About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Finding a Tribe

There was a double incentive for me to make good grades at Vancouver High.  I knew that the higher I kept my grade point average, the better chance I would have in getting a crack at the Annapolis examination when I joined the Navy.  I also had the incentive of keeping up with my brother Dick.  We had both discovered that our years in those country schools had left us, if anything, somewhat ahead of our peers.  Just one class ahead of me, old Richard was maintaining aggravatingly close to a four-point average.  Matter of fact, seemingly with seldom cracking a book at home.  In 1938 Richard was to graduate on the honor roll, twelfth out of a class of 287.  My work was cut out for me.
                During my junior year at VHS, I still had not shed my shyness and reserve from feeling that I was just an old country boy from the Ozark hills.  Particularly in the presence of the rather new breed of girls that I found in high school, I was almost tongue-tied and not aggressive.  I did start getting acquainted with a few of the west side girls like friendly and very likeable Lena Helm, but most of my friends were boys.
                The only achievement I could claim during my junior year, other than a better than 3.5 grade average (which did not please me as I had maintained close to straight A’s at Bona) was at one of the football rallies.  There was to be a contest to see who could show up as the worst-dressed bum.
                That was duck soup for me.  I fished out one of my old pairs of overalls that were much too short, put on a torn blue work shirt of Dad’s from the rag bag, left one suspender hanging down, blacke my face with burnt cork for a beard, donned a beat-up old felt hat, made a bundle in a red bandanna to carry over my shoulder on a stick, and appropriated one of Dad’s old corncob pipes.  I won hands down and was awarded a little cartoon certificate at the next Friday school assembly by Roger Camp, the student body president.  Otherwise, during the 1937-38 school year, I had little claim to fame.
                I did not ignore the “fair sex” entirely.  I had discovered that I had a knack for dancing and often attended the noon sock hops in the gym and some of the evening dances.  I was quite smitten off and on with a variety of pretty girls but did not yet have the courage to approach most of them.  I suppose that I felt that many of them were “out of my league”, not realizing that I was passably personable and many would have readily accepted a date.  I had dance or movie dates occasionally, but always sooner or later I would wind up back drinking Coca Cola or going to a movie with Patty.  I privately wished fervently that she were older so that I could take her to the school dances.
                (It is possible that Pat Cross and I might have developed a more permanent relationship had I not suffered from an attack of stupidity after a while—but that is a later part of my story.)
                Sometime during that year the “Gearhart Gang” came into being—those of us drom the west side that used Mrs. Gearhart’s drugstore as an after-school hangout.  The regulars included pert and pretty Ariel Mansfield who had dropped out of school and lived with her mother in a storefront next to the drugstore, David Schaeffer from an apartment building a half block away, another dark-haired girl from the same apartment (I forget her name), and two or three others, often including brother Dick and an olive-skinned handsome young fellow named D’arcy DeJuan.  I do not recall much about D’arcy but he was often around with Richard and got so he sort of wandered in and out of our house like it was a second home.  My mother liked D’arcy and had no objections even when he showed up for a meal without prior notice.
                The “Gearhart Gang” is difficult to explain.  We rarely chummed around together away from the drugstore except for a dance once in a great while or maybe a little beer drinking down by the river, but it was sort of a second family relationship.  Recently [1989] I found Ariel with her husband Buster Davis (who was in my class) at the 50th reunion of the VHS Class of ’39.  In introducing her to Phyllis, my wife, I was sort of at a loss to explain our relationship since never once did I date Ariel.  Ariel solved that—in answer to Phyllis’ questions about what the Gearhart Gang did, Ariel tossed her head and laughed, “We grew up!”