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My Senior Year: A Banner Year

From my first assembly in the gymnasium as a freshman in 1964, I always thought some spice was needed in those school-wide gatherings. It took a while, but by my junior year I realized what was needed to be done the next year during March Madness. What the assemblies needed was a banner unrolling with an appropriate Senior '68 message.

An apparatus was constructed on a 1x6x12 wooden board with a 20 ft cloth banner controlled by an alarm clock which you can see at the top of the banner in the middle. The original cloth was 36 inches wide which was doubled over so that writing could be forward reading without bleedthru. Took awhile to sew 20 ft together. (I wonder what happened to it?)

As I had the thing stretched out on the living room floor, my cousin with whom I lived was bipolar in her commentary. On the one hand, she kept telling me that I was going to ruin my future. And, I could get arrested for profanity. But then she'd critique my sewing. (When undergoing the inquisition in the principal's office, she told Mr. Martin [the principal] that I was home all night while I said I didn't remember which he thought was the crack in my story that would make me confess.)

About 3 a.m., three friends  (Ed, Geoff and Chris) and I entered the high school with me having crawled through a shower window I left opened. Mimicking the janitors, we extracted the 40 ft extension ladder and jacked it up to a central beam. Bowing, bowing, bowing. With each step upward and with apparatus in hand, the ladder was bowing and bowing. Lordy, lordy, the ladder forty was not extended far enough, for when I reached the top it was overlapping only a 1/2" when the ladder was not bowing. Like many other lucky young fools, lady luck forgave this youthful indiscretion.

Afraid that the apparatus might fall during the assembly, I C'clamped it firmly. I pulled the alarm. Darn. Ding. Ding. Ding. It was a 12-hour alarm and we were there 12 hours before the assembly. Nothing to do but move the timer up a bit. Talk about a bit of luck--an assessment by others. I couldn't have had that banner fall at a better time than fate had it fall even if I had had a string to pull it when I wanted. Guess I had luck with time before I had a theory of time.

Away with the ladder. Four high schoolers tearing out the door, running wildly and yelling loudly down the middle of the street.

[The following is an account piece together from numerous sources. I was not at the actual assembly. At 8am I caught the Chicago-bound Wabash Bluebird train for a multi-day induction tests and physicals to join the US Navy after graduation. I was in Chicago when the alarm was sounded for one and all to have a good laugh.]

The next morning before the 8am bell to move to homerooms, the gymnasium filled with students. Some knew and pointed at the white bundle snuggled in the rafters. Darn. Someone would squeal.

Last class hour came with the assembly commencing instead of class. There it was. The banner bundle.

As was tradition, students rose with the announcement of "Please stand." Across the basketball court marched the flag carrier with his two side escorts. In the upper corner, a drum was rolling. At the stage steps, the flag bearer stepped up. Ding. Ding. Ding ... swoosh.

The confetti didn't fly like I thought it would. But the super balls and bb's took off. Before the bleachers hung a limp symbol of youthful spite: "Hell, go, Seniors '68, etc."


And, the darn thing didn't fall down. Woosh!

When the noise died down after 5 or 10 minutes, the emcee requested: "Would the person or persons responsible for it please take care of it." Uproar renewed.

Another few minutes passed before the emcee could repeat his request. One of the players went out to the banner, and prepared to leap the 10 foot gap. "No," worried one scared student. "Don't jump up and grab it. It will fall on your darn head!" Up jumped the fool.

See the fool jump. See the fool fall. See the lawsuit. No. No. No.

  See the fool swing.

    Swing. swing. swing.


Well, the "Hell, go" didn't go. It remained up there before the students only for a few minutes. Did the banner disappear? No, the principal disappeared the students. But before he appeared to disappear the assembly, I was told the national anthem was sung more robustly than at any other time in my high school days.

The principal, Mr. Martin, was a kindly man who had done many things for this hard scrabbled brat. Quite simply, another story, he was one of those people without whom I would probably have not graduated from high school. Looking up, he announced, "I can't let students remain in the presence of profanity. Proceed to your last hour class."  Times change. Today, four letter-words are more common than four-point grade averages. Today, timers are attached to bundles of gas not banners that are a gas. The dirtiest four-letter word in 2008 is Iraq.

Boo! Boo! Rang the halls for many, far too many minutes. Why too many minutes? Mr. Martin had always preached good sportsmanship, win or lose, with no booing. I could understand with a certain sadness when a fellow senior, his younger son, told me what his father had said at the dinner table: "The person responsible for the banner would not graduate from that school district." In his office for two weeks, I evaded the "good cop, bad cop" routines before I was allowed to return to class.

Whew. Almost banned for a banner. Would I do it again? Yeh.

On the sidelines, encouraging me on with the joy for participation and freedom were the Ed, the president of the honor society, Chris, the vice-president of the junior class and Geoff whos titles were too many to remember.

A regret was the impact on a younger brother of mine, Vern. Having topped the incident that suspended my older brother for two months the previous year (a large wax pale pink penis which elicited from one of the basketball starters, "Can you make me a black one?"), the principal apparently set an early warning for any other from my mother's brood. My younger brother reminds me of his first day at SDHS when his homeroom teacher sent him immediately to the principal's office. Mr. Martin told him, "You have no second chances because your older brothers used up all of the family's chances."

An irony is how in high school, the military and in college, I was not afraid of heights. Installing the banner atop a bowing, barely connected 40ft ladder was the act of a stupid teenager who was going to live forever. Walking a six-inch yardarm 75 feet above a flight deck without a lifebelt was calculated. Standing untethered atop a friend's 125 foot grain elevator peak that I had reroofed was exhilerating. Now, standing on a curb gives me acrophobia. If I ever commit suicide by jumping out of a window, it would have to be a basement window, for anything higher would scare me to death.

An Old Fool : Raising a ladder in the dark is not too smart, then or now. My virtual running of redlights because I never had an accident running redlights caught up with me. In 2008, I repeated this foolishness by climbing a 6ft step ladder to clear a clogged gutter at 5am in a drenching rain with lightning and thunder for background lighting and sound effects. On my first step down, the ladder went north and I went south. Landing on my left side and bouncing onto my back, I remained prone as the rain pounded down. I felt like someone had blasted my left side with a shotgun. Fractured my elbow and ribs. When told that I had been unlucky, I responded, "Luck favors the prepared and unluck firetrucks the fools."

Within this account are many instances of me being lucky. For far more reasons I have been one of the luckiest people who have ever lived. I have more lives than lives of a prolific tomcat's offspring--see Felix.

Overdue apology:
Mr Martin, the principal, had gone to bat with the school superintendent to allow my older brother, Loren, and me to attend the central high school, Stephen Decatur, regardless of what district into which our mother moved. She was quite the mover.

School board policy stated that a student attended the geographical school of the legal guardian. No magnet nor open schools back then. Explaining how our two oldest brothers had dropped out primarily from the moving and explaining how Loren, the good guy, had attended three high school his freshman year, Mr. Martin got an exemption for us. While I am proud of the energy and creativity behind our adolescent pranks, I increasingly realize that Mr. Martin is one of the people without whom I probably would not have followed the path to whatever good I may do in my life. Mr. Martin, I apologize. Thank you for being a great educator with and for bad students like I was.

Recollections of the banner by fellow SDHS students

  1. The Banner and Mr. Handley
  2. Hiram relates his memories of the Banner

RSB Bio for SDHS website

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