Monday, April 04, 2011

My 1966 Destiny And The Friend I Left Behind!

Maybe I was destined to attend the huge Idaho Falls High School my senior year. I had been born seventeen years earlier in that city of then 34,000 after my Mom went into labor and my Dad had to whisk her 50 miles south from our Henry’s Fork ranch on an extremely hot July afternoon because there was no hospital in nearby Ashton at that time.

I think I was meant to attend IFHS that year to prepare me for college the following year in many ways other than academics. That’s where I first took typing class to give me a way around the essential tremor that was already degrading my ability to handwrite.1000px-Idaho_Falls_High_School_logo_svg

I expanded beyond sports to hone a skill in forensics and I don’t mean the CSI kind. I mean the forensic art of competitive individual and team debate. Some call it advocacy forensics because you must learn to debate and refute both sides of an issue.

By the way, the debate topic nationwide in 1966 was:

Resolved: That the federal government should adopt a program of compulsory arbitration in labor management disputes in basic industries.

I think I may have also been destined to go to IFHS that last year to learn better how to deal with the large student body I was to encounter in college the next year. At well more than a thousand students, IF as it’s known was many times larger than any school I had previously attended and larger than the entire town near where I spent my early years.

But I’m sure I was also meant to go there to connect with Ronnie Park and we instantly became best friends. Ronnie was “cool” but not as in the typical “cool cliques” that had already hardened to much for anyone to crack in only a year.00341_yn_aaeuyfyqe1947

We both drove old Chevy’s, mine a ‘57 and Ronnie’s a ‘55. When his ‘55 blew up, he was one of the first people in Idaho with a Datsun (today called Nissan.) That’s Ronnie in the photo to the left standing next to that car, which seemed pretty exotic at the time.

We both liked girls and rock and roll. I liked one girl in particular but Ron was more elusive. We traveled two hundred miles south to Farmington, Utah that summer to see The Rolling Stones and The Animals perform live at the Lagoon Amusement Park Patio Gardens to an audience of only a few thousand people.

We were Beatles and Beach Boys fans but the edginess of The Stones and The Animals formed the perfect soundtrack to a year when war and protest filled our living rooms and the draft loomed ahead.

Ronnie and I made several college visits together including the University of Idaho, Utah State University and Idaho State University. We had planned to visit the University of Wyoming over in Laramie but the engine in my ‘57 Chevy blew up and we had to be towed home.

That summer before college we worked together up in the 3-million-acre Caribou-Targhee National Forest, near my birthplace and ancestral ranch, fighting that year’s huge outbreak of Mountain Pine Beetles by spraying the soon-to-be banned DDT straight up into huge Lodgepole Pines in that nook between Yellowstone Park and the Idaho side of the Teton Mountains.

When we got back to IF, our paths parted as suddenly as they had crossed when I was lucky enough to get into Brigham Young University down in Provo, Utah where I wouldn’t be admitted by today’s academic standards, but managed to graduate magna cum laude. Ronnie headed to ISU in Pocatello.

I probably wouldn’t have adjusted to going to school with 20,000 other students at BYU had it not been for that year at IFHS. A lot of kids had difficulty making the adjustment to schools that large including one of my much brighter cousins. Enrollment at BYU had doubled in size over the six years prior to my freshman year and continued to rapidly grow before leveling out a little more than 20 years later at 32,000+.

Ten years after Ronnie and I parted ways, I was living and working in Spokane, Washington when I received a clipping from the Idaho Falls Post-Register anonymously in the mail, maybe from that former girl friend. Under what seemed like a huge headline, “Ronnie Park Found Dead,” the article reported that he had been living in Ucon, a little town north of Idaho Falls on US 20 leading back north to our ranch, and working nearby.Ronnie Park

He had killed himself with a 20-gauge shotgun, leaving a widow named Dianna. It confirmed he had attended ISU and served four and half years in the Idaho National Guard.

It hit me hard and still does with more than a little guilt that we hadn’t stayed in touch, that I wasn’t there to dissipate the unfathomable anger and despair that can motivate suicide.

I passed on the 10-year reunion for the IF Class of ‘66 held a few months later and I have not attended any since.

Last week marked the anniversary of when I received that clipping the week after Ronnie’s death.

R.I.P my friend.

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