The Way We Were – 1942-47 and 1967-70

Part Thirty-three D by Warren Thomas

Is there a noun such as “idiocity” in the English language? I taught grammar for a while, but I don’t recall that one. It would derive from “idiot” if it can be logically identified. Whatever the case, I’m trying to recall the mindset afflicting the writer when he was a 15-year-old junior in Forestburg High School. I’ve been writing about the 22-year-old beauty, who became our commercial teacher. The problem arose when I became a member of her Typing I class. I was beginning to realize females were a lot less pestiferous and useless than I had previously thought.
We called her Miss Koehn (kane), a vision of loveliness to whom several of us sophomore and junior boys were giving undue attention. “Undue”, I call it, because an experienced teacher would have soon put a stop to a bunch of young puppies waltzing into her room every morning before the first bell. But she was young, in her first year of teaching, and likely not accustomed to such concerted masculine attention, especially from young bucks not yet dry behind the ears. And to be popular was an anomaly to be enjoyed.
Miss Koehn and I hit it off in admirable fashion. I didn’t call her by her first name, was always cooperative and polite, nor did I try to take advantage of my “inner circle” friendship before school called. But from my starry-eyed viewpoint, we seemed to become good friends. That was a first for me, and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle infatuation (I call it now) and schoolwork at the same time. Then one day well along into the school year, she confided in me that she was considering not returning to FHS another year. I was devastated at the thought and perhaps hypocritically so, because I had another iron in the fire myself regarding returning to FHS my senior year. A cousin had been pestering me to come to Wessington Springs Junior College High School for my final high school year. I really wanted to join him. Except for fondness for a certain teacher, I had no undying loyalty to the local high school.
However, in the absence of my parents’ yielding to my request to change schools, I entreated Miss Koehn more than once to “please, please, please come back next year!”. Then in a few weeks, quite unexpectedly, my parents said it would be OK for me to change schools for my senior year. Elated, I realized my prayers had been answered, but just as quickly, a jolting thought slammed into my consciousness. I had been pestering Miss Koehn to sign her second contract for the very school year I would be leaving Forestburg myself! What a dilemma! What a hypocrite! I knew I would have to tell her and then watch my emotional house of cards collapse around my feet.
Tell her I did; I’ll not forget the chastising she gave me for it appeared then that she must have already signed her contract to return. An old saying “feeling lower than a snake’s belly” epitomized my feelings for a few days. I don’t recall all the ensuing details, but in a short while, we were friends again. I can well imagine now that her decision to return to FHS had less to do with the Thomas kid than it was simply her practical decision regarding employment and eventual returning to college. But what fanciful dreams a then 16-year-old can spin! I may have been a master spinner!
Truth be told, however, Miss Koehn and I had a respectable, appropriate teacher/student relationship the rest of the year. I was learning to type and was second fastest typist immediately behind classmate Bob Ellingson. However, just before the last day of school, I was still climbing what my mother sometimes described as “fool’s hill”. I remarked to Miss Koehn that since we’d be going separate ways the next year, I would like something by which to remember her. In a day or two she called me into the typing room and handed to me an object neatly stapled to a 3 inch by 3 inch piece of cardboard. Lo and behold, there lay a dark-brown curl of her shoulder-length hair of sufficient abundance that it must have required re-doing her hair styling!
I was greatly surprised, vastly pleased and completely dumbfounded. I took my treasure home (Mother was still in the dark), placed it somewhere for safekeeping, and, believe it or not, forgot about it in a few weeks. A month or so ago (70 years later), I was digging around in an old steamer trunk in our attic looking for some old artifact. Among other objects from high school and college days I found, you guessed it, a lock of dark-brown hair! When I showed it to my ever-loving, permanent-choice wife of 64 years, she steam-rolled all my precious memories when, in a very practical, unemotional voice, she asked, “What are you keeping that thing for?”
Oh, the cruelty of unthinking people! But high school, college, teaching, a year in Korea all came and went and with them infatuating puppy love. Another dark-haired girl, this one from Michigan, then marriage, and later two sons, all came to bless me with permanent status. But now, I’ve filled quite enough space with memories of what occurred in typing class. However, at a later time, I may come back to the saga of Miss Koehn. She’s not a front burner item, but she never disappeared completely from the pages of my life. A week ago, she told me she was 92!

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