Thistles Cut, Ironing Done


In the spring of 1938 I was teaching third and fourth grades in Markesan, Wisconsin. One day a college friend, Margaret Seiber, wrote inviting me to share a trip with her. She was planning to spend the summer at the University of Colorado. My first reaction was that I didn't like traveling. I was always too tired.

But life in a small town in central Wisconsin did not offer varied interests or society. I was living on the farm with my parents and brother in the same environment as that of my childhood. Also, I had an idea I might have to teach for many years so I'd better think about trying to get a higher degree in Education. I wrote Margaret that I would go with her to Boulder, Colorado in June.

As I look back I realize that this was the first decision about my life which was not made at the direction of my parents. Until then any changes were initiated by and encouraged by my family. The more I thought about the coming adventure the more excited I became. No one I knew had ever been to Colorado!

In a small community a teacher lived under the scrutiny of the entire village population. Does she go away on weekends? Does she go to church? Who does she date? An unmarried woman teacher was not to get married during the school term.

In that circumscribed environment at twenty-two, I felt the best years of my life were behind me. But, the summer in Colorado would at least be a new experience.

Our teaching duties were over in June. After a three-day trip by car Margaret and I arrived in Boulder. We found the apartment we had rented by mail was seven blocks from the campus. It was cool and pleasant and we settled in easily. We were eager to see the University. We found that the campus was a beautiful place with irrigation ditches full of running water to keep the grass green. Most of all we were impressed with the Flatirons - huge flatiron shaped outcroppings high on the foothills overlooking the city. They were so close that we had the feeling they were falling on us. After a few weeks that sensation disappeared, but they still commanded daily contemplation.

As we walked back from the campus we stopped by a small stand advertising mountain tours. This one was owned by the Armsteads. We picked up a few brochures, but I wasn't seriously considering going anywhere. It would be too tiring. Neither Margaret nor I had counted on the Armstead's eye for a sale. In a few days we were visited by Ivan Meyer, one of the mountain drivers. Ivan was correctly named. He was blond with a little mustache and a born salesman. Margaret and I signed up to spend the next weekend going to Pikes Peak. Imagine beginning with Pikes Peak when we had never even been exposed to lesser mountain roads with switchbacks and deep drops beside the track.

Two big touring cars with tops down were loaded with "girls" like us to make the trip. Esther Ewald and Dorothy Brightwell were two of the girls. Their clever humor kept all of us laughing when we were not singing songs lauding the Colorado scenery and the Armsteads. Some of the songs were Esther's original compositions. She had been a steady passenger with the Armsteads the previous summer. She was enthusiastic about Uncle Seth and Aunt Bert, as she called Mr. and Mrs. Armstead, as well as about the mountain scenery.

Margaret and I spent nearly every weekend on a different trip in the mountains with Esther and Dorothy and the Armstead Tours. Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake, and the Continental Divide were a few of the places I tried to imprint on my mind to take home with me. By the end of the term our bank accounts were depleted. Esther's philosophy was, "I may as well have fun with my money instead of letting the bank and insurance company use it." She bought her return trip ticket to Illinois at the beginning of the summer so that she could get back to her job teaching Junior High School History in the fall.

Back home in Wisconsin my memories of riding in the mountains, the scent of the pines and seeing them against the rugged cliffs under the blue, blue sky helped me live through the duller winter days of teaching.

I returned to Boulder in the summer of 1939 and again in 1940, still telling myself I needed the continuing education.

That first year when Margaret and I registered for classes she said, "Let's find a course that will have men in it." Education classes were notorious for having nearly all women enrolled. But in a summer session, even though men might be in a class they might already be married. They could be dull, uninteresting men such as principals and superintendents of high schools who thought only of advancing their careers.

In 1940 my first class was History of Education taught by Dr. Arrowood, a visiting professor from El Paso, Texas. (Oh, he was a boring teacher! He slowly, slowly gave a continuous list of facts the entire term.) The classroom was arranged with a single aisle on one side of the room in line with the doorway. On the first day few people were there when I entered and chose an aisle seat on the fourth row.

While I waited I idly watched the students come in. A slim young man's blue eyes caught mine as he came through the door. He came to sit in the same row, two seats away from me.

In an effort to check who was in his class Dr. Arrowood started a blank sheet of paper down each row for us to write our names and home states. Since my name was at the top of the list in our row, Howard had no trouble noticing it, but he was stymied at pronouncing "Zona Schwandt." I tried not to be obvious but I stretched as far as I dared to watch him write his name. That was the beginning of the rest of our lives.

(Howard was taking the course for no credit but he attended class every day.)

Many mornings as he came to class we exchanged warm glances and occasionally a bit of conversation. Before July 4th he told his plans to go with a group - three men and three girls - to Salt Lake City for the holiday. Three weeks before the summer's end I was at the six o'clock Wednesday evening tea dance. Herman Remisch was my partner for a waltz. We had met casually the year before. As we danced Herman told me about the man who shared his dormitory room. He said, "My roommate has been describing you to me. He thinks you are pretty nice. His name is Howard Justiss. He spends all his time in the library."

I scarcely waited for the music to stop. I have a reputation for walking fast even now. That evening I may have set a speed record. I walked out of that building straight to the library. Howard wasn't there. It was Wednesday! Of course, I didn't know that was the night to go to church for Bible study.

He wasn't going to escape though. The next evening I went to the library. It was a new building with lots of interesting corners for semi-private study. Near the Education books Howard was sitting at a small table. We spoke to each other. I chose a book off the shelf and sat down at a nearby table. Whereupon he came over to sit beside me. We didn't read a line in our books. We talked until the library closed at nine o'clock. (Libraries didn't stay open late at night in those days.) Howard walked with me to the house where I lived. He had discovered I was a girl from the farm and not such a heathen as he had imagined me to be.

The next night we saw a movie together. He was brave enough to hold my hand. After that we were often in the library exchanging soulful glances across the table as we discussed Herbart's philosophy of education.

The last weekend of the summer I went on a mountain trip but I was bored. Molybdenum mines and other points of interest no longer held my attention. Esther and Dorothy asked why I had not suggested to Howard that he make the trip with us. I didn't know Howard well enough to expose him to the pranks and teasing Esther and Dorothy could hand out. I didn't know if he appreciated humor of any kind. I did know that he would not have given up going to church on Sunday morning.

Esther is still a friend. Howard would have been able to laugh with her in 1940 and even respond to her humor with his own. She, in turn, would have respected his religious beliefs.

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Copyright 1991, 2004 by Zona S. Justiss. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, text and photos on this page are property of the author and may not be reproduced, posted, distributed, or used for any commercial purpose without prior permission.