Tag Archives: Belle High School

Me and my big head …


Saturday afternoon Kelly and I attended the matinée performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock. It was a great show, Delaney Jo Sauer did a remarkable job as Scout, and if you missed Amy Wilder’s preview of “Mockingbird,” please see her story in Sunday’s Tribune. (Amy is the newest member of the Tribune staff and she has the (mis)fortune of sitting near enough my desk to hear the interesting phone calls that tend to come my way).

Kelly and I arrived in plenty of time to find our seats for the Lyceum’s “Mockingbird” debut. Just before the lights dimmed, I overheard the woman behind me tell the man she was with, “I’m sitting right behind Jodie’s big head.”

Big head. Hmmm. The tone wasn’t denigrating – more matter-of-fact – and was one of those situations we all find ourselves in. I wondered if I’d really heard what I heard. Should I glance behind me and say “Hi?” Did she intend to say it loud enough for me to hear? Did we know the people behind us?

It was unlike me, but I was hesitant to look. Besides, maybe I misunderstood, although I am, by trade and by curiosity, a world-class eavesdropper. There was no doubt in my mind she said, “I’m sitting right behind Jodie’s big head.”

At intermission, when the house lights went on, I glanced behind me, but the man and woman were gone. I couldn’t wait to ask Kelly if she’d overhead the same thing.

Yes. She heard the same thing. But, no, she also had no idea who the woman was. Later we wondered if perhaps we should have known them, and that it looked like we were rude for not saying “Hi.” The man and woman took their seats after the lights were dimmed for the second act and they were gone when the lights came back up.

I’ve been wondering in this big head of mine who she was. In the off-chance that any reader has talked to a woman who said, “You know, I saw Jodie Jackson Saturday at the Lyceum Theatre. Sat right behind his big head. And he didn’t even speak to me,” please tell her I’m sorry.


Yesterday, Sept. 10, was the fourth anniversary of the final edition of The Northern  Boone County Bullseye, the weekly newspaper that I owned in Hallsville, Mo. The Bullseye lived almost four years – 202 editions – and I have honestly given it very little thought since shuttering the office the last week of September 2008 and going to work for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

I’m going to spend the next few days reminiscing about The Bullseye and the other newspapers where I have worked.

Stay tuned …

Here’s my final column from the final edition:


From the pages of “My Senior Drear,” the day-by-day account of my senior year at Belle High School:

Friday, Sept. 12, 1980 – Rode bike to Kelly’s before school. (Eds. note: Kelly had a car, a ’73 Impala. I didn’t). Kevin went to Jeff City last night with me. We went to eat at McD’s with my brother and took his cat back with us. Cloudy and mild this morning. Pleasant, lazy Friday weather. Kelly and I are going to Rolla tonight to see a movie.”

First hour (Drama) – Mrs. Ammerman, the ageless substitute, is in for Mrs. Sharp. Assignment: Read pages 3-28, answer questions 4 and 5. Of course, I’m writing this rather than doing the assignment.

Second hour (Ecology) – Mary Hart wrote obscene things about me on the blackboard. I emptied an eraser on her though. Plan to do so again Monday.


Lunch – Hot dogs, mashed refuse, cherry-flavored filth.

(I won’t do this to you every day, but I plan to start providing snippets of the journal I kept throughout all four years of high school).

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Memoir in progress: Stay out of the river

Welcome to part two of a four-part story from July 27-28, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I realized our lifelong dream (I was not yet 15) to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. Look for Part 3 on Tuesday and the conclusion on Aug. 2.

My collection of Belle High School yearbooks from the mid-70’s to 1981 includes photos of classmates and schoolmates who never made it to graduation because they drowned. One classmate was horseback riding with her younger sister when her horse bucked, tossing her into a water-filled clay pit. The remnants of the clay pits in and around Belle were huge hills of dirt and gravel, the material removed during the extraction process to mine the clay that was used to make bricks and cement in by-gone years.

The clay piles made wonderful sledding hills and terrific fossil-hunting territory. My pal Jeff once found a trilobite fossil, making him president-for-life of our explorer’s and fossil-hunter’s club.

