After I graduated from the University of Kansas, with a Master's Degree in Music Education, again I began to dream about going to the Cinema School of the University of Southern California. Actually, USC had always been my first choice before going to KU, but it had seemed too impractical at the time. I still had that matter of money haunting me, and, frankly, after two years at KU, I didn't seem any closer to fulfilling that dream. After all, I had a wife and two little girls to support. Living on the GI bill's ninety dollars a month plus some small income from my work on the farm hadn't allowed us to save anything.
We were told that, unless we had some prior housing arrangements, it would be very hard to find living quarters near USC. It was still too close to the end of the war. War industries in that area, plus GI's returning to school had created a real housing shortage. We decided our best bet was for me to teach a year or so and try to save some money. Also in a couple more years, housing might be more available.
I enjoyed those two years at KU. I felt well qualified to teach both instrumental and vocal music, and I was ready to return to the classroom.
When I learned that the Jetmore Consolidated High School needed a music teacher, I was eager to apply. Jetmore is a small town, as are most Kansas towns, and is not far from my old home town of Hanston. I felt if I moved there, it would be a little like going back to my western Kansas days. We wasted no time in driving there to look over the situation.
Jetmore High School
The high school building was only a small step above the school building at Zook where I had taught before going off to war. It was stuck on the east edge of town, and rather isolated from Jetmore's main business section. It was an old building and many of its facilities needed to be updated. The windows and doors were in such bad shape that dust covered everything when the wind blew. I hate to think how bad it must have been during the "real" dust storms of the thirties. Not many years after I left, it was torn down and a new more modern school was built.
When I applied and showed my credentials, I was hired immediately. Not
only were they needing a music teacher, they also needed someone to run
their audio visual education department. That part was really interesting
to me! Also, I wouldn't be teaching English (thank goodness) or typing.
My principal responsibility would be vocal and instrumental music for the
senior high school students. My band would also include any 7th and 8th
graders who wanted to play in it.
No Housing in Jetmore
Finding a place to live in Jetmore was the next order of business. Would you believe it! The only vacant house in the town, we were told, was an old square white one that some elderly woman owned. She had moved from the house for some unknown reason, and had left one of the two bedrooms and half of the only clothes closet stuffed full of her furniture and other belongings. It had meager utilities. In the kitchen were on old-fashioned kerosene four-burner stove, a pump over the sink, an old refrigerator, a table and a few chairs of a sort. In the tiny front room was a pot-bellied stove. The room itself was so small there was space for only a couple chairs in addition to the stove.
I was disappointed! Zook's facilities for their teachers was a heaven compared with this box of a house. Surely, this town had more than this to offer us.
"Where's the toilet?" I asked "I hope it's a decent place."
I immediately went to investigate that place, and found nothing but a dilapidated outhouse. It looked as if it could easily be blown over in a good wind storm. Besides that, it was about fifty feet from the house and one had to walk through a patch of weeds, mostly ragweed, to get to it. Some of those weeds were three feet high. Because of her hay fever, Darlene certainly didn't appreciate that aspect of our possible housing.
Since the toilet hadn't been used recently, it was full of spiders and cobwebs. Worst of all was the stench surrounding the place.
"Darlene," I said, "this place is disgusting! I simply can't stand having our little girls use it. What do you think?"
Darlene, the practical person she was, reminded me that we had no choice at the moment.
"I think we can get by until something else comes along. Certainly, there must be a better house for us, but we have to do something right now," she said.
Since there was no option, I agreed. We had to have a roof over our
heads, and there wasn't much time before the beginning of school. We paid
one month's rent and hoped we could find something better later on.
Look, a Trailer House
On one of our trips to Hutchinson, not long after school started, we noticed a trailer house for sale on the outskirts of Larned. We didn't think too much about it at first, but since the old house was such a disaster, we suddenly began to wonder just what advantages such a trailer house would offer us.
On our way back to Jetmore, we stopped to look at that trailer house. It took my eye immediately. The outside was made of masonite and was in almost perfect condition. It was tandem-wheeled, meaning two axles in the rear instead of one. When we stepped inside, we thought we were looking into a palace. It was a completely furnished house with a front room, kitchen and bedroom. Of course, there was no bathroom or toilet, but, so what, we had none where we were living. It was so beautifully arranged that both of us fell in love with it.
