Sunday, May 11, 2008

On High School

High School: Fab? Or Forget it?

"True terror is to wake up one morning and find your high school class is running the country. "
**Kurt Vonnegut
HANK: Was high school the best time of your life? Or would you rather forget it? I'm pretty glad it's in my rear view.

I just went back to my home town for an event honoring alums of Pike High School, my alma mater. It was lovely, because I was delighted to be an honoree. But traumatic, because I had to give a speech about it. And that meant I had to think about high school. And my memories of those years--although I can still sing the Red Devils fight song--are not full of heart-warming nostalgia.

Frankly, an unworthy thought crossed my mind. I considered beginning my speech: Thank you for inducting me in to the Pike Hall of Fame. I would like to ask, however, where were you all when I needed a date for the prom? (Can you believe I still thought about that? FORTY years later?)
I discarded that idea, and went with genuine gratitude. I did learn a lot in high school: to love Shakespeare, the fun of analytical thinking, how to drive, and that I should not take any more math. Honor Society, yes. Prom date, no.

And wow. Being one hundred per cent uncool for 4 years was a tough thing. I admitted, in my speech, that I had sneaked into every language club yearbook photo, even though I did not take Latin or Spanish. (You can see what a rebel I was.)
I also admitted that I had not actually attended every phys ed class, and that moreover, I still have dreams that I was not allowed to graduate as a result. And I apologized for how often I got sent home for wearing short skirts. (I had figured if they didn't like me in Indianapolis, they would love me in Liverpool, and I dressed accordingly.)

It turned out fine. of course. And looking back, it's likely that those 4 years of nerd-dom were actually beneficial. I was reading instead of partying, much as I was bitterly sad about it at the time. So, thanks, Pike High School. Turns out, it was a wonderful four years. I just didn't know it at the time. Did you love high school? How did it change you?

JAN: It's not that I have bad memories of high school, its mostly that I have no memories of high school. In our town, CLifton, New Jersey, high school didn't start until tenth grade and by then, apathy was big. It was totally uncool to take part in any school event, even the prom, and in our year book under Who's Who. My class wrote "Who cares?"

One of my major goals in high school was to skip phys ed so I could smoke cigarettes in the bathroom. (note from Hank: this photo is not Jan!) Imagine my surprise, to find out much later in life that I really was pretty athletic and actually would have enjoyed all those team sports I was eschewing.

I was so not into highschool that I figured out a way to skip my senior year and go straight to college. (which back then, was easier than you might think). The great thing about that was I got to go to college with my older brother, and I wouldn't change that for the world (especially since I married one of his college room-mates,)But the sad part is that I missed all that bonding that goes on in the senior year and never felt a "part" of high school. I did go back for a reunion though, and realized that I have a lot of really good memories with the kids I went to junior high with. Back before I was "too cool" to participate!

ROSEMARY: I actually said "Oh, no" out loud when I saw the heading on this blog. Please don't make me relive high school, it was bad enough the first time around. It's a wonder I graduated and with pretty decent marks (I think) since all I remember doing was hanging our with friends, smoking, and going to parties. I travelled with a pack of 30-50 kids....wait a minute..this doesn't sound so bad..

HALLIE: I do think that the reason that Hank is such a thoroughly NICE person (really, just as nice as she seems) is because of that traumatic high school experience. Sheesh, Jan, sounds like a different century not merely a different decade when you were in school.
I went (don't groan) to Beverly Hills High School. Back in the days when it was just another high school (except that it had an oil well on the football field and a gym with a pool that had a baskeball court that could be rolled out over it...maybe not so typical). Classmates were Richard (Ricky back then; he was in all the plays ) Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks (Einstein back then and class clown). Needless to say they were not my buddies.

I know this will surprise many, but I was not a cheerleader or a flag girl. I did a brief stint, marching about on the Drill Team wearing a smelly orange felt outfit and white boots with tassels. Adorable though I was, I never got asked out on a single date. Did not hang out with a 'crowd' or even a best friend. In short it was excruciating. I could have ended up a serial killer.

I went to one reunion, my 25th. Me to one of the once popular and now blonde: "So what are you doing now?" Her answer: "I'm into horses and avocadoes." O-kaaaay.

ROBERTA: Oh high school was so mixed for me too! Of course I was an overachiever in every way. Socially? Just not cool. And you had to be cool to be chosen as a cheerleader, which was of course every girl’s dream. A boyfriend and cheerleading—that’s what I wanted. I made up for the lack by trying out for plays (bit parts, not much talent), singing in the chorale (ditto, lots of enthusiasm but not much talent,) editing the yearbook, and running for treasurer of the student council. During campaign season, we made huge banners that read “Bobbie kisses babies!”

