Two years in Idaho - continued...
Another benefit to working nights at is there is plenty of free time. Aside from the occasional flat tire, people rarely came in to have cars serviced at night and there was plenty of time between gas fill-ups and oil changes. I decided to use that time to become a writer. In those days aspiring writers had a sequence of steps to conquer in order to build a resume. The first was “pulp” magazines, or those that printed fiction stories about true romance. Once an author published in the pulps he could continue, or move onto paperback novels or even the so-called slicks, such as Look, Life, or other such magazines. I decided to try the pulps.
I decided to write in first person from a teen age girl’s point of view. After all, I had three sisters and they had plenty of girls over to the house. Many is the evening I sat at their closed bedroom door while they gossiped so I considered myself enough of an authority to attempt a steamy story about a teen-aged girl. I went to the stores and read several of the pulp magazines and then began my career as a pulp fiction writer.
Each night between customers I would write – longhand on filler paper. The story was about a high school girl who had a crush on a guy who repeatedly broke her heart – not particularly original, but I pieced together snippets of the stories I’d heard from my sisters and their girlfriends, embellished, added my own touches that I thought would make the story more interesting and in line with what the publisher was seeking, and when finished, sent it off to a pulp magazine publisher. Several weeks later I received a letter of acceptance with a contract. The pay was a nickel per word and the story became the sole property of the publisher. I signed the contract and returned it “airmail” (in those days mail usually went by train unless one affixed additional postage and designated it “Air Mail”). A few weeks after that I received a check for about $ 300. I was a published author.
Despite my nocturnal writing and gas pumping ventures I was able to fulfill my obligations as a sixth grade teacher. My school, Tendoy Elementary, was bulging at the seams due to the Pocatello population growth. To relieve the overcrowding a new school was opened about a mile up the street and on the edge of town. It was called Edahow Elementary and was not ready for children until a week or two after the school year had begun. Thus I had a double size class for the first few weeks of school. Aside from the problems created by crowding, the advantage was that I received cumulative folders on all 60 of the children and was able to see how each performed in class. When it was time to divide the group I got to determine who would stay and who would go. Of course I took the top 50% and sent the rest to Edahow. The large heterogeneous group became a small homogeneous one. Not only were my students sharp academically, particularly in Math, but they were very creative. They wrote and performed their own Christmas show which could easily have been the forerunner of Saturday Night Live. It was funny, clever, and every student had a part. They even wrote commercials to be given between scenes. While the theme of the birth of the Christ child was buried somewhere within, the show was performed in an excellent fashion, and of course, the every parent believed their offspring was the star of the show.
The class had such a proclivity for math that they had completed the entire math text by Thanksgiving holiday. I went to the District offices to get a set of seventh grade math books but as I was loading them an assistant superintendent asked me what I was doing and I proudly told him that my sixth graders had completed their sixth grade math books and I planned to start them on the seventh grade books. He listened with a frown and said that would never do as if they learned seventh grade math in the sixth grade, what would be left to learn when they got to junior high? I chuckled. He was joking, right? Wrong. He was very serious and told me to return the books, as he turned on his heel and disappeared. Of course, I “forgot” to return the books and the class got through them by April. We spent the rest of the year learning Geometry from handouts and board work that I took from the single eighth grade math text I was able to appropriate from a junior high school math teacher. This time I refrained with sharing the math successes with the assistant superintendent.
My principal was a man named Ozzie Nelson. We became fast friends and Ozzie would occasionally come to my classroom on days after I’d spent the night at the service station. He’d arrive after lunch and cover my class while I went home early to catch a nap. He was a good man and a good friend. Since I worked the gas station Friday and Saturday nights there would be two days during the week when I was off from school and when I did not have go directly from the Station to school. Occasionally on those days off Ozzie and I would go pheasant hunting in the early morning before school. He was from Montana but had never been a serious hunter. We both bought shotguns for our new venture but after several forays, we had shot at plenty of birds but only winged one, disabling it and Ozzie finished it off by whacking it with the butt of his shotgun. The gun went off when he struck the bird and we spent some time picking buckshot out of his side. Fortunately the worst injury was to his pride. My career as the great white pheasant hunter was a brief one.
I would often stop in to Mo’s Bar for a sandwich after school. Bar owner Momir Baich was of the same ethnicity as was I; a fact that surprised me for most of the residents of Idaho were of Scandinavian descent and not of Eastern Europe. However, Pocatello was fairly cosmopolitan as Idaho cities go. This was due to a World War II airfield used for training pilots, the railroad that had housed many of its employees there, and a factory that made large guns thst were used on World War – II vehicles.
Mo and his wife Ann, the barmaid, food server, and cook operated the food side while Mo ran the bar side. We became good friends and Mo’s mantra was that he wanted to sell the business and get rid of the responsibility. He would almost daily remind me that, “You don’t ever own a business. It owns you.” We kept in touch after I left Idaho and I promised to try to find something for him in Vegas.