Every Sunday morning on the way to church, my husband Winston and I pass by our old high school. Without fail, our heads turn to the left and take another look at it.
The facade of the building has changed since we were students there (as alas, have our own physical facades!), but we remember those long hallways lined all the way down with grey steel lockers, the enormous clock above urging us to stop lingering and get on to class before...before...The Bell Rings!
We remember how we admired the cheerleaders, each one cute as a button with a perfect "flip" hairdo, petite and perky every minute of every day. We would spot the football team practicing out behind the building in intense southern heat, and we thought that they embodied everything marvelous about perseverance and raw roughness. Winston and I were not among those elite. We were firmly entrenched in the "everybody else" population, but there were common denominators between shyest girl and Homecoming Queen, struggling freshman math student and Summa Cum Laude senior.
We were all Cardinals!
I recall the litter in the hallways in those days, trampled red and white "spirit ribbons"... GO, CARDS, GO!, folded hall passes, "David D. to office - 1:45", the random gooey mascara wand, the candy wrappers (acceptable if consumed after lunch) and the putty-like ball of chewing gum wrapped in foil (NOT acceptable on campus at any time!) To this day the fragrance of Aqua Net hair spray catapults me back to the girls' locker room...every girl carried a giant grandma-like purse to accommodate the colossal can of spray. By the handle...tiny shoulder bags were yet to come.
Would any teen today believe for a second that in my three years there, I never heard a vulgar word?
Never once saw a student sass a teacher (oh, but the fun we made fun of them behind their backs, poor souls) My boyfriend, Winston, won my heart by creating a fabulous caricature of a particularly unintentionally hilarious lady who shall remain un-named here.
The teachers! The charmingly courtly English history teacher, Mr. Dillman, who wore a black stocking over the stump where his hand had been before it was blown off in a terrible accident when he himself was in high school - actually AT his high school. Each year he commemorated the anniversary of that date by telling the entire gruesome story, about how he and a friend had decided to confiscate some chemicals from the science lab and mix them together in a jar and then stand around chatting beside his car while the jar heated to super-sonic temps on his Fry-Baby car hood. Next thing he remembered...well...no one could tell it like Mr. Dillman!
My own father suffered a paralyzed arm as the result of an oil field accident when he was 19 years old, and I knew the story of that even, too. But the difference is that Mr. Dillman did not speak of it as tragedy at all. I do believe there was even a question and answer period offered following The Telling of the Story, but we all sat leaning forward, mute and awestruck, not by Mr. Dillman's familiar black-sheathed stump, but by his gentle gracious demeanor, wry awareness of our shameless curiosity and astonishing good will despite this calamity. Wow. Is this how we should bear adversity? I think so.
Winston's favorite teacher was also a man, Mr. Pedigo, who taught English with an irrepressible zeal and startling boxer-dude sudden moves when throwing the blackboard eraser - HARD! - at sleeping students. What would that get Mr. Pedigo today in terms of jail time and court dates?
Let me state what it earned him in my 59-year-old husband's memory....respect. After the first or second eraser blast, all eyes were on Mr. Pedigo and every ear took in every word he spoke. What did he call students who did poorly on a test? "You bunch of lazy, worthless hounds!" Did parents call the school board about little Johnny's self-esteem? Not one. Why does Winston remember this man with such regard to this day? Because here was a teacher who could TEACH!
Lest I speak too fondly, I must admit that the cafeteria lunches were gruel on a beige plastic plate (thus the profusion of candy wrappers), the hall monitors were mean and enjoyed their duties a bit TOO much.
Things were different in those days. Virtually all the students had two parents, a curfew and said "Yes, Ma'am" and "No sir". Failing grades were a disgrace. Let me tell you some time about the pink failing slip I hid in my bedroom!) Smart students were ultimately admired more than the beauteous ones. No one wanted to "get into trouble" largely because they didn't want to face the mortification of those vigorously strict parents. We loved them, after all.
So, the story continues. Winston (class of '67) and I (class of '68) married and left town for his Navy career in 1973. Our lives revolved around planes, ships and deployments all over the world while raising three kids in places that couldn't have been more different from home, places like Ewa Beach, Hawaii, snowy Brunswick, Maine and exotic Japan. Finally to our astonishment opportunity led us right back to a home only a few miles from our old high school.
Now every Sunday at about 9:15 we pass by that school and chances are we will swivel our heads to the left for a quick look. If anyone happens to riding along with us we might simultaneously exclaim, "There it is! That's the high school where we met!" with a glee our passenger is not likely to comprehend.
We might remark that "our bench", which had been precisely THERE, right, Honey? has long since vanished, and we feel a little bit sad. Then the rest of the ride down that tree-lined avenue, we are quieter, lost in our own red 'n white Go, Cards, Go!memories once again...