15, 21-18. At the end of the summer he would beat me about 50-60% of the time. I would win the rest, and you should have seen the slams from both sides. It was fabulous - one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I experienced the deep-down feeling that with practice - even with zero success for months, I could get really good at something if I put my mind to it. That has been invaluable - not being afraid of defeat. And in fact not even thinking in those terms. However, I have never beaten my friend Bill Petrick at ping pong, even when he plays left-handed (and yes, he's right-handed). Of course, he's the tennis champion of the world.
Update 2003: I finally beat Bill at something he's really good at. Basketball's H-O-R-S-E game. Now, he had been involved in a terrible auto accident when some lady whipped out in front of him. He totalled his Miata and almost totalled the fingers and thumb of his right hand. But I don't think that had ANY EFFECT AT ALL on his ability to shoot a basketball with his right hand, do you? Hey, I'll take it.
The roads in Versailles were almost all paved, and when you drove out on the main highways passing through, they were all paved too. But when you got off onto the country roads, they were all gravel. About the only traffic they got was during the day, when farmers would drive to and from town on errands. The nights were very, very isolated. And the perfect place for guys and their girlfriends to park and make out. Giving rise to the alternate activity from driving around town in the evenings - driving around the country looking for kids parked and making out. Now typically when we came up on such a car, we'd all recognize the car, and say something like, "Claude and Becky" or "Kent and Mary Jo" as soon as we got close enough. I'd say about one out of twenty times you'd actually see any heads above the car door level. We'd flash our lights as we approached, and most of the times nothing would happen. But occasionally, they'd turn on their lights too, so we'd scoot on by a littler faster than normal as if to say, "Uh, we're just farmers passing by." So did I ever park? Once, one time - with Tana Fenimore, Larry Houchen's last-year flame. We made out a little, but I felt weird parking with her. Besides, I missed driving around the countryside with the guys, looking for people parking.
The fall after my big ping pong marathons with James Dee Finley, we had a church retreat down at the Lake of the Ozarks. There was a ping pong table, and it came to pass that a new challenger played the winner of the last game. I challenged the current winner, beat him and played about six games before I finally retired, unbeaten. There was a girl from Jeff City, as it is known in Versailles and central Missouri, named Anne Ruthven, who kept watching me and sort of cheering me. I went over and started talking to her after I finished, and we talked quite a while. We made arrangements for me to come up to Jeff City and visit her sometime, and I tried, thinking there would be some kind of spark there between us but there never was. She went to Missouri University as a freshman the same time I did, and we saw each other, but never went out. She was an only child - her father had died at a fairly early age, and his life insurance money had been saved by her mom so she could go to college.
During our junior year, in Current Events, one of my classmates and I used to lay out the weekly newspaper, with a map of the featured country on it, rub our hair, let the dandruff flakes fall on the map for say ten seconds, then stop and circle the bits. These were bomb craters. First to get five cities would win. I had more dandruff. We must not have been too interested in current events.
Brother George played a guitar for a while. One day I picked it up and tried to put my fingers on the correct strings and frets to play a basic C chord, but my fingers were too short to reach. I knew I had small hands, and so I assumed that my hands just weren't big enough to play the guitar. Some time later I saw some ukulele music, including easier finger positions for the C chord, and I knew I was in business. I bought a little ukulele and started playing. I lugged it around and anywhere I could find someone interested, I played and we sang. The peak of my ukulele career was when I played it on the school bus taking our school band to the state fair when we were seniors. It was a sing-along! Later, in college at MU when I was a junior, I picked up a friend's guitar in the dorm while he was eating lunch, and a book was open to the E-minor chord. I fingered it and strummed, and the world changed again. It sounded like an orchestra compared with my ukulele. And my fingers easily played this chord. I don't remember ever playing the ukulele again, and the rest, of course is history. Meaning, I learned to play the guitar.
Dad was usually a fairly serious guy. One time we were at the supper table with visitors - female cousins I think - who were talking about whether traumatic events which happen to a pregnant woman affect the baby. Back and forth the arguments went, with Dad just listening. During a rare break in the discussion, Dad said, "I know for a fact that it does." "Huh?" we all said. And here was his proof:
"A few years ago, Norma Waisner* and her husband had gone to the fair out at the fairgrounds and were walking back to town on the railroad tracks. You know how you get kind of hypnotized when you walk on the ties? A train came up behind them and they didn't notice it until the engineer blew his whistle not fifty feet from them. Norma jumped off the tracks in a panic and landed in the ditch as the train flew by. And do you know when that baby was born, it had wheels."
And he never cracked a smile.
