Archive for April 2009
I rang the doorbell, turned and ran as fast as my feet would carry me toward the front gate. But, I hadn’t planned well. The gate was latched shut.
The seconds it took to make my way through the front yard exit cost me dearly. Miss Bearly was swift of foot. She caught me by the collar just a few strides outside her gate.
The penalty for trespassing was severe. I knew it before I rang the bell. A kiss. Or, a pinch. Probably both.
A game of ding dong ditch? No, it was May Day.
May Day – not to be confused with the Communist celebration – is one of those second tier holidays you greatly anticipate as a child and then forget completely until you have children of your own.
Our tradition was to make baskets filled with candy for our friends and neighbors – it was the sugar fix between Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Mom often added pansies to the baskets for the other Moms.
Apparently, flowers is supposed to be the featured item in a May basket. I cared only about the sweets.
My favorite “basket” was the cupcake with a pipe cleaner handle. I loved to decorate the cupcakes and lick the knife.
Once the baskets were complete, we left them on a friend’s or neighbor’s doorstop, rang the door bell and tried to escape. The chase was the best part of the holiday (okay, licking the knife with frosting was the best part but the chase was a close second). I liked being chased far more than chasing a culprit from our yard. I didn’t want to catch anyone. Especially if I had to kiss them.
We always went to Miss Bearly’s (now Mrs. Erickson) on 2nd Street, I think it was. She was my first grade teacher. She was fun. She was always up for a chase. We share a birthday of October 11. And, most of all, I’m grateful that she helped Mom discover I had dyslexia. That led to a lot doctor’s visits and exercises I wasn’t too keen on but paid off in the long run.
Joni was excited to renew the May Day tradition when we moved to Longmont. She had fond memories of the holiday, too. But, we soon discovered we were one of the few people who had ever celebrated the holiday as children. When our kids placed baskets on friend’s doorsteps and rang the door bell, no chase ensued. There were just strange looks and questions, “What are you doing.”
We still plan to celebrate this year. Our kids are getting older and we won’t have many May Day’s of interest left.
The debate in the house is what to include in the baskets. Our kids follow in my footsteps. They want candy.
Joni suggested flowers, fruit leathers and pistachios. Huh?
In the end, it won’t matter much what we give as gifts. The main thing is that May Day is our last good excuse to ding dong ditch.
It would be nice if there was an easy way to share our personal setbacks with our children so they could benefit from our experience. Heck, I’d settle for a not so easy way if it was effective.
The reality is that the only way for our children to learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the game is to get knocked down in the first place.
Last night, I told my daughter Emma about a setback I had my freshman year at the University of Kansas.
I won a Summerfield Scholarship from KU – awarded to “top graduates from Kansas high schools” – based mostly on my ACT scores. I received few letters from colleges or universities prior to taking the ACT. Once I received my scores, the letters arrived soon after.
I never seriously considered attending any school except KU. It was where I wanted to go. It was a family tradition.
My parents, both graduates of KU, were thrilled when I was invited to interview for the Summerfield Scholarship. They were more excited when I was named a Scholar. I was one of the few Atwood graduates to earn the award. I think Harry Wigner did before me. There may have been more Atwood grads to earn the award since, but I must confess I don’t know.
At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the significance of the award.
As happens to many college freshmen, I did not focus on my studies as I should. I was having too much fun being away from home, having the freedom to go out with friends when I chose. I spent too many Thursday nights and Wednesday nights at places like Louise’s and The Hawk.
My first semester grades reflected my lack of focus. Thirteen hours of B and three hours of A. Not bad, but not good enough for a Summerfield Scholar.
What’s more, five hours of B were a complete act of charity.
I went to see my calculus professor about my final exam. As she pointed out my errors, she noticed an error of her own. She had made an addition mistake when calculating my scores from the three part exam. I hadn’t earned a B. My test score was 76% not the 86% she marked on the paper. My overall grade was just over the cusp of 80%. A final exam score of C would knock my overall grade to C, too.
My professor sat at her desk in silence for well over a minute contemplating what to do. Finally, she said, “If you wouldn’t have come to see me, I would not have found my grading error. I’ll let you keep the B.”
I was grateful at the time. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until later.
