A Spoof Letter on Growing Up in Academy in the 1950s
Can you believe it has been fifty years since we graduated from the academy? I���m quite sure our teachers never thought we���d amount to much of anything since we were a bothersome lot. They are dead now and can no longer praise or sympathize with us. Because of my heart condition, I am unable to attend the reunion. Another thing, I went around a corner the other day and my left leg fell off. I am in a wheel chair now.
I suppose some of you wonder why I got kicked out of school three weeks before graduation. So when the president of the class called and asked me to write a letter calling up my recollections, I told him that I wanted to cut loose and clear up some things. At this point he became anxious and tried to give me twenty dollars to keep quiet about certain things. When I said that was not enough, he increased his offer to two hundred and eighty dollars. Afterwards I called the right Reverend Chaplain of our class and he promised to read my letter without giving out my name. Some of you will remember who I am anyway. I guess it won���t matter much. I sure wish I could be there with you on this night of reflection and celebration.
Before coming to Upper Columbia Academy, or Spangle as we used to say, the only mischief I can recall was once I stole the key to the pantry at home, slipped in and helped myself to some strawberry jam. Afterwards I filled the jar with red-tainted margarine so that my mother would not know the difference. She���d burned her tongue as a child and couldn���t tell the difference between fruits or potatoes. My father found out and thought I should be punished. After talking to our local pastor in Priest Lake he came away thinking Spangle was a reform school for bad boys���so my family carted me off to the academy. Dad heard the place was vegetarian and that this kind of food helped to subdue violent and sexual urges in teenage boys.
I felt in exile when I first arrived but soon began to make friends. Some were real characters. First week I learned more mischief-making and pranks than an entire year in grade school, if you know what I mean. Not knowing much about vegetarianism I decided I wasn���t going to allow food poisoning to turn my nails black like frost bite or catch typhoid fever after eating Linkettes. . .although I was hungry most of the time. After complaining to my mother she sent me cans of corned beef, apples from our orchard and letters from home. This helped me survive the gloom and anguish caused by girls in the school who I thought wanted me, but whose love was as jagged and uncertain as broken bottles.
Recall there were no beatings in school but there were other ways to torment and make life miserable. Our Bible teacher Elder James Ward used to tell us that at the end of time when Jesus came through the clouds there would be a gigantic screen lowered from heaven and all of our transgressions would be cued up for everyone to see. I don���t know about you, but this big screen whimsy scared me for the first couple of years. I pretty much stayed on the straight and narrow���.although there were times when I suffered temptation. Really though, the first two years there wasn���t much that would qualify me for display, other than I���d sleep behind the gym when I was supposed to be hoeing weeds, or sneak a biscuit now and then out of the cafeteria to eat in my room. I heard about some things that took place in the tunnel between the girl���s dorm and the powerhouse Sabbath mornings when Jim fired up the boilers that I hope someday to see on the big screen. It should be entirely satisfying.
I was not a model boy like Bill, or perfect in conduct like Louis, or always good like Jimmy or Bob. I was born in a small logging town in northern Idaho and came to the academy without sophistications like the rest of you. Before coming to Spangle I wore tennis shoes to church and a hand-me down wool suit from the Dorcas Society. By the beginning of my sophomore year I was unable to mute my growing affection for girls. And I continued to be hungry. My roommate Glenn was a senior. During study sessions in the room he used to tell me I could easily change places with a pig or a goat. He was all the time poking fun at me. He said I was anti-authoritarian, awkward, inclined to be cocky and difficult, and stupid about almost every thing. But I will always be grateful for the grace and friendly way I was treated by my classmates.
By my junior year I was beginning to work the edges. We went on a band trip to Yakima and I was in the back of the bus with my arm around Betty and I tried to use every muscle in my body I had to remove my arm and stop kissing her. I even put my foot up on the back of the seat in front of me and tried pushing off. I just couldn���t overcome such powerful and unfamiliar erotic force. For this reason, and the fact that these urges were not my own, I���m not expecting to be punished for this first necking episode. Quite honestly, I don���t believe you���ll see any of this on the big screen because such flamboyant hedonism was only considered preparation for finding out how to get along sensibly with girls in the future.