Besides the clay piles, what also remained from that long-dormant industry were deep, water-filled quarries, and many clay pits didn’t have safe entry points for swimming. A few adults warned me and my friends to stay clear of the deep holes, telling scary stories about deer that stepped into the water to drink, only to instantly disappear because the depth at the bank was the same as the depth in the middle – 40, 50 or even 90 feet deep. And once you were in the water, the wet clay banks were too slick for escape.


I avoided clay pits like the plague.

The other drownings that I recall or heard about all occurred in the Gasconade River, which moves a bit slower than most rivers, except that the Gasconade has a mysterious force called the “undertow,” a subsurface current that lurks near the river bottom – a force that grabs unwary swimmers, pulling them under. If the undertow stretched for miles, that’s how far away they’d find your body.

The warning was clear: no one escaped the undertow. It sounded a bit far-fetched, but some of the drowning victims from my school were athletes. Strong people.

No one escaped the undertow.

Most of my friends – in fact, I think all of my other friends – also liked to hike, splash around in the creek and even camp out under the stars, but they usually wanted to achieve some greater purpose. What was the point of the hike? What were we after? With that attitude – when the destination was more important than the journey – those friends got bored.

I never, ever got bored traipsing through the woods. And neither did Mike. I wrote about a night in August 1977, just a few days before my 14th birthday (Mike was a couple of years younger) when we stayed up all night on a clear hilltop in the forest, watching the Leonid meteor shower.

My other friends didn’t share my breathless fascination with nature and astronomical light shows. The night we watched that meteor shower, Mike and I brought a Bible and a flashlight, so we could take turns reading aloud the scriptures that mentioned stars, creation, the heavens, and the awesomeness of God. True, we were goofy nerds. But we were Christian nerds. I had other friends who would have read the Bible with me in the woods, but they wouldn’t have sat in silence for hours in the chilly night air to watch meteors and to hear owls hooting and night creatures scurrying.

I shared that connection only with Mike.

We wondered about the stars, about the deer that we could hear but couldn’t see. We watched a momma skunk waddle past with three little stinkers. We whispered about the Great-horned owl that stared at us from its perch just 20 feet away. We quietly talked about our next adventure.

We wondered what it would be like to follow the creek all the way to the river.

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The game of my life

Memoir-in-progress …

Belle High School, 1981 baseball team
That's me on the far right. I was the only senior on the team. I pitched, played first, some third and was the first choice for DH. I hit .540 for the season.

Tuesday, March 31, 1981, Belle City Park.

The opponent wasn’t much of a test and the score was laughable, even ridiculous. But offensively, it was the single greatest game of my life.

Final score: Belle 38, Chamois 0.

That’s right: Thirty-eight to nothing. I’d joke and say I scored five touchdowns, kicked five extra points and kicked a 59-yard field goal just for grins, except this was a baseball score. And Belle High School did not and still does not have football.

Here’s what I did.

First inning:  Triple on a 3-2 pitch, RBI, scored. Second inning: Singled up the middle, 2 RBI, scored. Third inning: walked on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, RBI, scored. Fourth inning …

Are you ready for this?

First at-bat: Led off with a walk, scored.

Second at-bat (of the fourth inning): The only time I ever batted right-handed in a high school game. With the bases loaded, I hit a line drive that almost killed the shortstop and the left fielder. From the swing of the bat to the ball hitting the fence in left-center, the ball never got more than about 4 feet off the ground. 3 RBI, double, scored. (And I had to slide head-first into second. A good throw would have nailed me. I hit the ball so hard that I didn’t have time to get to second without a little drama).

Third at-bat (of the fourth inning): The bases were loaded. I never hit a ball that far, not even in my wildest dream. Grand slam, 4 RBI, run. The ball probably traveled 400 feet in the air.

So let’s summarize: In the fourth inning alone, seven RBI and three runs scored. We sent 27 batters to the plate. I was stepping from the on-deck circle into the batter’s box to become the 28th batter of the inning, with two on and two out. Before I dug in for my fourth at-bat of the fourth inning, the Chamois coach called his players off the field.

