Mar 19, 2007

Weighty Matters

by Anna Arnett

Never in my whole life have I been what you could call thin—even with gross understatement. But once, almost sixty-two years ago, I came close.

Spring quarter’s final exams approached at Utah State Agricultural College, and I looked forward quite eagerly. Carefully, I checked my finances. I had enough to get by—barely—until I got back home to Mom and Dad in Layton. I even had enough to dry clean the few things that needed it, so rather than take them home soiled, I took a bundle to the cleaners. With my last spare dollar, I bought my final pound of Bluebird chocolates—in a paper bag, of course, which cost me ninety-five cents rather than the dollar if boxed.

About a month before, as I had gone into the Home Ec. Room to get weighed, the room was not empty. A custodian was sweeping at the back of the room. I nearly left, but decided to weigh anyway. I stole quietly to the balance scales at the front corner of the room, and eased up. Shucks! I weighed one hundred thirty pounds. At my height, it should only be one twenty, at max. Before I could step down and leave, the custodian coughed right behind me. I hadn’t heard him coming.

“I don’t know why you bother to weigh,” he said, his voice teasing. “You’ll never lose any weight.”

“I will, too!” I shot back.

“I’ll bet,” he said, grinning.

Indignation riled me. “How much?”

“A dollar?”

“You’re on!” It was the first bet I’d ever made—and the last one, for that matter.

“Okay,” said the custodian. “I’ll give you until the last day of school to lose five pounds. But you won’t”

“I will, too! I’ll be here that Friday, at four in the afternoon to collect that dollar.”

“Why should I bet?” he murmured. “If you lose the weight, I have to pay. If you don’t lose it, you simply won’t show up. I can’t win.”

My integrity was now at stake. I couldn’t back down nor would I compromise my word. “I promise, on my word of honor that I’ll be here,” I said.

“Put that in writing, and sign it,” he added.

I did. I wrote something like: I, Laurene Liljenquist, promise to be at the Home Ec room at 4:00 P.M. on Friday, June 8, 1945 to weigh in. If I weigh more than one hundred twenty-five pounds I promise to pay (I wrote his name as he dictated) the sum of one dollar.

“You’re a Liljenquist?” he commented, looking at my note. "There are Liljenquists in Hyrum, where I live.”

“My father was born in Hyrum,” I said. “His father was Ola Nilsson Liljenquist.”

“I’ve heard of him,” he said. “A great man. I think I can trust a granddaughter of his.”

He gave me a similar paper, and I left.

For about a week, I was careful about my eating. But then Johnny gave me a pound of Bluebird chocolates, which I ate, and instead of losing five pounds, I gained five. Oh well, what’s a dollar? I thought. It might go against the grain, but it’s impossible to lost ten pounds in a couple or so weeks. I’ll just pay up. I continued to eat heartily at the boarding house and snack plentifully.

My math had never been good, except when I really cared. Now, my last week of school, I went over my bank account, counted the money in my purse, and realized to my horror that I didn’t have a spare dollar. Indeed, I needed another dollar to be able to buy my bus fare home. Oh, if I just hadn’t taken my clothes to the cleaners, or bought that last bag of Bluebirds I’d just gobbled up!

I had to do somthing fast! From the charts from my nutrition book I knew how many calories per hour per pound of weight are normally used by college students for each of maybe twenty activities. Running was highest, but I don’t run gracefully. Walking rapidly came next, and climbing stairs burns a few calories over and above the walking. Sitting, even while diligently writing or crocheting, brought up the end of the list--zilch, nada, nothing. Wouldn't you know! Most of my day necessitated sitting--in classrooms, studying, at my secretary job. Except for my basal matabolism (which I blessed) my opportunity for weight loss was only morning, evening, and a little bit between classes.

I moaned my fate to some friend or other who gave me a solution. “Go on a three-day cleansing diet,” she said. “Eat no solid food, but have a can of grapefruit juice a day and be sure and drink lots of water. At least eight glasses a day. It ought to work.”

