John L. Sorenson
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High School

Through my junior high days (grades 7-9) I had no real circle of friends. I was sort of friendly with everyone, enough surprisingly to be elected student body president. But I was so poor that I never found it possible to “hang out” with anyone or more than rarely to go to a movie, let alone the malt shop. Once in a great while I would bum a quarter from my dad, but usually he had almost nothing himself. So I had no “social life” except hanging around with a few neighborhood boys. I had been placed in elementary school in one of two classes that were mirrors of the social class differences in Smithfield, although it was only years later that I grasped that fact clearly. A similar situation faced Kathryn in Magna; there they were more forthright about the fact. In Magna one section of elementary school students was frankly called “robins,” while the other section were the “sparrows,” consisting of the have-nots. In my hometown the same distinction was made but without having names assigned. I and my classmates were, by and large, the equivalent of Magna’s “sparrows.” (In the only class picture I have from those days, the ragtag status of my classmates is apparent.) The two class sections essentially never interacted. Upon starting in at North Cache High (six miles away in Richmond) in the tenth grade, I started a new process of socializing that I recall few details of now. It probably started with my mode of transportation. Smithfield- ites went either by school bus or rode the electric, one-car interurban train (the UIC—Utah Idaho Central which ran between Preston ID and Ogden). By the luck-of-the-draw, I guess, I was assigned to the train. (We were given books of tickets each month by the school that were torn out one per trip by the train conductor.) The train stopped and left from a spot just across the highway (U.S. 91) from the school at scheduled times. The train was considered the privileged mode. In the first place one did not necessarily have to sit in the seats; one could stand or even move about (although we weren’t supposed to, and the rough track/ride made sitting the sensible option). And a different social mix rode the train (all Hyde Park-ers were on it, while bus riders from Smithfield had to associate with the hicks from Newton and Clarkston on the west side of the valley where the busses originated each morning). Besides, the train permitted certain hi-jinks to be perpetrated. Returning in the later afternoon, the train passed down the middle of Main Street. There was an eternal contest between the two-man crew on the one hand and rowdy students on the other as to whether some hidden-in-a- bunch kid could surreptitiously ”pull the emergency cord” to bring the car to a screeching halt right in from of the post office (where we all checked for family mail box daily; there was no mail delivery), whereupon students would leap out of the stairways at the ends, or from opened windows (there was little automobile traffic). The alternative would be to ride one more block to the authorized stop. (If seen/caught, the miscreant—always a boy of course—could lose his train-riding privilege.) The poor conductor would almost go berserk when “the cord” was successfully pulled; what a lousy job! At school one’s locker was randomly mixed with those of others and of course class schedules were individualized also. And whether one enrolled for “ag”(riculture) or auto mechanics sent one to associate with certain social circles versus those surrounding, say, chemistry or journalism. Almost immediately I found myself involved in classrooms with people with academic/college prep. courses. Ironically it turned out that my acquaintances tended to be most often with those (“upper” social class) students from whom my experience in the schools in Smithfield had tended to isolate me. The most striking example of that was my drifting into close friendship with Wendell Roskelley. He had been the opponent in my election as junior high student body president. It must have been a bitter pill for him to be defeated by the likes of me (although we never discussed it later). His father, Martin, was a traveling shoe salesman/rep who made a good income, lived in a nice home, always drove an imposing car, and was on the road a lot. Besides, “Roskelley” was a prestigious (polygamous) family name in town. But Wendell turned out not to be a snob. In fact he worked part-time delivering bottled milk from a dairy in town using his “snazzy” old yellow Ford Model A roadster with a rumble seat. At last I had a friend with wheels with whom I could hang out to some degree, although I still lacked money. Through events that I simply cannot recall now, by the time my sophomore year was coming to an end I was nominated in the student elections for the office of assistant business manager of the yearbook, the Polaris (“North”). I don’t think I asserted myself in that direction; perhaps it was due to one or more of my teachers; I was an A student. I was elected, probably because the student body consisted of considerably more Smithfield students than those from any other town. Election also meant that while acting in my junior year as assistant business manager, I actually would be the automatic heir to the business manager office my senior year. By my junior year I had gravitated into an association with a group of like-minded guys: Wendell Roskelley, Junior Plowman, Rex Plowman, Lou McCann and Harry Bernhisel (all of us were from Smithfield except Harry who was from Lewiston). (Wendell ended up in Logan operating a woman’s clothing store with his wife, Junior lived in Colorado as a county agent, Rex became president of a bank, Lou got into a financial institution in Ogden, and Harry became an MD in SLC.) We spent all our spare time together at school. (We were known as the Off Brothers.) All were good students. We wore a “uniform” consisting of light tan corduroy pants rolled up at the cuff to show off the brightest argyle socks we could find. A complementary crowd of girls was sort of associated with us (not as “girl friends,” just as buddies). My network of friends led to my initiation into the Boosters Club, who consisted mainly of influential jocks. But my main interest, besides classes, was the debate team. My compadre (Marge Hyer, who eventually got a Ph.D) and I competed in a number of meets from Cache Valley to Ogden, with pretty good success and great satisfaction. Despite my new friends, I remained on good terms with many of my old “sparrow-” type pals from Smithfield. Ever since grade school I had made it a practice to befriend little guys who were considered “dumb.” I often helped them with assignments (like math problems) that were challenging to them. That may have been one reason I was relatively popular in junior high school. In my senior year I was the designated business manager of the yearbook. As such I shared the yearbook office with Pat Barber, the editor. That office became our private little fiefdom where we and friends spent many a hang-out hour. Immediately adjacent was the student body office where Wendell Roskelley was ensconced as president; his bailiwick served pretty much as the Off Brothers’ site of preference. My duties as business manager of the yearbook consisted chiefly of trying to sell advertisements to area merchants for the back of the yearbook. That was an unpleasant struggle. I didn’t have a car so getting around the three major towns with businesses worth soliciting was a major problem, but so was the task of facing up to owners and telling them that they sort of owed us the $25 or $50. I succeeded well enough to bring the book up to par as to ads. I also made a trip to Salt Lake with the editor to visit the printer about the make-up of the book including the ads. People seemed pleased with our efforts when it came time to distribute the volume. I was enrolled in LDS seminary instruction all my three years at North Cache and greatly enjoyed it. (The building was adjacent to the school. Classes were held throughout the day on a “released time” basis; we simply walked to seminary and then back at the end of our hour.) Two of the years I had the same teacher, David Thomas, a “prince of a man,” genial, sympathetic and well-informed. The other year was with Elijah Moses Hicken, not a bad person, but rather frighteningly austere, like the prophets he was named after. One particular incident that deserves explanation was the abortive Hop- picking Caper. As we approached the summer after junior year, the annual question was in the air, how are we going to make money this year? If we were to obtain any money for the school year, it would have to come from scarce summer employment. Someone saw a small ad in the newspaper talking about jobs available in Washington state picking hops (ingredient in beer). Wendell and I talked about it and thought we would give it a try. Neither of us discussed it with our parents (mine would not have known enough about it to give realistic advice). We made tentative plans to drive there in his Model A (gasoline was about 15 cents a gallon). Eventually he told his father about it, and he blew an immediate whistle. He described the squalor and disorder of the migrant labor camp we would go to (this was 1939; shades of the Grapes of Wrath!), and said, no way! Well, of course we didn’t go. Instead I spent one more summer intermittently thinning sugar beets for about $3 a day. I don’t know what Wendell did. Year by year, inch by inch my youthful life crept along. Some good things were enjoyed; some hard knocks were felt; some life lessons were learned.
Reminiscenses by John L. Sorenson