Directly in front of us as we walked inside was a little drop-leaf table. It even had an extra leaf when needed. Yes, it was a perfect little dinette. To the right was the sitting room with a neat sofa which had drawers built in on both sides. The sofa also made into a bed which would allow us to sleep company. On the left, just inside the door, was an oil-burning heater with an electric fan to circulate the warm air throughout the entire trailer.
We learned that the trailer was built in Indiana and was designed for cold climates. That meant lots to us as Kansas winters can be cold. The trailer was well insulated and it had a double floor containing wooden ducts through which the warm air circulated. There was also a double ceiling with ventilators on each end of the trailer and that helped keep it cool in the summer.
When we turned to our left and walked into the kitchen, we discovered counter space, drawers and closets, a sink, and a butane stove on the right side of the hall. Under the sink was a hot water heater. In contrast to the old house where we were living, the trailer had hot and cold running water. On the left side of the hall was a refrigerator surrounded by storage space.
The whole outfit looked good to us. Having never looked at any trailer houses before, we had no idea what it might cost.
"How much do you want for your trailer?" I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Twenty-four hundred dollars," the guy said, eyeing us. "It's a great buy and it's ready to move into. Just hitch on to it and away you go. How about it?"
The tires were fine and the trailer hitch was no problem as we already had one on our car. We had pulled ordinary trailers before in moving back and forth from Hutchinson to Lawrence while attending Kansas University, and when moving to Jetmore.
We went home in a sort of daze. This would be the answer for us. A trailer
house! Now to find the money to buy that trailer.
My Picnic Wagon
This is a good time to write about the trailers in my life, both imaginary and actual.
My first desire to have a trailer, a "mover wagon" as I called it, was when I was on the farm south of Hutchinson in the late 1920's. I would get the wanderlust every once in awhile. Then I'd hitch up old May, our horse, to our old four-wheeled wagon frame, and load it with some food supplies. I'd pull that wagon out into the field just as far as I could go and make myself a picnic lunch. Of course, I didn't dare go onto the highway. I would feel just a little silly pulling that contraption behind a single horse. The long tongue was designed to have a horse on either side of it. Having only old May, I had to hitch her to a single-tree at the end of the tongue. After all, I couldn't remove the tongue or I wouldn't be able to guide the wagon at all. Cars those days weren't plentiful, and the road was certainly not a raceway. However, if I were to meet anyone, I was sure it would be someone I knew and that would be humiliating. So, I stayed out by the railroad about a half mile from the barn.
As time went on, I wanted to make my wagon even more like a "mover home."
I dragged planks from the back of the machine shop and mounted them on
the wagon frame. Then I put an old discarded wood stove on them. I had
to tie it on with hay baling wire to keep it from falling off as we bumped
around the fields. Of course, I put a chimney on the stove. All stoves
had to have one. What a lot of fun I had!
Frankly, having a trailer home wasn't exactly an original idea of mine. I had gotten it from watching gypsy wagons being pulled by a team of horses. They lumbered back and forth on the road in front of our house. Those people had everything they owned along with them. Sometimes there was an extra horse or so, and, perhaps, even a cow. At night, they would camp wherever there was a nice tree or any spot where their animals could graze. The next morning they would hit the road again.
We didn't have many gypsies around, but enough to scare me a little. The story was told that they stole little children and anything else they wanted. That made me very suspicious of their unusual lifestyle. In spite of that, I admired them for their freedom. They could do absolutely anything they wanted and go wherever they felt like going. What a great life, I fantasized.
Incidentally, the gypsies seemed to have all kinds of horses and in all colors. Why, I never knew. Maybe they stole them as they went along the way. After all, I reasoned, if they stole little children, why not horses?
I would often think that if gypsies could live in a house they could
move with them, why couldn't I? As it turned out, I did spend four years
living in a trailer house, and had lots of fun doing it! That was many
years after the days of my picnic wagon and the gypsies I had watched going
by our home.
