My Mom has lots of pictures of little me from my Arthur days but I remember only a few things. I do remember the events behind one picture of me and my sister. It was taken at the Arthur County Fair and was during my pre-school years. I was dressed up as a rabbit. I led our cocker spaniel Honey on a leash. Julie was dressed up as Alice or a princess or something. In the picture I was making Honey stand up. We both won first prize (which tells you how small the fair really was.) For first place, the prize was a five dollar check and we each got one. That seems like a lot of money now and it was huge back then. My family made a trip to Ogallala and bought some roller skates for each of us which was about like buying a bike. They were useless in most of Arthur because there weren’t any sidewalks, much less paved streets. The street that ran in front of our house was more of a sand trail with round rocks in it. Many of the rocks that paved the streets were just the right size for throwing. In other words, it was next to impossible to learn to ride a bike much less skate in Arthur. The only paved street was the highway which ran through the town’s business district, if you can call it that, and there was some sort of a sidewalk there.
I remember the irrigation system used to water the football field which was just across the street from our home. It wasn’t a big system but there were pipes about the size of a water hose connected to large metal wheels. The wheels were about as tall as I was and I assume that you connected all of the wheels, ran the water through the pipe for irrigation and then turned the water off and moved the whole apparatus with the wheels. I don’t remember how it was done because I never actually saw the watering system moved. I do remember it disassembled in two wheel sections which were connected by a length of pipe. Two wheels and a pipe between them was just the right size for a small boy to cart off which is exactly what happened. We had an Indian boy who lived several blocks from us and we must have been on again-off again friends. We were definitely off when he picked up a rock from the street and hurled it at me. He had quite an arm on him and was pretty accurate. From a distance of 20 feet he hit me right in the side of my head, towards the forehead but still in the hair. It bled like a son of a gun and Mom bundled me up and took me to Ogallala. She assumed for all the blood it would require stiches. The doctor didn’t think it was that bad. He cleaned me up and sent me home (about 40 miles.)
The rock throwing incident must have stuck with me because when the Indian boy took the wheeled contraption to his house I ran home and told my Dad. He was the superintendent of schools (as well as a teacher and one of the football coaches) and, in addition to being my Dad, he must have had some input in the care of the watering system. So he strode beside me as we went to confront the little boy and take back the wheels. His Mom met us at the door and listened as Dad explained the problem. She was kind of a rolly poly person and yelled for her son to come to the front door. Instead, he headed out the back door and took off running down the street. Dad and I watched as the Mom began to run after him. There was no way she could catch him so she stopped, bent over and picked up some rocks from the street and threw them at him. He stopped, turned around and picked up some rocks and threw them back at her. They were both out of range of each other so the Mom stopped throwing rocks and began to run towards him. He turned and ran away. She stopped and picked up some more rocks and heaved them at him and he turned and did the same at her.
I was mesmerized by the whole rock throwing thing and didn’t see the little grin creep across my Dad’s face. He must have remembered a similar scene from his youth, minus the rock throwing, when his Mom chased him. The only difference was that she was fast and probably caught him. He slowly turned and said to me to grab the wheels and we rolled it home.
Arthur was served by two church communities. One was a very spiritual group that met in a building made from hay bales; one stacked on top of the other. I suppose that it was like any Soddy except instead of sod it was made of hay. My Dad used to tell that when the group got revved up on Saturday nights they would start kicking hay bales out of the side of the church but I never saw it. The building is now a land mark.
Our church was the community Church which was a bit more dogmatic then I am today but everyone went there who didn’t go to the hay bale church. In fact my best friend’s Dad was the minister of the community church. They lived on the other side of town which I remember as being a long ways-- it was four or five blocks. My earliest memories are of Vacation Bible School. I remember lots of red Kool Aid and cookies. I don’t remember the service, Sunday School, or even Vacation Bible School, but I do remember those treats.
Some nights, after school, my sister Julie, her friends and little brother Doug went across the street to football field and across it to run down the sand hill on the other side. It was glorious to run with abandon. It was probably there I learned it was next to impossible to stop when running down a hill and that falling was about the only way to stop which wasn’t a problem on that particular night. It was dusk out and hard to see. In fact I didn’t see the barbed wire fence that some smart rancher had put up to keep his cattle off the Football field. I remember I was running and suddenly was stopped by the fence. My sister must have called my name in a frantic effort to get me to stop so I turned toward her just as a barb hit my head next to my eye and another ripped through my favorite shirt and tore at my belly. Julie took me back to the house bleeding and probably crying. My Mom, remembering the rock throwing incident, didn’t take me to the Doctor in Ogallala. She just cleaned me up and sent me to bed. In retrospect, she has said she probably should have taken me there for stiches on those cuts. I still have a scar on my belly and head from the barbed wire fence. I also have a scar on my head from the rock, however I healed just fine.
One of my favorite stories from my Arthur years was the birth of my baby brother Mark. I don’t remember the occurrence much except that when he came home we all held him. His birth, however, has been the subject of a favorite Johnson family story. My Mom and her friend had taken off for Ogallala on a routine doctor’s appointment when suddenly birth pains set in. My Mom had always thought her Dad, my Docpop, would deliver her baby just as he had done with her first two. So, she and her friend turned the car around and headed back to Arthur. Her contractions were getting pretty close and her friend said they should go back to Ogallala but Mom was insistent and they drove home. Mom and Dad headed the 100 miles over sandy prairie roads towards Gordon and Docpop. About half way there Mom had a contraction as Dad took stock of the supplies they had in case he had to stop the car and deliver Mark. He had shoe laces and a jack knife.
A car was in front of them and was driving very slowly and was kicking up dust behind it making it impossible to pass. This continued over several hills as Mom’s labor intensified. Finally, Dad said a prayer, “Lord, if you have ever made it rain, make it rain now.” Just then a small cloud rolled over them and sprinkled small droplets of rain. It wasn’t much, but was just the amount he needed to settle the dust and he sped around the car in front of them. They made it to Gordon just in time for Mark to be delivered and Julie and I had a baby brother.
I decided that I didn’t know what all the fuss was about because Mark couldn’t do anything. Arthur, on the other hand was everything and it was a sad day when we picked up and moved to Lincoln for Dad to continue his education at the University of Nebraska.