Friday, August 31, 2007

Round the Horn

Ken’s Story
The next year the Auburn Midgets Legion baseball team won the state championship at St. Paul. Sam was nicknamed “Round the Horn” by Neal Thomas, the PA announcer, because he was so insistent on enforcing that age-old routine, even during practice. He still has the batting helmet with that nickname inscribed on it.

Sam’s Version
Dad should mention that I was the team scorekeeper and statistician. I still have in my wallet the pass from the 1972 State Tournament. It says “Scorekeeper”. I was even named to the All-State team, as scorekeeper.

I loved to play baseball. But the new season came too soon after my surgery in eighth grade, so I took up scorekeeping, telling everyone that I had lost my glove and outgrown my cleats.

The nickname “’Round the Horn” actually came from Dale Thomas, the youngest and cockiest of Neal’s four sons. He was our batboy. It was during my first game in uniform as a scorekeeper, the first game of the season, at Hamburg, Iowa. The coaches were teaching me how to keep the scorebook. I dutifully marked the balls and strikes, a big BB in the box for “base on balls”. The next pitch was a ground ball to the second baseman and a double play. The coach instructed, “that’s 4-6-3 DP”, second to short to first for two outs. When I looked up from writing this in the scorebook, the team was tossing the ball around the horn while the next batter stepped into the box. Dale came up to me and said, “So write that down.”

“Write what down?”

“When they throw the ball ‘round the horn.”


“Don’t you know anything?” He said this sarcastically, as if a fifth-grader new sarcasm. “RTH with a circle around it.”

I started to do this, paused, and looked at the coach. He nodded, “If they go first to short to second to third draw the circle counterclockwise with an arrow. If they go third to second to short to first, draw the arrow clockwise.”

I didn’t take me too long to figure out this was a big tease, but for the rest of the game, from the end of the bench or while running out to get a bat, Dale would shout, “Hey, ‘Round the Horn, how do you score that?”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Arizona Vacation

Ken’s Story
The highlight of the year 1972 was an automobile trip to Arizona. We traded for a Pontiac station wagon with the idea it would be suitable for sleeping. We had determined to drive straight through to my sister’s house and on the return trip we would camp out when the weather was good and use the car if it was raining - thus saving motel bills. Since the station wagon was considerably above our budget for transportation we also planned to use the car for the trip and then trade down when we got home.

Neither plan worked out.

When we found a suitable camp site, Janice always found a reason not to stop (snakes, etc.). Consequently, we stayed in motels every night out. And the year 1972 was the year gas prices began to soar and by the time we got home every car buyer was looking for compact units that didn’t guzzle gas. The trade-in value of the Pontiac was reduced measurably. It did turn out to be one of the best vehicles we ever owned.

Sam was a fanatic on map reading and routed the entire trip. This was before the advent of computer generated trip plans. Since he would turn 16 on the trip he was allowed to be one of the drivers with his student permit as long as an adult was in the front seat. I remember going through Albuquerque, New Mexico at 2:30 a.m. with me in the front passenger seat fast asleep. I woke up long enough to see traffic on both sides of us on the interstate. I asked Sam if everything was all right and he said it was no problem. I have difficulty finding my way in broad daylight on interstates. Not Sam. He had us so regimented we didn’t dare need to go to the bathroom at the wrong time. He scheduled himself, Janice, and I for about 200 miles of driving at a time with gas stops to coincide with a change of driver.

We made the 1,300 mile trip down to Sierra Vista in less than 30 hours, despite one major slow down. We had never driven in the mountains and the route took us a short distance through the White Mountains. The last 120 miles of narrow mountain roads took us four hours. When we got to Sierra Vista and told my sister, Marqueta, which way we came, she laughed and said, “Oh, no. You didn’t come over the White Mountains?”

There was one other problem with Sam’s schedule. He had us booked for a gas stop on the Zuni Indian reservation. The map showed a town of 2,500 so he figured it would be all right. He had overlooked, however, the fact of a time zone change and that Arizona was the one state in the union not to observe daylight savings time. We thought we would hit the gas station at 8 a.m. It was actually 6 a.m. Not only was nothing open, there was, in fact, no gas station, and not much of a town, either. Luckily, the gas tank held enough to get us to the next town off the reservation.