Whatever effect they might have had, I did win the election. Then stashed the accounts ledger in my locker, where it stayed until the end of year. I panicked when I realized I had to try to remember and reproduce all the entries I should have been making. (My husband pays the bills for now…)

But the most interesting thing about my high school was our all-girl bagpipe band—the only one in the country, complete with kilts, drummers, tons of marching bagpipers, and the Highlander dancers. I tried out for that dance troupe and spent the last couple years dancing with swords at the football games. (NOTE from Hank: This photo is not Roberta.)

I dug out a short story I wrote eight years ago (the first incarnation of Dr. Rebecca Butterman) that featured the Highlander dancers:
Ps I never had a date for the damn prom either. The kids do it right these days, often attending with a group of friends. I wonder if they’ll end up less traumatized? But then what will they write???

pps Oh hooray, I found a youtube video for you of the bagpipe band. If you make it as far as the dancers, that is NOT what we wore! We danced wearing kilts and all the traditional accoutrements...

HANK: Wow, what I didn't know about my own blog sisters! I NEED to see Hallie in the drill team outfit, "Bobbie" in her kilt. ( I was a majorette, briefly, but the band director put me in the middle of the back row because I was so bad. I DO wish I still had my white boots.) And what does 'Bobbie Kisses Babies' even mean?

So--how about you in high school? Time to tell all! And come back Wednesday--I'll tell you the worst thing that happened to me. Then we can see if your stories are worse.
Going to watch the You Tube video now...


  1. I was voted "Most Studious" by my peers at my NJ high school. Nope, no prom date either, no cheerleading, no band (although I was an All-State field hockey player). I was "Salutatorian" which was the consolation prize for not being Valedictorian (because that was snatched by a very nice girl who moved to the school at the beginning of my senior year--my mother never forgave her).

    But the weird thing is, while I thought I was unhappy then (and I know I was chronically sleep-deprived), I think I had it pretty good. I had a great group of friends (and none of us dated, so no conflicts), I was involved in all sorts of activities, and people knew who I was. I don't think I could have expected more.

  2. BOBBIE!?!? I'm tryin gto digest this news flash.

    Was Hank "Hank" and Rosemary "Ro"?

  3. Sheila: Hey, I bet that valedictorian does NOT have a best-selling mystery novel, right?

    Most Studious, huh? I was voted "Most Individual." I was mortified. We all knew what THAT meant.

    And Hallie, yeah. I'm with you. Bobbie??? Just amazing. And no, since my name is Harriet Ann, I was "Ann." (Except I used to tell people my name was Evangeline. Sigh.) Wasn't Hank til college.

  4. High school? No wonder I feel an irresistible urge to cram chocolate into my face.

  5. Oh, Rhonda--High school food! In the cafeteria, the cafeteria ladies loved to name the food. They served soething called "Roman Holiday." It was orange-y spaghetti.

    Canned peaches. Yucky peas.
    Fake mashed potatoes.

    It was also where I learned to avoid--at all costs--anything called "Chef's Surprise."

  6. Oh, the memories this blog brings. It was the sixties, in Waterbury, CT. Lots of racial tension, burning building, draft dodging, and rallies for the Vietnam War. In our school, you were either a "clicker" or a "hood." Clickers wore madress plaid and penny loafers. The hoods wore tight skirts, sleevless sweaters and boots. We listend to the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, Petula Clark and heard the original version of "Louie, Louie." Did he really sing that?

    We drove endlessy through MacDonald's on Friday nights just to be seen, but wouldn't be caught out on a Saturday night, "Date Night", without a date. Wore brush rollers to bed. Ironed our hair.

    It was an exciting time, but I was a big chicken, didn't go to Woodstock with my cousins, didn't burn my bra, but came out of that era with a whole lot of feeling that goes into my writing now.

    Hank, I'm sure there were quite a few guys in your class who are kicking themselves now!

    Ruth McCarty

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  8. (That was me removing for typos...)

    Ruth, why did they call them clickers? (And that's a very sweet thought, about possible regret of my male classmates. But I kind of doubt it..and its so fascinating. If I had been happy then, I probably wouldnt be so happy now. How about anyone else?)

    Anyway, we always had to wait and see if Linda Katzenberger would wear her white tennis shoes (tennies) clean or dirty. If she wore them clean, we had to use white shoe polish on them to make them perfect.

  9. Hank,

    It really meant a clique, but we spelled it clickers. Don't know why.

    It was Olivia Newton John in Grease, before and after.