Besides the gypsies' horses, there were other horses going up and down in front of our farm home. Most of them belonged to the Amish farmers, who were also known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Several Amish families had moved from Pennsylvania and formed quite a settlement at Yoder south of Hutchinson. In fact, Darlene's grandfather was one who came with his wife and little daughter. He and his family later moved to Texas and broke with the Amish faith, but that's part of Darlene's story.
I could always tell by the clippitty clop sound of their horses' hoofs whether there were gypsy wagons or Amish buggies coming. The Amish horses were trotters, and made quite a different sound. The Amish farmers also had heavier horses, or draft horses, for pulling farm implements, but they were seldom used on the road.
To the Amish, automobiles and tractors were contraptions of the devil,
himself, and their religion forbad their owning either. Thus their buggies
were a common sight on the roads south of Hutchinson. Unlike the gypsies,
they were neat and clean. In fact, they were nothing at all like gypsies.
They were only riding in their buggies or wagons to go to town for supplies.
I only included them here because I was reminded of the sounds of their
horses trotting along on the road in front of our house.
Old John Stewart
Reminiscing about "mover houses," reminds me of "Old" John Stewart. I don't know much of his history. To the best of my knowledge, "Old John," as we called him, was not related to any of my Great Aunt Harriet Stewart's husband's family.
Old John and his wife were very poor. They had an old house in Hutchinson and I was told that they lived in a very meager fashion. Their income must certainly have been below the poverty line, but they survived. They probably were on the county dole. Dad permitted Old John to use a small piece of land that was cut off the southwest corner of our farm by the railroad. That little strip of land was of no use to dad, but Old John was happy to have it for his garden.
Old John had no car for transportation. He had an old wagon and a team of work horses. He would bring in a little shed for a summer cottage as soon as the weather warmed and live in it until it got cold again. Then he'd load the shed on his wagon and haul it back into town. That way of living impressed me. Freedom if I ever saw it. Nobody bothered him, but he must have had occasional encounters with skunks. Often he would cross the railroad track and walk to our house wanting to buy some sour milk or eggs. At times we knew he had had an encounter with a skunk. Oh, what a stink!
More than once, Old John gave us a scare. He would come when it was ditch dark outside. Of course, Rover would bark like crazy. We kids were always scared, thinking it might be a tramp or someone who was going to rob us.
Old John was a patient man. He never spoke a bad word about anyone. Even when some kids pulled a prank on him by nailing shut the door of his little shed while he was inside, he didn't seem to get very disturbed about it.
Anyway, old John contributed to my "mover house" experiences and my
dreams of having something similar some day.
Hall Brother's Trailer
I had also been impressed by "mover houses" or trailers while at Bethel College. The Hall brothers had gotten permission from the administration to move their trailer to the north edge of the campus and live there while getting their college education. I was immediately interested in visiting them so I could see inside their home. Although it was a homemade trailer, it contained everything necessary for comfortable living, except toilet and bathing facilities. Those needs were taken care of at a nearby dorm.
I was so impressed, I spent hours designing just such a trailer that
I might be able to make for myself.
The Hanston Cook Shack
When we moved to Hanston, there were no improvements on the farm we had purchased. Town was about five miles away and it was important to be on the land to properly take care of the animals and the field work.
One day my folks heard about an abandoned cook shack on a nearly farm. When they investigated, they found the owner was happy to loan it to us. I expect he was glad to get it off his property. We pulled to our farm and parked it near the drinking well we had dug. Since the shack had four steel wheels, it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to pull.
During harvest time some farm workers followed the harvest from the south, where the crops ripened first, on up north into the Dakotas. Such teams of harvesters usually had a cook shack and a cook as a part of their operation. Apparently, our old cook shack had belonged to someone who had been able to replace it with a better one.
Unfortunately, the cook shack was very sparsely furnished. It had only a sink, a stove and one cupboard. We were good at "making do" with what we had in those days. We moved in chairs, a table and beds. Then we stocked it with such living necessities as clothing and food.
Mom and I worked hard at arranging things to make that old shack livable. Although four men and a woman had to live in that one jammed-up room, we survived, and I'm sure none of us were permanently damaged by the experience. It probably taught us all some lessons in patience.
