Is there a pivotal year in one’s four years of high school? Freshman year is always a swirl of new activities and if one keeps their head down and eyes open, one can learn a lot from those mature upperclassmen. Sophomore year is less of a mystery because at least some of the school stuff is more routine. Driver’s Education followed our sophomore year so that marked the end of what had been a pretty good year for me and the transition into what was (for me, at least) a ‘year of the big changes’. I don’t think it registered with me at the time, but looking back, I can see a lot of life changing moments rolled up in my junior year.
The summer before grade 11 was memorable because our Driver’s Ed program lasted a full six weeks. The classroom part was done after school for an hour during the last six weeks of school and the driving instruction took up June and part of July. It was one of those memorable summers because it was wet, cold, and foggy for most of my driving segment. It didn’t help that I signed up to drive first thing in the morning, but I maintain to this day that driving in rain and fog doesn’t rattle me because there was plenty of it during the practical part of our DE program. On day one of the driving sessions, Mr. Coombs asked if any of us had driven a car before. When I raised my hand, he asked, “When and where?” I explained that my dad had taught us how to drive an old beater truck at camp, my driving was confined to the logging roads in the hills around our camp, and that I was eleven when I learned to drive. “Standard or automatic transmission?” he asked. When I replied that it was a standard, he said, “Well, there ain’t no clutch on our Driver’s Ed car.”
We spent the first driving day looking at the engine compartment, learning where the oil dipstick was, how to check it, and driving around the high school parking lot . . . backwards.
Yep, Mr. Coombs was a firm believer that one had to learn to drive backwards before they tried going forward. Having pegged me as a know it all (for admitting I had already driven a vehicle), I was given mop up duty after everyone else had their turn backing around the lot. It should be mentioned that two of our six drivers had never even put a key in a car ignition before. As far as we could tell, all the other DE cars were going forward and not backwards on the first day. From then on, yours truly got promoted from ‘mop up’ detail to be the ‘demo boy’. First one driving down the street (forward) – check. First one given a rolling quiz as to where to look at night to avoid night blindness from approaching cars and what to do at railroad crossings – check and check. First one to parallel park – check again. Everyone was terrified of parallel parking. I was just too dumb to realize that he tried to rattle me on my first attempt on Third Street, having me park behind a beer truck of all things. Third Street was a one way street back then and he had me park on the left side of the street, making all the spotting instructions used in parallel parking rather moot. Whether it was luck or skill, I haven’t a clue, but I nailed it the first time and never had to parallel park again for him or the driving examiner from the license bureau. When I showed up for my ‘last day of Driver’s Ed solo driving exam’ fully expecting to have to parallel park blind olded with one arm tied behind my back, Mr. C surprised me saying, “Ah, you know what you are doing. Head out on the Big Bay Road and maybe we can find some cooler air.” With a September birthday, I managed to start my junior year out by having an actual date to the Halloween Dance, giving me leverage for my first official request to use the family car. It was a dark and rainy night, but in light of my summer of dismal weather driving, I was ready! Dodging trick or treaters on the way to the dance wasn’t fun but we had the streets to ourselves at the end of the night. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the shiny wet pavement of College Avenue covered in equal parts with blowing leaves and scampering ghoulies and beasties.
The entries in the 1970 Tatler can be broken down in almost equal parts between comments about our shared experiences in various classes, comments relating to me being a drummer, and advice on dealing with the opposite sex. Dave’s entry was pretty typical in the ‘various class’ area: “To a cat that I had the misfortune of having in 3 classes. I’ll remember you as long as you keep calling me ‘Pistol Pete’” (as in Pete Maravich the basketball player). Wayne chimed in with, “ To my dear friend and fellow classmate (history and band). It has been a very interesting year amongst all us finns (sic) – your fellow funny finn (sic) and big bad bass drummer.”
Mike and Gene reminded me that we would be making a lot of music together as we got The Twig ready for paying gigs in the fall. I must have been getting blisters from playing because Gene told me to shape up or I would be “outta the band”. There were several comments on me being a great drummer but I should leave Tom alone (meaning future Sunstone drummer Tom Lyons who we may have hazed a bit (it happens to the newbies in all the sections)). Peggy wrote: “ Dear Mr Raisanen – I hate to write it because you’re evil, but you are a fantastic drummer,” but for the life of me, I can’t remember that she even played in the band or why she thought I was ‘evil’.
