Once Upon a (Life)time
Growing Up Years
Growing Up Years - Part 2

Mildred Moves in with Grandpa Johnson and begins school.

Summer ended and one fall day the Mackie family drove to Evaro to visit my grandpa, Lawrence Johnson. Grandpa looked at me and then at his daughter.

"That young'un's got to go to school," was his edict.

Other Sunday company had arrived, and later that afternoon Grandpa put the two other friends and me in his new Model T Ford and we went for a drive. It wasn't my first automobile ride. My Uncle Jesse had taken Aunt Stella and us on an excursion down the narrow and crooked old Evaro Canyon Road and on down the Frenchtown Road to sail past the Bisson Ranch where the Bisson girls ran out to the gate to wave to us, whereupon Jesse pulled the throttle down another notch. That time, Auntie had looked grim and hung on to the door. She was the first one out when we drove back into the Johnson yard that day. But this Sunday, I'm sure that Grandpa kept us out until he was sure that the horse-drawn buggy that carried my aunt, uncle and cousins had headed for home. "You are seven years old already," he said. "So you'll have to stay with us and go to school."

"What's school?" I asked. I'd never heard of it.

"That's where you learn to read and write and do arithmetic," he told me.

We had had a stubby pencil or two around the cabin that was the Mackie homestead and sometimes we drew pictures on a paper sack or apple box boards. I'd seen my aunt write letters, too. After a few uneasy moments and a tear or two at being left behind, I gave way to the fascinating thought of doing all these things myself. So the next morning I started first grade with only the clothes on my back. But what mattered, a few clothes to a kid who would go cavorting among the bushes in nothing but a mud pack?

School was a revelation. (The only book I'd ever seen was a picture book at Christmas that was soon "looked to pieces" among all the small hands that inhabited the Mackie cabin.) Early on, I would be aware that the kids were laughing and I would look up to see them opening their lunch pails while I was still deep in C-A-T cat or making drawings with the crayons. I'd never known that there were so many kids in the world to play with-seven in the first and second grade! Oh, I sometimes wondered what Lillie and the small ones were doing but I was too busy in my new world to get very lonesome.

Then came my first Christmas program at school, Christmas at our house had been a short-term affair though we three older ones (Lil, Remilia and I were girls, Uncle Bill, always more or less a lumberjack, called us "fellers." "You fellers," he would say, "be good and carry in the wood and Santy Claus'll come tonight and bring some presents." Whereupon he would hitch the horse to the homemade sleigh and make the ten-mile trip to Missoula. You can bet the woodbox ran over that one day of the year. At bedtime we hung our stockings on a nail in the log wall and, wonder of wonders, on Christmas morning a box of A B C blocks and a picture book laid at the foot of our bed. The toe of the stockings would bulge with an orange and a doll's head peeked out the top. There was hard candy in a dish on the table and Uncle Bill's sock, hung up for our entertainment, brought forth a couple of kindling sticks. Of course, we mothered those dolls until the hair stood up in a peak, the paint was all peeled off their faces and the cheap cambric bodies were punctured so the sawdust all leaked out. When they were literally "loved to death" our substitute was a stocking stuffed with rags with a string tied around the neck and the baby was wrapped in a diaper."

Consequently, this first Christmas at school was unbelievable. We studied for days for a program where we were to wear our best dresses. (I must have had one by this time.) Our parents, grandparents in my case, would come to hear us speak pieces and sing songs. There would be treats furnished by the school board, and then a vacation (whatever that was).

Vacation time passed and I went back to school to a big surprise. Teacher said," Mildred, you and Dorothy will
sit in this row now because you are going to be in the second grade."

My playmate, Gladys, turned to stare at me. I sensed hostility in her face and at recess I found out why. "You think you're smart gettin' yourself permoted," she railed at me. "Well, you wouldn't get permoted if yer Grandpa wasn't on the school board. I'm not talkin' to you anymore."

"I'll ask Teacher to permote me back," I offered lamely. I felt wounded and helpless. I was losing my best playmate.

However, I was soon deep in my new books which were even more fascinating than the first ones. Then, much later, Gladys spoke to me.

"I'm goin' to see Pantages tomorrow night," she elevated her nose a notch.

"Who's Pantages?" I queried.

"Nobody, " she said "It's a show.

"What's a show?"

"Didn't you ever see a show?"

"I dunno. Guess not," I shrugged.

"Well, if you got a dime you can see Pantages."

I don't got any dime."

"Well, get one from yer brother or somebody."

"I don't got any brother."

"Well... she was getting disgusted. "Get one someplace!"

"How would I get there?"

She studied me as though she had just made an important discovery.

"You ain't got much to think with have you?"

I dunno," I shrugged again.

Gladys had forgotten that she had been mad at me for three weeks, but that didn't matter to me. The mad spell was broken and we were playing together again. I doubt that she had ever heard of Alexander Pantages, but she had seen his shows and that was more than I could say. Gladys had older siblings which put me at a disadvantage for she acquired all her sophistication from them. Eventually my Uncle Ollie Johnson and Aunt Birdie took us to see Pantages and I would wake up staring into the darkness over the heroine's being tied to the railroad track with the train chugging ever nearer. The fact that she was rescued in the nick of time didn't eliminate the terror that came to my mind for nights on end