Birth Through Junior High

(1917-1932) -- (0-15 years)

Chapter 2 Section G



by Glenn D. McMurry



The summer after I graduated from the eighth grade, my life in a little country school was over. It was time to think about the next step in my education. Since my brother had gone to the four-year high school in the nearby town of Partridge, I supposed thatís where I would go. However, that wasnít to be.

"Glenn," my Dad said one day in August, "itís time to enroll you in Sherman Junior High School."

That was a real surprise to me. "Why canít I go to Partridge High School like Junior did?" I asked.

My folks were quick to fill me in on the realities of the situation. Junior was no longer in high school. He was ready to enroll in Hutchinson Junior College. Partridge was nine miles west and Hutchinson was only five miles north of us. As well as being closer, the Hutchinson schools were much larger and offered more varied educational opportunities.

"It will be better for you to go to one of Hutchinsonís two junior high schools for your ninth grade, and then youíll be ready for your last three years of high school there."

I knew there was no use to argue about it. Maybe the folks thought that since Junior didnít do too well in his studies, he simply had too much fun at Partridge. Of course, as fate would have it, we moved to western Kansas after my year at Sherman, so I didnít go to Hutchinson High after all.

At that time Hutchinson had two junior high schools, Liberty and Sherman. Liberty was in the northwest part of town and Sherman in the southeast. I could see the folks had already made up their minds for me to go to Sherman. It was closer and I had a ride. Roger, a close neighbor drove by our house every day on his way to Hutchinson High School and they thought it would be an easy way to get me to and from school.

"Wouldnít you like to go visit Sherman and see what itís like?" Dad asked one day. "Iím going to town today and it would be a good time for you to come with me to visit the school. How about it?"

I knew for sure then that I was headed for Sherman Junior High School. Since I always liked to go to town, I reluctantly agreed to go along with Dad.

It didnít take us long to drive the five miles to town and another mile into town to Sherman. In fact, since I wasnít too anxious to get there, it seemed to be a shorter trip than usual. Dad parked the car in front of the gate that was near the corner of Sherman and Maple Streets.

Looking over the Building

Sherman High School was a large L-shaped red brick building with white rock trimmings. To me, that building, which was the only one in the block, was an imposing structure. The entire block was fenced and I wasnít so sure I liked that idea. There were about ten steps leading up to the front door.

 "Look, Dad, look! They have all kinds of playground equipment."

I had spied such things as swings parallel bars and a basketball court. At least I knew Iíd like those things.

We entered the school and found the principalís office.

"Glennís ready to start junior high school and heíd like to learn something about the school before he enrolls. Would you tell him some things about it?" Dad asked the principal.

Professor Steinheimer looked just like I imagined a principal should look. As he stood up to greet us, I knew he was in charge. He was tall and slim. He had a black mustache, and wore bone-rimmed glasses. When he looked at me with those piercing eyes, I wasnít so sure that I wanted to go to school there.

"Hello, Glenn, welcome to Sherman," he said.

He sounded pleasant enough, and made me feel he really meant that welcome. Maybe Professor Steinheimer was a nice guy after all.

"What would you like to do when you grow up?" he asked.

"I want to be a carpenter and I like to play the piano," I responded. That was all he wanted to know, and away we went on a tour of the place.

"The music room is just around the corner. Iíd like to show it to you first," he said. "I believe Miss Billings, our vocal teacher, is here today."

Sure enough Miss Billings was in her room. Professor Steinheimer introduced us. When he told Miss Billings that I could play the piano, her face lit up.

"So you play the piano," she said.

Of course I could play the piano. Iíd been playing the piano since was six. I nodded my head "yes," and followed her to the piano.

"Can you play this number, Glenn?" she asked, shuffling through some sheet music and choosing one for me to try.

I sat down at the piano and sight-read the piece. It was a piece of cake. She was impressed, apparently.

"I already have an accompanist for the boysí glee club, but Iíve been looking for someone for the girls. I have a really good group. Also I have a great operetta planned for this year, Glenn. If you donít mind being with the girls, Iíd really like to use you."

By that time I was really excited. I never enjoyed playing solos after my contest experiences, but I did like to play for others to sing.

"I donít mind," I said. "Iíd like to play for the girls and for an operetta." Of course, I didnít really know much about operettas, but it sounded like fun.

Miss Billings was so nice. She seemed to like me and I knew I already liked her. After she showed Dad and me some more about the music room, the principal continued our tour of the rest of the building.

The school building impressed me. There were many interesting classrooms for such subjects as English, civics, band, and algebra. Then we went to the gym, and to my surprise in it were showers.