Dad shared a milk truck delivery run from the dairy in Versailles to St. Louis with another man. Dad would drive one day, the other man the next, then Dad the next, etc. Once a year, the other man would get two weeks off, and Dad would drive every day for two weeks. And like that, in reverse, for Dad's vacation. Dad would either have Mom take him to the Versailles Dairy or would drive the car up and park it behind the dairy, so we could pick it up later in the day. He would leave about eleven in the morning or so, as I recall, then get back into town about two or three in the morning, drive the car home, and sleep till late the next morning. On those mornings, we all had to be very quiet so we wouldn't wake him.
I remember one time when I was very small, Dad took me on the run with him. About the only thing I remember doing was sleeping, and waking up in the night in the truck with Dad sitting in the driver's seat. We were waiting in line with other trucks to unload milk. Then I went back to sleep.
When I got my driver's license, I would have the car, but with instructions to leave it at the dairy for Dad before he got home. Now the normal procedure at the end of the evening was to get Bill Washburn to follow me to the dairy in his car, leave our car, then he'd bring me home. But sometimes, we'd be into something, and I'd forget. I'd be walking home and I'd suddenly remember that I forgot to take the car to the dairy, then I'd have to go back to where I left the car, drive it to the dairy, and walk home late at night. Sometimes I would take a "short cut," along the railroad tracks, but did you ever try to walk a long way on railroad tracks? And at night? They're built too close together to walk on each tie, and too far apart to walk on every other one. They're impossible.
Bagnell Dam interrupts the flow of the Osage River to create the Lake of the Ozarks. I think there is a town called Bagnell Dam, and it is one of the big tourist attractions in central Missouri. It features helicopter rides, airplane rides, and the Larry Don - a big two-level boat that slowly travels the lake for two or three hours either for viewing scenery, or at night for dance parties. When we got to be seniors, of course, we'd go down there looking for girls from Kansas City or St. Louis - well, from anywhere - on vacation with their parents. Ah, the Larry Don. So much hope, so little results. But the music was good, and doing stuff with your buddies was the best.
The summer after I got my driver's license led to my introduction to dance clubs. If I drove south, through Gravois Mills and a little further, then turned off on a gravel road near the Gravois Mills Drive-In Theater, I came to a lake resort made up largely of log cabins, but which included a dance club. This was a real hot spot for good-looking, exciting, out-of-town girls on vacation with their parents. And you didn't have to be 21 to get in. I used to go down every Saturday night in the summer, and I'd see the same cute girls mixed with some new ones. I didn't know how to jitterbug so I didn't do much dancing, but I loved to watch all the activity and the people. The hot dance of that year was called the "Alligator." The girl laid down flat on the floor and the guy laid down flat on top of the girl, and they both moved around like alligators. Huh? Well, you see, logic wasn't involved. Anyway, it looked just like they were, well, you know. It seemed sort of stupid to me. Towards the end of the summer, my Sunday School teacher, Mildred Six (everyone called her Mick) asked me one morning if I went down there. "Yes," I said, ready to explain how exciting it was down there. She got this really disgusted look on her face, and said, "Shame on you. You stop going there. YOU KNOW what goes on there." Well, as usual, I didn't have a clue what was going on there, but I wasn't about to ask her. After church, I asked Bill Washburn what was going on, and he said, "Oh, you mean the prostitution ring?" Excuse me? So the next Saturday I went, all I could think of was, "Wow, that girl's a prostitute. And that one. And that one. Not that ugly one." And so on. I lost interest in it after another trip or two. It wasn't just a collection of kids out for fun any more, which was why I liked it in the beginning.
The summer after my junior year in high school, I was playing golf with Bill Washburn and some other guys, and we saw this exciting new girl who was really cute. "Do you know who that is?" said Bill. "No, who?" "It's Lindy Richesin (Rich'-uh-sun) , the new principal's daughter. She's going to be a junior. Her name's Linda, but she likes to be called Lindy." So we all (I did, anyway) started trying to look cool in case she looked our way. She was a barbie doll sort of girl - very bubbly. She had a younger brother, Jim, who was good-looking and popular with the girls his age. She never had any great interest in me, and I never asked her out or talked to her very much at that time. When I was a senior though, my buddy Ronnie White and I double-dated with Linda and Mary Jo Meyer. Ron liked Mary Jo and was the center on the high school football team. I'll never forget him standing alone after every offensive football play - hand and index finger in the air, indicating where to huddle up. We drove to Jeff City in Ronnie's parents Oldsmobile to see Gone With The Wind on a big screen.
