Prime Time: Looking back at fond memories of friendship
I think I am very lucky. I had a tremendous group of friends.
Curt Jette and I began running around before kindergarten. Another preschool friend was Kathy Johnson (Reed and Ruth's daughter). We both were members of Tracy Lutheran Church, went to Sunday School and confirmation together. Obviously we attended the same school. And we have remained friends to this day.
Both of us had a horrible experience on May Day, 1944.
Our mothers knew each other quite well, and I think they had something to do with this nightmare we experienced that day. I got home from kindergarten around 4:15 p.m. The school day was 8:30-noon and 1-4 p.m. We had a full hour at noon because back then the fathers came home for dinner which was our main meal.
When I got home, Mom asked me about the day and about how we celebrated May Day at school. I told her about the May Pole and running around it. Then she said: "It's May Day. Why don't you bring a May basket over to Kathy?" I hemmed and hawed, rustled around in place and tried to walk away. "Here! We can make a basket together to bring to her." She had paper, glue and scissor waiting on the dining room table. There were even jelly beans to put into the basket. It was fun to do this together, but carrying out the rest of the task was bothersome.
Reluctantly, I crossed the street, cut through neighbors' lawns. That is the only way we traveled back then. Sidewalks were barely used. In junior and senior high school I barely used a sidewalk running back and forth. The high school was uptown and not in the country as it is now. I pretty much ran a straight line from my house to the school.
I walked slowly, like that would make it easier to complete my journey. When I arrived at the backdoor of the Johnson home, I walked up the three steps to the door and timidly knocked. Mrs. Johnson answered the door. "Well, hi, Jeb!"
"Hi, Mrs. Johnson."
She had a big smile on her face. It was like she and Mom had set this up!
I said: "This is for Kathy." I handed it to her and started to turn to run away.
Mrs. Johnson stopped me. "Oh, Jeb. Why don't you give it to Kathy yourself." She handed the basket back to me.
I gulped and turned around again.
Before I could say anything, she turned and shouted: "Kathy! Come here! Jeb is here to see you!." When Kathy appeared in the doorway, she was fine until she saw the May basket. Then she became uneasy.
We mumbled 'hi' to each other. I handed her the basket and quickly turned to leave. But Mrs. Johnson stopped me again and said: "Oh, Jeb, it would be nice if you gave Kathy a May Day kiss." Kathy and I both froze. We looked at each other and quickly looked away.
"Come on, children! It's May Day!"
I slowly stepped up on the first step. It was like I was going to the gallows. Another step and finally the third step. Kathy and I looked at each other like our lives were going to end in a moment. I very slowly reached toward her, and she did the same. Our faces both squinched. Then I closed my eyes, and I am sure Kathy did the same.
I will never forget how nice it felt when our lips touched. It was magic. We quickly withdrew from each other, but the feeling of that magic touch remains with me even today - 65 years later.
Kathy and I have been involved in many activities throughout the years. We both loved music. She played the piano, sang and played trumpet. We were in band. She accompanied the choir and the boys' chorus. Kathy also accompanied the church choir in which I sang. We tried dating in college and back in the mid-'90s, but we were such good friends for so long that it was difficult getting past the friend stage. She remains one of my dearest friends.
Of course, I loved Christmas. Downtown Tracy was decorated and lit up for the holiday. One of my special memories was going to Rignell's Hardware. Mr. Rignell had a grand railroad set. He lifted the platform for the set on top of the railing going downstairs. I suppose it was made out of fiber board.
His set was wonderful. He had bridges and trees and buildings. There were two trains going around two sets of tracks. We kids were fascinated watching with our chins on the edge of the platform. And Mr. Rignell made us feel welcome even though he knew we were not going to be buying anything.
Christmas preludes also captivated our attentions. The high school band, mixed choir and boys' and girls' choir put on quite a program. The art department decorated the stage brilliantly with Christmas theme decorations.
My love for music made this a very satisfying experience both as a kid and also when I was able to participate in the band and choirs.
Our music program at Tracy High was exceptional. Mrs. Alsacker and Miss Niebuhr challenged us with great music both traditional and contemporary. Mr. Rood did the same for us in the band.
In those days we were able to sing religious music as well as secular. It was not until much later that the ACLU demanded that the religious music be kept out of the program because it was primarily Christian and did not recognize other religions. This was true of all schools whether urban or rural.
Shopping was always fun. Each family member got one present. That was by choice as much as it was financial. Back then we were grateful to have a roof over our heads and food on the table. This was a carryover from the Great Depression as well as a habit which was formed during World War II with the scarcity of materials.
When I was in sixth grade Mom and Dad bought me an archery set. I peeked under their bed and saw the set, but I did not know what archery meant.
We opened our presents on Christmas Eve. Of course, I had to try out my bow and arrow. For some stupid reason I figured I had to lie down on the snow and place my feet on the bow. I pulled back the string and broke the bow. Stupid? Yes. But a learning experience, too. What did I learn? I don't know. Just not to be stupid.
Don always knew what he was getting for his present. I don't know how. He insisted that he did not peek. When he got his present, he would say before opening it: "Thanks for the___________________." Lo and behold, the present was what he said it would be. I figured the guy had to have X-ray eyes.
Christmas Day was a big dinner with Kenny's family joining us. I loved the camaraderie. The conversations were pleasant, and I enjoyed hearing the adults interchange ideas. Back then, kids did not talk much.
We were not told to be quiet. Just out of respect for our elders, we remained quiet and listened. Possibly we could use more of that attitude today. I wonder if kids today aren't given too much attention. We called adults "Mister" and "Misses." We did not speak unless asked to do so. I don't remember being angry about this practice. It was just part of respecting our elders, and I appreciated that attitude.
After dinner, we kids went outside to play. Some of us went sliding. Others went to the park and skated. Some played on the snow banks created by the wind and by the snow plow. We got lots of fresh air and rosy cheeks. When we came inside, the adults would remark about our cheeks.
Christmas Eve was for family worship and opening presents. Christmas Day was for worship at church. It was a Norwegian Lutheran tradition, and I liked that. We did not just eat and dive into the presents. We boys helped Mom clean up the table and do the dishes. Dad sat in his easy chair, smoked, drank coffee and read. He loved reading. Why didn't he help with the clean-up? I don't know. Again, I suppose it was tradition. As I mentioned earlier, the men worked six days a week, and on Saturdays they worship a twelve-hour day. They were not home that much, and possibly - I say possibly - the were honored with some relaxation the little time they were at home.