Thursday, August 25, 2011

End of the Road


But when summer was complete, half of each weekday of those under eighteen was in the hands of the four guardians of the institution of Alleghany school: Mrs. Hogan handled grades one through six; the principal Mr. Edmiston, a newcomer, handled math, science, and mechanical drawing (for which I turned out to be a bit less than inept); Miss Finney, another newcomer, handled English, Spanish, and typing; and arguably the most colorful of the staff, Mr. Biedermann, handled history and geography.

Mr. Biedermann lived on the high road a short walk from both the bell and the school, in a house perched on the hillside below the road, above which was a rare enclosed garage containing sometimes his IH Travelall, and always a pool table, whose use he offered to the high-school-aged on dance nights. He was the teacher known for having groups of students as guests at his house, making sure they knew that he was a Kentucky Colonel and offering a running commentary on politics and various historical characters. He was a bald, thin, amiable man of indeterminate middle age, with a resonant voice which helped enforce credibility.

My first driving experience, at thirteen, was on one of his field trips to Bullard's Bar Reservoir, a decidedly unpreposessing piece of civil engineering out a long dirt road. The dirt road, however, was well-graded and relatively broad, offering easy driving at modest speeds in the intrepid Travelall, so he offered the wheel to any who were interested enroute, and I took a turn for a few miles; I remember actually once moving the "three on the tree" to third gear, be still my heart.

The school was located about a two block walk from Casey's, with the town firebell midway between at the intersection of the low and high roads into town. The classrooms were in a building torn between one and two stories on a moderate slope, with a swing set between it and the gym constituting the playground. On the low side of the building was a volcanic rock upon which clusters of students might occasionally be found. Mr. Biedermann's distinction was echoed in the placement of his classroom, isolated on the low side of the building next to the rock. The main entrance in the story above took you past lockers and the lower grades, then the science room (at right, students looking out of the science room at a passerby), then the English/typing room/library.

Baseball had its season, and was played in a graded dirt lot a quarter mile away, at the low end of town, next to a substation and storage area for road clearing equipment and Alleghany's fire engine. A home run was roughly defined as the ball entering a weedy area where the grader didn't go. Given the logistics, we never had a visting team, nor did we elect to join a district competition.

On one day our P.E. was a walk to the ranger station at the beginning of the Pliocene Ridge Road, three miles one way on a winding, heavily-forested stretch of road carrying a handful of cars a day. Everyone cursed the long legs of Tommy Hogan, distinguished by being the grade-school teacher's son, the lone graduate-to-be, and the sole person capable of dunking a basketball in the gym, as we walked up and down the hills, gossiped, and engaged in backwoods badinage.

And in the matter of basketball: in this category, Alleghany's team did compete across districts, perhaps less because we had talent (mostly not), but likely because we had a gym with a distinct competitive advantage. The court length was significantly shorter, and goals were mounted shallowly on the ends of the gym, and the out-of-bounds line was inches from the back and front walls, so that the uninitiated player preparing for a shot a given number of steps past half court would find himself shooting at a more distant target. That advantage turned inside out when visiting, as we did in midwinter, a regulation court near Sacramento.

The only socks I could find before the game were red, so no doubt the opposing team thought I was Alleghany's star player, full of attitude - and they found out in two plays that both attitude and competency were absent. The reality became crystal clear to them; our team drafted any males of high school age to simply have five players and a sub or two. And all of us tired quickly running up and down the longer court, and tended to find ourselves shooting from behind the backboard - with predictable results.
(to be continued.)

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