My story a couple weeks ago about some wayward high school seniors who skipped school to pheasant hunt and then got disciplined when they were caught, prompted an avid reader who now lives in southeast Nebraska, ol’ “Moon” Beamer, to dust off a similar experience from his high school days, only he and his five partners in “hooky” were still in their freshman and sophomore high school years.
Moon penned a lengthy treatise about his school hooky prank, and I’m gonna shorten it to the best of my limited ability for this column. Here is Moon’s and my effort.
It was a beautiful spring day in the Sandhills and us young bucks (sophomores and freshmen) were feeling our oats and thinking we needed to play hooky. None of us had done it before, and weren’t necessarily the brightest tubes in the shop light, but since our school had an open range policy (or is that open campus?) at noon when we were supposed to go to the grocery store or hardware store and pick up essentials for the farm, we decided to all get in my ’52 Chevy Deluxe and make a break for it.
We certainly didn’t want anyone noticing us leaving town. No one in Lewellen Rural High School (with only 21 boys enrolled that year) would notice six of us being absent after lunch anyway.
So, we had our chili and cinnamon rolls at lunch, piled in the Deluxe – along with a separate car of three other guys who didn’t think we’d really do it until we crossed the one-lane river bridge over the North Platte and continued towards the canyons and Ash Hollow – and headed towards trouble and unknown adventures. The other car sorrowfully and dutifully headed back to school.
The six absconders were me, Johnsy, Rittenhouse, Hog Dog, Crazy Jake and Weiner. Jake’s dad Swede was the town cop. None of us had the common sense that the Great Almighty blessed an Albanian anteater with, but we all had the luck of the Irish/German/Swede/Italian ancestors that had made them survivors and given us homes in or near the Sandhills.
Indian drawings on an overhang alongside the winding south river road was our first destination. We were crestfallen when we found the ledge had caved off and the drawings were gone. So, we got over our disappointment by smoking sagebrush.
Next stop was to be the ruins of Fort Grattan. Never mind that it was a sod fort and washed away when the river changed course in the late 1850’s. We found a lot of skeletal remains of 7-feet tall sunflowers from the earlier year, but nothing like muskets or cannons that would have told us we were in the wrong century and probably the wrong country.
So we headed down a sand draw lickety-split until I got the Chevy stuck trying to climb a bank. But, with my expert driving and five dummies pushing, we got out and backtracked to Highway 26 and drove by the Ash Hollow cemetery to go to the Indian cave that overlooked the spring and ash grove the pioneers had refreshed themselves at before heading on west. As an eighth-grader I’d found a spear point and three perfect arrowheads there. And it was here (after climbing up to the cave) that Jake decided he was thirsty and was going to go back down to the spring.
We were alerted to a catastrophe in the making when Jake yelled “WHOA! Did you see that wreck?” He swore he’d seen an auto do three somersaults and land over by the cemetery. That’s when a cloud of dust arose from the alleged auto accident. Like a dirty pair of socks, we were off. Dodging soapweeds and cactus on bald tires, we raced to the cemetery. We’ll never forget the scene. The car was still smoking. The tranny was on the wrong side of the fence in the cemetery and the engine on the other side of the highway. A very dead appearing person was behind the wheel, and bills of money was floating everywhere.
Rittenhouse shouted, “It’s Hurricane Harry!” He was right. Turns out, Harry had just been transferred to North Platte, had converted all of his assets into cash, and was driving very fast — at least for someone who was fast asleep. He’d managed to stay on the bridge over the river, but drove some 200 yards on the right shoulder before hitting the south river road intersection. This launched him into an Evil Knieval-esqe double end-over-end somersault with a half gainer. We were paralyzed by seeing someone we knew killed in an accident.
But, suddenly Hurricane Harry stirred and stated eloquently: “OUCH!” (or it might have been some other four-letter word). We formulated a plan of attack: I would drive to the nearest phone at the Co-op station and call for an ambulance and Swede. Rittenhouse’s farm was nearby Harry’s parents, so he’d look after him and try to sop up the blood on Harry’s head, and the rest of the guys would flag traffic and corral the cash that was flat flying everywhere.
Swede was not to be fooled. He ratted us out. Fade to the ending of the crime portion of the tale. Head wounds bleed copiously, but hard-headed Dutchmen need more than that to keep them down. Harry recovered completely, was probably skeptical that we gave all his money back (but we DID), and he drove slower and got more sleep after trying to prematurely bury himself in the Ash Hollow cemetery. Our parents bought the part about us aiding him and forgot why we were in that vicinity. That left just the school to deal with.
Our punishment was spotty. There was no big rush to make us run laps or wax the gym floor, ‘cause the school year was almost over and we were as close to being heroes as we ever thought we’d be. Hog had torn up his knee in football, so he got the lightest penalty: He had clean all of the windows in the one-story high school, both inside and out. Another had to sand and refinish all the misspelled and misbegotten carvings of initials and love interests off of the library tables. And I, innocent Moon, the youngest of the lot and only prosecuted and persecuted because I drove the getaway car, was sentenced to scrubbing various graffiti from the school house bricks.
Ah, years flashed by. The principal started dating my dad after both their spouses passed on. And now all of the adults in the above tale are looking down from above and laughing as our kids and grandkids come close to being as immature as we were. The high school closed the year of our 25th reunion and has been resurrected as a community center. And I’ll tell you one thing, it doesn’t have any graffiti on the exterior.
In spite of my best efforts at editing, this column ran long. So, I’m gonna end with these words of wisdom. It seldom pays to play hooky from school. School administrators and parents are hard to fool. Have a good ‘un.