Do you remember what it was like to be in high school? Were you part of the popular kids or were you one of the average kids? If you were popular, I don’t blame you, because you were popular for a reason. It may have been because of your looks, your athleticism, your parent’s money or prestige, your talents, or great personality. If you were one of the average kids, it was probably because you lacked one or more of the other factors. I’m not writing about anything new, this was probably established in the first school house.
I was reviewing my copy of the 1969 Conveyor, the yearbook for Grand Coulee High School. I was looking at all the pictures and reading the descriptions of the senior class (next to mine it said “Transfer Oklahoma- eeew, gross”) and thought to myself that there was a reason it was so hard to crack into that group. The graduating class of 1969 would boast of having the highest number of graduates in the history of the school with fifty student’s receiving diplomas. Of the fifty, twenty two of them had gone to school together from the first grade through twelfth grade. Since 1957, they had seen one another in class every school day since they were six years old. That is an amazing thought for me. I had already been in at least ten schools by the time I got I got to this place. The thought of having lifelong schools mates was foreign to me; I didn’t even know it was possible. These folks were the establishment and they had their political machine in place and operating. An average kid didn’t just walk in and enjoy the benefits; you had to earn your way in.
The swingin’ sixties, baby! What a time that was; the Vietnam War scared every teenage boy; free love, drugs and rock n roll dominated the youth of the day; the struggle of racial equality and gender equality; the “man” trying to keep the “brotha” down. Ah, the good ol’ days…was it really? And here was the “GC22” (ala Chicago 7) trying to be hip in the middle of a high plains desert, in a town of less than 3,000 people, where all things were time delayed. West coast or not, it took a while for fads to reach that part of America. It was fairly well know which girls would have sex; marijuana and alcohol were easily purchased, if you knew the right people; rock n roll, yeah, it was on the radio and at dances. There was a rock n roll radio station in Spokane, that if the atmosphere was just right, we could hear it during the evening. Dances were on Friday nights below the dam, in Coulee City.
In a lot of ways, this place was still a frontier. Not all of the city streets were paved, most were graveled. There was very little Christian influence in the town. I told you in the last story, across our alley sat a Methodist church. During our time there, no one ever came to our door to invite us to church. I did go to a Catholic mass with a friend once. It was not for me. I think he went once every six months or so to satisfy his mother.
You are aware that I am a very practical person, aren’t you? While I did observe the female form and appreciated it greatly, I did not sense a need to act until I had a car and a driver’s license. I could not envision asking a girl for a date and picking her up in the ’56 Ford 1 ½ ton truck with sideboards. I just couldn’t do it, so I waited. Brenda and I would walk to school when we first started. It was down the hill about a mile away. It was not too bad in good weather, but the cold weather was difficult. I did not own a heavy coat, but I did have a brown cardigan sweater and a red wind breaker with a white and black vertical racing stripe on the left side that I combined to try to stay warm. Later, we had a Honda Trail 90 to share. We would go everywhere on that bike, but we had to be careful because Mom had spy’s that would rat us out. We could fill the bike’s gas tank and buy a Hostess Ding Dong for less than a buck. When I turned sixteen, I was giving the 1960 Volvo PV544, I got my driver’s license and I asked a girl for a date. While the PV544 was not a muscle car, it was better than the truck. My main problem was money. As I write this, I’m not sure that I ever had an allowance. Mom did give me a couple of bucks on occasion after working in the yard. I got a job at a gas station to supply me with some funds. Dating destinations were limited in Grand Coulee. Oklahoma City may have chain restaurants on every corner, but not in this area (remember this was frontier country). Options that I knew of were; going to the dance; going to Rapid Roberts; or going to the movie theater in Coulee Dam. A movie date was completely out of my budget. The ideal economic arrangement was to meet a girl at the dance, maybe afterward, go to Rapid Roberts for a coke (and only a coke), and then go to a quiet place for conversation. Hey, this is not a kiss and tell story!
We were able to get to school, so what did we find when we got there? Classes with an established “pecking order”; classmates with established friendships; and an established clique open to but a few. It was tough to get involved. My only real activity was band. I wanted to play football, but we did not have the twenty dollar fee to cover insurance, so I could not play. I joined the band because there wasn’t a fee and I did like the structure of playing music and at least, feeling part of something. The band did go to a few competitions in Wilbur and we did march in a parade in Spokane. We had band uniforms with a high hat, chin strap, and a plumb. I guess the other kids parents had their uniforms dry cleaned, but I didn’t know that was available either. I left the cleanliness of the uniform for the next kid to worry about. Before our parade in Spokane, I was told I would need to have white shoes to go with the uniform. Our school colors were blue and white (why, when our mascot was a tiger?). I told Mom about it and she was not happy about having to buy white shoes. I explained to her most of the other band members had white leather oxford style shoes. She said I would get some white shoes to wear in the parade. I did get some white shoes; they were a canvas slip on with an elastic gusset on the side. I realize we probably could not afford the leather shoes, especially for a one-time event, but I would have to say that I was embarrassed by them. I was hoping for a least, a pair of white lace-up deck shoes. I could wear them later, but I did not like the slip-ons. I marched in them and not “that many” people laughed at me. What’s funny to me is that I have seen those shoes with black and white checks on them, wore by kids in the last few years. I want to go up to them and say, “Do you KNOW the heart ache I have felt because of this type of shoes? DO YOU?” Get a grip, Elk, you’re over it! Right?!