A stop at the Grand Canyon featured our return trip home.

Sam’s Version
I turned 16 the day we stopped at the Four Corners monument. Dad, being the law abiding citizen that he is, noted that my Learner’s Permit had expired. I sat in the back seat for the rest of trip, complaining about not getting to drive across the Great Divide.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More Tombstone Tales
Here are some things Dad left out of his vacation story.

Dad’s really a pretty good guy. What other family would hop in the car and drive to Bisbee just to see a copper mine. Malachite and azurite, all right! Mom, of course, thought it was just a big hole in the ground. Then she saw the Grand Canyon.

It took us awhile, though, to get from Bisbee to the Grand Canyon. Arizona is a big state. We wandered from Tombstone up through Winslow, across the Painted Desert, over to Meteor Crater, and then to Flagstaff and the South Rim.

Tombstone was about the best tourist trap around. It’s pretty authentic, at least compared to Wall Drug and Reptile Gardens. It does seem a little odd how small and ordinary something big and famous like the O.K. Corral can be.

I’m pretty sure Dad never figured out why I routed the drive to the Grand Canyon through Winslow, Arizona. (He’s not much of a connoisseur of Top 40 music). Joy, at least, laughed at the joke when, after returning to Auburn, she asked where I had been and I replied, “Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.”

Joy worked at the Dairy Chef during the summer. This conversation took place through the screen window for the outside counter. They were busy that night, so I didn’t get a chance to explain to her that, although there were a lot of flatbed Fords in Winslow, they were all driven by guys. Fortunately none of them were slowing down to take a look at me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Where are the Minutemen when you really need them?
OK, one more Arizona vacation story. When you’re that close to Mexico, of course you have to see what’s on the other side.

Dad had traveled quite a bit when he was in the Army during the Korean War. He’s been to both Alaska and Hawaii (before either one of them was a state). Mom, not so much. In fact, she may not even have made it outside of Nebraska until they went to the Black Hills on their honeymoon. And so we celebrated each visit to a new state with some fanfare.

Back in the day that gasoline cost fifteen cents a gallon, air conditioners were a fortune. So the accepted summer pastime was to roll the windows down and take a drive into the country. This often took us in the vicinity of that old river city, Brownville, and across the Brownville Bridge, across the wide Missouri, into the State of Missouri, just far enough to turn around before we got to the toll booth. Speaking of Geographic Thrills, during one short trip to Kansas City we drove down State Line, our left tire in Missouri and our right tire in Kansas.

So it was pretty much a no-brainer to add Mexico to our belt notch. Nogales was the chosen tourist trap.

Mom soon discovered that being South of the Border was uncomfortably like being in another country. And I discovered that Mexico is nothing like a good Speedy Gonzales cartoon. So after an hour or two of poking around the shops, we headed back to the car and back to the border crossing.

As we walked along, I must have dawdled, probably at a rock shop, and the family disappeared around a corner heading to the parking lot. I hurried after them, turned the corner, and ran into an older boy. He took a black handle from his pants pocket and flicked open a switch-blade knife.

I had borrowed a camera for our trip from the Newspaper office. It was hanging around my neck. He raised the metal blade to eye level. It glinted in the sun. I seriously wondered, if he robs me, how many Funeral Notices would I have to deliver to pay back my dad’s boss for losing his camera in Nogales, Mexico.

He pushed the switch-blade towards me and said, “You like? Ten dollars.”

“I only have three fifty,” I blurted, still scared. For sure he was going to slash me, take the camera and my three dollars and fifty cents, all for want of enough change to cover his wholesale costs. I hoped that it was true that he would not be able to cash my Traveler’s Cheques.

“Okay,” he said. I gave him everything in my wallet and pants pocket, and he gave me the knife. He disappeared. I stood there holding a switch-blade. I soon realized, the mechanical genius I am not, that I hadn’t a clue as to how the knife worked. I could not get the blade retracted back into the handle.

As I walked to the car, the thought occurred to me that it was probably illegal to purchase weapons in Mexico and smuggle them into the US. Never-the-less, all I could manage was to stuff the knife handle into my sock and stick the blade up my pants leg. Fortunately all the border agent appeared interested in was fresh fruit and Mexican meat products.

