Chapter 18

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

Three of us checked into the Hotel Whitcomb up near the top of Market street, cleaned up, went out and got a civilian haircut and proceeded to check out the scenery.  We came back to the hotel late in the afternoon and sat around a table in the lounge getting acquainted and swapping tales from the south Pacific.  There was a Lt. JG sitting at the next table alone and he would occasionally glance our way as if waiting for an invitation to join us.  One of the fellows promptly slid his chair over.  After introductions all around, someone asked him what time it was.  He had his watch on the same hand with which he was holding a drink and in looking at his watch turned his drink over on his lap.  We had to excuse ourselves to get out of there and have a good laugh.


The next day I caught a cab down to the Embarcadero and took the ferry over to the train station, boarded the Challenger for Ames and spent three miserable days in soot and grime.  No berths this time and there was no way to get comfortable in those seats.  While shaving in the washroom one day I watched a sailor standing on one leg while bracing himself  with the other up against the wall and swaying as if still at sea as the train rocked, shaving with a straight edge razor.  I made up my mind that I would learn to use one of those some day.


I had alerted my folks as to my arrival time on the bus from Ames and it seemed that we would never get there.  Things began to look familiar and the bus pulled into main street at Garner and my folks were standing there with the broadest smiles you ever saw.  On the ten miles to Britt I tried to catch up on what I had missed in the last two and a half years as it was now the last of June, 1943.  My brother Don was working at the standard station for Bill Gifford and I had the loan of my aunt’s 33 Chevy coupe with wire wheels and white walls and with Don in the station I was given gas stamps, oh yes, that is something that had happened while I was gone, rationing.  That first night I went down to see Jennie who was working at Selbys produce plant.  I picked her up and I don’t recall what time we got in but both of the DINKYS on the M and St. L railroad had come through and gone which was probably in the neighborhood of 2 AM.  That was not a good neighborhood for someone who had to get to work early the next morning.


I guess I had expected to see some of the old gang around the bank corner where we used to hang out, but most everyone was gone to the service or away working.


Don had been getting around on a motor scooter which he had given the name, YORKTOWN.  I thought my dog, Jabby might have forgotten me, but he about went into a tailspin when I came into the house the first time.


Jennie and I probably put more miles on that 33 Chevy than Bernice had put on it in the last year.  Since arriving home I was troubled with a condition that upset me quite a bit.  When trying to drink from a cup, glass or bottle I would get so shaky I would have to hang onto it with both hands.  This made me self-conscious to the point that I would turn down offers of something to drink.


I was asked to come to Mason City and appear on KGLO radio for an interview.  It was difficult to know just how much to say or what topics to avoid not having been given any guidance on the subject.


The time passed all too quickly and it was back to Ames to catch the train for Nachitoches, Louisiana (pronounced Nakatish).  I had to change trains in Chicago, a short layover in Terre Haute, Indiana and then on to New Orleans for an overnight stay at the Jung Hotel.  While walking to the hotel, a Cadillac pulled over to the curb and two women motioned me over.  I spoke to them through the open window and told them I was a stranger and couldn’t give them directions.  It became very clear they didn’t want directions and except for the Cadillac they were what you could refer to as pavement princesses.


The train from New Orleans got me into Natchitoches in the middle of the night and I stood there briefly in the dark with my luggage wondering if everyone had forgotten me.  Soon a vehicle pulled up and the driver said he was to take me to the Louisiana State Normal College Campus.


The dimly lit campus didn’t reveal much to me and I was shown to a building where I was directed to a room and a bunk.  In the morning I found I was only a few steps from the mess hall and after introductions of the other 3 in the room we went over for breakfast and I guess I was a bit surprised to find that we were in the minority.  College girls all over the place and we were all in one long building with only an archway separating us.  I was given a tour of the campus and taken to the post office where I was assigned my own mail box.


The city of Natchitoches boasted of the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana purchase.  Most everyone was very friendly and it wasn’t long before the banker had invited me to his Sunday School class.  The main street had all the business places on one side and the Cane river  on the other.  Once in a while we would go down Sunday afternoon and sit on the river bank and watch the negroes get baptized and take off screaming and running as they came out of the water.  There was a theater on main street as well as a hotel that had the nicest little cafe in the back room, the old style marble top tables and wrought iron chairs.  A good steak dinner was one dollar.  Years later on a trip through there I told my wife about it and I said I bet that has changed.  Sure enough it had, it was now a buck twenty five.


The second day on campus we went right into routine with no loss of time.  Classes in navigation, math, aircraft engines, geopolitics and Meteorology.  It was tough to take a class in the summer down there, things got real sleepy after the noon meal.  On one such occasion I dozed off a bit and was poked in the side by an elbow to alert me that the instructor had asked me a question.  Now down there given any set of weather conditions you could safely predict fog.  I rose to my feet and loudly proclaimed, “FOG” whereupon I was advised that I was in math class.  This did not make a lot of points with the instructor.


Someone was always trying to get the “gouge” for a test and that was of course the answers.  Sometimes these could be had from a member of a preceding class or one brave individual who broke into the office and copied it down.  New they pretty well had all the bases covered during testing and would watch very closely for a scrap of paper or someone turning up a cuff.  One thing they never did catch was the pencil trick.  You take one of the flat sides of a wooden pencil and use a pin ahead of time.  The pencil face was divided into 5 areas from left to right with the extreme left edge being A, B, the middle C and so on.  Five multiple choice answers and from the top down from one to forty for the standard forty questions.  On one test we had a fellow that was anxious to get done and he whizzed right through it without bothering to check a few of the questions to make sure he had the right gouge.


For the most part though everyone was eager to learn and there wasn’t really too much cheating going on.  There was homework aplenty and of course the ever present physical activities.  Soccer, wrestling, boxing, swimming and track.  I was usually paired with a marine for wrestling and it seemed we both had about the same ability so it made for an extremely tiring session.  My best sport was track and I managed to hold the record for track and cross country mile the six months I was there.


We had a Navy Lt. named Hurd for exec. and he could usually find an infraction worth more than a few pushups.  One of the physical tests was called the step test and it was to see how long after hard exercise it would take your pulse to come back down.  I always did well on that as well as the pushups.


One morning while shaving with that straight edge razor I had promised myself I would get, I got a crick in my neck with my head turned way off to one side.  It was impossible for me to get my jumper on over my head and by this time it was fall and rather cool.  I went to classes in a T-shirt for three days, yes the same T-shirt and I became aware that seats along side me were vacant.


We had a class clown named Hazelbaker who entertained us often.  One night while going through the chow line with the college girls serving, he was sliding his tray along and about midway he stopped and threw a fit, shaking and slobbering with no small response from the girls.

Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.