Of course, Professor Steinheimer didnít show me the place where they taught sewing and cooking. Only girls took such subjects in those days. He took me downstairs to the manual training room.

"This is the classroom where we teach metal and wood work," he said. "Youíll enjoy this class."

Wow! There were lots of workbenches and all kinds of hand and power tools. That class would be just what I wanted, for sure.

On the rest of the tour through the building we went down long halls, up and down several flights of stairs, past studentsí lockers and even took time to see the toilets. I was impressed.

"Now," the principal said. "Letís go to my office and get you signed up for your classes."

For sure, Sherman Junior High School with its indoor flushing toilets and showers in the gym was nothing like my Elmer Grade School. Also there would be a whole roomful of kids my age in each of my classes, and whatís more, weíd move from room to room with a different teacher for each subject.

We went back to the office and I was properly enrolled in my ninth grade classes. In a way, I was a little excited, but the whole thing was also scary. I was ready to get back home to more familiar surroundings, and Iíd worry about the first day of school later on.

My Pin-striped Overalls

As the time for school to start came near, Mom began to think about clothes for me to wear.

"Glenn, you are used to wearing overalls. How about getting you a nice pair of white and blue pin-striped ones?"

At the time, I thought it was a good idea. At least I wouldnít have to wear my old worn-out overalls. I think Mom got two pairs. She figured Iíd probably get my overalls dirty right away and she didnít want to have to wash them every night.

When I arrived at school that September morning, I realized that I had a problem. I looked different from the other boys. I didnít see a single boy with overalls, let alone pinstriped ones. I wondered why Mom got them for me.

My first class was called homeroom. That was where roll was taken each morning. The teacher filled out a piece of paper, which was picked up by a trusted student who collected them from all the rooms and took them to the office.

Each student was assigned to a desk in alphabetical order. Mine was near a window in about the middle row of the room. From my seat I had a good opportunity to look over all the kids. They were all city kids, and didnít dress anything like the country kids I was used to seeing. The boys all wore shirts and pants just as if they were going to church or some dress-up affair. For sure, there were no overalls. I thought I looked awful! All I had to wear was overalls. I knew Mom wouldnít let me wear my Sunday clothes to school.

There was one nice thing about my new overalls. Dad always wore overalls and carried his large watch in his bib pocket. When I went to Sherman, the folks got me a watch to put in my bib pocket also. I was continually pulling out my watch and comparing it with the clocks in front of each classroom. I killed lots of time checking my watch. I also liked to watch the second hand. The school clocks didnít have second hands. They changed by the minute. Did you ever think how long a minute takes?

I think I wore out that watch pocket checking the time. At first I changed the time on my watch from room to room, but finally I decided that was a waste. What was important was when that large bell rang signaling the time to change classes or to go home. Going home was the most fun. At home, I could play outside with Rover, Diffy and my wagon. I didnít look ahead to school the next morning. It was boring! They were always making me do something that I didnít especially enjoy doing, like reading, reciting and taking quizzes. Although I did like manual training and music, going back home to the farm was more fun.

Gym Class and My First Real Shower

The minute I saw the gym and the showers I knew I was going to have a problem. The showers were in one big room and there were no partitions so one could have privacy. I could see that I was going to have to take off all my clothes and use those showers. Taking a shower wasnít really the problem. In fact, I was quite excited about the idea, as I had never had the opportunity to take a shower before. In fact we didnít have running water in our house at that time. However, showering naked together with other kids was something else. Never in my life had I ever seen a naked kid, let alone twenty or thirty naked kids.

The time came for my gym class. We put on our gym clothes and did several kinds of exercises. Then it happened!

"OK, boys," the coach said at the close of my first day in gym class, "take your showers and get dressed. You have five minutes before your next class."

The coach assured us that the next time we would get to play basketball. That sounded like fun, but right now I had the more immediate problem of getting naked to take that shower with all the other boys.

"After your shower, be sure to put your wet towels in that large basket near the door," the coach called after us.

I tried not to look at the other kids taking off their clothes, and I hoped none of them were looking at me.

Well, the other kids didnít seem to mind a bit. They were running around enjoying the fun. After all, most of them had been attending Sherman for their seventh and eighth grades. They had done this many times. They werenít paying any attention to how I looked. So I took off my gym clothes stuffed them in my locker and joined the gang of naked kids.

What a relief! I had survived my first corporate shower experience and nothing terrible had happened. Actually, I had enjoyed that first shower, even though it was a public affair. I even began to look ahead to the next gym class when I could strip and take another shower.