My buddy Mitch connected the “drummer” and “opposite sex” segments when he said, “Keep pounding those drums and someday you’ll be able to play (ha ha). Remember Lee Anne and Jeanine (how could you forget).” Near the end of the school year, Mitch invited me to spend a weekend with his sister’s family who lived just outside of Hancock in the Boston Location. For some reason, his sister thought that she should hook us up on a blind date with a couple of girls from her church, which we didn’t find out until we got there on Friday night. Our introduction to the two young ladies came when we ended up hauling furniture most of Saturday as one of the girl’s family was moving into a larger house. Once we were completely tuckered out, we decided to have dinner and go to a movie. For some reason, the girl’s were fasting, but consented to have a salad any way. The movie we saw was Anne of a Thousand Days at the Pic Theater in Hancock. There was a teen dance being held at the old Waterworks building at the foot of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge but we decided that was one too many things on top of our already busy day. Before we left on Sunday, one of the girls called Mitch to tell him that not going to the dance was a great idea as some of their fellow Houghton school acquaintances wanted to beat up the Marquette boys for daring to date “their girls”. While we had fun, I did find that a blind date was a little too stressful for me, even before the threat of bodily harm. I am not sure who told everyone at school about our adventure, but I got several, “Take it easy on those Houghton girls!” comments in my yearbook.
Junior year found me making a second attempt to date the girl who dumped me after a few dates the year before. The Four Seasons were coming to town so I made a split second decision to ask her if she would like to go. She said yes, but then The Four Seasons cancelled and were replaced by Little Anthony and the Imperials (who were very good). When she decided that we should “just be friends” for the second time, I decided that the only girlfriend I would have in my Senior year would be The Twig. Regardless of my intentions to stop looking for a girlfriend, I got one “You are the second coolest guy I know, and sometimes I think you are the first” and one “I will always love you” declaration”, but neither comment came from my double ex. I wasn’t signing up for the monastic life, but putting more time and energy in the band seemed to be a better outlet with less opportunities for disappointment. I, for one, was never disappointed playing the drums and I never had a band tell me we should “just be friends”.
The other two momentous Junior year events were my one year as a shot putter on the track team and our revamped band program. Track was kind of done on a lark as fellow drummer Jim talked me into going out ‘for the fun of it’. I wasn’t a speedster, so I decided to try being a shot putter. It turns out we did as much running as putting the shot during our training. It was an unusually snowy spring so we ran on the streets until the track was clear,. Pounding the streets in Converse All Stars gave me a wonderful case of shin splints that would bother me through four years of college and my first two years teaching. Once we started training on the track, we were expected to run a certain number of timed 100 yard dashes and a timed 440 yard run before we practiced shot putting. The 100 yard dashes were run with random groups who formed lines in each lane. By pure luck of the draw, I ended up running in one heat with a bunch of freshman sprinters. One could hear their egos crash to the ground when the coach pointed out that they had been beaten in a sprint by a shot putter. It became a kind of game to swap places in line to try and match up with them on future sprint drills, but eventually, they would all make sure they were behind the shot putters. My ego crashed later when a freshman named Pedro nicked my best ever throw of 35 foot something by an inch to claim third place at one meet. That one inch cost me a varsity letter (I got a winged foot instead) and pretty much made me decide that pumping weights for my senior year to try and letter the next spring wasn’t going to happen.
The second convincer (about a one year track career) was a senior who would be sent over to score points at shot put without ever training for it. He was such a gifted athlete that he would walk over, take his five throws and place first, second, or third, then wander off to the other events he was signed up for. On my best days, he could beat me by ten feet without warming up, but all in all, my one stab at participating in an varsity sport was fun. Mike Graham lived near me so he offered me a ride home from time to time after track practice. Years later, I found out he is related to the Grahams of Ontonagon county, but back in 1970, Ontonagon wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen. There are other sports related tales to tell, but they will have to dealt with another day.
Not taking a shot at playing high school football is the only “I wonder” thing that I think about from time to time (which will be covered in more detail in the above mentioned ‘other sports related tales’). When band director Joe Patterson passed away, I spent way too much time trying to be in charge of the drum section. I also had The Twig in the back of my mind and knew where all my extra time would go in the next year. My band attitude junior year is not on my list of the positive memories from that year. It would take my senior year to remind me that band was a lot more enjoyable when I wasn’t trying to be the Big Boss man.
Top Piece Video: Okay, a lot of the above deals with driving so here we go….1985 Sammy Hagar at Live at Farm Aid in Champaign, ILLINOISE (Sammy’s take on it) – bad 1980s hair and all (but still a great deal of fun). And yes, I ALWAYS drive the speed limit!