School of hard rocks (and puncture weeds)

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

Our school was named after Chief Peteetneet, leader of a Native American tribe who roamed the valley before the white settlers crowded them out. The teachers didn’t tell us much about the chief, or how having his name on our old three story red sandstone and yellow brick school would inspire our educational efforts. He made at least one contribution. We learned to spell a very long word very early in our academic careers. It was like spelling Mississippi in which you just keep tossing in “i’s” until it looks about right. With Peteetneet you just keep adding “e’s”, and an occasional “t” until it seems long enough.

One other thing about Chief Peteetneet I learned from my little sister Jeanie. After he was buried, his ghost took up residence in the girls’ bathroom in the basement of the school. She knew that, because the first time which was also the last time she ventured down there as a kindergartner Chief Peteetneet was lurking around somewhere banging on the steam pipes of the old radiators. People tried to trick Jeanie by telling her it was just the sound that steam radiators make when they get old. But children know some things intuitively such as where the ghosts of old chiefs like to hang out, so she never went back. Fortunately we lived just down the hill and a half a block so during her six and a half years in elementary school Jeanie could sprint down and puff back up during recess and lunch time. She got wonderful aerobic workouts, but her kidneys suffered some strain.

Our school had some playground facilities you don’t see any more. One was the hill on which it stood. If you kicked the kick ball too hard that was it for that recess. It rolled half way to the city drug store downtown and by the time you fetched it the designated bell carrier was ringing the bell. (That was a great honor incidentally to be chosen to circle the school ringing the large hand bell at the beginning of the day, and the end of recess or lunch hour. You could be the scruffiest, nerdiest, littlest kid in the school, but for a moment everybody paid attention to you although they hated your message.)

Our playground was built of rocks and gravel and landscaped in puncture weeds. Balls and bike tires didn’t survive on it, but we did somehow. We boys played a sort of football. We didn’t know much about the game except it involved a ball and kicking things including each other. Three more skills you needed were, pushing, running and arguing. We didn’t have a referee to keep the rules. That was all right we only had one rule. Whoever argued the loudest won. Unless you won too many arguments and then people got mad and left sometimes taking the ball with them. This we would learn later was a Pyrrhic victory. For those of you taking notes, in 279 BC, Pyrrhus king of Epirus defeated the Romans in a battle at Asculum. But he lost so many men he declared, “One more such victory and I am lost.” In Peteetneet football parlance that meant, won argument lost ball.

The Peteetneet school playground had many shortcomings. But it had one longgoing. It was right next door to The Cut. The Cut was a mini Grand Canyon sliced out of the hill with the Orem Train Line tracks at the bottom. They dug it out so the train could make it through the hill to Payson. It had a car bridge and a footbridge at the top. Also a pipe to carry irrigation water across it. The pipe was big enough that the truly daring, bold, and expelled could crawl through it. Only a few tried. Not because of the trip to the principal’s office when some girl told on you. It was the spiders and snakes waiting in the dark pipe that kept us out.

But the Cut and the train tracks, that was another matter. The forbidden fruit in the playground of Eden. Cowboy gunfights, great imaginary train robberies, putting a pebble or a penny on the track and turning them into dust or paper thin oblong copper souvenirs, these were worth chancing a trip to Mr. Olson’s, later Gardner’s; the principle’s office. There was a fence between the playground and the cut, of course, but it had holes big enough to shove a mastodon through.

We had a live mascot too. This was Ol’ Peteetneet the seagull. Seagulls are special in Utah. They ate the crickets and saved the pioneers from starvation. But Ol’ Peteetneet was even more special. He only had one leg. The other one was bitten off, torn off, shot off-the stories varied. But he was a hero from the days of the earliest settlers in Payson. We never figured out that would make Ol’ Peteetneet about 3,000 years old in bird years. We also never knew why he was a hero. Did he pluck some child off the tracks in The Cut in front of a speeding train, or just eat more than the average number of crickets? But we did know that if you went out at lunch time and held up a piece of white Wonder Bread© with tuna fish out of your lunch sack or one you borrowed from your friend because you only lived down the hill and a half a block away so your mother made you come home for lunch. If you offered that tidbit the seagulls would swoop down and sometimes even snatch it out of your hand. But usually not. You’d have to throw it. If you did that enough days one of you, usually Max Reese who had a knack for being at the right place at the right time would see the one legged hero seagull Ol’ Peteetneet. Then we would all run to tell anybody who would listen and believe us. This was not a large number of people.

Once Monte Montague, Max Reese and I were at the forbidden train tracks. We put our ear to the tracks like we had seen Hoot Gibson do in the Saturday matinee cowboy movies. “Train!” we shouted. As usual we didn’t have a penny among us. But we lined the track with little rocks. We hid behind a nearby sagebrush. Sagebrush was another part of the landscaping at Peteetneet.

Around the bend came, not a train but a little put, put cart with three track maintenance men aboard. They bumped over our pebbles, screeched to a stop and began at the top of their lungs to describe what they considered to be canine elements in our maternal ancestry. They spotted us behind the sagebrush. Max took off running for home-part of his gift for being in the right place. Monte and I were frozen waiting for Ol’ Peteetneet the seagull or Chief Peteetneet or any available guardian angels to save us from the wrath of the trainmen. Nobody showed up. We cleaned off the rocks, endured a spirited lecture and thanked our stars the trainmen didn’t have any rope to tie us to the tracks with.

We promised ourselves we would never do that again. Next time, somehow we would come up with a penny.

What do you think about this part of the book?

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Your next installment is: Learning how to not dance