Girlsí Glee Club

Playing the piano for a roomful of girls was a touchy time for me at first. I was already embarrassed about my overalls and knew they were all making fun of me behind my back. Miss Billings did her best to put me at ease. She often let me know how much she appreciated my playing for her, and that helped lots.

I do remember one particularly embarrassing time. We were getting ready for the operetta and they were discussing their costumes.

"What kind of under pants should we wear?" one girl asked.

After Miss Billings explained in detail just what all the girls in that particular scene should wear, she suddenly realized I was in the room. Then the girls giggled when they remembered I was there.

"Look, Glennís blushing," one girl said.

Of course, by that time I was blushing. I suppose the kids of today would think nothing of such a situation, but in my day everything wasnít so out in the open. Certain subjects were not discussed in mixed company.

I did play for the operetta that year and got much praise for my job. It was good to be a success and that helped make my school days at Sherman more pleasant.

The Cover of the Program for the Operetta "Pickles"

The Entire Cast of "Pickles"

As my reputation as a piano player grew, I even got an opportunity to play with the band. The band director said he liked having a pianist to help the kids keep time. I didnít really enjoy playing with the band. I wasnít used to playing along with the instruments. Besides, he only wanted me to play chords. That wasnít my piece of cake.

Manual Training Class

Probably the best thing about my year at Sherman was my manual training class. The teacher allowed each of us to choose a project from a catalog he had. I found a little corner shelf I liked.

"Mom would like that," I thought.

I was really proud of that little corner shelf and Mom always displayed it proudly.

Another project I did was refinishing a footstool Mom had gotten from the Larkin Club. She wanted to have the edges of the stool rounded off. Although I enjoyed that project, I was somewhat disappointed in how it looked. The teacher had failed to have me remove the old finish and I couldnít make the rounded-off corners match the rest of the stool. I thought it looked ugly, but Mom liked it and that was important to me.

I got to use the power lathe for the first time on my lamp project. That was exciting, but the project was a failure. The piece of walnut wood I was using had a knot in it and no amount of fixing would make it look nice. I finally gave up on that project.

The stool and corner shelves are still in my possession. I retrieved them when Mom had to move from the farm due to failing health.


I had trouble with two guys in Sherman. One was a fat kid who sat directly behind me in gym as we waited our turn to shoot basketball goals. He thought it was lots of fun to reach up and mess my hair. I hated that. One day, I was ready for him. Just as he started to reach over and mess my hair, I turned towards him and with a swing of my hand, I let him have it! I slapped him so hard his teeth rattled. He was absolutely stunned. That kid slumped down into his seat dazed. I quickly turned back and waited for him to fight back, but nothing happened. I sat absolutely quiet and waited for the coach to say something, but he apparently didnít notice the fracas.

Well, needless to say, that fat kid "got the point," because he didnít mess my hair again. I guess I should have said that fat kid got the "palm of my hand."

There was another bully in Sherman. He was taller than I was and heíd just follow me around the halls and stare at me. One day, after such a following-around escapade, I stopped, turned around and, looked him straight in the face. He had a sinister grin all over his face. His piercing black eyes bored in upon me like daggers. Those eyes and that mop of black curly hair, all messed up, made him appear even more menacing.

"Oh," I thought, "maybe Iíd better try a non-violent way this time. Iím not sure what heíll do if I try to slap him." So I gave him a tongue-lashing that caused his protruding jaw to drop. Iím sure he thought I was going to sock him.

"You leave me alone, you bully!" I yelled at him, confronting him with as much rage as I could muster.

That guy wilted in his tracks. I guess he decided that I had some fight in me. At any rate, he stopped bullying me.

Those two incidents were the only confrontations I had at Sherman. Writing about them does remind me of Melvin at Jetmore High School. One day he hit me right in the mouth. He poked a hole through my front lip and it was sore for a couple weeks. I didnít respond and he quickly apologized for hitting me. I didnít exactly forgive him for that hit, but I soon got over it. In the end, it hurt him more than it did me. I believe he always felt guilty over the fact that he had hit me, and I hadnít fought back.

Why did he hit me? He told the teacher, sheepishly, I was shoving him out of the line. Of course, in my version of the incident, that wasnít true at all.

Josephine, My First Crush

Until I got to Sherman, I didnít care a thing about girls. That changed the first time I saw Josephine. She was in my study hall. At first I didnít even know her name, but I watched as the teacher called the roll so I could learn her name. She had beautiful black, curly hair, and I thought she had a lovely face. For the first time in my life something within me said, "Sheís my girl!" I didnít know what I was going to do about it, but for sure my hormones were jumping around when I saw her.

One noontime, I had gone downtown to the dime store. Lo and behold, there was Josephine. She was looking at a necklace. I approached her, grinning like crazy.

