My class was the first ninth-grade in our high school. But let me explain; we went to junior high in the seventh grade; when we reached our eighth-grade year the school district changed the junior high to a Middle School. So, instead of junior high going from seven through ninth grade, it was now going from six through eighth grade. In turn, high school changed from 10th grade through 12th grade to 9th grade through 12th grade. We were not only freshman but we were the first freshman class.
Our school had a winter fest where the classes would compete to try raising the most money. We were all gung-ho. We decided we were going to start this freshman thing with a bang. The whole class was brainstorming about how to raise money. My friend Karl and I got the brilliant idea of sleeping out in a tent for a month. It was January in northern Minnesota. The idea was to get individuals and businesses to pledge money for every night that we slept out in the freezing cold. We had done a lot of winter camping already but this would be different. We would be sleeping in our tent at night but going to school during the day. I would have to get up early every morning to go to swimming practice.
The idea might have been brilliant, but the execution demanded a huge effort on our part. We went around to businesses to get pledges. I think most of them thought we would only make it a few nights. Some businesses pledged as much as five dollars a night. I think they were surprised when we came to collect $150.
We set up a large tent uptown in an open lot on Main Street, near the courthouse. We filled our tent with sleeping bags; since we didn’t have to pack our gear, we could be as comfortable as we wanted. There was a small cafe across the street. In the morning we would go to the cafe for breakfast. We slept in the tent the entire month of January. The winter fest contest was just about over when we realized that with our contributions the freshman class would be declared a winner. In the past, the senior class always won. One of my classmates, Evelin had a sister who was in the senior class with my sister. Evelin’s dad thought that even though he had a daughter in our class, the seniors should win. So he had seniors pledging to pick rocks that summer after they graduated. His contribution put the seniors over the top and they won.
There was no rock picking that summer. His contribution was really just a donation so that the seniors could win.
An important part of my high school years was swimming. I started swimming when I was in seventh grade and my brother was in 11th grade. Thief River Falls had just started a swimming team. We were such a small team that the girls swimming team and I got to swim in the varsity team. There was no junior varsity or junior team. We had a coach named John Kapari. Very few kids had the privilege of having a coach like him.
The parents of Coach Kapari emigrated from Germany; he served in Vietnam as an H.S. State track Champion. He played high school and college football; was drafted by the Houston Oilers, but was cut for being too slow even though he was a state champ in track in multiple events.
Coach Kapari never swam competitively but he was the greatest coach. He learning everything there was to learn about coaching a swimming team. We would watch video of Olympic swimmers. Sometimes, he would put on goggles and lay at the bottom of the pool, while we swam over him, to analyze our strokes.
Coach Kapari broke a lot of clipboards. He would get worked up and slam the clipboard down on the deck breaking it. One time, during an important meet there was a false start during the I. M. Relay. Our first swimmer didn’t hear the second gunshot indicating a false start and started swimming like crazy. He was in one of the middle lanes. Coach Kapari grab a metal folding chair and flung it out so that it splashdown right in front of our swimmer. The guy stopped, stunned and looked up. Kapari did not want him to tire himself out so he did what he had to do to stop him.
Coach Kapari always had a sharpie marker in his jacket pocket to make notes and write down times. When we would travel for a swim meet, we would use the girls’ locker room. On one occasion, we bought a tampon from a vending machine in the girls’ locker room. We replaced Coach Kapari’s sharpie marker with a tampon in his jacket pocket. We all knew that when we got back on the bus, our coach would pick up his clip board and pull the marker out of his pocket to debrief us on the meet. He pulled what he thought was the marker out of his pocket, glanced at it and shoved it back in his pocket with lightning speed!
During the energy crisis and fuel rationing, our pool was closed over the Christmas Hoolidays. We drove to Grand Forks to practice in one of the city pool. One evening a sudden blizzard hit. Coach Kapari called the school district to ask what we should do. They said we would have to drive back in the blizzard.
Driving back, our coach drove slowly and had us looking down, watching the edge of the road with the doors ajar to tell him to move left or right because he could not see a thing. Later, we learned that the basketball players, who were in Grand Forks that same night as we were, were put up in a hotel because it was too dangerous for them to come home! The school would have faced court and civil actions if anything had happened to any of us.
Beside camping gear one of things I saved up money to buy was an inflatable kayak. A number of times on beautiful days in the spring I would find someone who would want to skip school and float the river. I put that deflated kayaks in my locker. I would come to school in the morning; me and a friend would take the kayak out of my locker and bring it down to the river just below the dam. We would inflate it and then spend the whole day just floating the river from Thief River to St. Hilaire. When we got to St. Hilaire we would deflate the kayak, pack it up and hitchhike back to Thief River. We would put the kayak in my locker, get on the bus and go home.
Unfortunately, our English teacher was an alcoholic. Our English class was right after lunch and she would come to class quite tipsy, not to say drunk.
Lincoln high school was an old depression-era public works building. It had huge halls, huge stairways and great big windows. Our English class was on the third floor and was endowed of all-encompassing windows with low windowsills.
