Friday, February 24, 2012

When I Was in High School...

I was in high school a really long time ago...from 1956 to 1960.

It was before personal computers were developed, before cell phones and digital photography and high definition television.

My school was the lab for the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, so we students were subjected to experimental innovations such as Max Beberman's New Math. I never did get it.

We were graded in numbers, the highest was 6. The school was populated by a large number of geniuses, quite a few kids who were smart but not geniuses, some regular old students like me who actually had to study to get good grades, and a few social mismatches (with the school, that is), including the ever attractive bad boys and wild girls.

Gargoyles decorated the roof of the old school building. The separate gymnasium sat next door to the school. The gym's caulk-filled cracks and bright lighting, which worked fine for basketball games or gym class, made decorating for school dances a challenge. We dimmed the lights, added sparkly signs, and draped crepe paper streamers from wall to wall. Silk-screened themed dance programs, green slushy punch made with lime sherbert and Seven-Up, and stacks of 45 rpm records featuring artists like Nat King Cole, The McGuire Sisters, Pat Boone, and Elvis Presley--party paradise.

Even though most of the classes I took were intended to prepare me for college, the one course that helped me the most throughout my whole life was typing. Who knew back then that touch typing would be useful to everyone, not just students and secretaries?

The things I remember most:

1. Trying out for and appearing on stage as Penny in the play You Can't Take it With You. That was such a terrifying experience, I never tried acting again...ever.

2. Skipping a gym class one time, the only class I ever skipped in all four years. I got caught and was terribly humiliated.

3. Eating lunch out at a greasy diner a couple of blocks from the school. Best French Fries ever!

I've thought of writing a YA novel set in the 50s, but if I based it on my own high school life, today's YA readers would fall asleep before the end of the first chapter. The times...they sure have changed.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - What wonderful memories you've shared! Thank you :-). And you know, you could do a great YA novel that takes place in the '50s. When I was reading your post, I was really there - in that place, at that time. You could really do something with that setting...

Funny, I learned one of the same lessons you did - about the value of touch typing. It sure makes it easier to write! And in today's world, where people do so much online, it's extremely useful. I haven't even looked at the keyboard as I wrote this ;-).

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never skipped classes. Too much of a good boy. Never took a typing class either. Probably why I hunt and peck now.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Margot, at least I could be assured of a few older readers...I'm still in touch with high school friends who would be certain to buy the book to search for their fictional counterparts. :)

Alex, I think I had an inner wild girl that wanted to get out but I wasn't very good at being bad. I am, however, an excellent typist.

Kay Theodoratus said...

Guess I was wilder than you, but then, I was an ethnic.

Old Fogey said...

You're right on about that typing class. It was probably more instrumental than my English major in getting me jobs, before I decided to stop typing other people's work and go to law school. And now I've typed 22 books.

NEVER skipped class.'s so hard to be one of the recovering good girls, isn't it?

Patricia Stoltey said...

Kay, I can see you as one of the wild girls. That's what makes you such a fun person now, right?

Old Fogey, I started recovering soon after graduation and I'm still working on it. It's not easy being bad.

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

What fun memories you've shared. Your high school reminds me of the administration building I work in which was constructed in 1928. I've worked here ten years and I sometimes think I can hear the echoes of youth people's laughter throughout the decades, but it's really just us older, support staff peeps in our offices these days. The basement with the deep old swimming pool and the gigantic boiler are way spooky though.

Dylan Book Reader said...

It was funny because even though I am in high school currently I was still nodding my head with what you said. The people seem exactly the same, just in an older setting. And I'm sure you would succeed in writing a YA novel set in the 50's!

Gary said...

This class of '59 graduate would love to read a novel from that era.

At our school, very few boys took typing, but I wanted a "skate" class in my senior year and I'm certainly glad I took it.

My novel, In Dreams, begins in 1959, and it was great fun to write about that time. Doing research was a great nostalgia trip. I actually found a DJ from the old KIMN AM station in Denver, that I always listened to at night. He helped me with one scene, and I just contacted him yesterday to let him know I was sending him a copy of my book.

Give it a'll enjoy it.

Jan Morrison said...

I would love to read a book you wrote based on those memories! They are so vivid and intriguing. I went to highschool in the mid-sixties and share some of those memories. I took typing because I wanted to be a writer. I got a 50% because I wouldn't learn any of the secretary-type stuff - just the typing thanks!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you write a mystery set at a high school in the 1950's? I think that could be an unbeatable combination: a look at what it meant to be a teenager then and a mystery to solve before the amateur sleuth does.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Cindy -- I toured our old high school building at our 50th reunion in 2010, and it was the attic that seemed creepy -- back in my day, we took fencing and folk dance lessons there, put on the play, and had orchestra practice. I think it's haunted now.

Dylan, I'll take you as the authority on what teens would enjoy, so maybe I'll give it a try.

Gary, Now I have to read In Dreams too. You may be my inspiration.

Hi Jan, since my school was all about college prep, we didn't get much in the way of secretarial practice or practical arts like home ec and shop. I could have used that shop class. :)

M.T. -- Maybe I could put that creepy attic to good use after all. I'll give this some thought.

HeidiTownMayor said...

What's funny is that I attended high school in a very small town in the early 1990s, and my experiences aren't that much different than yours!

We had a great diner with good fries, no cell phones, and we only got computers during my senior year, and even then we only had 10 huge PCs that no one really knew how to use.

Also, our school building was built in the 1920s, maybe earlier, so it was very similar to yours.

I guess times change, but not sometimes not very fast. :-)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Old schools in small towns are always interesting. My grade school was in a tiny town surrounded by farms -- I think we were lucky to have inside restroom facilities and water fountains...and a real cafeteria serving hot lunches. I lived pretty far from the school, so I rode the school bus for an hour in the morning (first on) and an hour at night (last off).

Lynda R Young said...

Aw, you could write a historical aimed at those who went to school in those years. It would be a wonderful nostalgic trip.