"Isnít that a nice necklace!" I said.

She agreed with me, but that was the end of the conversation. It was getting close to time to get back to school, and she left.

As soon as she got out of sight, I rushed back to the counter where I saw the necklace and looked at the price. Twenty-five cents! That was all the money I had. Twenty-five cents would take me to the movies.

"Iíll take it," I said to the clerk.

I kept that little necklace in its original little paper sack until the time was right.

"Here, itís yours," I said to her as we stood together near her locker a couple days later.

"Oh, you shouldnít have done that!" she replied.

I was so embarrassed. I just turned and quickly walked away.

After that, for some reason I lost that yearning for Josephine. Frankly, I believe the loss of my quarter affected me. I should have spent it at the Fox Theater on a great Tarzan picture.

Rogers Old Reo

Each day, when it was time to go to school, I watched for Rogers old Reo coming toward our driveway from the south. I always knew I was in for some hilarious rides. He certainly seemed confident in his driving ability, but we passengers were sometimes not so confident. In fact, over-confidence was one of Rogers problems. He was so sure of his driving skills that he often didnít pay close enough attention to what he was doing.

That Reo looked like an over-grown Model-T Ford. It was coal black, was as long as a funeral hearse, and had four black steel disc wheels. Something must have been wrong with its muffler because it made an awful roaring noise.

It was a heavy car and looked like a speeding tank going into battle. At the speed Roger drove it, Iím sure he could have wiped out anything in its way and come out of the fracas without a scratch.

Normally, on most cars of that day, there were two foot controls. The left pedal was the clutch pedal and the right one was the brake. That wasnít so on that old Reo. Sure, it had two pedals down there under Rogers feet, but they operated differently.

The left pedal operated the emergency break. That in it could very well cause a disaster. If one forgot and tried to use it as a clutch, passengers could easily be thrown forward violently. The driverís left foot had to be retrained so he wouldnít use the left pedal except in a real emergency.

The right pedal was a real dilly. The first few inches of the thing operated as the clutch. If Roger pushed it further, it was the regular brake. He had to be a quick-change artist to master those two pedals. The manufacturer must have gotten his plans mixed.

Roger was a large young man, and had a very great likeness for humor. He was always laughing and talking all the time as he drove. He was lots of fun, but the problem came when he was so busy laughing and talking heíd forget there were other vehicles on the road. That caused some anxious moments.

One morning, in a rush to get us to school, Roger decided to pass a slower car. Normally, that would have been no problem, but the morning in question, Roger wasnít watching what he was doing.

"Look out, Roger," I yelled. "Thereís a car coming towards us.

Youíre going to hit it."Realizing he was in a pickle, the only thing he could do was swerve that old Reo to the left causing it to leave the road and head to parts unknown.

Unfortunately, it had been raining that morning and it was slightly muddy. Roger got into a real mess trying to get that old Reo back on the road. In some way, known only to God, he was able to herd it back onto the road without first sliding all the way into the ditch.

Now Roger didnít ever seem to learn his lesson on how to pass cars correctly. He decided, one morning, to attempt to pass a car on the its right side instead of its left. Again, it had been raining and the dirt road along the edge of the cement road was nothing but soft mud.

"Hang on, folks, Iím going to pass this guy on the other side this time."

The minute that old Reo slipped off the side of the pavement it sank into three or four inches of genuine Kansas mud. Roger slammed down the foot pedals, both of them, that is, since both controlled brakes. Away we went, sliding in every direction. This time, I was absolutely certain that we were going to flip over into the ditch, but we didnít. The mud slowed us down. Again, God was good to him. After slipping all over the side of the road for awhile, he was able to get back onto the pavement again.

That old Reo seemed to have a chronic case of gas pains. When it felt bad, it belched out raw gas fumes. Roger knew just what to do to take care of that ailment. Heíd turn off the ignition and then turn it right back on again. The resulting explosion could be heard for a mile and black smoke shot out from the rear of the car.

To make this story more interesting, I have to add another ingredient here: The horse and buggy!

Yoder, Kansas had a number of Amish farm families living close around and they often went to Hutchinson. Since their horses knew the road, they needed little or no driving on the way. The Amish farmers could just ride along in a relaxed fashion so long as no cars challenged them for the road.

This particular serene morning an Amish farmer was riding in his buggy behind his trotting horses, believing his round trip to town and back would be uneventful. What he didnít know, however, was that Roger was also on his way to town with his load of school kids, including me. Although Roger was in a hurry, as usual, he was not about to miss an opportunity for a bit of excitement along the road.