I finished 4-for-4, 2 walks, 6 runs, 11 RBI. Oh … and I hit for the cycle.

That was the offensive game of my life.

But it wasn’t THE game of my life. That came in July 1977. A few weeks earlier my 13-/14-year-old Little League team went to Edgar Springs. I pitched and my first three pitches — literally, one, two, three, bang, bang, bang — were hit for tape-measure home runs. We lost 27-0. I’m still convinced those kids were 16 or 17 — maybe older.

Then they came to our place, the Belle City Park. I pitched. Struck out 15. We went to the bottom of the seventh tied 3-3. My best friend Kenny Shanks doubled with one out and stole third. I came up.

Kenny and I executed the squeeze play four or five times that season. Coach Rafferty knew by the look that Kenny and I exchanged that the squeeze was on. The only sign Coach Rafferty was giving me from the third base box was a militant head-shake that said, “NO!” I slapped the top of my helmet, the pitcher wound up, and I squared to bunt.

And Kenny took off. He was well over half-way to the plate before the pitcher realized what was happening. He stepped off the mound and fired toward the catcher, but Kenny slid and rolled across home plate — and the ball hit me squarely in the middle of the right thigh. (I think it’s still bruised).

4-3. We won!

But wait! The Edgar Springs coach was livid! It was a hit-by-pitch!, he screamed. “The ball was dead! Runner goes back to third!”

Our fans screamed back: the pitcher wasn’t on the rubber when he threw to the plate! He was throwing to get the runner, not throwing to pitch.

The losing coach grasped for anything and changed his argument, pleading for an interference call against me, except I stepped out of the batter’s box at the last moment to give Kenny a chance to complete his game-winning steal of home.

It was pandemonium. Our team was rolling around on the field like we’d beaten the ’27 Yankees to win the World Series, and I was simply rolling around on the ground because I thought my right femur was fractured. The home plate ump walked toward me, apparently ready to send Kenny back to third and call me “out” for batter’s interference.

“He was bringing the pitch,” I told the ump. “He stepped off the rubber.”

The ump called the infield ump over, I repeated to both umps what I’d said, and the infield ump nodded in agreement.

The home plate ump, holding his face mask in one hand, walked halfway toward the mound, pointed at the pitching rubber, and shouted, “BALK!”

End of story. End of game. Belle 4, Edgar Springs 3.

Dramatic enough, but I still like to say Kenny stole home to win the game.

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Catching up: If elected, I promise …

I know what went wrong.

Blame the time change, when we sprang forward an hour two weeks ago. I don’t handle change all that well. Go and throw a whole extra hour in the day – just like that – and poof!, I’m out of sorts. My doctor said I have SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. But she also said I need to lose weight, so what does she know, right?

(Just kidding. Dr. Reust is the best).

But my blogging schedule has been off. I’ve missed entire days. It’s not like the earth will stop spinning if I miss a day or two, but I’m out of kilter. This little acre of cyber space is the bit of structure I added to my life about four months ago and, wouldn’t you know it, you don’t tend to the yard for a few days and it needs mowing.

So consider this mowing. Friday is supposed to be memoir-in-progress “80’s Day,” but I’m going to skip all over the place right now. Follow along.

The Chronicles of Me

March 25, 1991 – “Meet The Candidates” forum at the Belle High School vo-ag room. I was one of six candidates vying for two seats on the Maries County R-2 Board of Education. That was 21 years ago. And that’s me on the right.

Is anyone surprised that I was the only guy wearing a tie?


I didn’t win, mostly because my last name was neither “Ridenhour” nor “Lange.” In fact, I finished fifth, but I did win the Canaan precinct in Gasconade County.

What the hail?

March 15, 1982 – A cast from the Baptist Student Union at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg was starting its third week of rehearsal for the musical, “The Apostle.” I played the part of Luke. (Yes, how fitting. The physician was also one of the world’s finest journalists). But the night of March 15 – it was a Monday night and we were rehearsing in the Lovinger Building gymnasium – a hailstorm busted out 3,000 windows on campus. Inside the gymnasium of the old building we were in, it sounded like the Apocalypse. (Whatever that sounds like).