  10. I have so enjoyed reading all of your High School memories, but I shudder to think of mine. It was a pretty tough school in NY with a graduating class back in the '70's of over 1600 kids. I was lost. Absolutely lost. Between all the racial tension and the drug deals going on, female students did not, I mean did not, walk in certain parts of the school by themselves.

    On a good note, I had my best friend and one of my sisters right there with me which made it okay. They're still there with me all these years later.

  11. Oh, got it. Cliquers. Cool. Very high school hip, you know? Instant category.

    Olivia Newton John before and after. Who doesn't swoon? Someday we should blog about makeovers.

    And Felicia--do you think that's why you went into law enforcement? And why your books are about--sort of, sisterhood?

  12. You guys were so good. If Jan and I had gone to the same school we would have been the tough girls..cutting class and smoking with the guys in black leather jackets.
    Only my sister called me Ro back then...friends called me Rosie (still do) and for about a year some called me Blossom (from some guy who started calling me Roseblossom.)God, I haven't thought of that in years!!

  13. Well, let's see ... I went to a rural high school small enough to graduate 30 students with me. Many of us had known each other since kindergarten.

    Our school didn't have proms, except for one the year I was a freshman. Back then, the boys did the asking, so I didn't go. Some of my classmates held an alternative slumber party, but they didn't invite me to that, either. I guess the worst part of that was, a couple of years after graduation, the girl who held the party not only insisted that I had been invited, but that I had attended and had a good time. :)

    I remember high school as a lot of hard work and paranoia. (I broke grading curves like my classmates broke the speed limit, so I was voted "Most Studious," too.) I brought the French horn home every night, not out of dedication to practice, but because I used it to blow off steam by honking away to my mother's old piano sheet music. "Thanks for the Memory" is great fun to blast on a French horn.

  14. Oh, the guilt! I'm tempted to look up my 10th grade math teacher, call her to apologize for lying every day.

    Mrs. Linn: Paula, why are you late?

    Me: (Shrug)

    Mrs. Linn: Is that cigarette smoke I smell?

    Me: (Shrug)

    Mrs. Linn: (Sigh) Take your seat.

    Amazing I remember that now considering I don't remember much of the 70's.

    Paula J. Matter

    P.S. Enjoyed meeting Hallie and Rosemary at Mystery Lovers last month.

  15. This is very topical since I'm going through my son Tim's graduation this week. I think he's had a pretty good run for four years, made some good friends, tried some new things. He reminds me of myself at that age in some ways--intellect 'way ahead of social skills.

    I was valedictorian in a class of 48 girls at Visitation Academy in St. Louis. (I was there all four years, Sheila, so don't hate me.) We had a "modular" scheduling system. Classes could be 2-6 mods long, and you might have 1 mod or 12 between classes. You could spend that time almost anywhere, so most girls hung out in the cafeteria. Yeah, I was in the library.

    Since it was an all-girl school, we did the asking for the winter dance and prom, and we had a fix-up committee, so everyone who wanted to go could have a date. Unless her date to the winter dance was someone's cousin flying home from college on a day there was a snowstorm in Chicago, and he didn't get in until the next morning. But that, in the entire history of the school, only happened once. I went to the after-dance party alone in my yellow chiffon formal, but I wasn't the only one there stag. Mary was alone, because she double-dated with her best friend Dottie, but Dottie kept flirting with Mary's date, so Dottie's date got ticked off and left the dance and Mary dumped her soda in her date's lap, so he left with Dottie, and then Mary didn't have a ride home, so her OTHER best friend said she and her date would take her, but first they had to go to the party and....

    No. I don't think I'd want to go back to high school. And I haven't even mentioned the gym uniform: bloomers, a white blouse, and a tunic that could double as a maternity smock.

  16. Paula: Your tenth grade teacher would probably adore to hear from you.

    Rhonda: thanks so much--now I'm humming Thanks for the Memories, as if it were on a french horn. Not pretty. And 2 'most studious' on the same blog. hmm.

    Mo: AH, that's the SADDEST story. Congratulations to Tim, though, who (I hope he realizes) has a great mom. I mean, bloomers?

    And I thought our gym outfits were bad! (Did you all have gym outfits? Little--jumpsuits with snaps? Who DESIGNS these things??)

  17. yes gym suits--a sickly pick one-piece that snapped shut. plus wool socks and shoe-polished tennies. I will say that outfit was a great leveler!

    I would love to see Hallie in those boots! Thanks to all for posting...Bobbie:)

  18. Did anyone watch "Ugly Betty" last night? Where Betty chaperones Justin's jr-high dance so she can interview students?

    Betty's new possible love interest Gio wondered if she'd had any fun in high school.

    I think Betty's responses may have echoed a lot of ours.

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