Wednesday, June 25, 2014

HHS alumni recall nutty tradition

In the early 1920s, Hermiston students attended an old sandstone schoolhouse located next to the current Armand Larive Middle School, with all grades in the same building. Four members of the Hermiston High School Class of 1926 gathered in May of 1976 to reminisce about their high school days. Jim Reid of Seattle, whose engineering firm designed the original “Watch Hermiston Grow” water tower, returned to his old stomping grounds and met with Hermiston residents Orrel Lewis, Edith Cable and Robert Woodward for their first-ever reunion. 

Reid’s favorite memory was of a tradition usually held during the spring when children would bring unshelled peanuts to school and hide them in their desks. At a signal from one of the students, the class would begin pelting the teacher with the nuts. Each class had its own shelling, and everyone, including the teachers, considered the surprise attacks “quite normal.”

“I think it dissipated a lot of the resentment kids built up for the teachers during a year,” Reid said with a laugh.

But the shellings came to an abrupt end when a new athletic coach and science teacher came to the school — a former Army sergeant. The man antagonized a number of the boys when he replaced recess with regimented calisthenics. So in place of the usual peanuts, his students that year loaded up with unshelled black walnuts. Instead of a harmless prank, the yearly tradition became a painful assault. Several boys were suspended and the great tradition came to a halt.

A personal note: I attended Linfield College, which had its own annual spring tradition in the campus’ main dining hall until the mid-1980s. It usually started with the fraternities, whose members congregated at table at the back of the hall. Once a year, what started out as a few tossed items escalated into a carefully planned full-scale food fight, complete with upended tables and trays used as shields. In minutes the entire dining hall would be involved, and the mess, I’ve heard, was astonishing. Unfortunately, those involved usually made themselves scarce when it came time to clean up.

The year I started at Linfield, a new food service company had taken over the dining hall and laid down the law in no uncertain terms: Anyone involved in a food fight would be banned from the dining hall for the remainder of their stay at the college. Another time-honored tradition nipped in the bud.

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