About four years before I was a senior, there was a long-standing senior class tradition. During each class's four high school years, they held fund raisers. They spent this on the senior trip, in a bus - usually to Washington D.C. But one year, they caught a bunch of girls and boys together naked in a hotel room, drinking, and the senior trips were canceled for good, including my senior year. No trip. Well, when Linda Richesin became a senior, her dad, the high school principal, decided, "Hey, we should revive the senior trip." So his daughter and her class had a great senior trip. But the next year, Mr. Richesin said, "This senior trip thing is risky and too much trouble. We're not going to have it any more." Pretty sneaky.
Linda's younger brother Jim took airplane flying lessons and was killed in a solo accident a couple of years later. Linda went to MU, being a year behind me, and married some guy from there. But before she did that, she had time to introduce me to my first girlfriend - Jean Harrison*, from her dorm. The Richesins moved on to be principal somewhere else, and I lost track of them.
Our summer trips to the Sedalia State Fair for band day were incredible. It'd be in August and about 110 degrees. We'd wear our heavy band uniforms and just get hotter than you can imagine (unless you're from Missouri, then you know). Somebody would usually faint and get carried over to the shade. We'd all go up in the bus in the early morning and have a few hours to enjoy the fair. Then around noon, everybody had to be back to the bus to pick up their instruments, practice and get ready for a big parade with lots of other high school bands. We got in free, but the only exciting things going on were the rides and the cranes. During the ten days of the fair, some days they'd have famous stars or stock car races, but on band day, when we were there, there would be no famous stars - only harness races (no betting). Boy were they boring.
So we'd usually climb to the top of the grandstand and try to spit on people's heads, ducking back just before the shot hit them, so when they looked up they wouldn't see our face. What a bunch of punks we were (My father-in-law, Ed, would say, "Why would anybody want to DO something like that?"). But the point of this story is that the best part of the fair was the pineapple whips. Soft vanilla-pineapple ice cream in a cone, so cold it'd hurt your eyeballs. And what's better on a 100 degree day? I'd eat about four or five of them. A few years ago, Sharon and I went to the fair with Mom, on the way up to Shirley's in Overland Park, Kansas, for Shirley and Jerry's wedding. I raved to Sharon about these cones. We each bought a cone, and as we were going back to the car, I dropped mine, just like a little kid would. Being an adult, I was way past crying, so I just laid down on the ground and kicked real hard. Mom laughed and said, "Oh, Bobby." Sharon took it well and gave me the rest of hers, saying, "There there, dear, you can have the rest of mine." What a great wife.
There were many guys Dad's age and a few years younger who said to me after Dad died, "He was my best friend in the whole world. I can't believe he's gone." Everybody in the world should have a bunch of friends like my dad did. They would spend hours together every day talking about guns - trading them, hunting with them, and fishing - where to go, when to go, who caught what, and they talked about trap shooting. And they WENT trap shooting.
When I was small, maybe ten years old or so, Dad and his buddies installed some other kid and me in a little concrete block house with the back (far) side open. In this little building they put the trap itself. Trap gets its name from the device which throws the clay pigeons. I would load it with a clay target, or clay pigeon, then cock it back and wait for the magic word... "PULL." That meant let 'er go. The design of the trap, as I recall, was that it would throw to the left or straight out or to the right with a random distribution, to surprise the shooter - like a bird flying away at random angles. I think you could also control where it went if you wanted to. The shooter then had about two seconds to acquire the target and fire. "Dead bird," somebody would yell if they saw the clay target break up from the shotgun pellets. "No" or "Miss" if not.
The other thing I remember was during gun-trading discussions with the Huff boys and Glen Houseworth, they'd argue for three months about whether to trade a pistol at $35 or $40. So clearly it wasn't the price that mattered, but the arguing. As in life, the journey is the destination.
There was this really cute blonde girl two years younger than I, and I guess I was a junior and she was a freshman when I asked her to go to a movie. It took me about a year to ask her. Well, somehow Mom and Dad found out - you know, "Bob, what are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, nothing, I've got a date with Louise Lange." "A date? Well, Bobby, Bobby. Louise is a wonderful girl. What are you going to do?" That was Mom - like I was going to marry her or something. "I don't know, I think go to a movie." Well, now I must not have had my driver's license yet, because I remember Dad driving us to the movie, and Louise's Dad picking us up and taking me home, and then her. I thought I would explode, the whole evening. I worked up the nerve to put my arm around her once and put my head against hers. We watched for a minute or two that way. I thought I was going to faint with this new feeling. But I got self-conscious and took my arm back, and we watched the rest of the movie. I believe that was the first time I ever asked a girl out when there wasn't some big occasion, like a dance. Louise later went to San Francisco during the Flower Child era in 1967 or so, and I don't know what happened to her. I can't remember if I kissed her at the end of the evening or not - probably too embarrassed with her Dad there and all, huh?
