A BYH Duck Hunter's
Affidavit on Assemblies

Almost every Friday morning at 11 a.m., during my years at Brigham Young High School (1950-1956), our student body gathered to witness a student assembly.

These programs ran the gamut from student skits, to professional presentations by traveling assembly producers, to educational demonstrations by local service organizations such as the Provo City Fire Department.

Some were fun, some were boring, and some were real eye openers.

These welcome out-of-class events were always held in the College Hall auditorium. To get to the auditorium we walked from the rear of the historic Education building, heading east across a ground floor "connection way" which led to a flight of stairs going up to the second-floor auditorium.

The auditorium floor sloped slightly down toward the stage. It was polished by swabbing it with oil-soaked mops. The 1930s vintage wooden seats had once been stained brown and were mounted to cast-metal frames that had once been painted black. The wooden panels in each seat were curved not only for one’s back, but also for one’s posterior.

The seats folded up when not in use, and therefore the auditorium became a very noisy place when incoming audiences lowered them to be seated. College Hall seating was divided into three sections. As I recall, the large middle section held approximately 100 seats, and the two side sections had approximately 50 seats each.

The stage itself had a standard wood floor, and before events the performance area was hidden behind theater-style maroon curtains that opened in the middle as each production began.

To me it was not an impressive stage. In fact, I have seldom seen a stage, even in very uppity places, that looked like it had been recently swept or mopped. Our stage was no exception. Every assembly or production was performed on an inexcusably dusty stage floor, or so it seemed to me. I suppose this is one reason I have never fully appreciated theater productions. I got the feeling that if the folks putting on the show did not have enough sense of organization and care to clean the floor, then what else were they going to try to present to me that was slip-shod?

The Provo City Fire Department presented several assembly programs during the years that I attended our august institution. During my life I have appreciated the ferocious power and cleansing effect of fire, and perhaps this is where I learned such a deep respect for it.

In one demonstration we watched firemen place a gasoline-soaked rag in a container at the top of a rain gutter that was placed in a sloping position downward to another metal pan. Into this lower pan they placed a lighted candle. They taught us about the nature of gasoline fumes, explaining that the fumes always travel downward.

Then, bingo, sure enough, the invisible fumes would ignite as they reached the flame of the candle, and a flame would flash all the way up the gutter to the soaked rag. The firefighters immediately extinguished the flaming rag, but it was an unforgettable lesson in one of the vital aspects of fire prevention.

That ancient wooden stage, oil-soaked auditorium flooring, dusty cloth curtains, and even the entire wooden structure inside the brick-faced buildings, would have made a spectacular conflagration, had this demonstration ever gone wrong. But to my continuing surprise, we survived year after year with no mishaps! Can you imagine the elaborate safety precautions that would be required today for such a demonstration in such a firetrap with so many children present?

Our student body was composed of approximately fifty percent boys and fifty percent girls. Being an avid outdoorsman during my B.Y. High School days, I did not give much real thought to the fairer sex, with a couple of exhilarating exceptions.

One of the most eye-opening B.Y. High assemblies I ever attended was a talent assembly featuring a number of our classmates showing off their ballet talents.

I was probably just in the eighth or ninth grade. First you have to know that the style back then was for the young ladies to wear long felt skirts. These skirts covered them delightfully and fully from the waist down. I believe the skirts were called "Poodle Skirts" and they were worn with lightly starched crinoline blouses that seemed to have just been freshly put on. Bobby socks and oxfords completed these wonderful displays of flowering womanhood.

Keeping our thoughts clean and pure, as we were instructed, and because I was truly more interested in the duck season that was just about to open, I had never given much thought to the configuration of the young ladies' lower appendages. I guess, in my naiveté, I thought they were all very similar to each other, and that each young lady just came with standard issue legs.

Wow, when this entourage came out on stage and performed their jumpity jumps wearing their skimpy costumes including tutus, tights, and ballet slippers, a whole new world unfolded in front of my eyes! What a revelation it was to me to discover that girls' legs, even at a church-sponsored institution, came in all different sizes and shapes! I sat transfixed in my College Hall seat.

I have to confess that this singular experience gave me a completely different perspective on my life to come. This shock extended far beyond my current trials of homework, my anticipation of the upcoming hunting season, and my round-the-clock work of filling my bottomless teenage stomach.

However, if it is possible, there might be one additional assembly that was almost as memorable. Fortunately, we have found a set of faculty minutes to help us with some of the details.

It was spring and time for BYH student government elections. The Election Assembly was held on Friday, April 20, 1956. The various candidates for student body and class elections were required to show off their talents or present their platform before voting took place.

