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On our property were two dense forests of towering evergreen trees, Ponderosa pines and spruces or firs--whatever Christmas trees are made out of. Back in the early 1920s, my grandfather unknowingly planted them too close together. At maturity, these trees soared at least 30 feet into the air. I looked up to see that the top of these trees took the shape of a Christmas tree. I climbed the tree with a saw in my hand, at least 15 feet or higher, depending on how much of the tree I wanted, cut it with the saw, dropped the saw to the ground, held onto the amputated part of the tree, and jumped off. The foliage of other nearby trees acted as a sort of parachute to break my fall as I tumbled to the ground. When I got to the bottom, I pulled the tree out about 20 feet beyond the perimeter of the forest. The next day, I took it to school, and that was our class Christmas tree.

Reed Performs at "The Minstrel Show" and School Dance

Seventh grade, which spanned the years 1960-1961, proved to be more interesting and eventful for me. First, I enjoyed the fact that we moved from one classroom to another; and second, we had two different teachers. One of the teachers, Mr. Althone, proved to be interesting in the fact that he loved to do stage shows. My other teacher was Ms. Sandham. She allowed me to play my electric guitar at our seventh grade dance. That same dance was also open to eighth graders.

Mr. Althone did a show called “The Minstrel Show.” It proved to be quite controversial, because all the students who were involved performed in black face. At the time, Mequon knew no African American residents, nor did my school have any black students. Unfortunately, the people in the audience didn’t quite grasp the importance of the inclusive message Mr. Althone was trying to promote. One could say he was a little bit ahead of his time. The show received warm reviews. Ms. Sandham graciously approved when I requested an opportunity to play my electric guitar at the intermission of our seventh grade dance. Even at that time, I believe my teachers saw that my path in life would have something to do with the entertainment world. The night of the big dance, my parents were at the club, of course. Therefore, they asked a friend to pick me up for the event. In preparation, I took out my finest black slacks, white shirt, jacket and tie, only to notice the slacks needed to be pressed. When I began to use the iron to press my slacks, of course, the phone rang. Lacking experience with this sort of thing, I left the iron on the inside panel of the left leg of my pants. I picked up the phone, and the caller was the people who were supposed to give me the ride. They would be five or ten minutes late. Then I noticed an odor of something burning, dropped the phone, and grabbed the iron off my pants. The steaming hot iron had left the beginning stage of a burn–a light brown outline of an iron--on my good slacks. I figured that the lights would be down in the auditorium and suspected that nobody would notice the difference. But when I was introduced, sitting on a folding chair on stage, with my trusty guitar in hand, just about to begin my first song, Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures, to my surprise, the house lights went up. People in the audience were seated right up to the edge of the stage. Many of them had never seen or heard an electric guitar before. And there I was. I pulled my legs together to hide the stain and played on. After the first crowd response subsided, I regained my composure and played Freddie King’s Hide Away and Sensation. The audience was overjoyed, and I shared that same feeling as well that night. Ms. Sandham was one of the chaperones. She came up to me afterwards. I could see in her eyes how proud she was of me. To this very day, I can still see that look and hear her say to me, “Job well done, Reed; you made a lot of people happy tonight. I’m proud of you.”

MILWAUKEE SUMMERFEST 2007 ... PHOTO BY RICK KOHLMEYER

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