One afternoon we heard a terrific crash in the shack. We rushed inside and discovered that the one and only cupboard housing all mom's dishes had come crashing to the floor.
We picked up as many of the dishes as we could salvage, re-hung the cupboard on the wall, and went on with living.
The cook shack was abandoned when school started and we moved back to town into the old grain elevator.
In my memory, despite the hardships involved, it was a fun experience.
That summer I lived in a "mover house." I have to admit, however, that
the ones I had designed and in which I had dreamed of living, were considerably
Life in Our Trailer Home
As we considered the trailer house the man wanted to sell us, I'm sure I was greatly influenced by my memories of "mover houses." Now it seemed my dreams of owning one might come true. We were fortunate. Our minister at the South Hutchinson Methodist Church, Rev. Sam Staley, had also been the minister while we lived in Hanston. Since we had been good friends for so long, he was willing to loan us the money to buy the trailer.
We could hardly wait to pull the trailer back to the farm and build some beds for the girls. Glenda's bed was built above ours and was just the right size for her mattress from her baby bed. Jean's was built cross-wise over our feet and was right for her smaller size crib mattress.
We were now ready to go back to Jetmore, move our belongings from the old house and find a place to park.
When we started to move into that trailer, we couldn't believe how much storage space we had. Although the guy who designed it did a tremendous job, by doing a little carpenter work, I was able to improve some cupboards, shelves and drawers to better fit our individual needs.
Our phonograph records were some of our most prize possessions. We found an ideal place for our record player and records above the refrigerator. At that time our records were 78's, and we had accumulated a number of albums. Believe me, we got lots of enjoyment from our records. We also had children's records and the girls wanted them played over and over. Before long that marvelous new invention, the 33 1/3 speed record appeared on the market. In one of the stores when you bought a certain number of records, they gave you a new Columbia record player free. I suppose our record collection was our greatest extravagance in those days. Remember there was no television in Kansas. We had to wait until we got to Los Angeles to see our first TV.
We stored some of our things upstairs at the farm house. There they would stay for four years until we bought our first California home, a duplex in Culver City. The only piece of furniture we moved into our trailer home was the sewing machine. Darlene made good use of it, sewing for herself and for Glenda and Jean.
Getting a suitable place wasn't quite so easy as we thought. After all, we had to have an electric power source and a close toilet facility.
The first place we parked was in the rear of a gas station. There we were allowed to use the toilet. We knew it could be only a temporary location while we looked for another more suitable spot.
Our Liberty Trailer
(Notice the girls' rock-o-horse Glenn had made of plywood and masonite)
One day, on my way to school, I noticed a small trailer parked behind a house. There were a number of nice shade trees and a few flowers. It would be a great place for our trailer.
Mrs. Bensch owned that place. She had lived there alone for some years. Darlene and I knocked on her door.
"We are looking for a nice place to park our trailer. I am the new music teacher here. Your house is close to the high school and church. Is there any chance we could rent a space from you?" I asked.
"Yes, if you can find enough room to park your trailer. You can use the bathroom in the back of my house, and there is also a toilet in the yard you can use."
You can bet I had already decided there was enough room. In fact, I had selected my site before making the inquiry. I pulled the rig parallel with the sidewalk and close to her back porch. After getting the trailer settled, I made a tire swing for the girls in one of the trees.
Mrs. Bensch's kitchen always looked as if she were cleaning house. Later on, however, we learned that was the way she kept it all the time. Her cupboard doors were always open, and she stored as much on the counters as in the cupboards.
Except when we paid the rent or used the bathroom, we didn't spend much time in her house. One day we did go through the kitchen into the dining room. We discovered that along all four walls she had stacked papers and magazines. Since that was before the days of saving paper for recycling, I guess she just didn't want to throw anything away. Perhaps she had a good reason known only to her.
There were several advantages to the place where we were parked. Not only was it just a few blocks west of the school, it was also only one-half block from the Methodist Church. We immediately began to attend church there, and we discovered that we had known the minister back in Hutchinson. Before long I was directing the choir and Darlene was playing the piano. She also directed the children's choir part of the time.