Update 2003: Louise is married and works as a realtor in Santa Barbara, California.
I came home from school during my senior high school year and learned that Mom had breast cancer and needed surgery. They did the surgery in Boonville - did a mastectomy and then said we had to wait several days for the results of a test to see if they got it all. That few days of waiting, my life changed. "Please God, if only Mom would make it," I prayed. And lucky for us all, she did - they got all the cancer. That was my senior year in high school, 1960, and now it's 1993, she lived 33 more years. We were lucky, many are not. Thank you, God.
We used to play this game where you laid down in the back seat of the car at night, closed your eyes, and thought about baseball. Well every kid in Versailles knew every Versailles street by heart, so this was the fun part. While Randy Cox and maybe one other buddy, Corky Hall or Bill Washburn, would ride in the front seat, I'd lay down in the back and sort of lose my mind in thought about something like baseball or football. Then when I'd suddenly come back to the present, I'd realize that I had no idea where we were. "OK," I'd say, "I'm lost." Then the driver would just continue driving around, going over railroad tracks, into parking lots, U-turning, and back out, onto gravel roads, etc., while I would try to get my bearings. I could watch the treetops go by, so Randy wouldn't drive by any town businesses, because I'd know immediately. Sooner or later, I'd think I'd know where we were. "OK, I got it," and I'd name the place, then sit up. The big payoff of the game came when I was wrong! I'd think I was on one street, and I'd be on an entirely different one, and for about three seconds, it was exactly like I was on Mars or in New York or something. Finally, my mind would click and I'd recognize where we were, and what a flip my mind would do at that instant.
Then we'd all change positions.
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There were many Dutch Elm trees in our backyard most of which died from the Dutch Elm disease, but a few made it. One in the back corner of our yard, near the plum trees, had a good view of the back yard and the road coming up between our house and our neighbors, the Whites. In the springtime (even in high school), I would take a couple of text books with reading assignments, my BB gun, and climb into the tree, where I had tied a folding chair. I would rest my BB gun nearby in a branch, and do my homework reading. There were lots of stray dogs scrounging for meals. When I spotted one, he would not be aware of my presence. I'd put my book down, pick up the already cocked BB gun, and pop him in the side or in the butt. He'd give a yelp, jump up in the air, and look behind him to see where the smack came from, but of course, he wouldn't see anything. About half the time, the dogs would just get out of the territory, but the other half would settle down before they went too far, obviously thinking, "I must have dreamed that. I don't see anyone. Now where's something to eat?" So I'd pop him again, and then he'd take off, probably thinking, "OK, that's enough. I'll try somewhere else."
My friend Bill and I used to do lots of stuff together. One of the fun things was that he had a football helmet with a strap and a clear plastic face guard, not one like they use in pro football today, but a sort of an angled plate, about an eighth of an inch thick, and the whole thing swung out of the way when you unsnapped the chinstrap. Anyway, one guy would be quarterback and the other guy the wide receiver. The receiver always got to wear the helmet because he would have to try for these "hands full out, ball way over his head, no way on earth, impossible, but just maybe he might catch them" passes. That was the whole point. No, the whole point was to do it WHILE some girls were walking past us. Now that was easy for me because I liked his sister Sally and two of her friends Becky Huff and Janie Cox. So I was often and easily pleased - but Bill, ha! The only girls who usually walked by were his sister and her friends, and you know what older girls think of younger brothers. Bill's a lawyer in Eldon today.
My life in grade school, high school, college and graduate school was pretty simple. Now I don't know whether I had anything to do with it, but I always found myself in structured schedules where the courses to take next semester were almost always set for me. Sometimes I think that there is some optimum number of decisions that a person needs to make in his life to be happy. If you don't have enough to make, it means you don't have any control over your life, other people do. Maybe you're in prison or something. Or you may have too many to make, like if you take on too much responsibility, everybody's clamoring for decisions and you know that about half the people will hate you when you disclose your decision.
But back to Student Body President. One of the things that seemed to lay itself out was that I would run for student body president. I was famous for telling the joke of the day in the morning, having a sense of humor, and for being smart. As usual, I decided to appeal to the humor side. I asked Deon Barnes to make a poster of a cow with a huge udder and under it it said, "This ain't no BULL, you have to PULL, for Bob Lutman, for Student Body President." Deon was a wonderful artist. That and humorous appeals for votes were my campaign. I won over Jim Dornan, who was the down-to-earth, serious, natural candidate. Jim owns Dornan Chevrolet in Versailles, is on the school board and his son married my cousin's daughter. A Dornan and a Lutman. I was uncomfortable being student body president - it was too much work, with no point to it as far as I could tell, except for the general feeling everybody ELSE had that I was right where I should be. This was the last stop in my political career.
