January 14th…“DID YOU HAVE A SWEETHEART WHILE ATTENDING BATTLE GROUND HIGH SCHOOL? HOW DID YOU MEET?
Her voice was rife with each tersely tossed invective. My fellow 8th Grade classmate, in the row of student desks next to mine, pleaded for the return of her belongings from the obnoxious assailant sitting behind me. The tall and gangly culprit, named “James”, had reached across the aisle and swiped something of value from her desk top. Being new to this town and recently enrolled in this school, I quietly observed as the young woman’s decibels of voice came in subdued tones so as not to attract Mr. Torstenbo’s unwanted attention while he attempted to teach us History. Unknownst to me, at the time, this young lady and “James” had known each other since Grade School days at Glenwood Heights Elementary School. Glenwood was located at the south end of our large school district and was one of the many schools that funneled its students, eventually, to Battle Ground Junior High and Senior High School.
Longtime classmates, or not, I saw the behavior of “James” to be rude, crude, lewd and unacceptable. Sensing a “damsel in distress”, I quietly twisted my torso, in the student desk, to face “James” and said, “Why don’t you just give her back what belongs to her and quit buggin’ her.” “What’s it to you KID??!!”, blurted back my hormonal combatant. I once again restated my directive to the boisterous bully, to which he retorted, “Ya wanna step outside in the hall? Ya wanna fight?”. I responded, “There’s no need to fight, just do as I ask!” Even though “James” was easily a full head taller than me, and likely could have pounded me senseless, I stood my ground and re-addressed my demand for the return of the poor girl’s belongings. Having called his bluff, he said to the young lady, “Awww, you’re no fun!!” and gave her back what was rightly hers.
The verbal “jousting match” ended with perfect timing as the hall bells loudly clanged their sounding of the end of this class. Our classroom was on the second story of the ivy-covered Old East High Building, so I knew I had better get going to be on time for my next class. Like Pavlov’s dog, those bells made me automatically bend over and gather my textbooks. I exited the classroom for the stairwells that would take me to ground level and across campus to Mr. Storie’s Shop Class. A feminine voice behind me said, “Excuse me? My name’s Derra Abernathy and I wanted to say thank you for getting my things back to me in History Class!” “You’re very welcome! Glad to have helped out!”, came my reply. Now, she could have just walked on to her next classroom and dropped the incident in the portals of straying life occurrences, but instead, that day, a new friendship was born between a lonely, former farm-boy and this lovely young lady named Derra. Per chance could you say I had become her Norwegian “knight in shining armor”?
Now I didn’t feel so all alone there in that gigantic school campus with the many hundreds of students milling about from class to class. As each day went by, Derra and I enjoyed getting to know each other more and more. We felt so comfortable with each other that it was only natural that we even exchanged phone numbers. “Puppy Love” yearnings gained a foothold as we began seeing each other as often as “free time” would allow in between classes or at lunch. Over time, it was easy for all to see that we were “a couple”, “going steady”, or whatever terminology that young love could be labeled by. Even lunch time could be “romantic” when we stepped off campus to frequent “Bea & Don’s Grocery Store”. There we’d purchase a “Mug Rootbeer” and one yummy Maple Bar. While walking back onto the school campus, Derra would take a bite from her end of the Maple Bar and I’d enjoy a bite from my end. Back and forth we’d partake until there was only one bite left in the middle……..with that last bite, we’d KISS!! 😉
With each passing school year, there at Battle Ground High School, Derra and myself looked forward to the football season. Here would be another scenario of our creative wills to be together with each other and allow romance to blossom all the more. It was easy for me to attend the games, since our brand new home was just up on Hawthorne Street at the north side of town. For my young lady, though, it was a different story; she’d have to beg n plead for her grouchy dad to drive her the six or seven miles into town. With fragrances of Fall in the air, and with our “Tiger” Stage Band playing in the Stadium, I’d be on my tip-toes, in the crowd, as I’d strain to see Derra being dropped off in the parking lot. There she was!!! Hand in hand, we giddily made our way up to the very top bleacher seats inside our relatively new football stadium grandstand. From the “Press Box”, suspended in the Stadium’s rafters, old gravel-voiced Mr. Martin (another teacher on the High School Faculty) would call the football plays happening down on the field. Neither one of us being much for football itself, we attended the game as an opportunity to cuddle n coo with each other. Warm we were as we snuggled against the chill Fall winds that roared in along with many a rain storm that turned the football field below us into a player-churned mud pit. Oh sure, when one of our “Tigers” made a touchdown, we’d jump up and down to cheer the team on; but, mostly, our rendezvous was intended to relish the company of each other.
During our three years together, we had even reached a point in our relationship where marriage was an option we were entertaining. But, then came a day when this Norwegian “knight” fell from his “white charger”. Instead of protecting her heart, I had allowed words to wound her. Unintentional as they were, yet they were said. Now, my armor no longer shined and instead began to chink and rust away. Many decades have passed, since those golden days of that high school love. Even in my human frailties, I am now, and will always be grateful for those warm memories and, even though momentary, the knightly times of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.