For some reason we became very good friends with the Presbyterian minister, Rev. Morris, and his wife. They were about our age and had children the age of ours. They told us that it was better not to have close social contacts with folks in their church because that sometimes caused jealousy among the members.
Because of our friendship with the Morris family, our two churches were able to cooperate in several musical programs. Even members of the Catholic Church took part. As such cooperation between Catholics and Protestants was generally frowned on in those days, their priest was not too happy about the affair. Some joined in anyway and ignored their priest. Because of a few brave souls, such as my Catholic friends who sang with us, and others around the country, today such cooperation is usually very welcome.
Cantata given by choirs of three Jetmore churches I directed and Darlene was one of the soloists
There was quite a lot of space between our trailer and an old shed at the back of the lot. Before long, someone gave us three baby goats. After I built a pen for them, I somehow felt that I had an instant farmyard.
Jean was just a toddler the year we lived behind Mrs. Bensch's house. The minute she learned to walk a few steps, she decided there was an entire world to explore. One time, when she was supposed to be playing in the yard, she went on one of her "walks." We looked out and Glenda was alone. Of course, we started looking up and down the streets. We found Jean several blocks away on Main Street near the post office. She was still walking along, not at all considering herself lost. We couldn't believe she had gotten so far so fast. It had been such a short time since Jean wandered away that Glenda had just continued to play, unconcerned.
"That's it!" Darlene said. "We've got to make some kind of playpen for the girls."
I got some fence wire from the hardware store and made a circular playpen. We put sand in it and some appropriate toys, hoping to keep Glenda and Jean happy and occupied. It really didn't prove too successful. They figured ways to escape that we hadn't thought of.
Jean, age one, and ready to explore the world --- Glenda playing in the fence-wire pen
I have both good and bad memories of Kansas winters. It was fun to play in the snow, and nothing can match the beauty of snow scenes. The large tree in our yard was a wonderful sight when its branches were laden with snow, and even more beautiful after a sleet storm. However, snow drifts caused lots of problems in the country where the snow-moving equipment was scarce. Snow storms also made traveling hazardous, if not, impossible. We went back and forth between Hutchinson and Jetmore quite often, but were careful to listen to weather reports during the winter months. I've never forgotten about our neighbor lady who got caught in a snowstorm. Evidently she had left her stalled car, hoping to get help. It was several days before her body was found under a deep snowdrift. Nearly every winter, one could hear of similar happenings.
We were thankful that our trailer was well insulated. As I explained earlier, it had a double ceiling and a double floor. An electric fan circulated the air through them and helped to keep us nice and warm. Even though it was small, it was really a great place to live. In those days, twenty-eight feet was about as long as trailers were built. Of course, ours would seem small in comparison to today's beauties.
The trailer next of us wasn't as well built as ours. A single elderly man lived in it. One cold morning I knocked at his door to see if he was all right. When he opened the trailer door, I noticed that all his clothes hanging on the inside wall had frozen stiff. It was then that I realized what a nice place we had to live.
One time after it had snowed, we used an enameled dishpan to make a sled for Jean. Glenda was too big for it, but she could pull Jean. We enjoyed the snow and so did the girls, but after we moved to California we really didn't miss it. In fact, we were glad to escape from the cold winds and snow of Kansas.
Glenda pulling Jean in the "dishpan" sled
We stayed in Mrs. Bensch's yard until we finished the school year. Then, we went back to the farm for the summer months. That way I could still be a part-time farmer. For some reason, I always wanted to go home to our Reno County farm. Just couldn't keep the straw out of my hair, I guess.
When we came back to Jetmore for our second term, we were invited by our friends, Don and Elizabeth Morris, to park our trailer in their back yard. We very quickly accepted the invitation, but, unfortunately for us, they soon moved to go to another church in another town. We were really sorry to see them move, not just because we lost our parking place, but, because we loved that family, even though they were Presbyterians. Ha!
The Methodist Church was happy to have us back helping with their music again. In small churches those days, choir directors usually weren't paid. Since we needed a place for our trailer, the church decided to compensate us by allowing us to park in the church yard and use the church electricity and toilet facilities. The minister's family, who lived in the house next to the church, also invited us to use their bath.