Shortly after the semester came to a close, I received a letter notifying me that I would not receive the Summerfield Scholarship the next semester due to a low GPA. Losing the $500 dollars was a blow. (A semester’s tuition in those days was $496. The first time I paid, I received four dollars change.) Even tougher was breaking the news to my parents.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
My parents, perhaps not surprisingly, were supportive and encouraging. Dad made a typical, short and to the point comment. “Earn it back,” he said lightheartedly as if he had complete confidence that I would.
That’s what I did. It took two full semesters but I finally elevated my overall GPA to just over 3.5 – the mandatory minimum for a Summerfield Scholar (it’s even tougher today, the minimum is 3.65). That’s when I fully realized the generosity of my first semester calculus professor. If she had given me a C as I deserved, I would not have raised my GPA over 3.5. I would not have been eligible to be reinstated.
These are the types of lucky breaks and acts of kindness that can change lives.
I told Emma this story because she failed a Language Arts test this week. Her teacher, too, is giving her a second chance. She has the opportunity to take the test again next week. This exam was her first major setback as a student. Sure, there have been times she could have done better. But, on balance, she is a very good student.
It was hard for Emma to ask Joni to sign the letter from her teacher informing us of the failed exam. It was even harder for her to tell me.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
In a few weeks and certainly months, we all will have forgotten about this one exam. I have complete confidence Emma will do fine on her “redo.” My hope is that Emma’s lasting lesson will be learning to deal with setbacks in school.
As parents, we want to protect our children from heartaches and even minor setbacks. We know what it’s like to fail and we don’t want our children to endure the pain.
But, we can’t always protect our children nor should we try. Our kids can’t learn what they need to know by hearing stories of our skinned knees. The important lessons come from skinning their own.
Love Thy Neighbor are words many of us hear in church. Many of us aspire for these words to influence, if not fully guide, our lives. But, what do these words really look like when put into practice?
I crossed paths with Larry Prochazka about a week ago – finally. We both call Longmont home now. I knew Larry as one of the star athletes from the great Atwood sports teams of the early 70s. Joni knows Larry as a workplace consultant and coach.
We only had time for a five minute conversation. But, Larry told me a story I will long remember.
He was working on the family farm in the northwest part of Rawlins County – “That’s where I learned my values,” Larry said. He seldom went to Atwood in the summers. Probably less often than I went to Colby. His community was the farm families that lived nearby.
Just as harvest was coming into full swing, one of the Kopriva’s severely broke a collarbone. It was going to be impossible for him to harvest his wheat on his own.
News spread. All the farmers in the area left their own fields to help out the Kopriva’s.
Larry told us that as the neighbors cut Kopriva’s wheat, dark clouds began to build, climbing thousands of feet into the sky, on the western horizon. A major thunderstorm was imminent. As the farmers looked west, they knew it was only a matter of hours before their fields would be pelted with heavy rain – perhaps hail.
Anyone who knows a wheat farmer knows that when the crop is ripe, the farmer has a singular focus – get the grain out of the field.
The neighbors working in the Kopriva’s fields knew their own crops, their family income for that year, was at risk. Surely, in their gut, they wanted nothing more than to abandon their help and get back to their own fields. But they stayed until the job was done knowing their neighbor would do the same if the situation was reversed.
On the farms in Rawlins County, and in farm communities across the country and perhaps world, Love Thy Neighbor are not Sunday words. They are a way of life.
For all the faults, foibles and hypocrisies that exist within Plains people (as they exist in all people), when the chips were down, Larry’s neighbors were there to help one another.
I like to think of myself as a neighborly sort of guy. I loan tools. Shovel walks when neighbors are out of town. Toss the newspaper closer to the front door when I walk by. Joni is a far better neighbor than me.
But, we have never put our livelihood on the line to help a neighbor in need.
I will think of Larry’s story often. A standard to aspire to.
Pickup theater season kicked off this weekend.
I played pickup basketball and baseball when I was young. We played basketball in friend’s driveways and at the tennis courts by the Court House. Our baseball fields were vacant lots behind the Christian Church, the corner of 8th Street and Highway 36 and the southeast corner of the Court House block.