My next problem was to get money to buy three cans of grapefruit juice. I explained my dilemma to the widow at the boarding house who graciously refunded me the cost of the eight meals I would miss Tuesday through Friday. It was enough to buy the grapefruit juice, but not a whole dollar.

I bought the juice Monday evening, and borrowed a can opener from my landlady. Since there was no point in drinking it until I got hungry, I put it away for the next morning. I was not particularly eager.

“Carla, this stuff is awful,” I told my roommate Tuesda mornng, pulling a face and shuddering. “I don’t think I can stand this diet.”

“Really? I like grapefruit juice,” Carla said.

“Then have some.”

She drank a glassful, smacking her lips. She also ate hot, buttered toast. I pulled a face, tanked up on water, and left for school.

I walked as rapidly as possible, taking the longest route to the campus. For the first time I welcomed the upward sloping sidewalk, with a hundred steps beyond to the door of Old Main. Though I didn’t have a class there until later in the day, I still went inside that lovely old edifice, climbed to the top floor and jogged back down before hurrying to another building for my first class. I got there quite worn out, just as the bell rang.

Normally, I sit relaxed, but I forced myself to fidget as often as I thought of it. I knew it would make no measureable difference, but I was desperate. As soon as the closing bell rang, I jumped to my feet and hurried out. My next class was at the end of the quadrangle. Instead of short-cutting across the grass, I kept to the perimeter sidewalk, and as in Old Main, I entered each building I passed, ran upstairs to the third floor, almost trotted to the other stairway, scurried down and out the building. I repeated this at all three buildings on the way, timing myself carefully to get to my next class on time, though breathless. I did this between every class, each day. I also drank from every drinking fountain, and steered clear of the dairy shop where they sold wonderful ice cream cones. It shouldn’t have mattered. I didn’t have money to buy, but if I didn’t see goodies, my mouth might not water nor my stomach beg. Now I wonder. My calorie list did not mention digestive juice production. Might it have helped?

I really exercised to my utmost. In my last swimming class, just before noon on Wednesday I put all the muscle power I had into a good workout during the few minutes my final exam allowed me to swim. During the hour between classes, I avoided the College Bluebird, and skipped down the hill to my room, just to be able to hike back up. I took long walks after school, and if I thought nobody was looking, dared to jog unevenly along the curb, stepping one foot up, the other in the gutter. It felt like more stairs. I even vacuumed and swept floors, and did everything with exaggerated gusto, just in case.

Yet I almost despaired. After three days of nothing but grapefruit juice (and comparatively little of that, since Carla Rae drank about half) and becoming waterlogged, I had shed only a few pounds, not nearly enough. On Friday morning as I checked my weight, I knew I’d have to get drastic. If I didn't lose more weight I would lose the bet. If I had to pay off the bet, I would be not one, but two dollars short to buy my bus ticket. I envisioned myself hitch-hiking home toting all my luggage. I didn't like the picture.

In desperation, I fasted. Nothing more solid than air inwardly passed my lips all day. I tried to increase all the stair climbing and rapid walking. I eagerly sought the restrooms and when my mouth watered, if at all possible I spit. I shaved my legs and donned my most lightweight clothing. With my last final exam finally flunked, and weak with fatigue and trepidation, I approached the home Ec room at four. The custodian was there.

We greeted each other cordially and I, praying even while simulating confidence, stepped onto the scales. I was too tired to lift a hand, so I let him find the balance. I might have even closed my eyes as he tapped the indicator. Finally, he stopped.

“Well, you still weigh one hundred twenty . . ." I held my breath. ". . . three and a half,” he said.

What a relief! I grinned as he reached into his back pocket for his wallet, and extracted a dollar bill.

Hooray! I could ride the bus home.

A true story from the life of Anna Arnett


  1. I LOVE this story. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Great story, Anna. What a lesson you learned! I am amazed you were able to still walk after all that...Did anyone notice at home that you were extra tired?

  3. What a great story, and well told! I got tired just reading about all the exercise you did. As a perineally hefty person, I could really identify with your tactics. I never have got over worrying about my backside being measured in axhandles.


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