RSS

Category Archives: Xenia

Race: The past is never dead, it is not even past

In this season when a black man is running for reelection to an office I would have sworn he would never be elected to in the first place and the inevitable talk of race and racism has erupted in full force, encouraged by things like bumper stickers that exhort white citizens not to “re-nig in 20012” or to put the “White back in the White House” , I just watched a special on television about Ole Miss and its football team in 1962, the same year James Meredith was admitted to the university amid riots and protests and with armed federal marshals defending him.

Many young folks of all races think the images of riots, police brutality, dogs been turned loose on children, people being beaten, hit with water hoses, etc. are images of a bygone era, one that was awful, but is over. Having lived in the South now for about 10 years I can tell you there are still remnants of that era although the weapons that are used to deny opportunities are much more subtle and much more insidious and much tougher to fight. For example, the mascot of Ole Miss is the Rebel, named after men from the college who volunteered to go fight for the Confederacy, many of whom were killed or wounded in battle. The mascot honors them. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who would find it ironic that black students and players would not have a problem honoring someone who was fighting to keep their ancestors as chattel property. But, I will write another blog about the perceptions of some Southern blacks that I find puzzling.

I went to a Southern Research 1 institution in the spring of 2003 with great expectations of what could be accomplished there in the area of race. They claimed to want more black faculty, a better climate for racial and ethnic minorities and lots of other things. That did not prove to be true. What they wanted was a cover for the maintenance of the status quo. Ergo, I found out quickly I was not going to ever fit in, not really. Oh, I had my fans, quite a few I can immodestly say, but I was not willing to be nice about what I saw as social injustice. And they were not willing to change.

The past ( and that is a paraphrase of Faulkner–one must give the citation or be accused of plagiarism) is not the past. The past influences the way black people experience life every day. We no longer sit in the back of the bus, but we have to endure things like white people trying to tell us what is racist and what is not, attempts to convince us that racism is dead–even though we know it most certainly is not, and efforts to encourage “color blindness”, in other words let’s pretend everyone is white.

A poster on Facebook recently reminded me of the motto of the US E Pluribus Unum–from many, one. I am not sure if he is uninformed or naive or just stupid. America has never been a melting pot, and the “one” has almost always been white, male, rich  and straight. Let me say right now that I have absolutely nothing against white, male, rich, straight folks. I have quite a few friends who fit into that category, some of them quite beloved. But, to pretend that America has ever been a place of equality for all is a fool’s tale told by a liar.

Ole Miss today still has Confederate flags around, still has Confederate statues of “heroes”, as does my campus for that matter and no doubt still has some lingering racial problems. The author of the piece I watched, basically an apologist for his beloved state, admitted that last year the Chancellor had to intercede because some of the students were chanting ” The South Shall Rise Again!” before a football game. I am sure you know that Ole Miss football, like all division 1 football has quite a contingent of black players. Who do you suppose the crowd of students was directing their comments to?

I recently went on a job interview for a VC ( Vice Chancellor) postion at another Southern University–why? Because I am crazy I think, or an eternal optimist. I will not get the job, I know that because I refuse to pretend to be someone I am not. The same scenario will play out that has happened to me several ( more than 3) times before. The committee will select me, the people who came to my open forum will adore me ( one woman , a black professor approached me after my public talk, grasped my hand, looked me in the eye and earnestly said “God sent you here.” ) and the Chancellor will over rule them all.

I am not obsequious enough or grateful enough or humble enough for the Chancellors and Presidents of the South. I do not know my place. I know my stuff, I could work quite a bit of change, given the authority, but there lies the rub. They do not want change. The past is not dead, it is alive and well on campuses all over our favored land, and not all of them are in the South I must hasten to add. Black faculty numbers continue to be miserable at the vast majority of campuses, and even the campuses that have a large population of black undergrads rarely translate that to their graduate and post doctoral ranks. The past is not dead.

Racism will never be gone from America and certainly will not be gone from education until the majority, read white, decide not to tolerate it period. Like the other sins of sexism and homophobia and classism, racism exists because the majority culture tolerates it, often acting like racism is just a social gaffe like farting or burping loudly, something you personally might find distasteful, but that is best handled by turning your head and forgetting pretending you didn’t see or hear it.

