High School Years: 1928-1931

April 6, 2009 - 1,085 views

Looking back across nearly three-quarters of a century, the period of my education in Salem High School was rich with physical, mental and emotional growth and development. By today’s standards, the facilities and equipment were meager but the educational and moral qualifications of the faculty made learning an adventure in achieving.

Principal Clarence “Bud” Tesch was a BIG man in every sense of the word. He was an alumnus of Salem College who had become a legend as a brilliant athlete in football, basketball and baseball. I saw him compete often in all three sports during my childhood. Salem High School students accepted Mr. Tesch’s fairness in discipline and respected him for his dedication to learning. I remember a plaque on principal Tesch’s desk. It read, “When you play, play hard. When you work, don’t play at all.”

I had the highest regard for Miss Loretta Findley whose teaching subject was history. Her personality was testy but friendly. She taught with enthusiasm and a thorough knowledge of the subject. I knew her as a caring friend and an excellent teacher. Miss Findley gave me a mature, untrained German police dog name Jiggs. I was unsuccessful in bringing him under control and so I gave him to my brother, Ashby.

The teaching of Miss Gladys Miller–English and Literature–has had a marked influence on my life through the years. She introduced us to the great writers and poets and made their literary contributions live. We got our first “taste” of Shakespeare with Miss Miller. I am forever her debtor.

A number of extra-curricular activities helped round out my high school education. I went out for football in either my freshman or sophomore year. But after two weeks of practices I decided this sport was not for me. I only weighed 118 pounds and was not competing well against the BIG boys. My trial at basketball early in high school ended when I got a broken nose in an early practice.

I had a role in one play during high school and was the sports writer on the staff of the high school paper. Cheer leading was fun for one or two years and I sang in the boys glee club. Miss Wilma West directed the glee club.

Physical fitness was an absorbing interest and effort with me during all of my youth. I usually ran two at a time up the forty-eight steps to our house. At one time I exercised until I could bend over backwards and touch my head on the floor. I was able to kick the top of the doorways at home-several inches above my head. Then there was the period when I ate a cake of yeast every day. This was supposed to guard against adolescent skin problems. Fleischman’s yeast was gooey and horrible tasting–a dry cake was much more palatable. I don’t recall having any serious illnesses or health problems during the high school years.

This will be a good point to punctuate my high school experiences with accounts of falling in love, not once but twice. Then we can continue with the telling of my most thrilling high school activity–playing on the Little Mountaineer League Championship basketball team in my senior year.

I was a high school freshman when I met Garnet Garner at a basketball game between Salem and Bristol. She was a Bristol high school freshman student and I found her attractive with dark hair, brown eyes with glasses and a trim figure. After our first meeting we found other opportunities to be together. I recall an occasion when we were sitting together in the Salem College auditorium. We shared a pocket dictionary and took turns pointing out words that communicated how we felt about one another–words like, “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, “lovely”. An interesting technique for “puppy love” courtship.

Garnet’s family lived on a farm at the head of Cherry Camp Run, east of Salem. In those long-ago days it was customary for farm families around Salem to come to town on Saturday night to do their shopping and promenade on the business section of main street. The Garner family joined the Saturday night crowds during the fall weeks, giving me the delightful chance to meet Garnet and be with her for an hour or two.

With the setting in of Winter the dirt roads up Cherry Camp Run became almost impassable so the Garner family Saturday night excursions to Salem stopped. At this juncture I received a letter from Garnet inviting me to her home on Saturday night. She gave careful instructions on the route to follow across the hills to Cherry Camp Run. It must have been a two or three mile walk through fields and woods, not to mention it being in the dark of night. Garnet promised in her letter that her father would tie up his fox hounds.

The first hike across the hills to Garnet’s home, flashlight in hand, was an adventure. The instructions were that when I reached the top of a hill I would be an open field where I could look down and see the lights of my destination. I found myself in a woods and sat on a stump to decide which way to go. The next crises came in an open field when my flashlight beams spotted eyes all around Lie. The “eyes” turned out to be a flock of sheep.

I must have made the trip to date Garnet three or more times. They were happy experiences and I’m certain I was reluctant to start the trip home. I do remember playing a record on the wind-up victrola, “Come to Me My Melancholy Baby”. On one trip home, in the snow, I came upon a ‘possum track and followed it quite a way.

Time has blotted out any memory of why or how my relationship with Garnet ended. I have learned in later years that her life was unhappy if not tragic.

Late in May of 1930, after my junior year in high school, my friend Nelson Tully asked me to have a “blind date” with a girl from Fairmont who was visiting the Tullys with her parents. My first glimpse of Madeline Watts was of her reflection in a full-length hall mirror as she sat in the living room of the Tully home.

For me, this was a case of “love at first sight”. Madeline was a blue-eyed blond, quite tall with lovely features, a pleasant voice and a charming personality. Later I often called her “laughing eyes”. She had just celebrated her fifteenth birthday and my seventeenth was three months away. We enjoyed a delightful evening. I was so charmed by her that I gave her my high school class ring.

The next day after my first date with Madeline, at Mamma’s suggestion, I asked for my ring back saying, “I don’t know you that well”. Within a few days I traveled to Fairmont for my first visit to see Madeline, without her knowing I was coming. My memories of that trip are painful.

A friend, Bob Wise, offered to take me to Fairmont and return on his motorcycle–an eighty mile round trip. The motorcycle did not have a second seat so I rode on the fender with the scant padding of a folded burlap bag. Enough to say that the experience was excruciating. I did see Madeline but she was entertaining a group of girl friends so may stay was brief.

The summer of 1930 I spent on the farm and corresponded regularly with Madeline. What a thrill it was to receive a box of cookies she had baked. I walked many miles to the post office in Sutton to pick up her letters a day before they were normally be delivered by the mail man. The cost of one extended telephone conversation with Madeline was voided by Alma Jurgens, Brady’s sister-in-law and head telephone operator.

It was a happy surprise to learn that Madeline’s Watts grandparents lived a mile or so from us on a Bug Ridge Farm. How wonderful that she could visit her grandparents that summer. She rode their gray horse, Charlie, out to visit me. The romantic moonlight walks on the dusty Bug Ridge road were memorable.

With the coming of fall and my last year in high school, I hitch-hiked to Fairmont on several weekends to be with Madeline. Her parents must have approved of my coming. Mr. Watts would let me drive his Plymouth car to a movie or just for an evening ride. Then there times when Madeline came to Salem with her parents to visit the Tullys. We made the most of those times.

By 1932, when Madeline was a high school senior and I was a college freshman, the glamour of our romance was wearing thin. We did see each other infrequently and the contacts were friendly. Both of us were forming new friendships and having exciting experiences in the circles in which we moved.

As most of you who read this know, the account of the parting of the ways of Elmo and Madeline was not finalized in 1932. As you follow Elmo’s “lifeline” across the years and decades, Madeline’s star will come into focus and shine brightly as a guiding light in their journey together.