Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Growing Up in Himni Utah - Episode 12

The Omner Valley Jr. High, had been the High School before the new one was built. Before it was the High School it had been the Omner Valley Stake Acadamy. It was built in about 1915 and showed it’s age. It was a three story brick structure. Holes had been drilled through the walls and long pipes installed with large plates on the outside of the brick. These were intended to bolt the whole place together. A large tube had been retrofitted to the northside third floor as a fire escape. The upper entrance was always locked to keep us from horsing around in it, so we’d climb up from the bottom and slide down anyway. We always wondered if the person with the key would be there if a fire ever occurred.
OVJH had a combination auditorium/gymnasium. The gym floor doubled as a stage. The auditorum seating, including a large balcony, accomodated the entire student body and half the town. If you sat too far to the left though, the curtains hid the basketball bankboard on that end. Same thing on the right. Butch Farley’s gang loved sitting in the balcony with pea shooters during basketball games.
It was in that auditorium that I saw the second most amazing athletic feat of my life. My pal Ronnie Hulet was probably the greatest, natural born athlete I ever met. He never went out for sports, to the dismay of all the coaches, but the things he could do were legendary. In Omner Valley Jr. High, he was fastest up the rope, impossible to hit with a dodge ball and could do triple the pull ups of anyone in the eighth grade. One day I walked into the auditorium just in time to see him standing on the rim of the basketball hoop. He dived, and I mean head first, on to the bare hardwood floor. I thought I was watching a suicide attempt! When he reached the floor though, he completed the slickest roll you ever saw and came up standing on his feet, a broad grin spread clear across his face. The coaches forbade Ronnie from ever doing it again; but secretly they bragged about him every chance they got. The funny thing is, he never played sports because his Mom didn’t want him to get hurt.
The school got a new English teacher that year. Her name was Miss Cornelia Green. She was reported to have been an accomplished journalist with the Chicago Tribune. No one could ever explain though, why an accomplished journalist would leave her career in Chicago to teach brats at Omner Valley Jr. High. She was a big boned, manly woman. She dyed her hair blonde. The dark roots of her coarse tangle of shoulder length mane were always showing. She had little cosmetic talent and her make up looked like it amounted to weeks of layers. It was often caked on so thick it cracked, as did her bright red lip stick. She had a black mole right on the tip of her nose which always managed to shine through by noon. Quite frankly, looking back, I honestly wonder if she wasn’t really George C. Scott hiding out in the Witness Protection Program.
Miss Green managed no degree of classroom discipline. This was not for lack of effort. One time she went to smite me on the back of the hand with a ruler. I managed to catch the ruler and we shook it between us for a few moments before she let her end go and retreated to her desk. She would storm from commotion to commotion feigning fury but wasn’t a good enough actress to pull it off. Her storming was amusing to watch though. You could see the frustration building up, then she’d rock way back on her heels as if winding up and would launch her enormous body forward in a thundering charge. More than once the teachers on the floor below had sent up delegations to plead for less commotion from our room. Their, biggest complaint? “It sounded like a herd of cattle stampeding across the floor.” We soon learned that there wasn’t a mean bone in her body and instead of loving her for it we took horrible advantage.
Finally, about half way through the year, she gave up on trying to teach us anything and resorted to reading stories and books to us. She hoped at least to pique our interest in literature. Mostly, she selected wonderful stuff and I for one, sat in wrapt attention as Sherlock Holmes or Robinson Crusoe or Jean Valjean’s adventures paraded across the stage of my imagination.
Ronnie Hulet, on the other hand, had a very hard time sitting still in any situation. To do nothing but listen to Cornelia Green read for an hour was torture for him. He’d have gladly taken P.E. seven periods a day, where he’d surely have received straight A’s. Sometimes he’d cope by drifting off to sleep. Along about the end of April though, when the weather was warming up nicely, the compulsion to be outside running overtook Ronnie. Right in the middle of Red Badge of Courage, he stood up and screamed, “I’ve had it, I can’t take this anymore!” Whereupon, he dashed across the room and dived out the second story window!
Miss Green staggered, her eyes rolled back and down she went. It was not a pretty sight. For one thing women and girls wore dresses to school in those days. When she came to, it was Ronnie who was fanning her face with a file folder. She thought she’d halucinated the whole thing. And I realized that this was the premier athletic accomplishment I’d ever witnessed.
Ronnie Hulet moved away the next Summer and I never heard of him again. Cornelia Green never returned to Himni after that year either. They say she went back to Chicago and journalism. I keep hoping someday she’ll write her version of the story. I’d like to close my eyes and listen to her read it.

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