Locked Out!

The Christmas
That B. Y. High
Became My Home

I have never told this story to anyone, because I've never had an appropriate occasion to, until I ran across the B. Y. High website. If you think this would be interesting to anyone, you have my permission to use it. Although the statute of limitations has run out, would you please change the names, including my own, and places that might identify the people in this story? Thank you.
~~BYH Alumnus, 1950s

Christmas has always been an annual highlight in our family, but two stand out particularly in my mind.

My first unusual Christmas came in the 1940s when my father returned home from World War II. He had been serving in the Navy in the South Pacific, and my mother and I held our celebration over into January so he could be there with us.

He was a mountain of a man with a booming voice, and he was full of fun. I was six when he went to war, and for three years I had only seen his pictures, and heard my Mom talking about him. He brought me a coconut and some beautiful seashells, which I still have.

Upon returning to Provo, my Dad resumed his job as a professor of physical sciences at BYU. Quite often I meet people who took classes from him, and they have told me some nice stories about him.

We lived in a small house on the bench in Orem, and I was the only kid in our family. Before my father left to serve in the military, I had already started out in kindergarten at the BYU Elementary School. My mother drove me to school every morning for years, but now my Dad took over the driving, dropping me off on his way to work. I was then in the fifth grade.

I attended in the old three-story Training School building on the Lower Campus. The elementary grades, K to 6, were housed in classrooms on the first two floors. The third floor was the Men's Gym, mostly used by high school and college students.
BYU Laboratory Training Elementary School
Snow Day, BYU Elementary Training School

My Most Unusual Christmas

My second unusual Christmas came in the early 1950s. My father, who had served as a bishop and a stake president, was called to serve as a president of the LDS mission in Switzerland.

Our family had several long discussions about logistics. My parents decided to rent out our house, and gave me the option of coming with them to Switzerland, or staying with my Aunt Gloria and Uncle Jerry in the student basement apartment in their house in Provo. My aunt and uncle had no children of their own.

As it turned out, I went with my parents to Switzerland for the summer, but in August I flew back half-way around the world to Utah, accompanied by a couple of returning missionaries. I was about to begin my junior year at B. Y. High.

A Taste of Independence

My aunt and uncle lived just a few blocks from the Lower Campus, so I could walk to school every morning, and I could stay after school as long as needed for sports practices and other activities. I felt solidly grown-up and independent. My Mom had taught me some cooking skills -- like how to heat stuff. I fixed my own meals or ate a hamburger, except on Sundays when I usually had dinner with my aunt and uncle.

In mid-December, we had a family crisis. My great-aunt Zella, who lived in Seattle, unexpectedly died, leaving some major business and real estate problems. She had asked Uncle Jerry to be the executor of her estate, and so my aunt and uncle felt they had to go to Washington for three or four weeks to settle her estate.

Nobody wanted to leave me in Provo by myself for the Christmas vacation, but I insisted that I would be just fine, and could take care of myself. After a few long-distance telephone calls to my folks in Switzerland, it was decided that I would stay in Provo. "Roger is old enough and responsible, and this will be a good experience for him," said my Dad.

More Independence

Hot dog! Aunt Gloria gave me $50 for expenses, and Uncle Jerry slipped me another $10 when his wife wasn't looking. I had saved some money, so I had that, too. We celebrated Christmas early. I received a backpack, filled with a canteen, cook kit and other camping gear, along with a sleeping bag. It was just what I wanted and needed for scout trips, and I was delighted.

I had two house keys, one to my room, and one to the outside door upstairs. When Uncle Jerry and Aunt Gloria arrived in Seattle they telephoned me, and I told them everything was under control. I told them about my schedule of plays, concerts, basketball games and study sessions that I had put together, and they were impressed. I had a schedule with something for almost every night through the Christmas vacation, if I wanted to go.

I told them that I would call them every Wednesday evening, because I didn't want them to call and not find me at home, and be worried.

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Locked out of the house at Christmas
View from the street.

Calamity Strikes

One of my first acts as a guy living on my own was to lose both of my house keys in the snow, when I went sledding on the first day of Christmas vacation. My long and frantic search was unsuccessful.

This was terrible. I figured nobody would ever trust me again. If I broke into the house, it would be a mess. I wasn't sure I could repair a window or fix a broken door before my aunt and uncle returned. Their house was older and built like Fort Knox. The only good thing was that I was wearing a couple of layers of my warmest clothes!

I was able to open my bedroom window about four inches, but not enough to get in. I used two straightened wire coat hangers to snag my new sleeping bag from where I had unrolled it on my bed. I was covered with perspiration by the time I got it out. I closed my window tightly, and set off looking for a place to sleep that night, until I could figure out what to do.

