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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bona School the conclusion: Poetry, Shinny, and Spelling

Bona School 1937 Conrad is in the very back on the left, leaning on door jam.  A somewhat sullen look I recognize from his grandsons.

Bona School gave us a solid foundation in all the basics—English, mathematics, science, history, geography, etc.  The big advantage was that, since each class was so small (there were seventeen of us in my class and it was one of the larger ones), we got lots of individual attention from the teachers.  We also got a lot of lessons that were not in the curriculum, especially after Mr. Mitchell came there in 1934.  He always took advantage of our individual characteristics and got his points across.
Sometimes, to our dismay, Mitchell’s lessons were severe and could be embarrassing.  We were usually assigned homework for over the weekend.  On one occasion for English, Mitchell told us to write an original poem.  I thought that would be a snap and, as often happened, blithely put it off until Sunday evening.  When I finally got down to it words seemed to just pop into my mind as I put them on paper.  I had absolutely no recollection of having read or heard them anywhere.  As far as I was concerned they simply came to me.
Monday for our English recitation each of us had to stand up and read the poem we had written.  When my turn came I walked to the front and proudly read what I thought was a dandy poem.  It was about Heaven and Hell.  I do not now recall the first stanza but the ending was:
“The road to that bright happy region, is a dim narrow path so they say.
But the broad one that leads to perdition, is posted and blazed all the way.”
They seemed to like my poem and Mr. Mitchell reached to take the paper and I figured I would get an A; however, the Simmons sisters, Lois and Martha, were whispering to each other and then Lois’ hand shot into the air.
“Mr. Mitchell,” Louis said, “that is not Conrad’s original poem.  We got a new book of cowboy songs from the Grand Ol’ Opry the other day and that is in one of the songs in it!”  [indeed, Google lists it in a collection of Cowboy Songs and Ballads]
I froze in dismay and I could feel my ears getting warm as my face turned beet red in embarrassment.  I could not recall ever having heard the song, but I did listen to the Grand Ol’ Opry from Nashville one in a while on Grandpa’s radio and supposed that I could very well have then forgot until the words came back to me.  The whole room was looking at me and most of them were smirking perhaps because I was usually one of the ones who got the best grades, seemingly without effort.  There was some snickering.
“Well, now, Conrad,” Mr. Mitchell said in his mild way, “is that right?”
I tucked my head and stammered, “Well—I—uh—I dunno.  I suppose I might have heard it sometime on the radio, but I sure don’t remember and I know I never saw it anywhere.  I did not copy it from anything.”
“All right,” he said, “I am sure you are telling the truth, but there is a word that I think that everyone should remember.  I want you to write ‘plagiarism’ on the blackboard then get the dictionary and read the definition of plagiarize to the class.”
I did as he said, mis-spelling it when I left out “I”, then got the dictionary and read in a weak voice, “plagiarize—to appropriate and pass off as one’s own the writings, ideas, etc., of another.”
It was a mortifying and humbling experience.  That lesson stuck with me so well that thereafter I was so careful to write down only my own words that sometimes, as in a science report, I would not even quote a book when I could have, but would put the idea into my own words.  That resulted in the ideas and concepts being firmly implanted in my mind and sometime I could clarify what the author meant or improve on it.  I believe that Mr. Mitchell was fully aware of that.
The Bona School grounds were a full acre so there was plenty of room for our recess and lunchtime sports so we got plenty of exercise even though there were no organized sports activities.  Originally there had been backstops in front of the school and the school had a basketball team.  About the time we started there, however, the basketball backstops had rotted off and they were taken out and not replaced.  The men of the community built teeter-totters and swings on the south side of the building for the smaller children.  We who were older contented ourselves with games of longbase baseball and, in the large open area south of the school, shinny and football.
All of us boys played shinny, which is a version of field hockey.  We made our own shinny sticks by selecting a hickory sapling the right size and having a big root at the base that could be carved into a rough approximation of a wood golf club.  We always used an empty Pet Milk can for a puck.  That meant that eventually the game could get a mite dangerous the metal can would soon get beat into a compact, jagged ball of metal.  If you got a fair poke at it with that hickory shinny stick, it would fly through the air like a bullet and raise bruises and cuts.  It was necessary to duck in a split second sometimes. 
Shinny was also very good for footwork.  If a player did not have the knack of dancing out of the way, his bare ankles could get to be a mass of bruises and small cuts from either that beat up Pet Milk can or the opponents shinny sticks.  We certainly did not need Nintendo games for hand/eye coordination!
Our Bona School brand of football was we were playing it when Mr. Mitchell first came onto the scene could be a dangerous game as well.  It was an un-coached, rough and tumble, full tackle game without benefit of yard markers or referee.  We had not pads other than our overalls and shirt and a jacket and clodhopper shoes late in the fall when the weather got cold.  Our specialty was the flying tackle.  I only weighed a bit over a hundred pounds but when I took off full tilt and made a leaping dive at a larger ball carrier, he was almost guaranteed to get knocked off his feet and probably lose the ball.  You had to knock the ball away because we did not know about ten yards in four downs.
The first fall he was there, Mr. Mitchell came out to watch one of our lunch hour football games and was soon shaking his head in dismay.  He thought someone was going to get badly hurt although I do not remember any injuries beyond good bruises and fairly frequent bloody noses.  Of course you often got the wind knocked out of you but we took that as a matter of course and part of the game. 
Mitchell soon banned the flying tackles, insisting that we keep our feet on the ground at all times.  He taught us about touch football, yard markers, tec. But somehow the game just was not the same after that.  We privately agreed that he was making us play sissy football and began to lose interest.  One result was an increase in the number of good fist fights because we needed some way to work off our aggressions, I guess.
I look back fondly at my years at Bona School for many reasons—not the least of them being that I found it easy to be at the top of the class scholastically.  The reason was that I was very curious about everything and I wanted to learn everything I could.  I did not like to be wrong and I did not like not to know something.
None of the boys could match my grades (most of them just did not care) and almost none of the girls with the exception of Martha Simmons (who would go on to a career as a teacher) and Cook Neil’s daughter Mary.  For instance, almost invariably when were was a spell-down, it would be Mary Neil and me who would be the finalists and it was a toss-up as to who would trip up first—and sometimes it was me who went down first.  In retrospect, I am grateful that I had Mary Neil’s competition to spur me on—but I did not much like her at the time.