I got along with most people in school, but I did get into two fights. The first was with a guy named Cliff. Cliff was a year younger than I was, but he tried to pick a fight with me on several occasions. Finally, I had enough and said, “Let’s go!” Guys tend to test their boundaries with other guys, until they are proven and staked out. We headed for the locker room with a crowd of murmuring guys following saying, “there’s going to be a fight! Elkins is going to fight him!” Well, I’m not a fighter. I’m a “live and let live” kind of guy, but there are times, and this was one of them that you just had to, to protect your dignity. I had wrestled with my brother before, but I had never been in a fist fight. I was trying to remember everything I had ever heard about fighting as we got ready. What I did remember was to strike first. After Cliff took off his eyeglasses, I hit him right between the eyes and the fight was on. He hit me a couple of times in the throat. For a moment, I thought of giving up, but I would not because this representative of the GC male student body had to know I would fight if I had to. It was not a choreographed fight like in the movies, and it wasn’t like a girl fight of pulling hair and kicking. It was a fight with some blows being landed. I landed a left jab to his right eyebrow; his skin split and his red blood started down his temple and into his right eye. In a matter of seconds after that blow, it was over. He surrendered and I had won not only the fight but some respect from my peers.
Within a weeks’ time, the second fight was set. During PE class, Coach Lunke decided to have a boxing match. Coach did not like me much; I think it was because I didn’t play football. He was the football coach and history teacher. One day in history class, he was walking around the room. I was sitting on the back row, paying attention minding my own business. Coach was near me and he asked a question to the class. A second later his forearm was at my throat and he was asking, “What do you think, Mr. Elkins?” as he squeezed my neck. He quickly let go when heads started to turn to see what was going on. We had never had a boxing match before. Somehow (wink, wink) I was chosen to fight against a guy named Larry, who was a football and basketball player. Larry lived on a farm and worked the farm with his dad. Boxing gloves were put on us and we walked to the center of a wrestling mat, since we did not have a boxing ring. When instructed to fight, I hit Larry between the eyes, just like I had done with Cliff. During the fight, Larry hit me in the left eye that left it blurry for a week afterward. The fight ended with no knock downs or cuts and it was considered a draw. Apparently, this fight must have satisfied the GC male student body and staff. It’s a strange thing to have a teacher put a hit out on you. My consolation was knowing that in the two years he was our football coach, our team only won one game.
I had a few interesting friends that I hung out with. Mike was the step son of one of the town doctors. They lived in a very nice big house on the shores of Banks Lake. Mike was a year older than I. He was about six feet tall, trim and hyper. He was allergic to peanuts with just the smell being harmful to him. His step dad bought a horse and needed a corral for it. Mike and I were hired to build the corral. The land was on a slope, just like the rest of the town. It was February and the dirt was frozen solid. We had a very hard time of digging post holes, but we were finally able to complete it. Mike went into the Air Force. I was looking at the writing inside the yearbook, where some of the “GC22” wrote things that you suspect were not true, Mike wrote, “Steve, You are a swell guy to know. If you ever need a friend, look me up!” It would have been nice having the internet, years ago to do that. I had a couple of black friends who had a band. They played a lot of James Brown type music. I would go to the practices to enjoy hearing them play. Calvin and Eli were fun to be with. Calvin was a little quicker than Eli, and was always jittery. Eli was slower, smooth, and calm. I liked him; perhaps more than Calvin, he wrote that I was his “funky friend”. I’m down whit dat! There was only one black girl in school and she was Eli’s sister. Calvin and Eli had few dating options. Another friend was Chuck. Chuck was maybe 6′-1 and weighed about 150 pounds. He liked jeans, denim jackets, cowboy boots and hats. Chuck’s family economics must to have been close to ours. He drove a rusty 56′ Pontiac convertible. His mom and dad seemed to have been close to Abraham and Sarah’s age, but they were probably closer to my parent’s age. His parents lived in a small one bedroom house, while Chuck lived in a 30 foot trailer, parked on his parent’s property. I stepped into his parent’s house once to get a glass of water. Chuck’s mom was a little heavy, but her most interesting feature was that she had a lot of dark hair on her throat. She may have been my inspiration to grow a beard; though I’m not positive. Chuck’s dad was a World War 2 veteran. He was shot in the head which left part of his skull missing. I always thought it looked like a golf divot. He was a quiet man, which suited him for his work as a grave digger for the cemetery. I helped Chuck dig at least one grave, maybe two. Chuck had a unique talent of drinking some milk, holding his nose, and having the milk come out of the corner of his eye. Now, I’m not sure how he discovered this ability, but you would have to agree, that there are few who could accomplish that feat.
My senior year was my best year. I was required to take a public speaking class taught by Mrs. Ziegler. She was kind and patient with me and was able to draw my personality out by speaking in front of the class. It was my dry, sarcastic sense of humor that was spotlighted in the subjects I spoke about. What a remarkable changed happened to my audience when I was able to make them laugh. Having entered the year with the attitude of not caring if they liked me or not, I changed as well, as I gained some confidence and was a little more relaxed. Most of the things written in my yearbook, dealt with my sense of humor. I thought it strange when someone would say, “I enjoyed you this year. I wish I had known you sooner.” I was there, you could have tried some. But that is not what God wanted for me. What He had was back in Oklahoma.
Before I leave this time of my life, I wanted to say something about my parents. I don’t blame them at all. They were both faced with great difficulties. I believe they both loved me. Dad may have had trouble communicating it, but I do believe he loved me. All the things that happened were part of God’s chipping and grinding away the things that I didn’t need, to be the person He wanted me to be.
If you would like to share a high school story, tell me about it. Thank you for your likes and comments.