I still had my wallet with all of my cash folded into the secret compartment, thank heaven. I went to a neighborhood grocery store and bought some snack food.

New Sleeping Quarters

From years of experience, I knew that I could go over to the Men's Gym, climb the outside fire escape, and jiggle the door just right to get it to open.

I stood precariously on a bicycle propped against the wall, and climbed up with my sleeping bag dangling from my belt. It was dark and cold, and there was no one around to see me.

I remembered that the Men's Gym was one of the few places on the Lower Campus that was heated full blast during the Christmas break, because there were so many practices, church dances, and other activities scheduled there. The College Hall auditorium, in the next building over, was also kept well heated for the activities held there.

Once inside, the gym was pitch dark. I found a single bulb light and turned it on. I spread my sleeping bag on top of a stack of wrestling mats. After a long hot shower in the dressing room, I quickly drifted off to sleep. Considering how tired I was, I was surprised when I woke early the next morning. I hid my sleeping bag up under an old wooden bench, ran down the stairs and out the door before anyone else arrived.

A New Set of Keys

I was friendly with the student janitors around the campus, and I saw that several were already at work in the Education Building. They were doing some long-term maintenance, refinishing floors. I asked two of them if they needed any help -- I said I was bored being on vacation -- and they put me to work. At noon one of them went out for burgers, and they treated me to lunch.

In the early afternoon, they sent me to the janitor's closet to get the key to the next classroom on their list. Standing in front of the large key rack, I got an idea. I noticed that many of the hooks held extra keys, so I quickly "borrowed" several of the duplicate keys.

Thinking fast, I selected two keys to the Men's Gym, one for downstairs front door, and one for the top of the stairs. Next, I found a key to the front door of the Arts Building, and another to the home economics room up on the third floor. I knew that classroom had a refrigerator, stoves, and cooking supplies.

I also took two keys that would get me into the College Hall auditorium -- the other place with continuous heat during vacation. Finally, I took several keys that would get me into the bell tower from the fourth floor of the Education Building -- I got these out of pure curiosity.
Christmas key collection

That afternoon I walked over to a car dealership and asked them if they had any free key rings -- they did. This time the keys became my most closely guarded possession.

Staying On My Schedule

I bought a cheap padlock. That added another key to my collection. I bought two more changes of inexpensive clothes and a tie at J. C. Penny's, and stashed everything in a locker in the Men's Gym, locking it.

I showered every evening, and washed my clothes in the nearby coin laundry every few days. I noticed that daily newspapers were piling up on the front steps of the Education Building, so I picked one up every day to read. I even found some useful food coupons. When I didn't buy a hamburger, I fixed my meals in the home ec room. The place was deserted, and not even the smell of food cooking caught anyone's attention.

One morning I walked by the woodshop across the street, and found my janitor friends working in there. I got an idea and asked them if they would mind if I worked on a project. They said, "Help yourself -- just don't get hurt because that would cause us too much paperwork!"

I worked all day with materials in my shop locker, and built a small hinged oak box. I carved a heart into the lid, varnished it, and later lined it with blue velvet. I had bought a necklace for my girlfriend, Jenille. I did later present it to her in the box when she got back from spending the holidays in California.

I usually kept to my evening schedule, seeing plays, attending concerts and BYU basketball games. My B. Y. High activity card got me into almost every BYU activity without cost. To be honest, I did no studying at all.

I went to some College Hall events more than once -- and sometimes climbed up and watched from the control booth with the light and sound guys.
At the brand-new George Albert Smith Fieldhouse, I was successful several times at sneaking into the press booth high above the basketball floor, just by pretending I knew what I was doing. I went to some of the writers with a pad of paper, writing down what food they wanted me to buy for them at halftime, and taking their money. When I delivered the food, they usually said, "Keep the change."

One night I offered to take the halftime stats to the dressing rooms of both teams, and so I got to see the players and coaches while they were trying to figure out what to do in the second half.

During the action, I found a place to stand beside the KSL booth, where, if they left the door open, I could see Dean Bennett and listen to his rich and familiar voice, giving his exciting play-by-play description of the game. He is still my favorite BYU sportscaster of all time.
Dean Bennett, KSL & BYU Sports
Walking around back on the Lower Campus, I noticed that someone had left the door to the typing classroom open. I went inside and typed a letter to my Mom and Dad. Of course, I didn't mention a word about my new problem. Their letters arrived in the mailbox in front of the house, and it was interesting to read about what they were doing -- about three weeks earlier.