My classmates and I were seniors, mere weeks away from obtaining some form of sainthood when we would receive our diplomas and become high school graduates! So we didn't really care about the elections that much, unless one of us had a younger brother or sister who was a candidate.

Unbeknownst to the audience of students, faculty and a few parents, Dr. George Lewis, our renowned speech and drama teacher, was coaching and monitoring the presentations. ("When you are speaking, always -- Stand Up! Speak Up! and then Shut Up!" he always said.)

High school activities were then, and probably still are today, a fertile testing ground of wills between students to see how much they can get away with, and their teachers, to see how much they will tolerate before exploding.

At least three borderline jokes were told during the course of the election skits in this assembly. Borderline assembly jokes often had a way of going over the heads of most of us in the audience, faculty included. Some of the students laughed, but probably because they had already heard the joke.

The first joke was noted in the faculty minutes, but not the subject. Apparently, however, it sent up red flags in the mind of Dr. Lewis.

A bit later a second questionable joke was told, this one about a red-headed school teacher. Music teacher Grant Shields later told the faculty he guessed that joke arose out of him telling Robert Redd, a student, that he was no longer a member of the band. There must have been a pun in there somewhere.

Dr. Lewis quickly slipped backstage and warned those students who were still waiting to make their presentations, that the curtain would be pulled if there was any further foolishness.

Then came the third strike, a joke where a young man asked a young lady if she believed in "premarital interdigitation" -- that is to say, "hand-holding before marriage".

"Yes, I do, and I have believed in premarital interdigitation for quite some time now," the girl replied -- hard to quote exactly since it was 49 years ago.

A group of students in the auditorium laughed, indicating "preassembly interjestation" -- or "knowledge of the joke before the assembly" -- but most did not understand it.

At the faculty meeting teacher Faye Buttle reported: "Students from several grades asked me what 'premarital digital relations' meant. I told them that I didn't know; that I had never heard of it before."

"Premarital interdigitation" was apparently a term that Dr. Lewis was not familiar with, either. But he didn't like the sound of it, so he pulled the maroon curtains shut, stepped out in front of the stage and declared the assembly shut down, kaput, finished, and dismissed the student body to go to lunch.

Most of us filed out of College Hall with looks of puzzlement on our faces. Soon one of the more "worldly" guys explained to us "duck hunters" what had really been said, and we all had a good laugh at the joke, and at the memorable ending it had brought to this election assembly.

Dr. Lewis met with Principal Morris Shirts shortly after aborting the assembly, and presented the details to him. Dr. Lewis asked if the guilty students should be barred from participating in any further assemblies.

Principal Shirts replied, "I don't know what I can do about it. The jokes were open to interpretation."

This generous reply apparently did not satisfy Dr. Lewis.

Dr. Lewis met with the faculty the following Tuesday, sans Shirts, and suggested, "We can fight this if we want to, or we can just let it stand, whichever we prefer."

A vigorous debate ensued. After many interesting statements by the faculty, Dr. Lewis came up with an interesting word picture:
"If word gets around, and it is sure to, about the lack of authority in this office, you people will be dangling out of the window by your heels before the year ends next year."

The faculty took several votes: first, to unite in a policy denouncing the present Lack of Respect for the Rules; second, to call for a meeting with the Dean [of the BYU College of Education, a drastic step] and the Principal; and third, then be prepared to fight for Authority to clamp down on borderline jokes, and other forms of disrespect.

The Class of 1957 and some later classes probably lived in something of a police state when it came to their Friday morning student assemblies, if my guess is right.

Certainly if I had been a B.Y. High School administrator or faculty member at that time, the idea of students holding me out of a window by my heels would have guided my every action.

Call it "predangletal deterrence" -- or some such term.

~~by Chuck Hackley, Class of 1956

At the time of the “George Lewis incident” referred to, I was there at the assembly, and I was also taking a speech class from Mr. Lewis. At our next class time he explained why he had closed the curtains on the program.

As I remember, Mr. Lewis said he became upset not so much because of the phrase “premarital inter-digitation”, as he was by a casual remark concerning “having an affair” made by Bob Redd concerning one of the female participants of the assembly (can’t remember exactly who now).

In those days the term “affair” wasn’t meant as a reference to a sexual affair, which the connotation now has, but as a humorous “going steady, hot and heavy” type of high school dating relationship.

The student body understood the implication as being light-hearted and humorous, and resented Mr. Lewis’s actions. --Dan Rell Workman, BYH Class of 1958. @2015


Related Article
Crisis of 1955-56