Our games had little organization. Whoever showed up, no matter what age, was in the game. Sometimes we put together loose organization that lasted for a few weeks. We had a three-on-three baseball league at least one, maybe two summers – The Holaday Twins and Rod Briggs (sometimes Greg Green) were the northern team; Doug Trail, Tim Yount and Matt Cunningham represented the south side of town (Tim’s roots were in the south), and Paul Hayden, Mark Buhler and I, along with substitutes who we could recruit were the Central Atwood team.
We even went so far as to make homemade uniforms. Kids of every generation seem to love uniforms and costumes. You can make out a few jerseys on Gene Currier’s video clip.
Our kids’ interests are different than mine were as a boy. Somewhere along the line, our kids got a theater bug – especially Joe. When the kids were very young they became infatuated with a movie version of CATS. It’s a love affair that has lasted almost seven or eight years.
Last summer the kids organized an acting troupe they call the Pratt Street Players (we live on Pratt Street) and did a performance of CATS for parents and all the neighbors the kids could recruit.
The practiced every day, three to four hours, for nearly a month in our garage. My office is located in a loft just above the garage. If you would like me to sing you a CATS song, I’m capable.
Our kids have long put on after dinner performances when we have friends or family over to our house. A typical performance included more time figuring out who is going to do what and competition between “directors” than actual acting.
We told the kids (okay I told the kids) if you’re going to invite people to a performance you need to be a bit more polished. I was blown away by their production. It included a buffet of food to be a “dinner theater”; a stage crew who operated everything from background to strobe lights and ticketed seating.
The song and dance numbers were more than a bit polished. Kids from age six to eleven danced in (almost) perfect sync. Best of all, they had a blast.
They have decided to do a reprise of CATS. Rather than a one night only performance, they’re planning a three night run sometime in late June. They’ve already enlisted their grandma Mickey in making costumes. They’ve put together a practice schedule. And, they’re recruiting a larger cast.
Just like the pickup games of my youth it’s a “no cost camp” that keeps the kids entertained for hours on end. And, I’ll get to bone up on my CATS songs since my office still sits above the theater.
“When are we going to Atwood, Dad,” Ada Grace asked today on the way to a birthday party. It’s a question that comes up on a regular basis.
“I’m not sure. We’ll go this summer.”
“Oh, good, I like the summer.”
“What’s your perfect summer day in Atwood,” I asked.
“Being at Grammies house.”
“Going to swimming lessons. It’s fun with the teacher because you get the whole pool. Emily and Macy are good teachers. I remember Emily. It’s more fun than in Longmont.
“One time we went to the deep end in Longmont. One girl couldn’t touch. She was scared. So, we all had to leave the deep end.
“I like it in Atwood because the teacher will let you go to the deep end.
“Going to the dime store. Grammies will buy us a toy or some candy. Sometimes she buys us both. It’s better if Mom doesn’t go.
“And then to the grocery store. On days that aren’t real hot, I like to get ice cream. On days that are hot, I pick the slushy. Mom won’t let us have both. But sometimes I get the slushy and Joe gets ice cream and then we share. He tries mine and I try his. But sometimes I don’t like to do that.
“And going bowling. I mostly like to eat because I’m always hungry. And the games. I mostly like those. I’m not so good at bowling.
“Oh yeah. And riding on the golf cart with Grammies. One time Grammies let me drive and it tipped over. So now I just ride. I don’t like to drive anymore. But when I’m eight I can drive by myself.
“Mostly, I just like to be at Grammies.”
“That sounds like a good day, Ada Grace.”
“Joe, who’s the greatest of all time?”
“Emma, who’s the greatest of all time?”
“Ada Grace, who’s the greatest of all time?”
“I’m not saying. Why do you always ask that question?”
Why indeed. The short answer is Paul Hayden.
Roy Forbisher was born on the banks of Crystal Springs on my grandfather Creighton’s ranch outside Flagler, Colorado more than 30 years ago.
Paul and I spent a week camping on the ranch back in the late 70s. I was 13. Paul was 14.
Our days at Crystal Springs weren’t exactly roughin’ it.
Each morning, we crawled out of our tent, set up our hammocks and had a rest before breakfast.