The football players from Ole Miss were nostalgic about their time in 1962, and, of course, expressed their horror at the actions of the white students at the time, even though one of the players admitted to throwing a Molotov cocktail at one of the soldiers guarding the building Meredith was in. The entire tone of the program “Ghosts of Ole Miss” on ESPN was a paean to how the football team had pulled together to go undefeated that year. The narrator said, ” Having seen the worst of Ole Miss ( the riots) it was time to show them the best.” I snorted with laughter, if he thought that all white team was the best athletic talent in Mississippi then or now he is sadly mistaken.

And there lies the problem, looking back at your past you want it to be pretty, pleasant, made up of good memories, so we engage in euphoric recall. Not just whites, blacks do it too. Recently on Facebook some of my era friends were posting about how great their junior high and high school years were in Xenia. I had to rain on their parade. We were integrated in junior high and only two of us–none of the ones talking about their lovely time, were allowed to take honors classes. Not only that we were not represented in any way in the student government and most of the clubs I belonged to might have had one or two at the most other blacks. I was on the very large scholarship team with only 3 other black students and we struggled to get a black cheerleader chosen. In addition the basketball coach at the beginning of our school years, Kaylor, refused to start more than three black players no matter how goo they were.

I enjoyed high school and people, teachers and students, treated me well, but most of my black classmates from East Jr. Hi, disappeared academically and socially at the white school. Who knows how their futures might have been different if they had not had the opportunities denied them to achieve more academically? It was not their intellect that was at fault, it was the view, sadly still present in much of education, that black people are not as smart as white people.

Someone , not a friend, but a friend of a friend, shared a right wing article with me with the position that if Barack Obama does not win re-election it will not be because he is black. I do wonder how many times we have to hear a lie to make it the truth? Being anti-Obama does not make you a racist, but that does not mean that a significant number of those who are against Obama far more than they are for Romney are not racists.

America has never dealt with race effectively or honestly. In Canada they have Anti-Racist Education. We have Diversity Training which can range from soul-food carry-ins to Community Seders. Diversity means nothing, we are a diverse people we don’t need lessons in diversity, we need lessons in how to treat each other and even more importantly in learning about each other’s realities, culture and history. . What we need to call it is what it should be about Anti-Racist, Anti-Homophobia, Anti-Misogynistic, Anti-reinventing history to make you and your ancestors look good Education.

The past is not dead, it is not even past. That quote is never truer than when applied to race in this country.

 

Tales of Xenia: I’m talking baseball!

I am sure I have already written some about sports in Xenia. It was an important part of our family history. My oldest son, Michael came out of the womb wanting to play ball, any kind of ball. Being a study nerd myself, and proud of it, I wanted a thin-necked, be-speckled, little geek. Although Mike was and is quite intelligent, and was a very good student, he was a born jock. His class of 1986 may still be the last class to have won the league in football, baseball and basketball, and he was a star on all three teams. His 21 year old daughter, Marrisa, told me not long ago she is hesitant to go into some places in Xenia because she is accosted with cries of ” Are you Mike Newsom’s daughter??”

My husband, Wayne, did the typical dad thing, coaching Mike in football and baseball and basketball when he was in elementary  and continuing to coach him in baseball into his high school years. During those years, when the baseball season went on and on, transitioning from the cold and frost of the early school season to the heat and dust of the late summer, we met and interacted with and, yes, befriended, some people we would otherwise never have met, and a few one had to be embarrassed to know.

There was the couple, both divorced, who had found each other in their middle years who could not seem to keep their hands off of each other. They would sit in the stands and watch the games until the fires of love began to burn too strong and then they would go get in their car and , ahem, shall we say cuddle. Because their heads were not visible above the seats the cuddling no doubt took something out of them and they, therefore, had to frequently lie down evidently until they regained their equilibrium.

It would have been easier to ignore if they had not had a bad habit of getting out of the car and adjusting their clothing on their way back to the stands. Generally speaking they tried to disguise their forays into mid-day intimacy by pretending to go to the concession stand. It was rare, however, that either of them came back to the stands with anything other than a new hickey. Ah love!

He had a son who played on the same team as Mike, she had two younger children, a girl and a boy.  One Saturday, at Bob Evans Fields ( where if the games went late and they started slaughtering the pigs you had to explain to the small children the pigs were making those noises because they were having a party) her son, Tommy was playing with some older boys waiting for their turn to take the field and one of the boys hit Tommy in the head with the baseball bat. A nice spray of blood ensured and all of us mothers rushed over to attend to him. This, of course, led to questions of “where is his mother?” His mother was at the time busy doing the horizontal hula with his step-father in the back seat of their car, which was parked under a tree some distance away. One of the mothers, Peggy, a total innocent, turned to the little girl, the sister of Tommy and said, ” Go get your mother!” The rest of us, more worldly moms shouted ” NO!” in unison and one of the mothers volunteered to go get the mom. We did not want the daughter, about 6 at the time to learn the facts of life in quite that manner.