Another convenience in having our trailer near the church was the baby-sitting arrangement. Since I directed the choir and Darlene either sang in it or played the piano, we needed someone to watch the girls. The minister's wife offered to be our baby-sitter. The situation proved to be a good one, both for the church and also for us.
Our trailer parked behind the Methodist Church
The Marching Band
I had a terrific time organizing and directing the bands at both Zook and Jetmore. Since neither of the schools had active bands when I got there, my experiences in the two school systems were quite similar. The first thing I had to do was take an inventory of the instruments and music available. I then divided the candidates for band into two groups, those who had instruments and those who didn't. Usually, those who had never played would asked me to select their instruments from the music store in Great Bend. They, of course, chose the kind of instrument.
"Look, guys," I protested. "We don't need five tenor saxes! One is enough for the band. Maybe two wouldn't be too bad, but not five. Why not select another instrument, such as an oboe or bassoon? We could even use more cornets or clarinets easier than so many saxophones."
I lost that one. Those kids wanted "five tenor saxes just exactly alike." So I got them "five tenor saxes just exactly alike."
What a softie I was! Maybe I should have insisted on only one saxophone, but which one would get it when five wanted that instrument? After all, I'm sure having happy musicians was more important than a balanced band.
Now that was something, melding five saxophones into a beginning band! I have to admit, though, they made a neat quintet. Arranging music for them to play wasn't easy, but I managed it somehow.
Tenor Saxophone Quintet
When I taught school at Zook, fresh out of college, I hadn't had any "marching" experience of any kind. I had never been in a band, let alone a marching one. After all, I was a pianist, and no band uses one of them. However, I thought I did a fair job developing their marching band. Most of them learned to stay in step and follow the routines. Now, after three and one-half years in the Army Air Corps, I was sure I was really qualified to instruct the band members in the proper way to march. After all, I had good drill instructors. They taught me that the most important thing to develop in the marchers is discipline, and more discipline.
"Hep, 1, 2, 3, 4, Hep... Straighten up that column! Look to the left! No, not your right, your left! Halt! At ease!" I would lecture them.
"Now, try it again. Remember, begin on the first beat after the drum roll. Please, listen to the drum beat. Then step out with your left foot and keep in line. No, on your left foot, not your right! Always begin on your left foot."
"Remember you have to watch both to the right and to the left just as if you had another pair of eyes. At the same time you must look straight ahead and also read your music."
On and on and on I went.
My band kids never did learn to play very well, especially while marching. At times it was an excruciating experience for both my students and for me. I don't know how we ever got ready to march at the Kansas State Fair. Anyway, we did and had fun at it.
One of the kids who played fairly well always wanted us to try playing jazz music. He could have done quite well, but there were too many kids that could hardly tune their instruments, let alone play the notes. I tried to teach them how to play in tune, together, and to listen to each other. Impossible!
One youngster tried to play the school's tuba. It wasn't long until I discovered that the previous teacher had decided to make it a "C" instrument instead of a "B-flat" one. Oh murder! Why, why... Well, I got rid of that piece of tubing he had put into the tuba and then things went along better.
The clarinet and saxophone players went through more reeds than I could supply. They were either chewing them, sucking on them or just playing with them and breaking them. Practicing was a squeaking affair, at times.
I also had to teach the trumpet, French horn, and trombone players. How I ever got a decent tone from their instruments, I'll never know.
I even had to teach the drummers how and when to beat the bass drums and how to play rolls on the snare drums. Another problem was to keep the cymbal player quiet until his turn came.
The former teacher had left a stack of band music but it was in a mess. I found it stacked in closets and all around the band room.
Wait a minute, what band room? The only place large enough for practice was in the gym. The acoustics in that place were terrible.
Jetmore must have had a good marching band sometime in the past. I'm not sure what happened, but when I arrived there didn't seem to be many students who could play anything. Teaching lots of beginners was no easy chore. Then there were the uniforms to worry about. There were some fairly good student uniforms stored away. With some altering, most of them could be used. However, the former director must have weighed a lot more than I did. I had to put up with a baggy uniform which we tried to alter, and a hat that was too large. I really hated to see myself in the mirror.