We walked the mile or two from the campsite to the ranch house to get our day’s supplies. We kept the perishables in the house refrigerator. We loaded up at least enough food for breakfast and lunch.
We’d hike back to camp. Cook some bacon and eggs on our fire.
After breakfast, we’d set up our hammocks and have a rest.
Some days we hiked to Flagler Lake, a mile in the other direction. Other days we walked to the corral to check on the horses. Followed by a lunch of cold cuts on white bread.
Then, we’d set up our hammocks and have a rest.
Late afternoon it was back to the ranch house for supper supplies. Gather firewood. Eat.
Then, we’d set up our hammocks and have a rest.
Some nights we’d take a break from the hammocks to hunt for the bullfrogs who kept us up all night.
Other nights, we’d just rest. Then we’d crawl back into our tent for the night.
The five days on the ranch weren’t as leisurely as they might sound. Setting up the hammocks was tough. For starters, we didn’t really have hammocks.
The process involved tying ropes around trees and towels around ropes. It was hard to get the ropes taut. Sometimes it took two or three tries. Sometimes we’d fall straight to the ground. After an hour or so the ropes would be slack and we’d have to start the process again. It really made a guy want to rest.
It is while lying on the hammocks that Roy Forbisher was born.
Paul told me epic tales of the Greatest Contests held in the spring of each year, after the qualifying rounds in the fall. Paul took me through at least a decade of competitions.
Not everyone had the stamina to compete year after year. But Roy Forbisher and Paul always finished near the top. Not even Mohammad Ali, who always competed, made it to the final rounds as often as Roy and Paul.
The rivalry that grew between Roy and Paul became legendary (at least on the banks of Crystal Springs). Tennis had McEnroe and Borg. Golf had Nicklaus and Palmer (or Nicklaus and Watson depending on your age). Basketball has the Celtics and Lakers. In the Greatest Contest, it usually came down to Forbisher and Hayden.
Some years their battle would rage on for days before the judges could determine who was the greatest that year. Roy Forbisher almost always reigned supreme. He won so many consecutive Greatest Contests that people considered ending the competition altogether. Everyone agreed, Roy Forbisher was the greatest of all time.
Paul and I never talked about Roy again. But, Roy would pop up occasionally in the years since our week on the ranch. Usually, when someone asks, “Who’s really good at…” I’d be reminded of the competitions Paul described and quickly reply, “Roy Forbisher, he’s the Greatest of All Time.”
(I think Heidi Priebe thought Roy was a real person for a few years. But, I’ll let her defend herself.)
My kids ask all sorts of “Who’s the best” questions. My standard reply is always the same, “Roy Forbisher, of course.”
The kids might ask, “Dad, who’s the best at…”
“Roy Forbisher. You should know that.”
“Who’s Roy Forbisher again?”
“He’s the greatest of all time?”
“Greatest at what, Dad?”
“The greatest of all time.”
My girls have become bored with the routine. Sometimes Emma will humor me. She cut and paste a Roy Forbisher Wikipedia page one night and called out, “Dad, look what I found.”
One of the other kids asked, “Is he really a real person Emma?”
“Don’t believe everything you see on the internet,” she replied.
Ada Grace simply refuses to participate.
But, Paul Hayden can hold out hope that Roy Forbisher will live on.
I walked Joe and Ada Grace to school not long ago. As I walked away, I overheard Joe say to a friend, “Who’s the greatest of all time?”
Billy Mills is the only American to win the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meters. His coach, before and after competing for the University of Kansas, was Bill Easton – who also coached Dad in college.
The “story” was that Mills and Easton never really got along. I had the chance to hear Billy Mills speak at the Kansas Relays in 1984 as part of a 20th Anniversary celebration of his Olympic victory. At one event, Mills was asked about his difficult relationship with Easton. I still remember his response: “I am the only American to win the Olympic 10,000 meters. Bill Easton was my only coach.” He said no more.
That was Billy Mills’ bottom line. His success spoke for itself. Bill Easton was a part of that success. No more explanation was needed.
That is how I feel about my academic preparation at Atwood High School. I have been fortunate to experience academic success at the University of Kansas and Harvard. I have had many years of professional success since that time. My preparation for this success began in Atwood.