In the spring we would open the window way up and sit on the windowsill. When our tipsy English teacher came in, she literally freaked out. She was so afraid of that open window. One day, before our teacher got to class, we sent Mike down to lay face down on the ground in his socks. Dana was stationed at the window holding a pair of cowboy boots with toes pointing towards him and the empty open top of the boot outside the window facing the ground.
Dana held the boots and leaned back as if he was pulling and holding somebody up. When the teacher walked in, he went into action yelling for help…. As she came running across the room, he fell back on the floor with the boots in his hands. The teacher and a bunch of students ran to the window and looked down to see Mike spread-eagle, splayed out face down on the ground. Of course, all the kids were in on the prank. Our teacher left and didn’t come back the whole day. I don’t even think she reported it, she just went home.
In the winter, my dad’s favorite activity was to hook up one of our horses on a one horse open sleigh or two horses and two sleighs if I was around to drive the second sleigh. He had jingle bells, which when talking the way around the horse and buckled underneath where you would fasten a saddle. He also had strips of bells to fasten to the fills on either side of the horse. “Dr. Thorsgard and his sleigh” were famous in Thief River. People enjoyed seeing him drive up and down the river bank. Many people also enjoyed riding with him. He loved giving people rides in the sleigh. For a couple of years he even dressed as Santa and drove his one horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells, uptown to meet Santa in town.
When I wasn’t driving the sleigh with my dad, I preferred driving a pair of horses with either a bobsled or hayrack. I would get a bunch of friends together, load up some firewood and head for the river. My mom usually put together a collection of warm coats, and snow pants, hats and boots for people who came for a sleigh ride or hayride without enough warm clothing. When I bought myself a pair of flight pants from the army surplus store, my mom sent me back to buy some more, just to have on hand for unexpected guests. The girls usually came dressed like cute snow bunnies but not dressed warmly enough for a sleigh ride. If we didn’t have boots that fit them, I would give them a bunch of thick wool socks. I found out during one of my cold excursions, when the snow was very cold you did not need boots. If you just wore thick socks, the cold snow would not make your socks wet, they would keep your feet very warm: warmer in fact than a pair of boots because they would not constrict blood flow to your feet. My mom, whose name was Ina, called this stash of winter clothing, “Ina’s expedition outfitters”.
One weekend when I was home from college I had brought my roommates Eric to Thief River with me. We got a bunch of people together harnessed a pair of horses, loaded the hayrack with hay, blankets and firewood. We headed to the river by the light of the moon. For those unfamiliar with how light it can be on a winter night in the north; a bright moon on a clear night will reflect off the snow making the night as bright as an overcast day. We drove the horses and hayrack several miles upriver. When we stopped we tied up the horses and started a bonfire with the wood we had brought with us. After a couple of hours of hanging around the campfire and telling stories, we hooked up the horses and headed home.
As we drove home, we were talking and laughing and the jingle bells were dancing to the rhythm of the horses’ hooves. As we got closer to home, someone asked where my roommate Eric was. He wasn’t with us. We turned the horses around and headed back to the river. After traveling a couple of miles back up the river we found my roommate face down in the snow. He was okay, though. He said that he was walking behind to warm up but when the horses started to trot faster and faster, he ran for as long as he could, yelling to us until he finally just gave up and collapsed. We could not hear him above the jingle bells and all of the conversations. Our horses, like many horses are barn sour and will go faster on their way home.
When Rob got married I volunteered to drive our Victoria carriage with my team of black Tennessee Walkers. Rob didn’t put me in the bulletin as the carriage driver. Instead, as a joke, he listed me as the groom. Patty, his wife was listed as the bride. Rob was listed as the groom. But, further down along with ushers and such, I was also listed as the groom. We had an uneventful and fun drive from the church, across town to the Country Club for the reception and wedding dance. Since horses are a chick magnet, I decided I would be going to the dance for a while before taking the horses home. That way we might be able to pick up a couple of chicks for a horse and carriage ride. Sure enough, Karl and I found a couple of girls who wanted to drive the horses home with us. I harnessed the horses in the dark and must not have gotten one of the tugs connected just right. We started off across the golf course. One of the girls had a flashlight and was flashing the light back-and-forth to make sure we weren’t going to run into something. I told her the horses see a lot better than we do in the dark and they were not going to run into anything. Yet, the light was making the horses skittish. Just as I got the girls to turn off the light, one of the tugs came loose from one of the doubletrees. Because that horse was no longer properly connected, he went forward while the spreader between the two horses came off the center pole. The pole down into the ground, the second horse’s doubletree snapped and the horses were loose. I dropped the reins so that I wouldn’t be yanked off the carriage.
However, the girl beside me saw me drop the reins and grabbed them. She was forcefully yanked off the carriage right over the front panel and landed in a mud puddle.
Following such an unfortunate incident, the girls headed back to the dance to lick their wounds and clean up. We round up the horses and got them home. We had to wait until the next day to get the carriage.
About a month later I was at another dance and I was telling someone the story. One of my friends pointed to a propped open door behind us. I looked around the door…. The girl who had grabbed the reins and had ended up in the mud puddle was hiding behind the door shaking her head with her face in her hands.
Please follow me on Face Book – http://@ThorsgardBook
NEXT TIME – GULAG N.D. – CH 8