I have to admit that getting ready for the Kansas State Fair took lots
of stressful work, but I enjoyed the challenge. In September of my
second year at Jetmore, we were ready to go. At the fair we marched
in the parade and performed before the bandstand. The music was rather
elementary. Some of the beginners just marched and pretended to play.
They hads their hearts set on going, and I didn't have the nerve to make
them stay home. I had fun taking that band to the fair, and the kids
had a ball! The parents, who had helped in many ways, were there and they
were justly proud as they watched their band perform.
Two Pictures of the Jetmore High School Band
7th & 8th graders --- Band practicing before going to the Kansas State Fair
In later years, when I saw the production, "The Music Man," where that
guy was trying to promote his "boys' band," I winced. I realized that I
had used the "Think System," too, in a way. I gave the kids instruments,
dressed them in flashy uniforms, and then they had to think themselves
through the rest.
A Cappella Choir
The course I taught was listed as "Chorus." However, since I seldom used an accompaniment, the high school chorus usually became an a capella choir. When I was in college, being a member of and the assistant director for the Bethel College A Capella Choir proved to be a highlight of my four years. I coveted a similar experience for my pupils at Jetmore.
There were over forty students in the choir, and they sang very well. We performed at several church and community affairs. Because of my fond memories of college choir trips, I organized a trip for my Jetmore choir. We sang in Hutchinson and at my alma mater, Bethel College. In addition, we sang on the Great Bend radio station. That was quite a trying experience because there was such a small room. After all of the choir was in, there was hardly room for the microphone. Over all, however, the tour was a great success!
The choir also participated in a music festival at Dodge City. The judges rated us high on most points, except on pitch. We were singing a capella and most of the groups used an accompaniment. I didn't let the criticism bother me. I knew what they had accomplished, and I was proud of them.
At that festival I had the opportunity to direct the mass choirs. It
was a thrill!
In addition to band and chorus, I taught a class in music theory. I wasn't sure just what all I should cover in a high school theory class, but I tried to pass on the principal things I had learned from my college theory class. I enjoyed preparing for and teaching the class, and I think they, in the end, appreciated what I taught them.
Sometimes, my class got a little rowdy, however. I don't think the principal appreciated that. Many times some of the class time became a rehearsal for the a cappella choir. That was the part both they and I liked best.
One of my prize pupils, Charles Stanfield, who later attended Bethel
College, became a very successful music teacher. I must have taught him
something of value. Since he had also taken private voice lessons from
me, I felt doubly pleased that he decided to become a music teacher.
I can't remember all the plays and operettas I directed during my two years at Jetmore. I do know that the first year I directed the operetta "Marianne." By that time I had moved my grand piano to the school. I always appreciated the care the students gave that piano.
It was also my responsibility to act as sponsor for the Junior class, and we gave the play "Charley's Aunt." Since I had been in that play while in high school and it had been a big success, I chose it for my Jetmore students. Again it was a big success!
In addition to my music duties, I was responsible for all the audio
visual materials used by any of the other teachers. I still had the dream
of producing educational movies after getting my training at the University
of Southern California, and operating audio visual equipment was something
I really enjoyed doing.
I gave many private music lessons, both vocal and instrumental while at Jetmore. I would start the minute school was out, and take the students each for thirty minutes. My private students also gave occasional recitals. I was especially proud of several of my vocal students, and the good job they did at a recital given at the Methodist Church.
Recital by Charles Guthrie, Charles Stanfield, & Warren Hastings
Recital by Norma Hoagland & Charles Guthrie
My two years at Jetmore I was blessed with good health, with one exception. My most frustrating experience was getting that childhood disease, mumps. Mumps is called a childhood disease because adults don't usually get it. It's also general knowledge that the disease is more dangerous for adults, and especially for men. Unfortunately, I learned the truth of that fact.
When I awoke one day with a swollen jaw, we called the doctor. After examining me, he informed me, "That's right, you've got the mumps. You'll have to go to bed for at least two weeks. I'll be checking on your progress, but, remember, stay down!"