Many Atwood teachers inspired me to work hard academically. Really, no more explanation is needed. But, there are some funny stories to tell, too. Things happened in the classrooms of AHS that would never fly today.
First, another tangent. I came across an article recently that identified people born in the late 1950s to the mid-1960s as, “The Dumbest Generation.” Ouch.
The article went on to explain that those of us in our mid-forties performed worse than any other cohort of students on tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the SATs (fortunately those of us from Atwood took the ACT and can be held responsible for low SAT scores). The article also suggested that standards in American schools were at an all time low during our years in K-12.
Neil Howe, the article’s author, had this to say about our generation: “Compared with earlier- or later-born students at the same age, these kids were assigned less homework, watched more TV and took more drugs.” Shall we all sing the chorus from Gilligan’s Island or the Beverly Hillbillies?
I like to make Howe’s point in a different way. We were the last generation to go to college before the mothers got mad and before C. Everett Koop told us to be careful.
I experienced both low standards and high at AHS. In some classrooms the standards were as high as any I’ve experienced anywhere. I was challenged to stretch myself on a regular basis. In other classrooms, the standards were non-existent. Just showing up gave you a good chance for an A.
In Biology class, we spent two weeks listening to and analyzing Pink Floyd The Wall. It made perfect sense at the time. “Biology is the study of life. Pink Floyd The Wall is an album about life.” I don’t think a biology teach could get by with that today.
And, there were one or two teachers in the building who found class time rather inconvenient. We were given assignments, told where to find the teachers manual if we needed help and then the teacher left the room to pursue other interests. No one held these teachers accountable.
Let me be clear, these teachers were the exception not the rule. On the other hand, the gaps in my college preparation track with the classrooms where teachers were absent. And, the reverse is true, too. In the classrooms with high standards, I was well prepared for college.
My bottom line is the same as Billy Mills. I’ve had success. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. Atwood schools are the place where my preparation began.
Are we more mobile now than we were a generation ago? Two generations ago? Do people move more now than they did in the past?
For the past few years, I ask these questions when I give speeches or talks. Groups always answer a definitive yes.
The answer is no.
About one in five of us move homes in any given year. That’s about the same as it was in 1950, 1960 and every decade since. Richard Florida writes in the March 2009 edition of The Atlantic Online: “Last year fewer Americans moved, as a percentage of the population, than in any year since the Census Bureau started tracking address changes, in the late 1940s.”
What gives? How is it that fewer of us are moving but most of us believe the opposite to be true?
This is my hypothesis: In the past, when we moved, we really had to move. Now, we can change locations but never leave or we can stay in the same place and travel the world.
I grew up in Atwood, Kansas in the far northwest corner of the state. Mom’s family lived in Wilmington, Delaware. Travel in the 1960s and 1970s was expensive. A family of four could afford few airplane trips from Kansas to Delaware. We saw my maternal grandparents every other year, at most.
Telephone communications was not cheap either. We would only call on weekends or, perhaps, after 7 p.m. People watched clocks in those days before they made phone calls – the cost difference was significant. Long distance rates led us to limit our calls to two or three times per month.
Two or three calls per month. A face-to-face visit every other year. That’s not a lot of contact. It is almost unimaginable in a Facebook, Twitter, Skype sort of world.
That’s what it meant to move two generations ago. When you left a community you were gone. If you wanted to be part of a community, which most humans do, you had to invest yourself in your new hometown. You put down roots at your new address.
That’s not the case anymore. We can stay connected to our favorite people no matter where we live.
A year or so ago, I was doing a project at the University of Kansas. We were interviewing students about how Facebook is changing their social networks and friendships. I vividly recall the remarks of a young woman who lived in Saudi Arabia as a high school student because her father worked there as an petroleum engineer: “The first thing I do each morning is use Facebook to talk to my family and friends in Saudi Arabia.”
My mom lived half a country away from her parents. Her contact was limited to two or three times a month. Staying in contact with multiple friends was out of the question except by mail. Two generations later, a young woman can talk to her parents and friends half a globe away on a daily basis.