What I remember most was how the streets flooded because the storm drains clogged up with golfball-size hail stones.

I was a staff writer for the Muleskinner, the campus paper. My front page story (just beneath the picture above) was “Regents pass dorm rate hike.” One sentence buried lower in the story noted that the university president asked the Board of Regents to authorize an emergency contract, “without competitive bid,” to repair the multipurpose building’s roof.

The good president called me to his office the day the paper came out (March 19) to tell me he was “perplexed” that I’d included that bit of information in the story. (My high school principal used to do the same thing). I asked, “Was it true?,” and he answered, “Well … yes,” and I wished him a good rest of the day and left.

That was 30 years ago this week. (What a trouble-maker!)

The Calendar Says …

March 23, 1982 – This notation: “75 days to go. Kelly.” Oh, yeah. We were engaged.

March 25 and 26, 1982 – Cue the lights! We performed “The Apostle.”

Fast Forward …

March 21, 1979 – “Shut up. I am going to KILL three or four of you! And I mean it!” That’s from my daily journal of my high school career at Belle High School, as spoken by English teacher Dale Mackey. Great guy, really – we often played tennis after school ‑ and I certainly don’t remember anything about his tirade, but apparently I lit his fuse that day. (Imagine that.) I laughed at his threat and he shouted some more. Me: “I think that’s pretty sad.” Him: “Well, your behavior is pretty sad, Jackson!”

The record is incomplete. I have no idea about the context.

From the aptly titled journal “My Senior Drear,” March 20, 1981 – “Had an emotional play practice last night. It’s all coming together now.” (I was Joe Keller in “All My Sons.” Intense.) “Kelly came over, we walked to school. She’s still sick, but we’re going out tonight.”

A little more …

“Cleaned out my moldy, rank locker. 3 bologna sandwiches, 1 ham/cheese, two Twinkies, 1/3 carton of milk. Carbon dating shows the provisions date back to September 1980.”

Got third quarter grades:

Journalism II – B

Astronomy – C

Study Hall – “I would’ve flunked study hall if there was a grading or credit system.”

Formal writing – A

Band – A minus

Yearbook/Publications – B

Speech II – A

Lunch that day? “Something that resembles congealed tooth plaque (allegedly ‘corn’).”

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‘Hmmm: Where IS that lizard?’

It’s Friday. That means a memoir-in-progress flashback to the big hair and big dreams of the 1980s.


March 9, 1982: “Anthropology essay due. Don’t think Ms. Maserang-Hodge-McCoy will be humored by, ‘Why My Ethnocentricity Is Best.’ ”

On further review: My college anthropology teacher really did have a double-hyphenated last name. It had something to do with her white-hot hatred of men. As I recall — and I might be making this part up — each of her last names was based on her maiden name, her mother’s maiden name, and her grandmother’s maiden name.

And also, she did not “get” my essay. I got an “F.” I made a “D” in the class — the lowest grade I ever got in my life, except for that “I-minus” (equivalent of D-minus) in seventh grade math, but I have blotted most of that nightmarish seventh grade year in Jefferson City from my mind. The only thing that period of my life gave me were stories to tell someday to therapists and psychologists. 

I’m not kidding.

– From the pages of My Senior Drear, the day-by-day, hour-by-hour log of each day of my four years of tormenting classmates, teachers and administrators at Belle High School …

Monday, March 9, 1981 – Before school: picked up Kelly; mailed my financial aid form. … Second hour (astronomy): Saw a film about Alaska. What a bore. What the heck does that have to do with astronomy? … Had baseball practice after school …

Quick step back to the 70s, from my freshman year … Thursday, March 9, 1978 — Mostly boring and hot. First hour band: Played “Battle Hymn of the Republic” ALL HOUR! The brass section sucked today. Alto saxes? We rocked, of course, as usual. … Second hour: showed my pet lizard around the room. Got in trouble for showing my pet lizard … Fifth hour: PE. My lizard is missing. Check the cafeteria …

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My (not so) finest hours

It’s Friday. That means a memoir-in-progress flashback to the big hair and big dreams of the 1980s.

