January 7. 2022 — When I was a month old, I attended my first picnic, or so I’m told. My parents put me on a blanket with another infant, a baby boy born in April to my summer birth. To paraphrase Louie in “Casablanca,” that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Michael “Mike” Gene Butt, who died unexpectedly on January 5, was the son of Clara Marie Butt, a third-grade teacher in the same school system where my father taught agriculture in high school. The South Whitley school system was small, and everyone knew everyone else and their families. My mom was a frequent substitute teacher in elementary school. Mike’s dad, “Red,” was an executive with a local company. a long-standing civic leader, and an active fire department member.
Our elementary school had two classes for each grade. Michael’s mom was a third-grade teacher, so he was in the “other” classroom with our teacher, Miss Enid Heckman. One day, my mother was substituting for Miss Heckman. Mom didn’t put up with any nonsense, especially from her oldest child. Michael and I talked, and Mom sent us out in the hall.
Mom threw gasoline on the fire because we talked loudly and laughed hysterically in the hallway. Michael was a dark-haired Dennis the Menace, always clad as a child in a horizontal-striped shirts boys wore then. I can close my eyes and see the two of us in the hallway, tucking it up. In third grade, I had wild hair that my mom attempted to tame with oversized barrettes.
Mrs. Butt flew out of her classroom and immediately sent both of us to the principal’s office. I don’t remember what happened next, but I always felt some sort of pride that the only time I ever got in trouble in elementary school was from his mom and my mom.
Approximately one week before the Senior Prom, Mike and I worked on “paste-up” for the high school newspaper in the small newspaper office. I’m guessing the usual cast of characters was also there, but I don’t remember. Paste-up involved adhering long strips of galleys (the printed stories) to the page. We didn’t have a waxer, which professionals used to put an adhesive material on the back of the galley, so we used rubber cement. Mike decided it would be fun to pour rubber cement IN MY HAIR for whatever reason. I’m sure I said something that provoked this attack, but I don’t know what it was for the life of me. We enjoyed a near-constant stream of banter that probably most others didn’t appreciate when we were together.
I had to cut my hair, so it was very short for the Prom.
We wanted to do something spectacular to bid farewell to our high school before he went off to Franklin College and I went off to Ball State University, both to study journalism. So we spent weeks cooking up what may still be one of the most glorious senior pranks ever.
A week before school was out, we each brought in wind-up alarm clocks from home. We set them for 9 a.m., placed them inside our central hall lockers, and went to class. At 9 a.m., the alarms went off, and they were VERY loud. Management (aka the principal RV Reed) figured it out from the locker numbers, and we were summoned to his office. He gave us a pass and sent us downtown to Gruwell’s for doughnuts. Have to love Mr. Reed; God rest his soul. (I think there were other partners in that crime.)
In retrospect, high school was not the greatest time of my life. I always felt like an outsider — so different from elementary school, where I knew everyone. The larger consolidated high school environment was so different from my k-8 experience. But Michael Butt made it bearable and so much fun. He was an unbelievable prankster, but he was always kind and understanding and willing to listen to various incarnations of high school girl drama. I saw Michael at the occasional reunion, and we generally emailed around each other’s birthdays.
In my mind, I see the gregarious 17-year-old boy with his pal Bruce, riding in Bruce’s brother’s baby blue Caddy convertible on Homecoming night 1974. Mike always loved cars, Caddies, Miatas, and Corvettes. So rest in peace, a dear friend.