The knife has made a nice letter opener all these years.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Ken’s Story
Sam lettered in football as a junior and a senior. He even scored one touchdown his senior year. The Bulldogs were whipping Syracuse quite handily but the Rockets scored a TD and tried an onside kick. The kicker took a swipe at the ball in the style needed for an onside recovery, but he missed the mark and barely grazed the leather. Sam picked up the ball after it fell off the tee and began streaking for the end zone, two referees, and no one else, following alongside. One referee was heard to say, “Can he do that?” The other replied, “He’s doing it, isn’t he?” It was a free ball, of course, and the touchdown counted.

Sam’s Version
True story. The next morning I got up early, drove to Nebraska City and took the SAT. Did pretty well and earned a four-year Regent’s Scholarship (full tuition) to the University of Nebraska.

Best two consecutive days of my first seventeen years.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

End of an Era

Ken’s Story
As a junior, Sam had a part in the spring high school play. He was Mr. DePinna in “You Can’t Take It With You.” The next year he played Mr. Lung in the musical “Flower Drum Song”.

In other activities Sam received a Superior Rating on a tuba solo at the district music contest, was a member of Quill and Scroll (the journalism honorary), copy editor for the Bulldog yearbook, and earned a Superior Rating in extemporaneous speaking at the district speech contest.

Sam’s Version
I have endeavored, as did the fictional Sycamore’s, to enjoy life and be peacefully amused by the world at our door, although I have yet to invite to dinner a refugee Russian ballet instructor. As for portraying a Chinese tailor in a musical, Mr. Falter had the good sense to not actually ask me to sing anything.

The tuba solo was an experience. Auburn had a very good reputation for music education. Every entry in the district music contest that spring, from the concert band to the jazz band on down to the smallest piccolo solo received a Superior Rating. I was the weak link in that chain. But much to the thanks of my accompanist, Ms. Anne Oestmann, my musical powers peaked on the morning of the district music contest. I had never before, nor ever since, played all of those notes on tone and in order.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Girls Can Sweat

Ken’s Story
Kay was a freshman and the only one of her classmates to letter in volleyball. She continues to play the sport even to this day.

Kay was a member of the first girl’s basketball team to play in Nebraska since the 1920s. It seems the Nebraska legislature for all those years thought the sport was too vigorous for the distaff side. She also played softball in Auburn’s summer rec program.

Sam’s Version
Hurrah for Title IX. It eventually got Kay a scholarship to Northwest Missouri State. I am all for providing the opportunity for women to play sports and supplying equal resources and facilities. But, forgive me, it shouldn't actually be called basketball until the girls start setting picks and blocking out on rebounds. Have you ever tried encouraging an eleven year old girl to take a charge? Call me old fashioned, but I never had any trouble asking my boys to collide into each other.

I was a Junior when we discovered that Kay was a southpaw amateur athlete. Unable to resist being out done by her, I expressed an interest in trying out for the Legion baseball team.

So, the summer before I was a senior David Wininger gave me an old six-fingered ball glove. I borrowed a pair of cleats and handed the scorebook off to one of the youngsters. One of those youngsters, our batboy, was Jamie Daffer. Through a long series of unintended consequences, Jim is now my brother-in-law.

I spent most of that season on the bench of course. Baseball is an intensely personal team sport. They throw the ball at you and hit the ball at you. My offense consisted solely of nervously hitting the ball into the hole and trying to beat the shortstop’s throw to first. I was well into adulthood before I caught a ball in the outfield.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Liquid Sunshine

Ken’s Story
Kay and Sam were both involved in fund raising $20,000 to send the Auburn band to Miami and the 1973 Orange Bowl. Nebraska played Notre Dame and Auburn represented the great State of Nebraska. We gave the kids spending money for the trip. Kay’s was nearly gone by the time they got to Florida as she bought souvenirs for everyone at home. Sam still had much of his left when he got back. He picked up sea shells and rocks for souvenirs.

Sam’s Version
Somehow, somewhere, someone has purloined the original manuscript of The Diary of a Mad Bandsman. If you run across it, leave me a note. I would love to post it on Midland Passages.