My first real encounter with forbidden sex came from watching what happened to my roommate Glenn. One spring morning he came back from the barn where he said he���d been sleeping with a girl in the hayloft all night. He was all smiles and thought he was pretty swell. But I���m telling you he didn���t need any big screen in the sky to thrust his transgression into view and right out there in front of the whole faculty too. All it took was a Friday night testimony service during Spring Week of Prayer. His girlfriend came up to the front crying and asking everyone to pray for her. By next morning she���d confessed what she and Glenn had been up to. I know this is going to sound like an exaggeration, but early Sunday morning, before the sun came up, Kincaid and his girl friend were packed and heading home in opposite directions.
Glenn was never late for Sabbath-school, he always turned in a good missionary report, studied his lesson seven times each week, sang in the choir, handed out literature in Spokane almost every Sabbath afternoon, but when it came to titillating amusements with a girl that one time he���d stepped across some kind of trigger line. Watching it unfold I saw how he and Dad Wisbey came to a sober agreement (fairly quickly as it turned out) that his noble ambition at the academy had ended. Dad Wisbey told me afterwards that he thought Glenn had a screw loose and that my roommate should���ve learned to go window shopping without carrying his billfold. Of course Dad Wisbey was vague about such matters, but I knew what he meant.
Frankly, my first years I didn���t know much about girls, although some of you in the dorm were reading ���On Becoming a Woman,��� and passing it around. Growing up I always thought boys were never as good as the teachers said anyway. If you listened to Dad Wisbey���s annual worship talk on sex each fall, you���d get the opposite idea. He thought the fault was with the girls���if you can believe that now. Boys simply reacted to what girls did to boys directly or indirectly. He always began his sex talk by warning us to watch out for the girls over on the other side of campus��� ���They mature faster,��� he said, ���and they have bewitching qualities. Girls will innocently entice boys into doing things they shouldn���t be doing.��� It sounded like a good black widow spider thing. He warned us to ���watch out for their smells, the way they giggled and flirted, their tenderness and malice, the promise of their blushes and especially avoid letting them put their hand on your leg.��� At the end of the talk there was always some kind of funeral attached to what he said like he was giving a speech in anticipation of the time when we might get kicked out of school for running into one of these Jezebels. Frankly these talks always raised my interest in girls. I���d never knew some of these things he said about girls until I heard it from him.
During this worship sex talk I was carried off with his thought that girls wanted me. . .it was marvelous. . .listening to Dad Wisbey I got the idea that I didn���t have select or work at getting a girl. . . . I simply allowed myself to be pressed into service. If Dad Wisbey only knew how much desire he created in me during those talks.
One year I remember, he told an experience he had at Laurelwood Academy before coming to Spangle. To reinforce how bad girls were he said five or six older girls persuaded one his na��ve boys in the dorm to pull down his swimming shorts while standing under a large oak tree where they���d been swimming in a pond. The girls had gathered around the boy and were examining him when Dad Wisbey came upon them and ran down the hill and broke up their explorations and amusements. How I longed for an experience like that.
Along about the middle of our senior year Phil came back with his brother Jim having climbed a large cotton-wood tree next to the girl���s dorm down by the road leading into campus. The brothers claimed they had discovered a way to look into the girl���s dorm with an unimpeded view where no one could see them. Phil said they were able to inspecting some real ���good lookers.��� ���The clarity and closeness of the view was exquisite beyond words,��� he said. They sat there quietly, not moving, hoping to see these girls get undressed before the lights went out in the dorm. That first night the lights went out before seeing anything and they waited awhile and climbed down in the dark. It was all just like in the silent movies. The next day Phil told Chuck and Ron what they had been up to the night before. Next night there were four guys on the limb quietly waiting in silence peering over the edge, between the branches. Picture that. But they still didn���t get to see anything before the lights went off.
The word got out about this carnal bough and anticipation grew in the four who���d been there the night before. Next night Jack and Mickey joined the four on the bough to make six and there was just barely room. Ron slipped climbing up and nearly knocked everybody off. They had to press against each other to lean out and see anything. When Ron Q heard about what they were doing he was thinking about climbing out on the limb with them, but was reluctant at first. Ron Q had just returned from a two week gap in his education from roasting a chicken in butter in his popcorn popper on the second floor of the dorm. This chicken he���d found wandering along the side of the road out in front of the Academy. After adjusting themselves so everyone could see, right before their eyes was a girl they could almost touch, spread out on her bed in a padded bra and beautiful light brown skin reading a book. On the other side of the room was a slightly chubby girl fumbling with her dress when the lights went out. The six guys on the limb knew they were close, but they���d have to return.
