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Prime Time: Looking back at Kathy Johnson, my best friend

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Kathy Johnson and I met when we were 2 years old.

In October 1941, we moved from Northfield to Tracy. Uncle Kenny was going to war in the Army Air Force. That is before the Air Force became a second division of the military. He wanted Dad to come and take over his shoe business during the war, and then the two of them would work together.

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Dad's business in Northfield was good during the school year when St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges were in business. But the summer was not good at all. Then the possibility of the two of them working together also was appealing. Dad grew up in southwestern Minnesota -- Cottonwood, which was north of Tracy about 30 miles.

So Kenny went to Europe as a tail gunner on a bomber, and we moved to where I would spend the next 16 years.

Kathy and I went to the same church, and we lived near each other. We played together a lot - like I did with Curt.

On May Day, my mother decided I should bring her a May basket. She had to twist my arm because I did not like attention, nor did I relish braving the world of boy-girl relationships.

Mom made a May basket for me to bring, and she shoved me out the door. I walked across the street and kitty-corner between the houses separating our houses. We seldom used sidewalks. Cutting through yards was much faster.

I walked up the back stairs of Kathy's house. Her mom, Ruth, answered the door. "Why Jeb, how are you tonight?"

Looking down at the porch I answered: "Fine, Mrs. Johnson. Is Kathy here?"

"Certainly, young man." She turned and shouted into the kitchen. "Kathy, Jeb is here!"

She saw the May basket and smiled. "What do you have there?"

My eyes never left the stairs, and I mumbled: "Nothing."

"Well, isn't that a May Basket?"

"Yes, Mrs. Johnson."

She had been holding the screen door open, so Kathy poked her head around her mom. She looked as embarrassed as I was.

"Hi, Jeb."

"Here." I reached out my hand and offered the basket to her.

She accepted the basket. "Thank you, Jeb."

"You're welcome."

I turned to leave, but Mrs. Johnson stopped me. "Didn't you forget something, Jeb?"

"No, Mrs. Johnson. Bye, Kathy."

"But, Jeb, you forgot to give Kathy a May Day kiss."

"I did!" I mumbled while just barely turning around.

"Well, sure you did. Come and give Kathy a May Day kiss."

Kathy and I glanced at each other as if we were going to be poisoned. I walked slowly up two steps, and Kathy dutifully leaned forward. Our lips touched only slightly and we both stood straight. I turned and said: "See ya, Kathy."

Kathy responded likewise.

I am sure Mrs. Johnson beamed as she watched the two kids look so awkward.

As I hustled out of the backyard, I remember realizing that it felt pretty good when our lips met. But that is all. I was anxious to get over to Curt's house and play.

Kathy and I had another adventure. When we were 7, in second grade, she and I had heard that if we dug straight down in the ground far enough, we would get to China. Late one afternoon, she and I decided to try it. Our mothers gave us shovels. They were not going to deter us from our adventure.

We went into my backyard a few feet from a medium-size oak tree on the southeastern corner of our garden. Back then, during the war and after, everybody had gardens. They were called Victory Gardens because we would help the troops in Europe and the Pacific by producing as much food as we could for ourselves in our gardens. We lived on a corner lot at Fifth Street and Emory Street. The garden started just beyond the clotheslines and went nearly to the alley.

The area was so large that we had Ol' Man Schnorr come with his two horses and plow it for us. We planted everything from potatoes to green beans, strawberries and raspberries, peas, carrots, lettuce, radishes and onions. And so forth. I remember well the number of hours we four older boys would spend in the garden weeding every week. The planting and harvesting was fun and the fresh fruit and vegetables were wonderful. But to this day I cannot have a garden because of all of the weeding we did in those years.

After the war was over, we cut down the size of the garden, but there still was a lot of weeding. Mom often said she loved getting her hands in the dirt. But I never adopted that attitude.

As a kid I also picked strawberries for some farmer, but I swear I ate more of them than I saved for the farmer.

Kathy and I picked a spot where we would begin our adventure. My mom and dad were quite relaxed about everything. So Jeb and Kathy were going to dig a hole in the backyard, so what? Go for it kids!

We jumped up and down on the shovel to break through the grass. Then we began digging in the dirt. The ground was good, black dirt. Everything grew in it.

After a while we hit rocks, and that was the end of our trip to China. We sat disappointed for a few minutes and then began filling the hole and replacing the grass.

We failed, but that did not bother us. We tried as best we could, and that was fun. Who cares if we didn't get to China? What would we do there anyway?

Through the years Kathy and I did a lot of things together. We played in the band together. She played trumpet, and I played clarinet, trumpet and baritone. Mr. Rood knew I came from a musical family and could switch instruments easily. So when he needed more trumpets, I changed to that. Then when he needed baritones, I switched to that. I enjoyed the baritone most. It was such a mellow and beautiful-sounding instrument.

Kathy accompanied on the piano the choir and boys' chorus, so I enjoyed her presence there. She also accompanied the quartet I was in, and I sang bass solos in which she played for me. She also sang in a quartet with three other girls who were good friends of us four boys in our quartet.

I grew up with half a dozen girls and half a dozen boys who played together throughout grade school. We never dated each other, but were good friends. During the grade school years, the 12 of us played in the city park. Pump-pump pull-away and hide-and-seek were a couple of games we played. We also had fun on the swings and merry-go-round. In the winter we met at the park ice rink. A favorite game we played was where one person was "it." The rest had to skate to the other end of the rink. Whoever got caught had to join in on catching others. We did this until no one was left. Kathy and I were part of that gang.

In the summers we played in the summer band. Mr. Rood got whoever wanted to play; students and kids alike, and we gave a half dozen concerts on Wednesday nights. I loved music, so I played every chance I had. Kathy did the same.

When the city developed tennis courts in the park, we guys met there and played each other until we were exhausted. When we finished that game, we went to the swimming pool and finished the afternoon and evening. In the morning we took lessons at the pool.

Kathy has been a good friend throughout the years. I value our friendship very much.

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