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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bona School part 5: Lesson of a School Play

An outfit similar to what might have been worn by the author for his school play

I never forgot one lesson that I learned at Bona School that stood me in good stead in later years when my career at Boeing got me involved in public speaking.  One of the school plays that we put on around 1933 or 1934 involved some skits that depicted going to school in an 1880s’ schoolroom.  I was to be dressed in a homespun shirt and old time short pants.

My mother found some authentic clothes for me to wear.  Pour neighbor Bertha Beck had a truck full of old clothes from the time when her father was a boy.  She loaned me a pair of short homespun pants, a pair of galluses, and an old-fashioned white shirt.  The skit called for my pants to have a big ragged hole in the seat.  Of course Bertha did not want her father’s pants ruined so my mother loosely pasted on a piece of white cloth.  In the light of those few gasoline lanterns she figured that the audience would not know the difference and it turned out that it worked great.

I do not recall the point of the whole skit but there were several of us in it.  When my turn came I stood up in my clodhopper shoes (I was wearing a pair of my father’s work shoes so they really looked clumsy) and faced the audience to recite a ditty.  As my grandmother once said, I could not carry a tune in a milk bucket so I sort of chanted:

“Nine o’clock spelling lesson just begun,

Johnnie throws a spitball—just fer fun,

Hits the teacher’s ear with an aw-ful splat—

She turns around and says, ‘Now who did that!’

“Jonnie’s told to stand up with his face to the wall,

He says ‘I dowanna’ and he tries to stall.

If’n I stood up there I’d take an aw-ful chance—

Cause I gotta big hole in the seat of my paints!”

During the punch line I turned my back to the audience, bent over so they could see the fake hole, and peered at them through my spread-apart legs.  I had sweaty palms the whole time but it turned into a very gratifying moment.  Everyone laughed, applauded, and there was even a whistle or two.  I could feel my somewhat oversize ears getting red from embarrassment as I stood and bowed stiffly as I had been instructed to do.  I left the stage with a very good feeling about getting up in front of people.  It gave me confidence that would stand me in good stead later on as a commencement speaker, lead in my high school paly in 1939, and—much later on—in public speaking literally all over the world.

My mother’s idea about the fake hole in the seat of my pants worked so well that, after the program, Bertha Beck came around a bit upset that we had ruined her daddy’s pants by tearing a hole in them.  She was quite relieved when I showed her that it was just a piece of an old handkerchief basted on.

The deep impression that little performance made on me is probably why, after all these years, I am able to recall every word of my little ditty.

Although short, this episode give me a lot to think about as my father's great-grandchildren have been in several plays.  What influence of that will we see down the road?

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