All I can say is “Look at all the pretty lights!” And that was just Chattanooga.

We marched in the Orange Bowl Parade. We passed the reviewing stand a few minutes before 8:00 pm and just missed being on national TV. We were feeling so good the four of us did the “tuba twirl”, at least when marching through underpasses, where no one would see us if we got out of step and Mr. Damke wouldn’t get mad at us.

They re-ran the whole parade on local TV the next morning. As we came by the camera, they cut to an instant replay of the Sunkist float and Anita Bryant. At least you could hear us playing the Tito Puente’s song, Para Los Romberos, in the background.

We marched with the University of Nebraska band at half time of the Orange Bowl. The Nebraska band formed the outline of the United States and we ran across the field, from coast to coast unfurling a huge American flag made out of bunting. The drill team got to hold the stars. We did not miss out on being on national TV that time. Everyone watches the Orange Bowl half time show, don’t they?

Nebraska crushed Notre Dame 40-6. It was Johnny Rogers’ last game as a Husker and Bob Devaney’s last game as a coach.

I also discovered what athletes do during TV time outs. Johnny Rogers took his helmet off, sat on it, and waved at the Nebraska fans in the end zone.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Ken’s Story
Sam graduated from high school in 1974 with a 4-year Regents Scholarship to the University of Nebraska. It was one of 113 such scholarships awarded in the state that year. It was the first 4-year award ever for Auburn, although some one-year, renewable, scholarships had been given in previous years.

Kay had a busy year as a junior after Sam graduated. She scored 22 points in one basketball game, a school record, albeit it was only the second year for the girl’s sport. She was inducted into the National Honor Society and was selected as alternate to Cornhusker Girls’ State. The news story announcing the selection listed her achievements: All A’s for four years; class officer sophomore, junior, and senior years; Math-Science Club two years; Girls Athletic Letter Club three years and officer; band two years; annual staff two years and co-editor for 1975; Spanish club one year; volleyball letter three years; basketball letter two years; reserve cheerleader one year; county government day; secretary of United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

Kay received several scholarships. One was for $200 as top winner in the Nebraska City Elks Club contest and another $200 special award for scholarship to Northwest Missouri State University. NWMSU also gave her a full ride (room, board, and tuition) to play volleyball for them. She played every minute of every game (except for one because of injury) her freshman year. She dropped out of the sport when she got married.

Kay graduated from Auburn High School in 1976, tied for valedictorian honors with Vicki Bergmann. Both had 4.0 GPA’s for their four high school years. She gave one of the two senior addresses. Kay’s commencement address was entitled “Failures”.

Sam’s Version
I was a cheerleader, too. Yes, indeed. Take a look in the ’72 Bulldog if you don’t believe me. It is not a joke.

As for the National Honor Society, my dad, my sister, my wife, and two of my children are inductees. That honor passed by me (as it did for my younger son, probably for similar reasons). Since I never learned the secret handshake or anything, I don’t know all the rules, but I think it had something to do with deportment. Or it might have had something to do with the Great Sock Survey and the Ability to Predict the Colour of a Person’s Socks According to the Day of the Week, which Mrs. Rarick did not think had anything to do with British Literature. Or that school lunch editorial. Or the time I planted the family station wagon in the side lawn of the school delivering tables for the Math and Science Club soup supper.

Anyway, I was far more annoyed at not winning the Bausch and Lomb Science Award, a prize I had been shooting for since eighth grade, when I attended my first commencement, the eight-grade band members filling in for the seniors to play Pomp and Circumstance. I was so annoyed that I even asked Mr. Wettenkamp why Janet Ely got the award instead of me. After all, I was the only kid in the class who was actually planning on being a scientist. Mr. Wettenkamp pointed out that the Bausch and Lomb award, public as it is, was only a name on a plaque. He had two awards to give, and I had won the other one, which he considered more prestigious. Earlier that spring I had been named American Chemical Society student of the year, gone to a chapter meeting in Omaha, had dinner with real chemists and the other Nebraska high school awardees, and was given an engraved pen and pencil set. He was right.

Now David Wininger, he took the National Honor Society seriously. (He wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. He grew up to be a colonel). You have two shots at the NHS. During an all-school assembly, the senior members roam through the seated crowd and tap the new inductees. Then the moms and dads of the inductees are brought out from behind a hidden panel, looking proud. It’s all so warm and fuzzy.

