Chapter 11 – Hot Horseshoe

It wasn’t all fishing, guitar music, house fires and fried chicken. Monday through Friday, Dan and I attended Doe Run High School.

High on a hill, from the outside the school looked like a well endowed library or maybe a reform school. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.”

Here and now, I want to go on record and say that DRHS was the most inspiring school in which I ever had the privilege of occupying a classroom seat. (I’ve attended 21 schools during my educational career… and still counting!)

Very few of my classmates had ever been out of St. Francois County. As far as I was concerned, that was a positive. Instead of being full of preconceptions, they took things at face value. My memory of the first day at school is the mixed aroma of Avon perfume and wood smoke. All the girls were loyal “Avon Lady” customers and the guys had a smoky tang due to the fact that everyone’s houses (just like ours) were heated by wood stoves and fireplaces.

Committed to expanding our teenage minds, two of the teachers made a big impression on me.

English teacher Norman Jackson was a cross between Captain Ahab and Abraham Lincoln. His stern demeanor masked a passion for teaching and fox hunting. He possessed a dry humor that held the attention of even the most bonehead student. Mr. Jackson had a way of sparking curiosity about the world outside St. Francois County, without making us lose sight of the wonders of life in rural Missouri.

Murphy Thomas, a man of many talents, was the athletic coach. At the risk of stating the obvious, let me tell you that in small town America, high school sports were a big deal. Doe Run was no exception. Coach Thomas taught Driver’s Education too. I remember how calmly he took the time to explain to a student, “Yes, you should stop and look both ways at a railroad crossing for oncoming trains – BUT NOT WHILE WE ARE ON THE TRACKS!” From the back seat of the car, I expressed my full agreement with that policy.

It wasn’t long before I developed a crush on an Avon aficionada named Darlla Carnell (four “l’s”). Darlla’s ambition was to become a “Beauty Operator”. Her up-swept blonde hair and perfumed sweetness turned the head of every guy in school. I noticed that the dudes who wore varsity letters on their sweaters were held in high esteem by classmates of the Avon persuasion. In the face of such fierce competition I realized that the only way forward was to “Try Out” for the Basketball Team.

Since Coach Thomas also drove the school bus, one morning on the way to school I expressed my desire to join the team. Without flinching, he answered, “Welcome aboard!”

I had limited exposure to the game of “Hoops” due to my background of living in Greenland, Japan and Pakistan. But, what was there to worry about? Basketball was a game. As far as I was concerned, “Game” was another word for “Fun”. I soon discovered that before the “Fun” there was the “Try Outs”.

On the first day, our mild mannered Coach had us running up and down the gymnasium bleachers for one solid hour. Even though I thought this was beyond human endurance, I could see that most of the other guys were huffing and puffing for all they were worth and I managed to keep up the pace. On the second day, with far fewer candidates present, our less than mild mannered Coach had us running up and down the gymnasium bleachers for two hours. On the third day, that SOB Coach let us pass a basketball around for 30 minutes; before we ran up and down the gymnasium bleachers for three hours.

This gruelling schedule went on for several weeks. Finally, there was a notice posted on the bulletin board listing members of the 1965 Doe Run High School Basketball Team. Look away now if you have a weak disposition… my name was on the list!

While I was scrutinizing the list of names, I detected the enchanting sent of Avon. Standing next to me was none other than Darlla Carnell. She slipped her hand in mine and suddenly we were, “Going Steady”.

There weren’t many opportunities in Doe Run regarding romantic dates. But, Darlla and I did spend some heady moments holding hands during weekly bus trips (Coach Thomas driving) as supporters of the girls’ volleyball team. As far as entertainment goes, spending two hours watching skimpily clad volleyball players while in the company of the cutest girl in school, scores pretty high on my excitement meter!

My brother Dan used to say, “Every silver lining has a dark cloud.” When basketball season got underway, I found out that being on the team did not necessarily mean you got to play the game. Basketball is a sport that favors players taller than five feet, twelve inches. Skill is an important factor too. I freely admit that I had short comings in both areas. After sitting out a couple of games, the prospect of warming a bench did not appeal to me.

You can call it a strength or a weakness. I felt like I had accomplished my goal by getting on the team. It was with regret that I resigned from the Doe Run Basketball Team. Coach Thomas took it stoically and wished me the best of luck in the future.

On hearing the news, Darlla dropped me like a hot horseshoe. I felt like it was rather shallow on her part, but what really hurt, was the realization that it was the end of my Carnell knowledge.

I didn’t go away from this experience empty handed. The payoff turned out to be the training during the “Try Out” sessions. Knowing I could push beyond perceived physical boundaries paid off later. I wonder if there was “method in the madness”? Every American male was still obligated to compulsory military service, and the Viet Nam War was escalating.

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