Update 2003: Speaking of politics, Dad was famous in our house for saying, "Vote NO on everything."
On the northwest corner of the square was what we appropriately called the Corner Drug Store. I believe it was a Rexall Drug Store. It was owned by Dexter Slagle and his wife Joanne. Dexter was the county surveyor, and other people ran the drug store for him. We used to go in every day after high school to see who was there, see what was happening, who had dates with who(m) for the weekend, and then get down to the real business - the drinks. I usually had a chocolate-cherry coke, and by the time I was a senior, the workers (my classmates and friends) often let me make my own. Sometimes I had a chocolate milkshake - they were the greatest. They'd use this cold steel container to pour the shake into, put it on the mixer, let it spin around, and then pour the contents into a huge milkshake glass for you. But the trouble was, the glass only held half the shake, so they'd put the steel container - now half full of the rest of the shake, beside your glass. Two shakes for the price of one! Incredible. When I worked at the Ben Franklin dime store, on Saturday morning I'd go to the drug store and have the same pre-work breakfast - a doughnut and a rootbeer. Ah, nutrition. The future dentists of the world collectively rubbed their hands together. Later, the drug store was converted to a jewelery shop, in which Dad had a small booth where he repaired watches, in his last career before retirement.
My early teen years were a lot about sin. Cussing was a sin - forget stealing, murder or any of that stuff. And for me, going into the pool hall was a sin. Can you imagine? I mean setting foot inside meant sure hell someday. I never was going to go in there. But as I approached my senior year, I found that in addition to a lot of the town's hooligans (in Versailles?), a lot of guys I liked went in there all the time to shoot a game called snooker - especially Bill Washburn. Then I had a tough time. I finally got up my nerve and went in once, waiting for lightning to strike. When it didn't, I went in a couple of more times with Bill, and then I began to practice games of snooker with Bill. I also learned that the "hooligans" were actually good guys. A snooker table is an oversized pool table with smaller pockets and smaller balls. The balls are beautiful. There are about ten dark cherry red balls and eight colored balls. You have to sink a red ball to then have the opportunity to shoot at a colored, numbered one. A red ball is one point and each colored ball is its own number. Pink is five for example. I came to love that game. And you have to shoot so carefully that when you switch over to a regular eight ball pool table, the pockets look like the Grand Canyon. You kept score by sliding these counters back and forth on a rack with your cue. That was the really macho part. Later, when I moved to California and worked for GE, Dave Jones and I found a snooker table in downtown San Jose and played every once in a while.
The genes and chromosomes I was born with have always steered me in the direction of wanting to do everything myself. Putting puzzles together, mowing the lawn, painting the house, driving the car across the country, learning the guitar, and so on. I felt like I wanted to teach myself. Mom says that practically my first words were, "Do it self."
Anyway, after spending about a year dinking on the guitar and making what I thought was great progress, a friend of mine named Danny Peek taught me more about playing the guitar in two evenings than I had learned up to that point. And over the next few years, an evening with Danny would jump me another huge step. He was tall and blonde and played the banjo. We used to harmonize to "The Fox" with no musical instruments, sung at a very fast pace:
"The fox went out on a chase one night, he
prayed for the moon to give him light, he had
many a mile to go that night, be-
fore he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o-o,
many a mile to go that night be-
fore he reached the town-o."
Another thing I was born with was this basic desire to be liked, to be noticed, to be popular. And when I was in high school, I used to read my brother's Boy's Life magazines, the Reader's Digest and lots of magazines with jokes. I'd collect the best three or four, and a bunch of us would huddle in high school my senior year just before the first class of the day so I could tell my jokes. It was tremendous to be a central part of that. I guess that's what show business people feel, only magnified by a factor of ten or a hundred.
My senior year I took typing. There were a couple of electric typewriters, but most were manual. I was assigned a manual one by Mrs. Hays to start the year. It was really clunky. In the first few days it was drummed into us that we were NOT to look at our fingers or the keyboard while we typed, while we practiced learning the keys. But I did it anyway, and formed the habit of looking. Mrs. Hays told me, "Bob, you're looking at the keyboard. You'll never learn to type if you keep doing that." So I hunkered down like I have so many times in my life and told myself, "You can do it." I slowed down dramatically while I DIDN'T look at my hands. But then the "natural" talent was unleashed, and I started improving in big jumps. I shot to the top of the class in speed and accuracy. By the end of the semester I had broken the high school typing record (It was a SMALL school and it was a long time ago), 72 words per minute. One word for every person in my graduating class.