Communications technologies and low cost travel make it far easier to leave home. We can stay connected to our loved ones ever day. Personally, I’ve been enjoying Facebook a great deal. I have reconnected with high school, college and graduate school classmates scattered across the country.
Today I enjoyed the exciting news of a new KU Basketball recruit with my nephew in Lawrence, Matt Cunningham wherever in the nation he might be covering basketball games, and Phil Priebe in Fort Collins. We had a shared experience of sorts without ever being together. I watched the news break on Twitter. Then, we used Facebook, text messages and the phone to talk. It all felt very modern.
These are great gains from my perspective. I am able to maintain far more relationships with people whom I care about than has ever been possible before.
We also are losing something. Fewer of us are putting down roots in the places we actually live. Scholars such as Robert Putnam have well documented this phenomenon in books such as Bowling Alone. The trends began before social media was even on the scene.
Those of us who work in the public sector feel the consequences of local detachment on a daily basis. It is more difficult to govern ourselves today than in the past, in part, because local communities don’t exist the way they once did.
This begs the question: What will local mean? When we look a few years down the road how much more will our communities be transformed?
I have written before on this blog that growing up in an intensely local community was a defining experience of my life. How will geographically dispersed communities reshape all our lives?
We don’t know the answers. But, it’s clear that community will be different than it was.
I began wrestling at age six during an era of dominance. Wrestling was THE sport in Northwest Kansas when I was in grade school. In fact, the Northwest Kansas League (NWKL) was Kansas wrestling.
Between 1951 and 1970, the NWKL won 17 out of a possible 20 state champions. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the small schools from the northwest had to take on all comers including the Wichita and Kansas City area schools. There were no classifications. NWKL teams won 12 of 15 titles during that period.
In the late sixties, the tournament was divided between very big schools and all the rest. NWKL won all five tournaments under this format. In the 1970s, the modern classification system was developed. For the first time, some NWKL teams would wrestle in the 1-2 A tournament while others competed in the 3 A tournament (later 1-2-3 A and 4 A tournaments). That meant even more titles for the NWKL. During the 10 year span, the league claimed 15 of 20 possible state crowns.
Any NWKL team that won the league championship was the odds on favorite to win the state tournament, too. All eight NWKL teams won at least one state championship. Atwood’s year was 1973 (Atwood won a second title in 1989). St. Francis, the smallest school in the league, was the most dominate team winning ten titles in the thirty year span.
I remember the surprise, perhaps even disappointment, of the died-in-the-wool wrestling fans when the Atwood’s basketball team won a state title (1972) before the wrestlers reached that goal.
This was an exciting time for a young boy. Success breeds interest in a sport. The dominance of the NWKL and Atwood being competitive cultivated in me a lifelong interest in wrestling – even though I didn’t wrestle beyond the eighth grade.
I remember making my way through crowded hallways outside the Atwood gym. The pictures of former state champions lined the walls. Reinerts, Rudas, Lorimers, Higleys, I don’t remember them all, were larger than life figures to the young fan.
The gymnasium was always full even for dual meets. Kid wrestlers were the warm-up act. I usually wrestled Wayne Lanning. We were the two smallest. I’m sure the picture of me on my back is not indicative of the outcome of the match.
For a six year old boy, the crowds were awe-inspiring. I could hardly concentrate on my match because I was focused on all the people in the stands. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
I traveled along with my Atwood classmates to Kid Wrestling tournaments all over northwest Kansas and a state meet in Manhattan. I took home lots of medals, even a few gold. But I was always more of a fan than a competitor.
I loved the dual meets. The National Anthem. The band. The cheerleaders. The rituals of 12 grapplers shaking hands then taking chairs on either side of the map. One or two wrestlers warming up in back waiting their turn. The evening beginning with wispy boys of less than 100 pounds and eleven matches later men of more than 200 pounds. Each teams’ coach perched on a corner of the mat yelling inaudible instructions.
Tournaments were even better. Wrestling tournaments have a unique energy that is hard to describe. Three or four rings of competition. Non-stop for an entire day – sometimes two. Everywhere you look: effort, determination, strain, victory, disappointment. A human drama before your eyes.