Spying that two-horse buggy ahead, Rogers brain began to function, even though in a slightly depraved way.

"Look kids, watch what happens when I pass this guy," Roger was always laughing about what he was going to do. "The minute I pass that Dutchman, I will coach this old Reo and cause it to Ďcough.í Keep looking back and see what happens!"

Even I knew that coughing meant, "back-fire!" It all sounded like fun at this time of the morning. After all, we were all half-asleep and needed something to awaken us.

We all watched Roger as he passed that rig and moved in front of it. When he got fifty or so feet in front, he did it!

That old tank must have accumulated lots of gas that morning, because when Roger flipped off his ignition switch and turned it on again, all hell broke out. When the smoke cleared so we could see clearly, we kids witnessed something that put us in stitches. When the blast from the tailpipe of that old Reo went off, those horses jumped, reared up, bucked and headed for parts unknown. That Amishman was stunned. Those two horses paid absolutely no attention to their masterís yanking on their reins. Although the driver did everything in his power to quiet them, they continued out of control as long as we could see them.

Roger got the award for creating pandemonium that morning. We kids roared with laughter.

On our way home from school that evening, Roger stopped at Crupperís station for gas. Mr. Crupper told us that Amishman had stopped at the station on his way home from town, and vented his feelings about what had happened that morning. Even hours later he was mad as a wet hen.

"I never saw a madder Dutchman in my life," Mr. Crupper said. "Nor did I ever hear one cuss and swear like he did. I didnít know that the Amish could get so riled up. I thought swearing and cussing was against their religion. Roger, he recognized your car full of kids, so perhaps you should be a little careful the next time you get near him."

As I think about the incident today, I realize it was a dangerous thing for Roger to do. In fact, through the years there were some very bad accidents involving cars and buggies. Finally, the Amish took the hint that cars were here to stay and were dangerous. They began to place red reflectors on the back of their buggies, and when cars came behind them, they would play safe and pull off the pavement.

Kansas winters are sometimes very ugly. We never knew when one of those north blizzards were going to hit. Even when there wasnít a snow blizzard or heavy rain, in cold weather, just a little moisture would cause a crust of ice on the roads, especially early in the mornings.

Such a situation didnít seem to slow Roger down much. Heíd go barreling down the road, regardless of how slick it was.

One such morning we had gotten into the city safely, when suddenly that old Reo started to slip and slide.

"Look, out," someone yelled; "weíre going to hit that curb!"

Roger was in trouble, and he knew it. That old Reo was so heavy that he couldnít control it. It hit the corner of that curb with a big thump, and the front wheel went over. We were all thrown around like rubber balls. Roger wasnít one bit excited. He just backed up and raced on down the street, laughing as he went.

"Whee!" he said. "That was a close one."

It was fortunate for him that there were no policemen around at the time. Also if he had been going any faster when he hit that curb, we could have found ourselves in the middle of the cityís little band stand. It probably wouldnít have hurt the Reo, but the bandstand would have been smashed.

Nothing seemed to damage that old Reo. Iíll bet it is still sitting proudly in some junk pile around Hutchinson.

Itís Over

When I enrolled at Sherman Junior High School, I moved into an almost untenable situation. I came from a one-room school at Elmer to a city school of over a thousand kids. To make matters worse, I was in the ninth grade, the last year of the school program. The class had been together two years previous to my coming and this posed a problem or me.

As I was the only one to come from Elmer School, I had absolutely no friends there at all. Of course , as the year went on, I did make some friends. However, since I lived in the country, they werenít the kind of friends with whom I could exchange visits.

I hated my civics class. I never had the right answer to Miss Clarksonís questions. When she asked me a question, the kids would turn and look at me as though they knew I was going to blow it.

English wasnít quite so bad. Miss Hege, at least, was pleasant and tried to make things interesting.

Largely because of manual training and music, the year wasnít all bad. I loved music and got much pleasure from playing for that operetta. The praise I got for doing that shoved my ego up dozen or more notches.

I passed my classes all right, but I wasnít a Rhodes scholar. I did get on the "B" honor roll the last six weeks. Miss Stewart, my algebra teacher, gave me some extra help so I could raise my grade. I always maintained that what I learned by practical experience was much more important to me than being on the honor roll. For me, school would have been just fine without grade cards. They were such a nuisance.

When school was out, I was happy to be able to spend all my time at home on the farm. Little did I know that before long we would be leaving that home for "Way out in Western Kansas." That was the title of a ballad I wrote when there. Although I can still play the tune, I can remember only a few of the words I wrote. I do know I made up at least a half dozen verses. They were all about experiences, which are related, in the next part of my story.

End Of Chapter Two