Mrs. Hays was married, with a daughter my age named Ginny, who attended Tipton High School and whom I met a couple of times. I don't know what makes up such class, but Mrs. Hays was the coolest lady I had known in my young life. So of course, I really liked her. About twice a week we would do an official ten-minute timed typing test to determine our latest speed. And the rest of the days we'd do a five minute test and extrapolate the results. I called them simulated ten minute tests, and would get into endless pleasant arguments trying to explain to Mrs. Hays what I meant, but she never got it. Or she got it and was just egging me on. She had the slyest smile and the most twinkling blue eyes. She never laughed really loud, but had this quiet little chuckle I used to try to get out of her. One of my favorite guys in typing was Ed Shepp. He was so cool that he could drop off to sleep during a ten-minute timed typing test. Can you imagine being that relaxed?
I remember getting up on cold winter mornings, getting ready for school, coming downstairs for toast and cocoa. Mom and Dad would be in the kitchen usually drinking coffee, and there was this white plastic, battery-powered radio that always sat on top of the refrigerator. It was usually tuned to a country or hillbilly station, and there were lots of hog reports and weather reports. That radio was always a part of our mornings. I now have that radio, out in the garage, tucked safely into a cabinet, and it still worked the last time I tried it. It's a little rusty on the inside.
On the first or second day of my senior year, Mom had just bought me a new pair of brown pants for school and I spilled a little hydrochloric acid on them in chemistry class. Anyway, it ate a nice hole in my pants, which I took a good ribbing for, the rest of the day. When I got home, Mom said, "Bob, let me sew a patch on it, and she described her plan." "OK," I said. So the next day I wore the pants to school, and they had a neatly embroidered patch over the hole which said, "Chemistry Casualty." Way to go, Mom. Well, I wore 'em.
There were news stories about some stupid white people in Kansas City burning crosses in racial protests, like the Ku Klux Klan used to. But being high school seniors entitles you to do stuff without thinking. That's where we came in. We decided on Halloween evening that we'd build a wooden cross on a stand, wrap a sheet around it, soak it with gas, put it on our high school principal, Mr. Richesin's lawn, and wouldn't that be cool? Copy cat demonstrators. There was a Halloween event going on at the junior high school and we were certain the Richesins would all be there, so the coast would be clear. We got in two cars, and parked a couple of blocks away. We Ninja'd our way to Mr. Richesin's and were getting set up in the front yard. We had just lit the fire when the front door of the house burst open and Mr. Richesin came flying out yelling, "Hey, what are you guys doing?" We all turned our faces and started running, but Paul White, my next door neighbor and classmate, tripped coming out of the blocks and Mr. Richesin saw him. The next day I came home from school, and Mom said, "Were you with those boys who set fire to the Richesin's lawn?" and in my typically devious voice, I answered, "Yes." So we were all chastised one at a time in Mr. Richesin's office. For my part I said truthfully, "No, no, we like you. We were just copying those guys in Kansas City for a prank," or something like that. Anyway, the trouble wasn't as bad as I thought it would be (death by firing squad).
There was this paperback book club I got into somehow - either through the high school or through the Reader's Digest. I used to order these funny paperbacks that were full of humorous short stories, jokes and other nonsense. I remember that when I was a senior, at the end of every evening and after homework, getting into bed, snuggling down to get warm, and firing up one of my books. I'd read and giggle and laugh out loud. I would get the warmest, greatest feeling of comfort and delight. I remember one about Prinderella and the two Sisty Uglers. Great stuff. They gave me lots of material for the joke of the morning at high school.
When I was in high school, we went to an MU football game on high school band day once a year. High schools from all over the state were represented. At halftime, every band went down onto the field and played a few songs, all together. It was a nightmare because of the speed of sound effect. Anyway, it was really colorful, and a great time to see college football, college women, and have a generally great day of goofing around. My senior year, there was a spectacular black baton twirler from a high school in St. Louis who put everyone else I'd EVER seen to total shame. He'd throw his baton higher than the stadium, and catch it between his legs, behind his back - every which way. The crowd got into it with huge bursts of cheers or ohs when he caught or dropped it. It upstaged the bands, the music and even the football game. We all said, "Holy cow, we've got to get that guy to come to MU next year." And he did. His name was Warren Bass. I met him a few times during my college career, and he was a regular guy. Every home football game, he'd be the highlight of the halftime show. He was a real fixture and a great showman. He had two shiny gold teeth that were prominent when he smiled.
