I was 13 years old, it was still summer but just a few weeks before I was to start high school… Having an older sister who was away at college but had attended the same high school gave me an idea as to what to expect. I knew a few people from her class who also had siblings attending high school and there were some of my neighbors so I was not a total stranger, but nervous nonetheless. The high school located in town, was a foreign world…..
Town – a main street about 3 blocks long…. At that time it had two grocery stores, a pool hall (the smoker), a barber shop, a bank, a post office, the drug store, the Kat’s cage, the Mason building, “Mayer’s” which sold magazines, cigarettes, candy, etc…a movie theater, the "grill" which was a small cafe, a small hardware store…. And the old elevators.. Across the railroad tracks near the highway to the south set a couple of filling stations, a restaurant, and the Palladium… If you wanted anything else you had to drive to other towns. Our house set to the north of town…3 miles north and two miles east….
As the oil field boom had hit in the 30’s one oil field supply store was built near the north edge of town on main street, then the town passed a law that no others could move in…. from then on all the oil field supply stores moved to a larger town west of us about 30 miles. They grew to fairly sized city and it remains the center for oil field activity today, while our little town has lost most of the buildings listed above, leaving barely a ghost town.
Just next to the drug store, some parents had gotten together and created the “Kat’s Cage”, you had to be at least 13 years old, a teenager, to be allowed in). They had an old 45 rpm record player where you could play your favorites hooked into loud speakers, and a juke box, with tables set around a small dance floor… they also ran a small malt shop where you could order drinks & fries and sandwiches. Finally I was old enough and found my way there with a neighbor friend who could drive.
I was also a “Rainbow girl” … for those who don’t know, it was a branch of the mason’s and eastern star which was the only reputable organization in town for adults, Catholics did not participate but most other religions did and it was used for other social events because it had a kitchen and serving room in it.…. Through rainbow girls, I met several other girls my age and who would be freshmen with me. Coming from a country school, that was my introduction to high school in town…. Several of the eastern star ladies volunteered their time to lead us through various rituals, and my Mother played the piano for our music.
The day I got to go to the Kat’s cage I was so excited! I had fussed all morning trying to figure out what to wear.…. There were new friends and a chance to see what was beyond “cow creek” and that little girl whose life had been spent among the trees, nature, coon hunting with my dad, fishing in the creek, building tree houses with my neighborhood friends, cooking with my mother and the little tarzan searching for herself…..
Sitting at a table with a couple of other girls, suddenly I spotted this boy named “Jim” walking towards me … he asked me to dance, I accepted, and that was the first meeting of a 15 year old boy and a 13 year old girl that would go on for over 50 years….. Simply, there was something special about him….. little did I know just how special.
Then high school started….. There was a yearly “initiation” of the freshmen, the first day we were all paraded in and introduced during assembly. The other kids set in the raised chairs above one side the gym…. Jim was setting beside one of his friends “Pete”… As we were led in and told to set on huge ice blocks for the torture part of the ceremony, Pete pointed to Kathy and said “I’ll take that one”, and Jim pointed to me and said “I’ll take that black haired one”.
The “Palladium“, a honky tonk out on the highway, was a raunchy, foot stomping, popular joint with a reputation throughout the state and beyond. They had some big name groups stop by on a few Saturday nights, but on Friday nights they turned it over to the teenagers, even though adults were also welcome. They hired local 50’s bands or run a juke box for dancing…. It had a huge dance floor and seated a lot of people.
Kansas was a “dry state” so that meant no alcohol could be sold… however; that didn’t stop you from bringing in your own bottle. All the tables had a shelf under them to lay your bottle, then mixes could be ordered, but that was only for adults…. Teenagers had to go outside to get a drink where their bottles were kept in their cars…..
November 15th, the night of my 14th birthday I had a girl friend coming to stay all night at my house. The plans were we would go to the football game at the high school, then to the “Palladium”. My friend’s older brother, who the folks knew because he was in my older sister’s class, was going to bring us home and have us there by our 11:00 curfew.
Then things changed…. Jim was at the Palladium also. We were asked to join he and his friends table…. Jim and I danced all evening, set beside each other, and he asked about taking me home. I explained the situation, that it was my birthday day, my friend was spending the night with me and her older brother Eddy was taking us home. It wasn’t long before Jim was talking to him....Eddy came to tell us he had other plans so (Jim) and another guy would take a few others that needed delivered home before 11, and Eddy’s little sister & I out to my house …… I think there were 7 crammed in Jim’s old 52 Chevy.
As it turned out someone else drove Jim’s car and he ended up in the back seat with me…. I got home on time and thank goodness the folks didn’t get up or make a fuss when we came in…. What they didn’t know, my lips were swollen from “kissing” a little too passionately… I held ice on my face the rest of the night to get the swelling down, while my friend and I whispered about our first “real” evening of freedom as freshmen….
The next weekend Jim called for a real date…. We went to the movies and seen “Giant” with Rock Hudson, James Dean, and Elizabeth Taylor. An epic that will forever remain one of my favorite movies of all time….
Though I didn’t know at that time anything the future had to hold, I had found my forever best friend, my lover, a new life, and the beginning of a journey which will eventually bring me to today…..