Oh no! Our trailer bedroom was very small. In fact it was just large enough for our bed and a space to walk beside it. I knew I'd had claustrophobia, for sure. Also, as usual, I had lots of activities going on at the time, and getting a substitute music teacher wasn't an easy thing to do.
Suddenly, we both realized that Darlene could teach my classes. She had vocal training and choir experience in college. She had also done some choir directing. Now the band was more challenging. She knew she could read the music, but wouldn't be able to help any of the players. In fact, she wasn't sure she knew one horn from another, but she was willing to do her best. I guess she didn't do too much damage, however, because when I returned all seemed well.
After the two weeks had passed, I went back to the high school to continue my teaching responsibilities. I have to admit I didn't consult my doctor. He had originally said stay in bed two weeks so at the end of two weeks, I just got up and went back to work. That wasn't very smart.
On the second day I was back, disaster struck! I was watching the boys practice basketball when suddenly I saw a ball coming right at me. I grabbed it and tossed it toward the goal.
Wow! Suddenly I had a terrible pain in my groin. I went home as soon as possible and went to bed. As the saying goes, "The mumps had gone down on me."
"Sorry," the doctor said after examining me, "you'll have to stay in bed another two weeks. This time, don't get up and go back to work until I give you permission."
Darlene had already taken care of my classes for two weeks and now she was going to have to endure it for another two.
The back-set with the mumps was an awful experience! I was very lucky
that they didn't leave any permanent damage.
Although I had no other illnesses while at Jetmore, I did have a scare one time. I had been having a slight sore throat. As I was brushing my teeth, I took time to see if my throat looked red. As I looked more closely, I noticed a large bump in the back of my mouth at the base of my throat. Wait a minute! I hadn't noticed that bump there before. I just knew something must be wrong!
On my lunch break that day, I went to see the doctor.
"Something's wrong, Doc. See that bump on the back of my throat?"
The doctor inspected my throat and then said, "Mr. McMurry, I don't see anything wrong with your throat."
"Don't you see that bump in there?"
"That bump? Why, that's the top of your spine. It's perfectly normal."
Was I ever embarrassed! You can bet I was. Fortunately for me, the doctor
didn't laugh at me. As I think back on that experience, I wonder how he
kept a straight face. I really felt dumb, but you can bet that I was thankful
there was nothing seriously wrong with me.
With one or two exceptions, I got along well with all the students and teachers during my two years at Jetmore. There were times when the principal and I didn't see eye to eye, but, as far as I was concerned, none of the incidents were very important. To my surprise, he called me into his office one day and told me the school board wanted to fire me. Was I surprised! Everyone had always been praising all the things I was doing. I immediately went to the school board, and they assured me they certainly didn't want me to go. I never did figure out what made him say such a thing to me. I did have a little shoving event with one of the more difficult students one day, and that shook me up a lot. When I went to the principal for consolation, he didn't support me at all. I couldn't believe my ears. Maybe that kid's parents complained and asked to have me fired. I guess I'll never know the real truth behind that situation. The principal didn't mention the firing again and neither did I.
Toward the end of the second school year, I notified the principal and school board that I wouldn't be coming back another year. My plans called for heading to the Cinema Department of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
The community gave us a great farewell party before we left, and presented us with two place settings of sterling silverware. Our silverware was only silver plated, but they had asked our pattern and tried to match it as nearly as possible. That was such a thoughtful thing to do! We were very surprised and happy with our going away gift, and treasure it to this day.
I will always be grateful to the school board for hiring me to teach at Jetmore High School. The two years we spent at Jetmore were fine years. We made lots of wonderful friends and collected many good memories that will last forever. However, because of the seriousness with which I took my job, I doubt if I could have spent the rest of my life under such pressure. If I had, the "rest of my life" would probably have been rather short.
Our plan of spending a couple years teaching, saving a little money, and having a home in which to live in Los Angeles had worked just fine. After a summer back on the farm with my parents, we headed our trailer west. My long-time dream of attending the Cinema School at the University of Southern California was soon to come true.