The floors of the Versailles dime store were oiled hardwood, as opposed to the nice tile or linoleum in today's Walmarts and other discount stores. Near the end of each day, or first thing the next morning, I swept the dirt up. I got a little box of red sawdust compound, treated with some chemical to combine with dirt and dust, and walked up and down the aisles, tossing it onto the floor. Then when I swept, there wouldn't be large clouds of dust rise up and settle onto the clothing and other items. After I learned my job and felt I knew how to do it pretty well, I got a little careless. One day Bud Walton approached me with a somber look on his face, "Come with me." He led me over to the women's lingerie. The bras were displayed open in those days, not in packages like they are now, and three or four of them had red oily spots on them - ruined and unsellable. "How did they get dust compound on them?" he asked. Stutter, stammer, don't know what to say, embarrassed at standing in front of the women's underwear. "Uh, I'll pay for them," I said. "No, but be careful, and keep the compound down on the floor," he said and went back to his office. I was more careful after that.
When I was a senior in high school, back when a good wage was $5 an hour, our civics teacher, Mr. Allee told someone, "If anybody in this school is ever going to be a millionaire, it'll be Bob Lutman." He didn't say this to me - I got the report second-handed.
Which reminds me. A young man struggled to increase his wealth but couldn't gain ground the way he wanted to. It was about this time that long term deep freezing of humans was discovered. He instructed his stock broker about the investments he wanted. Then he arranged to be put into deep freeze for a hundred years. He reasonably figured that when he woke up, he'd still be the same age, but would have enormous wealth. A hundred years later, he was awakened and immediately put in a call to his (former) stock broker's company. "Your account is worth 22 million dollars," he was told. "Fantastic," he thought, when the operator interrupted his conversation and said, "That'll be twelve thousand dollars for the next three minutes."
Or Steve Martin, who gives instructions on how to become a millionaire and pay no taxes: "First you get a million dollars. OK, now!..."
One of the books I would read at night before going to sleep and after homework was the latest Pogo book. Now they were just a collection of the latest newspaper cartoons, but since I never read the newspaper cartoons, they were all new to me. I loved the language all the characters used and the nonsense they were always into. The father of a girl I liked, Bill Williams (actual name William Wooden Williams, initials - get ready, all you cyberheads - WWW), enjoyed Pogo just as much as I did, and we used to compare notes all the time. When I went to MU, I brought my books with me, and by the time I was a senior, I had been nicknamed Pogo by a roommate from Lima, Peru - one Ramon Laos, who was more American than most Americans I knew. I later bumped into him on a Staten Island Ferry in New York City in the summer of 1969 when he thought I was in California and I thought he was in Peru. I yelled "Merde" and he turned around and yelled "Pogo."
It was one winter weekend I was home from college, and I was driving our copper-colored '59 Chevy four-door sedan on the icy town streets. One street goes from one corner of the square westward, and goes slightly downhill in that direction. I was headed down that street and put the brakes on to slow down in preparation for the stop sign ahead. The car started skidding and I tried to turn the wheels into the skid, but the car did a complete about face and I wound up stopped - pointing back toward the court house, in the direction I had come from. After the adrenaline slowed down a little, I looked around and noticed that no one saw me. As Pee Wee Herman used to say, "I meant to do that," and calmly drove back up to the square. Didn't hit anybody, nobody knew.
Now, I'm still not sure whether this was the last day of school our junior or senior year, but Corky Hall was mowing his lawn with a power lawn mower, and backed it up over one of his feet. He cut off the front of his shoe, including his big toe and the one next to it. They rushed him to the clinic or hospital, and I didn't see him till he got out. He was walking around with crutches. He recovered nicely and over the years, the rest of the foot sort of grew out to fill the place where the toes had been, so he didn't lose his balance. I had heard that the big toe was necessary to keep your balance, but that is obviously not true. Anyway, a day or so after he got back from the hospital, he said, "Do you wanna see my toes?" "Sure," I said, and we went to their extra refrigerator on their back porch. He opened the freezer, and carefully took out this white freezer wrapping paper that butchers package hamburger and steaks in, and opened it up. There, contained in the paper, were two very greenish-white toes, a big one and a little one. "Cool," I said, as I almost threw up. "What are you gonna do with 'em?" I said. "I don't know," Corky said. I wonder where they are today.