I changed some of my paper money to get dimes and quarters for my three-minute calls to my aunt and uncle in Seattle.

When my money started running low, I resorted to the old "scavenger hunt" tactic that local college students had used for generations. I would go door to door in a nearby neighborhood, running and out of breath, waving a list of items, telling whoever opened the door that I was on a scavenger hunt. For instance, I asked if they had a boiled egg, a can of Campbell's tomato soup, two slices of bread, or a 1929 quarter. To avoid suspicion I held to the usual rule, that I could take only one item per household. It worked best when the kids in the family opened the door.

On Sundays, I put on my tie and went to my regular ward meetings. Several families invited me to eat dinner with them, but I turned them all down. I didn't think I could spend that much time with anyone who knew me without accidentally spilling the beans about what was going on.

Christmas Arrives

On Christmas Eve, I ate dinner with the international students. Most of them couldn't go home for the holidays, so the university put on a big banquet for them, with entertainment. When anyone asked, I told them I was from Switzerland -- I don't know if they believed me, but they let me eat with them.

After that I did something I had never done before -- I accepted an invitation from two of the international students to go to a midnight Christmas mass at a Catholic church. It was a solemn, memorable experience.

Late on Christmas morning, I did something I had wanted to do since kindergarten. I used my key collection and let myself into the bell tower. The "Y" bell had been broken and removed a few years earlier, but that wasn't what I wanted to see. I opened the locked back door of the tower that led out onto the flat roof, and carefully made my way across a small bridge into the foot-deep snow.

Back door of the BYA Bell Tower
Back door of the old bell tower.

I was surprised that so much of the roof was flat. The sun was out, sparkling off the ice crystals on the gingerbread trim on the roof. I slowly walked to the north edge, then to the south edge, enjoying the breathtaking view, and thinking how much it would hurt if I slipped and fell over the edge.

It was cold. I stayed out there about ten minutes, then retreated, leaving only my footprints, and locking all of the doors behind me. I crossed the third-floor catwalk to the home ec room, where I fixed and ate a big Christmas breakfast of maple syrup pancakes, eggs, bacon and pink grapefruit.


On Christmas afternoon, I went out walking around the Lower Campus neighborhood. After a while I noticed a big black Labrador retriever wandering around in the snow. He had no collar. He began to follow me, so I knocked on a dozen doors or more to see if anyone recognized him. Nobody did.

Grizzly, black labrador retriever
LOST: Black Lab

At dinnertime I walked back to the Arts Building, and he followed me. When I opened the door, he rushed in -- I guess he was pretty cold. He followed me up the stairs, so I warmed up some chicken and shared it with him.

I didn't want to take him up to the gym, so for several days we slept in the Arts Building home ec room, with the electric oven door open at night for heat. I made a collar from a rope, sewing a loop with a needle and thread I found. During the daylight hours we walked around looking for his owner.

Several days later I opened the Daily Herald, and found a notice in the lost and found section:

LOST - Black Lab - answers to Grizzly. Reward, call . . .

and it listed a telephone number. I called out, "Hey Grizzly!" He wagged his tail and jumped up on me. So I dropped a dime in the pay telephone across the street by the Women's Gym, and called the number.

His owners were excited, and drove right over to get him. He was delighted to see them. They gave me $5 for a reward. That was enough to pay for 20 hamburgers! But I was already missing him by the time I carried my sleeping bag back to the Men's Gym.

No One Wiser But Me

When the new school term started in January, I was still secretly sleeping in the gym at night. When I called my aunt and uncle I found out exactly when they were planning to be back home. On that day I waited outside the house -- of course -- and gave them big hugs when they drove up. I offered to carry their luggage inside.

They unlocked the front door, and found everything in good order. After I finished bringing their suitcases in, I went immediately to a nail just inside the kitchen door, where two spare keys to the basement room had hung for a long time. When they were not looking, I took one, and after talking with them for a while, I went down to my room and collapsed into my own bed.

And the school keys? I put them all in an envelope. One morning I slipped the envelope under the door to the janitor's closet, with no note of explanation. And from that day to to this, nobody keeps better track of their keys than I do.

My great adventure in "urban survival" was over, and I had made it! After earning an "F" for carelessly losing my keys, I felt like I had earned an "A-" in avoiding freezing to death. The minus, of course, was for key larceny, trespassing without authorization, allowing a dog into the home ec room, running a false scavenger hunt, and impersonating a Swiss national!

You might think that it must have been a lonely Christmas for me, but it was actually one of the most enjoyable. It was the Christmas that B. Y. High really became my home, no matter where else I lived after that.

Snow globe - BYH
Merry Christmas & A Happier 2024 -- Please.

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