Green River Star -

By Carl Morck
Green River Historic Preservation Commission 

Growing up in Heaven, part 2

 


Editor’s note: This is the second portion of a column submitted by the Green River Historic Preservation Commission.

School, sports, the opposite sex, and the outdoors occupied the minds, motives and actions of the older students.

Their new driver’s license and – hopefully – access, opened a new door. Mobility, personal space, and freedom could be yours. So we all worked to get enough money for a car and gas. If lucky, we got the old car when the family bought a new one. However, to get full benefits of it you had to go, and stay, in school. In order to stay in school and sports, you had to get good grades. Sounds easy enough, but the distractions were many.

There were two grade schools, one on each end of town. Washington on the east, and Jefferson on the west. The junior high or middle school, grades 7-8, and Lincoln High School shared a building next door. The mixing of the two grade schools when they got to the higher grades was seamless. Every kid knew every kid, and there had never been rivalry in the grade schools.

During most of the year indoor socialization consisted of school, dances, ball games, movies at the Isis Theater, and stuff at the churches. As kids we walked to the Saturday matinees, as teens we rode to the night shows. There was no TV, radio stations were few and reception poor during the day but better at night when you could get KOMA and other popular music stations. Forty five RPM records were “high tech” and transistors were real time science fiction. Pop music was oxygen to the teen.

We never had a “loser” team. Green River consistently had good teams in all the sports and other competitions like debate and music. Many times Green River excelled in their various interschool competitions. Most of the rivalry was quite peaceful, however on occasion relations between towns went kinetic. Older adolescents and young adults just out of school and beer plus competition, didn’t mix well at all.

Younger kids waited all day long for the magic warm summer nights. The streets covered by the mighty old cottonwoods, like tunnels, even with dark walls all around. The corner street light became the center of focus and action. All the kids in the neighborhood would gather and play night games until they were called home. We lived for the night games: Hide-and-Seek, Mother May I, various tag or running games, Red Rover, Kick the Can, Capture the Flag, and anything else we could make up. There were several games played with cow pies: the Team Cow Pie Battle, Cow Pie Duel, Cow Pie Tag, and many others.

First you looked for good ammo: flat, rounded edges, the center must be soft but firm. You’ll need to stock the good ones. They are thrown like a Frisbee, but much more gently as you want them to either strike the target with the whole projectile or have it fragment close to the target. A pie with a more or less liquid center seemed to be the most effective.

Sometimes, my cousin Jack and I rode our horses from across the river in the evening. People then didn’t go ballistic if there was horse dung on the street.

City playgrounds were few and equipment – a teeter totter, slide and a couple of swings in a dirt vacant lot – were where we also played ball. Around schools were hopscotch, rope jumping, marbles and jacks. I think why we don’t see kids playing marbles now is because there’s no dirt. Everything is paved or grass.

Everyone was out on those summer nights, dogs and cats also, because that’s the way it was. Families were all outside doing something. There was no air conditioning. They worked in the yard, sat on the steps or porch swing, took walks, watched everything and discussed (or gossiped about) the rest.

We learned and developed our self confidence and of our self limitations. There should always be a balance between the two – at least that is what I learned at DU: Dirt University, Green River Campus.

Dirt: We first crawled in the dirt, we dug foxholes and trench mines in the dirt, we had all natural dirt as well as homemade mud cakes. We were always playing on Castle Rock’s slope, Eagle’s Rock, Tea Kettle, any place that lizards and horned toads might hide. Mom just wanted to know where you were going, when you would be back, and who you were with.

When we finally got our bicycles nothing much changed except we could explore more range and do things farther afield, then farther and faster and farther. We would push and carry our heavy fat tired Columbias and Schwinns up Telephone Canyon and First Spring Canyon to the very top, then probably go down to the spring, eat our peanut butter and jelly Wonder bread sandwiches. When done playing we could literally fly back to town. First Spring Canyon was the steepest, hence the best. Hair-raising sometimes. My cousin Jack Evers rode all the way down the west slope of Castle Rock without wrecking. The trip did break the bike’s fork. Jackie only did it once. Nick Kandris fell off the face of the Rock and rolled to the bottom, suffering a concussion and bruises. No dirt road was left unexplored. The rock and dirt, mountains and desert were natural, and we were free.

In those days Green River city law enforcement consisted of two police officers: Chris Jessen was the town marshal – he had the day shift – and Ray Cameron had the night watch and was also the fire chief of the volunteer fire department. A low crime rate prevailed, most offences “petty,” as in stealing crab apples or garden carrots. The hobo camps went almost unnoticed, by the kids anyway, but then we avoided them, detouring around the camp under the railroad bridge.

As the police did not have two-way radios, “dispatch” was the local telephone operator; if the cop was on patrol she would turn on the two red lights on each side of town, one on the Tomahawk building and I think the Independent Market on 2nd South, to notify the cops to call in on a land line. The operator/dispatcher would follow his instructions, perhaps turn on the alarm siren or call out the fire fighters. I think the Union Pacific would use its steam whistle to relay the target location. The “Number, please” operator, a real live person, played a largely unnoticed but essential service because it worked well. Since every call in or out had to be switched by hand from one party to the other, both sender’s and receiver’s numbers would be known. Before there was 911, she would find the family doctor if he wasn’t home, she could find somebody’s way late kid. She was always on duty, you could count on that.

The police were seldom called. The parents and the peer group defined and enforced accepted behavior. If a problem or complaint arose, the police would personally and informally speak to the parents – and that was most often the end of that, period. Hence, the cops were not normally perceived by youth as the big, bad, authoritarian, bully, boogie men, but instead for the most part as a potential source of friendly help if necessary.

