When I think back to my three years at Xenia High a lot of things pop into my mind. Because it was the sixties the mores and customs of the time were ever present. I remember that a lot of my classmates considered themselves somewhat revolutionary in one way or another. I remember one of my male classmates who was not in favor of the dress code’s requirement that boys wear socks. Being a white boy he found that if he did not wear socks he would get in trouble. So, in order to stay out of trouble he began to paint his ankles black.
There was great controversy about hair as well. The rule was that the boys’ hair could not touch their collars. Well, this being the sixties, the black boys were wearing nine inch afros which had not chance of touching their collars because of the texture of their hair. The white boys, understandably, found this unfair. The school administration, which was all white and pretty timid, did not know how to handle the issue without treading into the muddy waters of race, racism and custom. Finally, about our senior year I think they gave up on hair length requirements.
Unfortunately, they still kept the skirt length requirement, which meant if you came to school in a skirt that one of the girl’s guidance counselor‘s, Mrs. Hasty or Mrs. Haines thought might be too short you had to go in her office and kneel on the floor. If the hem of your skirt or dress did not reach the floor you had to go home and change.
This primarily led to a lot of girls investing in good belts which could cover the rolled up waistbands of our skirts so that we could roll them up for most of the day and roll them down when/if we had to go to the corridor where we might be spied by one of the counselors. Mrs. Rose Haines was my favorite, to the point that I ended up having her all three years as my counselor. There was another senior girls’s counselor but she retired before I got to that grade and Mrs. Haines moved up.
Mrs. Haines was white, Mrs. Hasty was black, but Mrs. Hasty and I did not get along. Mrs. Hasty was a mean-eyed, short woman who wore silver bracelets on both arms almost up to her elbows. She jingled. To me she did not like students, at least she was not fond of me. I never could figure out what her problem was, but almost from the beginning of our relationship, which began when I was a sophomore she looked at me as if she was expecting me to do something wrong at any moment. Mind you I was never in trouble, no bad grades, no disciplinary actions–well I did get thrown out of the school library once, but that was not my fault!
My classmate Carol Mc. had a wicked tongue on her. Our school librarian, Mrs. Hays was a very large, full figured woman with enormous breasts and a very brusque affect. Her husband who taught shop I think was a very diminutive man, and mild mannered. I was sitting in the library with Carol and some other students. Mrs. Hays was giving us the evil eye as usual and walking between the tables snooping at what everyone was doing. As she passed by our table Carol leaned over to me and said ” Look at those breasts! Do you think Mr. Hays swings on them like Tarzan at night? ” I burst out laughing and I got thrown out of the library for making noise. Not my fault!! But I digress.
Anyway, Mrs. Hasty and I simply did not get along. I remember one incident in particular. I had on a skirt that had a pleat down the center. We were not allowed to wear culottes to school and Mrs. Hasty decided, when she saw me that i was wearing a culotte ( do they even make culottes anymore come to think of it). She had me come in her office and asked me in her snarkiest tone ” Ms. Mann, is that a culotte you have on?” I responded that no, it was not, it was simply a skirt with a pleat down the front. She jangled her bracelets and glared at me. “Well, it looks like a culotte, do not wear it to school again or I will send you home.” When I went home and told my mother about the encounter she called the school and had me changed to Mrs. Haines who was, at the time, the junior girls counselor. I do not know what my mother said or how she said it, but the change was made without protest.
Most kids at XHS would not recognize the XHS of my time. Many of the kids smoked, even though it was against school rules and almost all of the teachers smoked. If you walked past the teachers’ lounge when the door swung open you would be enveloped in a cloud of smoke. A lot of our teachers would start the lesson and then while we were solving problems or reading they would slip out to grab a smoke. They would come back,of course, smelling like the Marlboro Man.
But, the teachers were not the only ones. There were bathrooms that the “bad” kids habituated where smoking was the norm. Us “good” kids knew better than to step foot in those bathrooms. We had vaguely the same kind of breakdown of cliques that probably exist in most high schools today but with slightly different criteria and names. We had preppies, study nerds, greasers/hoods, athletes, and kids who did not affiliate strongly with any of those groups. I was kind of in the latter category. I was a good student but not being white could not exactly aspire to nerd status totally. Nerds usually did not have a social life and I did. We did have a few black nerds, but they really had to work at it.
The male greaser/hoods smoked outside behind the school. Everyone knew they did and nobody bothered them unless they threatened some non greaser/hood who wandered into their territory. The girl greaser/hoods staked out the bathroom between the A wing which had been added to accommodate the growing student body after integration and the older part of the school. The reason they chose that area was that there was no classroom and ergo no teacher in the vicinity. That girl’s bathroom sat at the curve of the corridor that connected the addition to the building. I wandered into that bathroom once, not knowing it was off limits to girls like me ( not because of color this time) and the young women standing around smoking looked at me like I was a visitor from Mars. I have never felt more eager to get out of a place in my life. I was just sure I was going to be jumped at any moment but all they did was sneer.
Gym was always a fun time at XHS. The girls and boys had gym at the same time. A huge curtain was pulled midway across the gym to divide the area into two sections, one for them, one for us. The girls had to wear these dreadful one piece puke green things, shorts connected to a top, kind of like an abbreviated jump suit with short legs and short sleeves. You stepped into the suit and snapped it up from the waist to the neck. That was fine as long as you were flat chested. If you had any breasts the snaps would not stay closed, particularly when you were exerting yourself to any extent. So, if you went up to hit a vollyball back SNAP, if you shot a basketball SNAP, if you bent over to touch your toes SNAP. Most of us who had boobs just left them unsnapped because it simply was not worth the trouble to keep snapping them back up.
This, of course, gave the boys a reason to want to visit our side of the gym, hopefully before we could see them coming and snap up. When a basketball or volleyball or badminton birdie came flying over the curtain the sound of snapping was deafening. If the boy was quick though he could get there for at least a partial show. Several of my male classmates were experts at the curtain invasion technique. Considering how easy it is for modern teenagers to see full frontal nudity today I doubt most of them could understand what we considered risqué!
Tomorrow: Dating at XHS