In the springtime of our senior year, I woke up one morning and saw in huge letters, "RHB" painted on the town's watertower, close to Jim Dornan's house. This acronym was the first letter of the last names of Ralph Ruiz (pronounced Reese), Corky Hall and Robert Baxter, who was called Robert. I was excited. Why hadn't they asked me? Of course, I would have been scared to death if they had. Anyway, it wasn't until our 30th high school reunion, in May of 1991, that I learned that Bill Washburn was with them, acting as the lookout on the ground. Where would everybody have gone if Bill yelled, "Someone's coming!"
I learned a couple of days ago about second daughter Shandra's date with a foreign exchange student to the high school senior prom. When I was a senior, I took Anne Marie Sebaoun, an Algerian foreign exchange student, to the senior prom. We double-dated with Corky Hall and Elaine Aeschbacher. I had our Chevy sedan and the plan was for Corky and me to go out in the country, pick up Elaine, come back into town, pick up Anne Marie, and go on out to the prom at the high school.
Except on the way, I decided to demonstrate this fabulous trick I had seen to Corky. The narrow gravel road to Elaine's went over a bridge, with a ramp on both sides of the bridge down to the level gravel road. Somebody showed me once that if you get the car going fast enough, that when you ramped up to the bridge, you could actually get air! "Well," I said, "watch this!" and accelerated. By the time we got to the narrow, one-lane bridge, I was doing about fifty and up we went, airborne and all. We came down much harder than I could have imagined and the car died. And wouldn't restart. There we stood on a hot spring afternoon in our prom duds. No traffic, no houses nearby. We knew that there was a house a couple of miles back and one a couple of miles ahead.
We tossed a coin and went back about a mile, then up a half-mile lane, and found out that they didn't have a phone. Back to the car, and on to the forward house. They had a phone, so we called Corky's folks who came and picked us up, picked Elaine up, and the rest I don't remember. I think I just told Dad that the car died without any of the unnecessary bridge jumping stuff, and I think he picked it up the next day or that evening and it started up fine.
Anyway, the prom was fine and afterward we did the post-senior prom traditional activity of driving down to Bagnell Dam, having pizza, then driving down to the river below the dam and trying to catch the gar barehanded, which were in a daze from the pounding water and drifting near the shore. And people say there's no excitement in small towns.
The race was always between Corky and me. We studied together and I enjoyed that. We lifted each other's grades, I think. We were on an ESMIF system, Excellent, Superior, M?, Inferior and Failing. You could get E- and S+, but those were the days before grade inflation and there was no such thing as E+. Anyway, when you count an F as 0, an I- as 1, an I as 2, an I+ as 3, etc., I think an E works out to about 10.0. I never got an S+ through high school as I recall - all E's and E-'s, but I probably remember it better than it was. Anyway, I beat Corky by about .02 or .03 or so in the end, so I was valedictorian and Corky was salutatorian and those were the speeches we made on graduation night. Now he's a doctor and I'm a birdwatcher.
The Air Force built a ring of Minuteman missile silos around Knob Noster Air Force Base, later changing its name to Whiteman Air Force Base. They were armed with missiles, but for a while, each was just a very deep, empty hole, with a ladder going down. I always liked climbing up things, so I decided that I would try climbing DOWN something. Before they installed the missiles, I drove to one of the sites (feeling guilty, like I was about to rob Fort Knox or something), climbed down the ladder to the bottom, looked up, and then quickly climbed back out.
I used to take study breaks in the MU library stacks and wander around, looking at the old books and magazines. I found a picture in an old Life magazine of a man in a deep mine hole in Kansas, looking up with sunshine on his face. The story said that the hole was so straight and so deep that the sunlight reached the bottom only twice a year. This is the end of my stories through high school. As a "Preview of Coming Attractions," I am including a few stories from early college in the next section.
In September 1961 I began my freshman year at MU in Columbia, Missouri - a Tiger, just like in high school. I was positive that every person in college was smarter than I. But you know what? It turned out that they were only more self-confident than I was.
One of the evils of the world, I had decided from my church upbringing, was alcohol. Drinking was truly the devil's work, and I was getting nervous about going to college, where I heard that everybody drank. How was I going to not? Easy, I decided that anytime anybody asked me to have a drink, I would say to them, "Get behind me, Satan." I was so cute.
Well, when I got to MU and met my buddies, and a lot of them drank on the weekends at parties and stuff, it all got a little muddled. How was I going to say, "Get behind me, Satan" to my new friends. It didn't compute. So I would just make up excuses all my freshman year. Then my sophomore year, like the pool hall in Versailles my high school senior year, I decided that I had been too sheltered. Drinking must be OK and I wanted to try it with some friends, and see what it was all about.
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