All in all, the town was safe, secure and home. No one locked their doors at night, they left windows open, left keys in the vehicle, the windows down and the ubiquitous rifle hanging in the rear window of the pickup. This casual behavior persisted at least until the booming ‘70s. Changes came slowly, many times you did not notice them until it was a done deal: an example was the new widespread use of dog leashes which seemed to happen overnight, but had been developing all along.

Kids everywhere find changing and growing up very difficult at times but I feel that Green River made it smoother if not a little easier. The whole scheme – the teachers, the schools, the parents, the authorities, scouting, and perhaps especially one’s peers – all worked together to enhance, not stifle, development of strong, self-reliant, responsible individuals with the ability or team work. A general purpose person, ready and excited to take on the world.

Whatever violence means today, it was defined more narrowly during this time period. “Violence” did not include normal childhood, teenage dust-ups, including social ranking or pecking order, physical contact, i.e. fist fights. This was accepted, the norm. It happened, the police were rarely called, the fights seldom of a truly serious nature and seldom resulted in grave bodily harm. Cut lips, bloody noses, black eyes and banged-up knuckles were badges of honor. It really didn’t matter if you won (that was best, of course) or lost. What was really important was that you fought hard and with determination. Win respect and you have won the whole point. Most of the time there was no clear winner. Most fights started quickly and ended the same way, as friends on both sides broke it up by some unspoken agreement. The point was made so the fight must end. Serious injuries were very, very rare. Weapons were not condoned, neither gun or knife, kicking when down, head pounding on the ground, use of rocks too, as rock throwing was for little kids. These acts were minus points for respect, and since the point of the fight was respect and honor, you could lose even if you won. Fights were often after school and off the school grounds.

Ranking fights were fought by both sexes but never co-ed or mixed sex. When the girls fought it was actually scary. The boys prudently avoided any chance on an attack by an angry girl.

Summer was spelled O-U-T-D-O-O-R-S. Symptoms of Cabin Fever faded. Families spent a lot of time together in the summer: picnics, trips, hiking, biking, fishing, chasing the rare, elusive Wyoming rocks. Probably one of the reasons the whole family went on these outdoor activities together was because of logistics. It took a lot of people because of the work load, a lot of “man” hours planning, organizing, transport, erection of tent and camp, plus tear down. All the gear was very heavy and bulky, and everything you might need must be taken with you. Many drove as far as they could get, then set up camp. The tents were very heavy duty water resistant wall tents, sleeping bags rectangular canvas and down, cast iron pans and Dutch ovens, tin table ware, axe for wood, clothes – wool for nights – heavy canned food, gear for the horses. It took team work and strength. We are talking tonnage and camp trips were often for a week or so in the mountains. Work together, live together, and survive more or less in comfort and safety.

The annual elk season and hunt was a very big deal. Most families hunted as well as fished. Guns were a normal part of our life, there were several in the majority of houses: one in the truck, one in the car when traveling, one in the barn. All realized their value as a weapon, but were thought of first as a necessary tool, pure and simple. We grew up with them, we learned of their value and danger. We handled them and respected them, knowing what they can do. Gun safety and skills were drilled into us from an early age. Our own very first gun usually arrived for Christmas some time in grade school. It was usually a single shot bolt action .22 rifle. The larger center fire, large game calibers, came when we were ready for them. Everyone in most families learned to shoot. Many moms could shoot better and hunt harder than the male family members.

Hunting seasons were long, game was plentiful. We went out often, after school and before school, weekends, whenever possible we were out in the field (hills). Sage chicken and elk were favorites and the most looked forward to. The annual elk hunt was a very big deal. School was let out for about 10 days. Families locked the front door of the town house for the only time of the year and disappeared up into the mountains to their traditional hunting areas and traditional hunting camps, perhaps generations old. Everyone in the family old enough to get an elk license was in the field with rifle and tag. The harvest was the focus, as the winter meat was always needed. Meat, especially wild meat, was a large part of our dietary life and in old Green River a family could eat several elk in a year. Veggies came only in cans with few expensive fresh vegetables on the market. Wild meat was “organic,” plentiful, fresh tasting, and in a strange way, cheap. Flavored by the spices of the memories. However, the whole picture would include family and good seasonal friends’ reunions.

The district basketball tournaments hosted every year were the teen social equivalent of the family elk hunt. A very big, exciting time, a big deal. The tournament drew teams, cheerleaders, support personnel, fans, friends and the families of those involved. The town was simply swamped with the visitors. The motels were filled to capacity in both Green River and Little America, as well as everyone’s spare bedrooms. Restaurants filled, businesses were busy, and cars were everywhere. The event lasted several days, the various classes, by size of the school, were all represented, the games well attended, the atmosphere jovial, excitement and anticipation filled the air. The kids in cars circled town on Main Street, the decorated cars, painted up and with crepe paper streamers in team colors, filled with same sex passengers, blowing horns, honking, yelling, screaming, singing team chants, waving the school’s colors, and neither last nor least checking out and flirting with the passengers of cars filled with the opposite sex.

Ritual proto-mating dances in cars and mock ritual warfare went hand-in-hand. The weapons small arms – potato guns and water pistols, water filled balloons as grenades, and fire extinguishers were heavy machine guns, I guess. Yoyos were common bait, shiny and used to display skills, and as an attractor/distractor. In an escalation of fire power, surprise drive-by H2O attacks were common, spontaneous shootouts with potato guns at the drop of a yoyo were not unknown. No body counts were attempted – it was too dangerous. Then one morning after the championship games it was quite dead. Everyone was gone. Normal was back home.

 

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