The Way We Were – 1961-1967

By Warren Thomas, Part Thirty

For some reason, Episode #1, 1942-45, produces more memories than Episode #2, 1967-70. In 1942, I was leaving country grade school to become a high school student. In 1967, I was leaving Woonsocket High School to become a principal in the same high school.
Beyond that, my teenage years seemed to collect stuff, which struck memory wise. Freshmen initiation in early fall was one of them. The sophomores and juniors, collectively about 15 or 16 strong, seemed to be in charge. I say ‘seemed’ because I don’t remember any of the three faculty members having anything to do with the planned high jinks of the middle high school fellows and girls. Bill Dent, Bob Lefler, Margie Hinde and others appeared to have free reign in making life miserable for us lowly freshmen. Our girls, my sister, Ramona, Eleanor Luthi and Bonnie Neilson, were required to wear men’s bib overalls with a red bandana decorating a hip pocket, and high top men’s work shoes. Their counterparts, Vic Hinker, Robert Ellingson, Jesse Bonney, Ralph Rhoads, Wally Burrill and I looked somewhat like the fairer sex with dresses, headscarves, lipstick and four-buckle overshoes. Such was our garb for the week, on the school bus, in class and home again on the bus.
This 13-year-old “Greenie” was quite wary of the 15 and 16-year-old tormenters. So when sophomore Bill Dent (deceased a week ago as of this October 2015 writing) sidled up to a couple of us boys with some private inside information, we were quite appreciative. We had not expected that an initiation insider would give us a heads up on what would happen Friday night during the wind up of the initiation week activities. Dummies! What Bill whispered to us was that some other torturers would tell us that we were to be fed cold, cooked spaghetti but they would announce earthworms to the crowd. No fear, he said, the kids will really think you’re fed earthworms while you’ll know ahead of time the real scoop.
This worm demonstration would follow the only other shenanigan I recall from that evening. A couple of girls, garbed in overalls, work shoes and other foolish apparel, were chosen to kneel on the gym floor and compete in pushing cockleburs across the floor with their noses toward a distant finish line. Then, from the group of nine freshmen, the older classmen picked Wally Burrill and the writer to come front and center to sit blindfolded in front of the raucous students. One of the boys announced that the object of the next act was to see which guy could swallow a spoon-fed earthworm first. I don’t recall about Wally, but I was secure in the private information about the contents in the spoon and did not hesitate when a male voice commanded, “Open up!” Remembering Bill’s secret revelation, I opened my mouth to receive the expected cold, cooked spaghetti. It certainly was cold, it might have seemed cooked but one or two chomps instantly revealed the deceitfulness of the private informer. No spaghetti with which I had been acquainted had the bitter sliminess that I was experiencing at that moment of truth!
Spitting vigorously from beneath my blindfold, I spewed the mangled remains of the real worm all over the gym floor in front of me and jerked off my eye covering. But there was Wally beside me, quite oblivious to my situation. In blind faith in his tormenters, he not only finished chewing his “spaghetti”, but he swallowed it as well!
Actually, Wally should have been more worldly-wise than I. There I was, only a 13-year-old country lad just out of bib overalls, but my classmate was a town boy where all the action was and where teenagers already knew the ways of the world. Not to be concerned, however, Wally told us on Monday morning that his mother that night, just to be safe, gave him traditional tapeworm medicine to insure her son’s continued health and well-being! Might we suppose that Anna Burrill mixed up the adjectives “earth” and “tape?!

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