This was all too much for Ron Q. The next night Ron Q decided to crawl out on the limb and join his six buddies. There was hardly any room. Just as the peeping toms were finally settled down there was a loud crack and the sturdy limb snapped���broke and seven guys went crashing to the ground grinding their faces in the dirt. All the windows on that side of the girl���s dorm came up and girls were leaning out to see what the ruckus was about. This was when fast talking Ron Q showed his talent. If there was trouble he was quick on his feet. In a clear voice speaking with confidence he stood up and called out, ���Ladies don���t worry about a thing we���re trying to catch a heifer that got out of the barn���go back to sleep.��� The seven skunked guys limped off and scampered into the darkness laughing that it had been a close call. No serious trouble came of it. Once this episode got around the boy���s dorm, all seven were my heroes and I began to scheme how I might penetrate the girl���s dorm with greater flare and bring esteem and admiration to my own name. What I did next got me expelled out of the Academy.
Really, it was a small thing. Principle J. V. Peters wrote to my parents and told them that I was a nuisance (actually he used much stronger words), particularly with regard to a night-time visit I made to the girls��� dormitory. You probably remember this was one rule that received the greatest scrutiny and enforcement. Boys could not go into the girl���s rooms for any reason, day or night, except once a year at the open house banquet. Mr. Ringering, the night watchman, painted the girl���s fire escapes with purple dye and every morning before breakfast Dad Wisbey would come in my room and inspect my hands and go across the hall to see if Bill���s hands were clean too. He was always suspicious about everything and must of gotten wind that I was making plans to enter this sacred space.
After a while I couldn���t resist the temptation. I would show the lucky seven how to really get inside the girl���s dorm. I put on some gloves and scaled the fire escape on the dark side of the building. The fire escape was steel and swayed as I climbed. Carolyn saw me coming up the fire escape and called to Pat, Andie, Marcia and Margie to come over to her room. To my astonishment I was invited in through the window. I stood there for several wonderful minutes looking at these five beautiful girls. I wished my friends could see me now. The sheer novelty of having a boy in their room so confused them that at first no one ran for help. My eyes feasted on the teddy bears on the pillows, a bra hanging from a hook over the sink, family photographs, slips and slippers and the marvelous smells. But I knew I couldn���t stay there for long. Just as I turned to hasten back out the window, the door flung open and there stood Mrs. Irene West, the girl���s dean, all puffed up, breathing like a snorting bull, and looking like a vegetarian ready to abandoned Brussels sprouts and baked beans and revert back to meat eating. Someone had tipped her off. Boy, was she mad! And I don���t blame her one bit or the girls who turned me in, or the faculty for tossing me before graduation. But like all prohibitions on personal desire this one was doomed to failure either by me or someone else.
Sincerely, this is one transgression I hope makes it to the big screen. And I trust that they slow the tape moving the frames forward a single one at a time. The look on the girl���s faces, the smiles and blushes, and sheer joy of how far I had penetrated into the Puritan���s corner was beyond description. As I said, the moment was sacred. My only regret was that these girls never asked for my autograph.
My time at the academy was extraordinary and I remember with great fondness the loyal friends I made during those years. But before I say goodbye, get Henry and Adolph to pass out some of their root beer moonshine they used to make in the root cellar behind the gym. They claimed at most it was only two percent alcohol. I can vouch it was higher. It used to cross my eyes for hours to where I couldn���t read a book. In fact, you will remember we used it to pickle the frogs in Mr. Harold Och���s biology class. I wish you all great happiness and I hope to see you at the next reunion. If it���s heaven next let���s check out the video and review some of this wonderful time together. I���m sure some things have not surfaced yet!
The Idaho Boy Who Finally Grew Up ___
T. Joe Willey has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and recently retired from teaching neuroscience at Loma Linda University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/933