Our junior year, Dave was all set to be named. On the day of the all-school assembly he wore a nice shirt and tie and his (highly fashionable at the time) white sport coat. But, alas, his mom and dad were not hidden behind the partition. He was flattened, even more so than the day I beat him in the 50-yard dash during a break in play practice for You Can’t Take It With You. The next year he threatened to boycott the assembly, claiming that the selection process was rigged in favor of the populars and brown nosers. I wasn’t sure why Dave didn’t qualify, but, having no real chance at induction myself, I agreed to skip the assembly. The inevitable happened, of course. That morning, before the assembly, I saw Doc Wininger, bow-tie and all, sneaking into the gym. The only honorable thing to do was to tell Dave he still had a chance and that we’d better go to the assembly. He was inducted wearing a ratty T-shirt. His parents proudly smiled.

It is traditional for the assembly to conclude with a speaker, who addresses the members of the National Honor Society. The rest of us sit on our hands in the bleachers and listen politely. The speaker is usually a successful alumnus or local figure. It has always been my dream to be invited back to the National Honor Society assembly as a speaker. I intend to not address the honorees. I want to speak to the bleachers. “Success is measured not by what others think of you, but by what you think of yourself. Now get off your hands and go do something you can be proud of.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I Think I’ve Read That Somewhere Else Before

Ken’s Story
Sam was recognized for high scholarship as a freshman at the University of Nebraska. He was selected to go to the Antarctic as part of a National Science Foundation project. Drilling below the Ross Ice Shelf for geological information was the principal work. He stayed there approximately three months.

Sam brought back lots of stories from his trip to Antarctica but one stands out. Another came after he returned. The Navy supported the civilian activities at McMurdo Station where the National Science Foundation group was housed. True to military tradition, the unit was required to stand inspection outside every Saturday morning, despite the temperature being as much as 65 degrees below zero. On one such day, the formation was streaked (remember the streaking craze of the 70s on college campuses?) by someone wearing nothing but a ski mask. The commanding officer immediately notified the unit that the streaker would have to come forward or the entire unit would be punished. Subsequently the entire unit, including nurses, signed their name on the bulletin board admitting to the deed. The commander, realizing the futility of his order, called off punishment, saying, “I know it wasn’t one of the nurses!”

When Sam returned it was Christmas break and he was asked to speak at several places in Auburn about his trip. He talked to Rotary, for instance, and a group of third graders at school. “Dad,” he said, “those third graders asked a lot more intelligent questions than the Rotarians.”

Sam’s Version
The Ross Ice Shelf drilling was a later project. The year I participated in the US Antarctic Research Program, we used the annual sea ice off Ross Island as a platform to drill through sediments deposited by glaciers in the, now, underwater extension of the Dry Valleys.

You can read all about it if you choose the link in the next column for The Antarctic Journal of a Young Man.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

Ken’s Story
On May 20, 1977, Kay and Rich Gerdes, son of Ruth and Orville Gerdes, were married at the United Methodist Church in Auburn.

In 1978 Sam graduated from the University of Nebraska “With High Distinction” (3.86 GPA) in geology. Sam and Jo Ellen Groothuis, daughter of Will and Ruth Groothuis, were married at the Christ Lutheran church in Falls City, Nebraska, on May 19, 1978. Sam and Jo moved to New Orleans where Sam was employed by Texaco as a petroleum geologist and Jo finished her degree in chemical engineering at Tulane University.

Sam and Jo got acquainted at Nebraska, both living in the same coed dorm. Their penchant for studying (she was a straight 4.0 student) probably brought them together. Sam called one day and told his mom he was bringing a friend home for the weekend. We didn’t think much about it until he walked in with a girl and he introduced her as Jo Ellen Groothuis. I commented on the name and asked her if she knew a man named Will Groothuis. She did, of course, since it was her father. Will had been employed as a linotype operator at our newspaper in Stanton. He and Ruth, later his wife, were dating at that time. Some 20 years later their daughter and our son met at school and eventually got married.

Sam’s Version
And that’s the start of a whole ‘nother story.