*The Army

Back in 1965, life could not have been more ideal for me.

I was a senior and looking forward to graduating from Rim-of-the-World High School, in Lake Arrowhead, California. Of the 52 kids in my graduating class, approximately half were girls. Dating was a little dicey because you had to ask your buddy (and usually it was the captain/quarterback of the football team) if it was really over before asking out his ex-girlfriend. (I say this because ‘Brain’, our BMOC, dated all the available girls.)

I clearly remember my first week back in the 9th grade. I was walking down the hall when suddenly I was grabbed on my shoulder by the Coach and spun around. “Who the heck are you?” he queried. “I’m Don Van Kirk and I just transferred in from ‘Down-the-Hill’,” was my reply. You see, Lake Arrowhead is 6,000+ feet up in the San Bernardino National Forest and when you went there, you told people you were going ‘Up-the-Hill’. Conversely, when you went down…well, you get the idea. The coach went on to ask, “What are you doing 7th period, the last period of the day?”  “I’m in the marching band,” was my proud reply. “I play e-flat alto sax.” “Not any more you don’t!” I was informed. “It’s football season and if you can catch a ball, wide receiver is where you will be. No more John Phillip whats-his-name for you.”

It seemed that due to the severe lack of male type students, playing sports was not an option but more of an…’everybody played’… sort of deal.  As the next season rolled around I became the center on the basketball team, then left-field for baseball, and finally I learned how to high jump for the track team. By this time the coach (and there was only one) was well aware that I was tall, I could catch a ball, but I was not very fast – hence the high jump. There was also an unwritten rule at Rim High that you ‘played until you died on the field’.

One season, there were just seven guys on the basketball team and during a particularly rough game I got hit in the nose. Trying to stop the bleeding during a time-out, I asked the coach to take me out for a bit. Pointing to the bench he asked, “Who do you think I should put in, Ralph or Percy?”  Both were ultra short, wore thick glasses, and if our uniforms had come with pockets I’m sure they both would have had those plastic pocket protectors with multiple mechanical pencils stuffed in them. I’m also glad we didn’t have belts; you know, something to hook a slide rule and your glasses case to. I stuffed some cotton up my nose and soldiered on.

Surprisingly enough we actually did pretty well in our league. Of course, the league consisted of other small schools, some much smaller. We played two different ‘reform schools’. The quality of their teams varied greatly, depending on the type and number of juvenile crimes committed that year. A couple of Catholic schools were also thrown into the mix. Now, I’m not going to get into a religious discussion here, but boy howdy! They were a bunch of cheaters! We also played California School for the Deaf. They excelled at individual sports like track, but in a sport where communication was key…well, it was tough. The last school in the league was another ‘regular’ high school like us, only even smaller. Big Bear Lake was a thousand feet higher up the road and they were our archrivals. Competition was keen due to one main factor: altitude. Both our schools had an advantage when we went down-the-hill because we were used to the limited oxygen available to us at home. At a lower elevation we became ‘supercharged’. Big Bear High School, even though they were smaller, was used to even less oxygen than us. It pretty much leveled the playing field.

I suppose you are wondering by now why I called this story The Army’. Well, I’m getting around to that… just relax. Remind me at the end if I don’t talk about being in the army, and I’ll change the name to something else.

I mean, I could talk about the army. I was in from January 1969 until November 1970. My initial training was 11-Bravo, or Light Weapons Infantry for you civilian types. I learned how to fire a machine gun, set booby traps, and blow things up; all of which are very valuable skills, especially in today’s modern urban setting. I did a lot of walking around and a type of ‘camping’, which consisted mostly of sitting in a hole with an M-60 machine gun. I did come away from the experience with three valuable mottos:

1) I will never, ever, buy a car or wear clothing that is green.

2) I don’t care how much I want something, be it concert tickets, the latest electronic doodad, or anything that requires me to… stand in a line.  And…

3) I seem to now have a little problem with authority, i.e. I don’t like being told what to do. The first two mottos I can take or leave; I’ve mellowed over the years. But not number 3, authority…No Sir!  I’ve been cultivating that one for many years. But Hey!…enough about the army. It wasn’t that much fun the first time and rehashing it is just getting me all worked up. Let’s talk some more high school.

In every life, there comes a time when something happens that changes you forever. What happened to me in 1965 was that my father lost his position as manager for the Southern California Edison Company in the mountain area of Cedar Glen, Blue Jay, Crestline, Lake Gregory, Rim Forest and, of course, Lake Arrowhead. I was going to move down-the-hill. Rialto, California was the destination and Eisenhower High School is where I would graduate in 1966. There were 3500 kids in three grades, which translated to approximately 1200 in my senior class. I became an instant nobody. Didn’t make the football team. Baseball – not even close. I barely made the basketball team, but of course I didn’t play much. I ended up playing tennis and became ‘most improved player’, getting promoted from the ‘B’ to the ‘A’ squad. Life at Eisenhower was pure un-fun. There was only one redeeming quality it had to offer: Man, there were girls everywhere! Tall ones, short ones, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors…although most the senior girls were dating college types (go figure). I immediately started dating Holly Hunstead. She was smart, lived on the local country-club golf course, tall like me, and on the yearbook committee. (Boy, did I get a lot of pictures of me in that book. Yeah!)  Oh, and one more thing, she had a car.

Remember the start of that last paragraph. The part about something happening to you that changes you forever. It happened again. It seems that because I was new in town, I didn’t know that Holly had a long-term boyfriend that had gone off to college. Holly basically dated me to make him jealous and to get him to pay more attention to her. It worked, and suddenly I became invisible. She was so popular and well-loved that there wasn’t a group or ‘clique’ in school that would have anything to do with me. I was doomed. I eventually started dating a sophomore whom I met at a football game. She was sitting two rows behind me and threw popcorn at my head the whole game. When I finally turned around to find out who the messy eater was, she gave me one of those ‘special’ female looks and said, “I was just about to hit you with my purse, you blockhead. I can’t afford to buy anymore popcorn and the game is almost over.”  We dated the rest of the year and even went to the homecoming dance. Her mom took pictures, I bought one of those funny wrist flowers and I picked her up in my dad’s 1964-1/2 Mustang Hardtop.  (289 hi-performance engine, 4-speed tranny, big Firestone tires and, yeah, it got rubber in every gear, baby.) Life was sweet once more and all I had to think about was getting into a good college and beating the draft. We all know how that went, don’t we.

I am going to close the story by admitting to you that, yes, I am a mind reader. I know that you are all thinking the following: “Will he change the name of the story or??…”

Thank you, my name is Don.

“All things eventually become unknown armies,” by unknown.


1 thought on “*The Army

  1. Well, Don, I don’t know you but I do know Linda and Joan Collier because I married their cousin Janice Corbin (Taylor). And it’s been a wild ride I’ll tell you.

    But, enough about me, you are the enigma here and I’m intrigued somewhat by your writing wit. You seem to have a handle on how to twist an interesting phrase or two.

    Keep it up..


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