From the pages of My Senior Drear, the day-by-day, hour-by-hour log of each day of my four years of tormenting classmates, teachers and administrators at Belle High School …

Monday, Feb. 23, 1981 – Second hour (astronomy). Some stuff about Saturn. Ten or 11 moons, rings are made out of chunks of ice, blah blah blah … and these notes:

“Uranus orbits the sun once for every 84 earth years. It has five moons … Tim asks Mr. Abel how many of the moons could fit in Uranus. Mr. A. ignored him … I asked Tim how many moons he thought would fit in Uranus. Tim says, ‘We’re not talking about myanus. I’m wondering about Uranus.’ However, I respectfully insisted, ‘Myanus ain’t nobody’s business.’”

Laughter. Hysterical laughter. (At least from me and Tim).

“Mr. A. says he’s worried about me and Tim … Worried we’re going to end up in prison someday.”

How to not win

In a moment I’ll present the evidence of one of the most bone-headed decisions I ever made – at least up to the point of me being 17-years-old. I was a speech-and-debate nerd and excelled in original oratory (wrote a speech, memorized it, delivered it in compelling, convincing manner); debate (when we were on the “affirmative” side, Jack Smith and I advocated for banning tobacco products, and we wiped out the competition … until we came up against state champion debaters from Pattonville High); and extemporaneous speaking.

I was a wiz at extemp. You’d draw a topic from a bowl or hat, then you had 30 minutes to jot down an outline or ideas on a notecard. When your name was called, you presented a five- or six-minute persuasive speech.

Sometimes the topic related to a current event of the day, and me being a news nerd and all, I’d knock those speeches out of the park. I was the conference champion. (I LOVED extemp and, to this day, seem to have the gift of gab.)

And then I got stupid. And arrogant.

You see, one strategy of extemporaneous speaking was to assume a position opposite from the prevailing public opinion. I could advocate for or against nuclear energy. (How many of you kids out there remember when the Callaway Plant wasn’t there? I warned against the civilization-ending certainty of unmanageable nuclear waste or the national security danger of depending on fossil fuels and foreign oil for our energy). I could convince an astronaut that space travel was wasteful and unnecessary.

So there I was in the spring of 1981, in the semi-final round of the state speech and debate tournament in Jefferson City. The questions we chose from related to state policy. I was on a roll.

And then I reached into a tumbler and pulled out the folded piece of paper with my question: “Should Missouri legalize prostitution?”

Conventional wisdom said, “Don’t get cute here.”

But I was much less conventional back in 1981. I prepared a note card (below, just the front included here) with an outline that I was sure would convince anyone that, of course, we should legalize the world’s oldest profession.

I strutted into the room, already wondering what my championship round speech topic might be, when I realized the judge was a woman older than my grandparents.

I stayed the course of unconventional.

The judge was unconvinceable.

It was my final speech of the state tournament.


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The fine art of being annoying

Memoir-in-Progress …

How did I survive high school?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I mean really?

Exhibit “A” from “My Senior Drear,” a daily journal of my high school career at Belle (Maries County R-2) High School. To wit: “Jan. 16, 1980. A day of monumental significance in the history of Belle High. Dewayne and I officially formed the Independent Student Council.” I was a junior; Dewayne Butler was a sophomore. We delivered a draft of our “charter” to our principal, Mr. Evans.

One of our first initiatives, outlined in rather mind-numbing detail, was that the school cafeteria “cease and desist preparing, cooking, heating, re-heating, re-heating more, sneezing into and dropping onto the floor, then re-heating thrice more and serving swill.” We also insisted that the school administration lighten up on a recent crackdown on public displays of affection, as one of the main tenets of the I.S.C. was, “Make love, not war (against students).”

I developed an incredible knack for annoying people at a very early age. I have documentation (penned by me, of course) to prove it. But annoying Mr. Evans was sport if only because he engaged us in silly quests for things like the I.S.C., “parking lot barbecue day” (another great idea that never happened) and “Random Student/Staff Execution Day.” Thirty-plus years ago you could get away with such things.

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