Monday, September 21, 2009

The Gathering Steps

In its greatest days, these steps were the place where classes joined and crammed together for a class photograph that would appear the following spring in the Wah-Sha-She, the name given our school annual and the school newspaper.  We thought little about it when the photograph was being snapped but relished its appearance at the year's end when we saw ourselves and our friends together for the first time.  There were the class photographs such as our 1957 7-1, 7-2 and 7-3 groups, and then there were identifiable birds of a feather that flocked together, such as band, basketball, football, and all of the different opportunities that were open to us.  Seventh and Eighth grades had the numbered divisions of 1 for choir, 2 for band, and 3 for anything else that didn't fit the first two classifications.  I don't know if that continues today.Once we were freshmen, we had broader choices and if we were in band, it was the entire band, made up of all classes freshmen and above. 

Over the years, I have taken time to look at my collection of Wah-She-She books and those annoying moments of posing together then now take on new light and new life.  Those moments were silly and we acted silly, performing immaturely to prove how mature we were.  If we had behaved better, the photographs might be better.  But we were kids and behaved as kids and perhaps that is some of the greater charm today; that the photographs captured some of that giddy, laughing, teasing charm.  There would be time for maturity later.  It would come in the forms of the death of a president, a war that could not be won and would cost so many lives; maturity would mean marriages, births, divorces and even deaths. 

So those days, we were supposed to be just what we were.  I look at the photographs and I see gaps where a boy stands in the photograph.  The inimitable Henry Jones, a Pawhuska original, looks back at me and I laugh at him, just as I did at the flesh and blood Henry Jones.  I see him, yet I know he is gone, preserved only in photographs and in our memories.  The photograph is black and white, now taking on a bit of a yellow tone.  The picture in my memory is full color, with the blue tones of Levi jeans that most boys wore, the black and white plaid shirts, abundant then, the Lavender Blue of Doug Givens old chevrolet, once he finally finished his masterpiece.  I know that memory is not perfect and that in some way, those pictures I carry are just as faded as are those on the pages I see.  But what has faded seems to be the hard edges, the grudges we kept, the comparison to prove who was faster, tougher, better.  I remember only the laughter now, the smiles and a few stupid human tricks that we did, such as putting Bobby Lovelace's little blue car between two parking meters near the Dairy Queen. 

Left to our own devices, instead of being forced to pose together for school photographs, some of the kids would never have appeared in photographs.  Some were camera shy, some were poor and could not afford a camera and film.  Some were just too busy.  We did not have one person who carried a camera and constantly snapped photographs.  Some took photographs, which were dutifully left in the hands of their mother when they went off to college, military service, their own lives. Once in a while, some of these surface.  I found the simplest of all photographs of Jess Tomey and me.  We were in Long Beach, California and in an amusement park, we stepped into one of the old photo booths and for about $.50, we took four or five photographs. A quick glance at it and Jess comes to life again, as he is laughing in it.  Triggered by that photograph, taken in about 1963, I have a flood of memories, mostly in Pawhuska though some are of California.  We went to so many bad movies at the Friday night previews, mostly horror movies, and they were horrible indeed.  We didn't care.  We weren't movie critics; we were kids, and having the time of our lives in our way. 

I'm grateful for the gathering steps and now for the photographs we were forced to make, for they were often the only record of someone we knew, weren't best friends with, but knew, and now, the great gap of time since then makes them friends.  We have all lost so many friends and any connection to them keeps them alive, so now we clutch at stories to help us remember.  The boy that I barely knew who was standing five places away from me in the photograph has been moved closer to me by the gaps created.  He and I are now best friends as we tell stories about the boys we knew who stood between us in the photograph. 

One of my friends said, and I do not remember which friend, "There will be another gathering, later, in a better place, and we shall all get together then, to remember and tell stories as we once did.  Only this time, it will last an eternity."  Perhaps it too will be on The Gathering Steps.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Motor Scooter

This model is a 1958 version and that was my first motor scooter. The Cushman Corporation of Lincoln, Nebraska built the motor scooter and marketed it through their dealer network as the Pacemaker. This photograh is used with permission, courtesy of Howard33,
The model that I had was the Allstate Jetsweep, sold by Sears and Roebuck company. For a generation that gets information via television and the Internet, it may be difficult to grasp the idea of a large catalog that was mailed to your home each and every year and either took the place of a large store or complemented it with additional information. The stores from which we received catalogs were Sears and Roebuck (Sears), Montgomery Ward, and Speigel. There were others that were seasonal, or sold fruits, nuts, and gift baskets, but Sears and Montgomery Ward were the most interesting to a boy of twelve or so. The Sears' and Ward's catalogs had motor scooters in their pages. Sears always had one model of everything labeled as "Our Best," which meant it was the most expensive. I was desperately searching for the motor scooter I wanted combined with what I thought my mother would let me get. There was a Cushman dealer in Bartlesville and I wanted a Cushman Eagle but certain realities led to my getting the Jetsweep. My mother drove my friend Terry Rainwater and me (we always had to have a friend along) to Tulsa, to the newly opened Sears' store on 21st Street and Yale, and I picked out the Jetsweep. It was delivered on Wednesday of the following week and the wait from that Saturday until Wednesday was one of the longest in my life, not counting the four years to the end of my navy service.

When Wednesday arrived, a large group of boys had gathered to see the new motor scooter and we waited as it was unloaded from the Sears delivery truck. There was a seemingly endless processing of papers as my mother read and signed and exchanged conversation with the senior delivery man, and then we started it and I took my first ride on it. I did not yet have a driver's license. I had turned fourteen in February and this was in April so I soon had a license and I was off on my rides. There was no passenger seat; just the back half of the cushion so a passenger and I shared that. I had the flat board to rest my feet on; the passenger had to fend for himself. The brake lever and headlight dimmer switch were the only controls on the floor as the throttle was a twist grip on the right handlebar. It was quite easy to ride. The Pacemaker and Jetsweep models did not require gear shifting as there was a single speed only. There was a simple centrifigal clutch with a throw out bearing that allowed the scooter to idle; as you increased engine speed the bearing moved out and engaged the clutch and the scooter moved under its own power. The problem was that, with its 4.8 brake horse power (BHP) engine and single speed transmission, the scooter was underpowered, so that it could climb only the hill at 18th Street in hilly Pawhuska, Oklahoma; or I could drive down Main Street, across town and take Tinker past the cemetery and over the gentle rises of the numbered streets from 15th to 18th. It was embarrassing sometimes to start up a hill, like Ki-He-Kah, with a flurry of noise and smoke, and end up pushing the scooter to the top, with the engine running and struggling to help while friends went by hanging out of their parents' car shouting "Get a horse!" I wanted to sometimes. Still, I was filled with pride that I had a scooter of any kind and this model had unique beauty. I suspect few of them survive and maybe that is fair. The scooter had many problems and eventually my mother helped me replace this with a 1959 Cushman Eagle with the 8 horsepower engine and two speed transmission. Everything was going well with that until I was hit by a car and nearly killed; but that's another story.