The Way We Were: 1942-45 & 1967-70

Part Thirty-One By Warren Thomas

I was growing up and becoming more worldly wise. I was a 13-year-old freshman getting a head start in high school, having skipped the second grade. Compared to nine students from four families in Floyd Township’s Center School, Forestburg High School was the big time. I had never gone to a school with two stories and about 30 to 35 students. After a grade school lifetime of bib overalls and flannel shirts, I went with my mother to Huron, where I picked out two sets of corduroy trousers and polo shirts. Now I could dress like the town kids, although I recall that some 90 percent of all my fellow students lived on surrounding farms.
I was just emerging from adolescent days when girls were goofy nuisances and good mainly for doing dishes and being a dad’s favorite child. But in FHS, my perspective was gradually changing. Girls were coming to look quite human. When Donna Burrill, two years ahead of me, actually looked at me and spoke to me between classes, I was first astounded, then flattered and then bewildered. Older girls, especially popular town girls, simply didn’t stoop to recognize mere freshmen boys scarcely beyond rug-rat days. But Donna was just that way—a friendly, down-to-earth young lady who overlooked the falsity of the social barriers others imposed. Her simple, honest recognition of an insecure country boy placed her on a pedestal considerably higher than that unfairly given to the beautiful, the poised, the self-centered and the overrated.
But what brought my kid-stuff tomfoolery to a real-time awakening was when the Olson/Pearson saga unfolded right in front of my innocent eyes. I remind any readers that I was only 13 or possibly 14 with miles yet to go. Participants in my education were Eunice Pearson, living some two miles from me, and a young buck from outside of town named Art Olson. Seated alphabetically next to each other in either the sophomore or the junior rows in the study hall, they had ample opportunities to get acquainted. Here’s what I observed, but it didn’t seem to make much sense, since girls were generally strange and unpredictable creatures. And boys were, well, just boys.
That part of my education generally took place in the study hall where all 30 or so high schoolers had assigned seats. During the noon hour, the male brown-baggers and the lunch boxers lined up along the north windows, having pulled senior desks from their row to better watch the outside traffic heading downtown while they ate. Town residents Margie Hinde and Donna and Wally Burrill went home for lunch. The girls migrated to the English room in the northeast corner of the building to eat and do whatever it was that they talk about when boys aren’t around.
I began to notice the strangest thing, which seemed to simply evolve out of thin air with no announcement and no fanfare. Eunice seemed to be the first one back in the study hall. Why was she always first, I wondered? Then, just as though it was planned, Art would get up from his temporary lunch seat by the window and stroll over to his desk. But wait, he didn’t sit in his own desk but stopped at the one next to his when that early arrival from the girls’ lunch area had seated herself. Things were getting complicated. Why did the two of them end up at her desk almost every day? And he always did the same quite unnecessary thing. He would pull out Eunice’s desk drawer beneath her seat. Then, with no consideration as to whether he might collapse the desk drawer or whether he might be smashing her books, he would sit on her books facing her. Completely invading her personal space, he would place his right arm on the top of her backrest and his left on the writing surface of her desk. How could a guy be so inconsiderate? And right there in public he was practically hugging her!!
All of this activity was in plain sight of those of us young males uninitiated in the mushy stuff of life. It had not yet appeared to me why a 16-year-old girl would want just any young guy getting that close and personal. Strong farm girl that she was, one quick, forceful jab of her left elbow would have landed the young fellow flat on his back on the floor. But it was a crazy thing—she didn’t seem to mind a bit. And it actually was her fault, for she was always the first girl back in the study hall after lunch. On top of the weird happenings, Art and Eunice talked in such low tones that none of us young males could hear a word they said. Since they chose such a public place to distract us, shouldn’t their conversation have been more public?
Well, the world of personal realities was setting in for me, but a kid might wonder why the mushy stuff had to start so early! The reality seemed to be that Art and Eunice wanted to turn his desk-drawer sitting into a more permanent life investment. If they married perhaps in 1945, they may have had 60-65 good years together. Way to go, guys! And you have the fine legacy of three boys and three girls to prove that a desk-sitting pastime can develop into a real and lasting deal—even if observant pipsqueaks didn’t understand what’s going on!
Now Eunice, what is your version? Do my 70-year-old memories need some touching up? You, Bernita, Jesse Bonney, Wally Burrill, my Wisconsin brother, Camden, and I are the known few who remain from that particular high school crowd.
More up-to-date—yesterday, Nov. 7, I stopped by Brady Nursing Home in Mitchell to say “hello” to Eunice. Lo and behold, I got two for the price of one! There in two wheelchairs having an after lunch chat were an 89-year-old and an almost 88-year-old, bodies frail but minds sharp. Bernita LaBreche Hinker, 1942 Forestburg High School junior, and Eunice, Forestburg High School 1942 sophomore, were being visited by 86-year-old 1942 Forestburg High School freshman, Warren Thomas! We had an interesting half hour doing what most oldies do when two or three get together—reminiscing!
Among other things, Bernita, long-time mother of six, told me that she was the sole survivor of her 1944 graduation class. Eunice Olson, not to be outdone, also is mother of six and claimed the same longevity distinction in her 1954 class. In my own class, my sister and I left after our junior year, leaving four boys to graduate in 1946. As far as I know, from our freshman class of nine, later joined by Bill Irving and Merle Nurnberg, only Jesse Bonney in Oregon, Wally Burrill in California and I on the old Jim Howe farm north of Forestburg continue in good health and spirits. Those four freshman boys graduating in 1946 were Ralph Rhoads, Wally Burrill and Robert Ellingson. The fourth male graduate was either Bill or Vic. The other one either dropped out or transferred for his last year. Bonnie, Eleanor, Merle, Jesse, Ramona and I either finished high school elsewhere or dropped out to work or to marry.
The best is yet to come!

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