By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Doing research on the Sophienburg Hill property brings back memories of my 7th and 8th grade at New Braunfels High School. How does the museum fit together with the 7th and 8th grades, you ask? Here’s the story:
My introduction to the first two years in NBHS, the 7th and 8th grades, were totally filled with activities where boys and girls interacted with one another. This may sound strange to you, but at Lamar Elementary (for me up to 6th grade), the boys were in the back playground and the girls in the front. An occasional wave was about as close as we got. I’m talking about the era of Shirley Temple and the Our Gang comedy boys. So going to the big NBHS was quite a culture shock.
But boys and girls were eager to meet each other, even 7th graders. The PTA tried to address this need by providing places where students could get together. The first of these places was above the Jacob Mendlovitz Dept. Store downtown on San Antonio St. (now the Antique Mall on the corner of San Antonio St. and Castell Ave. The upstairs was open to students on week-ends and chaperoned by PTA members, mostly mothers). The wooden floor made wonderful dancing to the Nickelodeon. Occasionally someone would entertain with a skit or a song.
Needless to say, the location wasn’t too popular with the downtown merchants and when someone crawled out on the window awning over the sidewalk, it was time to look for another place.
On Butcher St. the school district had a big building that was converted into an entertainment center called the “Unicorn Stables.” Open to all NBHS students, there was dancing and even skating party nights. It even hosted formal dances.
But all this planned activity was not enough for the Shirley Temple/Our Gang 7th grade crowd. We had enough of all that planned activity. We already had the Mariners and the Sea Scouts who often interacted with each other on Lake Dunlap. Mariners were the top echelon Girl Scouts and the Sea Scouts were the top echelon Boy Scouts. As fate would have it, the Mariner adult leader and the Sea Scout adult leader both had family camps on Lake Dunlap. It was only natural that the two groups would meet at the same time at the lake. The boys took delight in showing off their boating skills by dumping the girls out of the boat into the water. Blue jeans and saddle oxford shoes weighed a ton.
Before Caller I.D., one of our favorite activities was to telephone the opposite sex and hang up when they answered. One of my friend’s father, a businessman, had a second telephone in the bathroom. What fun we had, calling the boys and then flushing the commode. Today’s youth cannot do that without being arrested. I think it’s called harassment. On Saturdays we called Krause Café and in our broken German would ask, “Hast do Schmier Kase heute?” Translation: Do you have cream cheese today? Then we would hang up and start the giggling routine. Why, you ask?
The picture show was a favorite hang-out. The theatre had to hire a person to walk up and down the aisles with a flashlight and one never knew when you would be spotlighted. Saturday was double feature day and so it was possible to spend the whole afternoon and evening in the movies. You never sat in the same seat for very long. It was kind of like “fruit basket turnover” or “popcorn bag turnover.” Getting popcorn thrown at you was a sign to turn around. If there was an empty seat, you moved to it.
The girls did lots of spending the night at each other’s houses. I don’t think the boys did that. It was years before I could spend the night at anyone’s house. I would get so homesick that I would have to be taken home. There’s nothing like a guest with dry heaves. I finally made it through the night my senior year. A friend had a big slumber party at their big house downtown for all girls at NBHS. I made it all night by sitting up fully clothed in the bathtub.
Almost all of my classmates had their driver’s license by age 14. There was almost no traffic so that made a big difference. Six 14-year-old girls (me included) drove out to a vacant ranch house out of town owned by the parents of one of the girls. We were going to spend the weekend in this house totally unchaperoned. We got to the ranch house in the afternoon full of confidence and independence.
When it started to get dark, we decided we would drive back to town to go to the movies. I have always wondered about that decision. We left the porch light on because we knew it would be dark when we got back. Sure enough, it was almost ten o’clock when we drove back to the ranch.
Coming over the hill leading to the house we were quite alarmed as we saw that the porch light was out. Pitch dark. We told ourselves all kinds of stories as to why that light was out and why it was so dark in the country.
We entered the house through the kitchen door and built a fire in the fireplace. We turned on the radio and on came the Mary Roberts Reinhart Mystery Theater. That program was known for the scariest of all mysteries, like all of Edgar Allen Poe’s mysteries. Even the theme song was scary. I think it was from Swan Lake. That program made your heart beat faster but for some reason we were drawn to listen to it, as they say, “like a moth to a flame.”
Suddenly there was an unfamiliar sound coming from the basement under the house. It sounded like bottles breaking. Absolutely stiff with fear, one of the girls went over to the door in the floor leading to the cellar. She screamed and claimed that someone was trying to push the door open. All six, like stampeding cattle ran to the kitchen looking for shelter. Some sat under the table, some in a closet and I remember standing up in the shower. There we froze until the sun peeped across the horizon and we packed up and left. But one more thing: outside we checked the half-open window leading to the cellar and discovered foot prints in the mud. We were in the car and out of there and no, did not go back.
We never solved that mystery but I’m sure that if there was someone there, they were more afraid than we were. Now come on, you guys that were in the cellar, fess up.
Back to why the Sophienburg Hill stories reminded me of my 7th and 8th grades. It was because my 7th grade friends had get-togethers of boys and girls most Saturday nights. One particular party was held at the old Ernst Gruene mansion where the Sophienburg Museum now sits. It’s been torn down but not because of this story. At the party, there was lots of dancing and record playing, popcorn and cheese dip, Orange Crush and Dr. Pepper with peanuts. But one activity was a little iffy. This is why I haven’t mentioned any names of participants in this whole column.
Our favorite game was “Spin the Bottle.” Sitting in a circle, someone would spin the bottle and when it stopped, the person it pointed to had to kiss them. This was a very popular game.
Suddenly there was commotion on the front porch. Two senior boys were spying on our little fun game. Pandemonium broke out. The worst of it is that they wanted to start a newspaper for NBHS. Guess what! They printed their own little paper and on the front page was the story of our private party. It was handed out to 7th-12th graders. It was so embarrassing and that was the end of our Saturday night parties.
Almost every time I enter the Sophienburg Museum I think of that 7th grade year and I go there often.