methow grist 2011-2014 archive


Steven Craig Johnson, born and raised in the Methow Valley, graduated from Winthrop High School in the Class of 1972. He couldn’t make it to the Winthrop High School Reunion this year, but he sent this school memoir. He also donated to the fund for re-hanging the Winthrop School bell in the Winthrop town park.

What I learned my first time in the first grade
Four Laws from the old Winthrop School

I will admit I was somewhat of a non-conformist when I first entered the first grade, however Miss Barton, the first grade teacher, had a bit of an over-the-hill temperament. She was able to wield a red marking pencil like a police baton, and her choice of student correction in the reading circle was a nice oak yardstick. She liked the edge of it, and she could reach every one in the circle from a sitting position.

From the very first day she took a cardinal dislike to me; one could almost feel it in the air. Once I came in from recess with a paper airplane in my hand. Running down the row of desks I tossed it and it made a loop and went right inside my desk. I sat down, pulled out the paper airplane, stood up and in my excitement knocked my desk over. Mrs. Barton, less than impressed, shook and admonished me while whipping me about the head with her red marking pencil in a fashion that would have impressed Bruce Lee. Then she snatched so much hair off my head that my mother that evening asked me what happened to my hair.

Now the four laws of the teaser and the teased come into play. At afternoon recess, Cindy Barton would not quit teasing me about what had happened in class to the point that I'd had enough. I told her if she did not stop I would punch her in the stomach. Well, she didn’t and I did. Cindy had learned the First Law of the Teaser and the Teased. Being that you never know how the one you are teasing is going to react (sorry Cindy). I learned the Second Law: young boys do not punch young girls in the stomach. I also learned the Third Law: you most definitely do not punch your teacher’s daughter in the stomach.

(I learned the last law two years later. I'll get to that soon).

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Cindy’s mother was close by. I was sure the gates of hell had opened up and I was being consumed then and there.

At last the fury stopped, as did recess. Everyone was sent back to the classroom. That is, everyone save Mrs. Barton and myself. Orders were yelled at the door of the classroom and Mrs. Barton took me by the hand and informed me she was going to take me to the principal’s office. The principal’s office was upstairs at the other end of the school.

The school was hollow. That is to say it had a huge commonplace in its center with a gymnasium, bathrooms, classrooms and boiler room on either side as you walked its length. On the far end from the first grade class was a set of magnificent stairs that always impressed me. They went up to the balcony and came down the other side of the commonplace on the opposing wall. The principal's office was in the center of the balcony, just under the bell tower.

When we arrived at the principal's office, Mrs. Barton was informed by the school secretary that the principal was not in. I was thankful, however Mrs. Barton was displeased to say the least. On the way down the other set of stairs, with her ever-tightening grip on my arm, she shook me like a Rottweiler would a stuffed doll while telling me that if I had the brains of Einstein I would still not be advancing to the next grade. I had learned the Fourth Law of the Teaser and the Teased, the law of retribution. I must at this time take the back the apology, Cindy, and replace it with a thanks for nothing!

I am going to deviate here from my story of the old school some, but will bring this story full circle eventually. I must tell how I learned the First Law of the Teaser and the Teased.

I believe it was the second summer after the old school had burned down, and we were bucking hay out of Cotner’s field that ran from Heckendorn to Ken White’s and the Johnson farm; also referred to as the old Bing place. I can't recall everyone that was on the hay trailer, but Zane Wells and I were. As I was about nine years old and hay bales were around one hundred pounds, my presence on the trailer was more symbolic than useful, so I took to teasing Zane. Zane had a firecracker personality that reminded me of a rattlesnake poised to strike. I was playing with fire, and I knew this, but it did not detour me. Zane had told me to stop several times, and I should have. Finally Zane told me if I did not stop he would gaff my leg with his hay hook. Now, a hay hook is a formidable weapon, but I didn’t and he did. Your tendency when someone is gaffing you with a hay hook is to back away and I did, setting the hay hook a little deeper in the back of my leg than I would have liked. As Cindy had, I had just learned the first law of the teaser and the teased--you never know how the one you are teasing is going to react. (Zane would come face to face with the Fourth Law some weeks later.)

As Zane wasn’t finished with the hay hook still in my leg he leaned close and in a hushed voice enlightened me with a few pearls of wisdom mixed with some colorful metaphors. He was kind enough to remove the hay hook from my leg, and I made some room between us. To my credit, I never yelled out and was defiant, determined to not give any indication he had hurt me whatsoever. As the blood ran down the back of my leg into my sock and down my the back of my boot I gave him the best dead-eye stare a nine year old could muster and never said any thing to anyone on the trailer. Later that evening, the hole in the leg of my new Levi's was noticed, then the blood on my boot and sock, then up went my pant leg, revealing the hole in the back of my leg.

As it turns out, Zane had a prize dog. Zane's prize dog would pack together with other dogs in Heckendorn, come down to our farm and run and kill our sheep.

Zane's dog and the other dogs made an early morning raid on the sheep herd. It seems someone had shot Zane's dog, but as it was running and it was dark out, it did not quite kill him. It was thought that the dog crawled off some place and died.

Now, our school had burned down (yes, I said I would bring this story full circle). Since the school had burned down, we were going to school in the basement of the old church in Heckendorn, not far from where Zane lived.

I was under the tutelage of the beautiful and kind Mrs. Mann. (O. M. G. what an extreme opposite of the bipolar atmosphere of my first time in the first grade.)

We were at recess and I was playing in the dirt of the street that ran down toward the river past the church. I can no longer recall the name of the street. Two adults were standing behind me talking. Young ears hear things. It seems Zane had been looking for his prize dog for some time and found him behind some construction debris leaning against the church, just behind where the two adults were talking. Zane had just come face to face with the Fourth Law of the Teaser and Teased, being the law of retribution. I played in the dirt, not saying anything, but had a smile on my face you couldn’t get off with a wire brush.

They had moved several Quonset huts on to the lower football field of the old burned-out school, and we went to school in them while they were building a new school. None of them had indoor bathrooms, so you had to use the three-hole outhouse. I was used to a one-hole outhouse, as we had no bathroom when we first moved into the old farmhouse. Dad put one in some years later.

After we moved into the new school they sold the Quonset huts, and as Evan Fink’s house had just burned down he had bought one of them to live in, but it had to be moved. Since he lived about a half mile from the school, it was a short move. It was my first experience at jacking up an entire building and moving it, but we did. With my Dad at the wheel, and people on each side, I was given the task of riding on top of the building with a stick in hand and had the job of helping the electrical lines over the building from one end to the other. That's right metal building, electrical lines (give the job to the kid, right!) Ya.

We got the building to the location where Evan’s house had burned down. Dad was trying to back it into place, but a rut in the ground had stopped three attempts to place the building where it needed to be. Dad put it to the floor, and with the roar of the engine, and a “G. D. it Johnson” from Evan, the building was finally in place. And so is this saga of the old school that I went to the first time in the first grade.

My name is Steven C. Johnson; just a man that who sat in front of his keyboard and fell head-first into the abyss of my own fertile memory.