The early 70s match I remember most took place in Colby. Dave Brown was matched up against a wrestler from the Kansas School of the Blind. It might have been for the state championship. Dave was our heavyweight. The blind wrestler appeared to be twice his size. He just sat on Dave. “He’s got to move. That’s stalling.” These were the calls I heard from the frantic Atwood crowd.
I lost interest in wrestling at the time I had to worry about making weight. But, there was always a nagging voice saying you should be on the mat.
The NWKL lost its wrestling dominance about the time I entered high school. Other parts of the state had caught up. They had developed kid wrestling programs, too. Between 1981 and 2009, the NWKL is still competitive but they’ve only won 16 of a possible 56 state titles. Not quite the glory years.
I’m glad I was able to witness those years of dominance.
* * *
For those interested in looking up past Kansas state wrestling champions. You can find information here.
There are businesses in many communities that play a role that transcends commerce. These businesses don’t just sell a product or offer a service. They are a source of community.
These businesses are celebrated in the movies, on television and even in the comics. The Diner in Diner, Arnold’s on Happy Days, and Pop’s in Archie’s comic books come to mind.
Several places in Atwood played this role: Currier’s Drug where I coveted the Chocolate 400; Atwood Lanes were I worked on my pinball skills as well as bowling. The adults had their own hot spots. Currier’s, of course, was the place to play horses; the donut shop on 4th and Main; and, now, the “new” donut shop and Williams’ Bros. I’m sure there are others, too.
These are the places where people go to catch up on community news and gossip. A standard lunch time question from Mom to Dad was, “What did you talk about at Currier’s today?”
A cornerstone of Atwood teen life when I was a teen was John’s Dew Drop Inn.
I remember when John’s was born. Before it was even John’s.
I had to attend a city council meeting as a requirement for the Boy Scout Citizenship in the Community merit badge. They held the meetings in Marion Frye’s office in those days at the abstract office. On the agenda that night was a liquor license for Tom Ruda. (Am I remembering that right?)
The Rudas invested countless hours converting Stehno Market into The Dew Drop Inn. A mural covering the east wall was the most discussed element of the Dew Drop décor. High School art students were recruited to finish the job – my guess is sometime after John Vap became proprietor and added pizza as the featured fare.
Pizza joint or not, I always ordered a hot salami and cheese, with mayo, on rye. A meal at John’s was a great change of pace from the standard high school lunch on those days when we piled into cars in the high school parking lot and raced down Main Street for a quick bite. Racing back and forth was half the fun.
John’s was one of those places in a teen’s life where you did nothing in particular but everything that mattered happened there. My memories are true snapshots. I spent hundreds of hours at John’s but have few complete memories. If a movie was being made of Atwood in the early 80s, my memories of John’s would be a “video montage.”
Choose your own sound track for background music…
Families sitting in the front booths sheltered from the noise in back. The back room crowded with teens and twenty-somethings playing pool to the sounds of The Rolling Stone’s Start Me Up – did anything else play?
Thorn Hayden, surrounded by a support staff of girls, making pizza. Jolinda Beamgard, Dawna Heble, Lisa Collins and Deb Montgomery taking orders in their red and white Dew Drop t-shirts
Roddy Dill camped out at the Asteroids video game racking up points I could only dream about. Jeff Rummel going to new levels on Donkey Kong. Playing Frogger – spending my time on George Castanza’s favorite game due to my lack of skills on games that required use of more than one hand.
Crowding around a radio perched near the cash register to listen to Kyle “The Animal” Lanning win a state wrestling championship. Watching USC kick a winning field goal to defeat Notre Dame while eating pizza with my parents.
Regrouping between shifts dragging Main. Deciding whether to stay with the group I was with or get in someone else’s car. Picking up more – preferably small – people to pack into my parent’s Chevette.
Planning Oktoberfest concert trips to Hays to see Hall & Oates or John Mellenkamp. Getting details on the Toga Party at the Lankas farm.
As these memories flash across my mind I understand why movie makers celebrate the teen hang out. Whether we are young or old, a hang out is the place we can go without invitation to nourish our connections to others who call our community home.
John sold pizzas. He created jobs. And, in ways that are hard to describe, he provided a community service. I’m grateful that he did.
* * *
What are your Dew Drop or hang out memories?