Another of our co-parent couples in the baseball cabal were obviously alcoholics. Nice people, funny, jovial, salt of the earth types, but partiers to the core. They never showed up for an early morning caravan to some Babe Ruth League game in a distant town without a shaker of bloody Marys which they tried to push on everyone else, wanting some company. Their best friends, another hard-drinking couple with a son on the team, usually were the only ones who joined them. Because we had several good church folks in the group these four who I will call the Bakers and the Marshes were often frowned upon, but it did not intrude on their good time, fueled no doubt at least in part by the fact they were pretty much blotto most of the time and oblivious to the scorn directed at them by the righteous.

One year the baseball group decided to attend the Greene County Fair to celebrate the end of a successful year of baseball. We would take the kids, make a day of it. In order to do that we decided we would all pull our cars into the infield of the race track, take a picnic lunch and enjoy the races and let the kids run around, ride rides, play games and visit the arcade.

The Bakers and the Marshes rode together, packed their food together ( including a few shakers of Bloody Marys of course) and generally hung out together. We all brought lawn chairs, blankets and coolers, ready to enjoy the day and the evening at the races. Nothing like a day and evening at the Fair.

All was going well until Mr. Baker began to show the signs of having had too many of the cups of spirits that they were dispensing out of the trunk of the Marshes’ car. Because it was not legal to have liquor in the infield, or anywhere on the fairgrounds, they had been discreet and keep their drinks out of sight of the rest of us, although the increasingly slurred speech and loud talk made it rather obvious that it was not kool-aid they were going behind the car to get.

After about the third race Mr. Baker began to announce rather loudly that he had to pee. Everyone tried to quiet him down, we were kind of there as a group after all and half the town came to the Fair in those days. Because we were in the infield you could not just cross the track any time you liked, you had to wait until there was a break between races to cross, unless you wanted to risk getting run over by a pacer or a trotter.

Getting very red in the face Mr. Baker finally announced he was going to ” whip out his one-eyed trouser snake ” then and there unless he was allowed to cross the track and go to the bathroom. Mr. Marsh took him in charge after seeing all the disapproving glances he was getting from us and the other infield denizens. He drew him away from the area where most people were sitting and we were afraid he was taking him to a darker area of the infield to pee.

It turned out Mr. Marsh knew more, and was more sober, than we gave him credit for, shortly after he drew his friend away, the race ended and they were allowed to cross the track to the bathroom. The trip out was uneventful, but the trip back hit a snag. They took too long in the bathroom and the next race was about to begin, which would mean they would have to wait for at least that race and the aftermath of horses trotting around the track to cool off to come back.

They did not want to do this. Mr. Marsh, a tall blond man, decided he could jump the railing that surrounded the infield. Mr. Baker, a much shorter, mostly bald man, decided he could too. Perhaps he could have had he been sober. We saw them start across the track, not at the approved crossing spot, which was already closed off for the race, but further down the track. They jumped the fence in front of the grandstand and hustled across the track, trying to make sure they beat the starting gate car.

We saw them reach the infield, saw them climbing the railing, and then Mr. March appeared on the other side of the railing, coming up the ditch beside it. He was smiling jauntily and almost made it back to the group before he realized what we had noticed already. Mr. Baker had disappeared. Turns out he had cleared the railing, but being shorter and drunker, he had fallen into the ditch and could not get up.

Needless to say upon hearing that his injuries were only scrapes and bruises and nothing more the laughter of the group almost scared two of the horses into breaking stride. Mr. Baker not only had to be scraped up out of the ditch, because an EMT crew was stationed in the infield in case of injury to the riders, they insisted on putting him in the ambulance and examining him. His querulous voice could be heard far and wide declaring ,” It is not my head, it is my goddamn knee! Look at my goddamn knee! Leave my head alone!” The boys and girls who had come back to the infield for food, or money, got quite a kick out of the entire event. I hope it taught them that alcohol and horse racing do not go together, but I am not sure that the lesson took, it was, after all, darn funny!

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Athletes, Xenia

 

Summertime: The coolest hot season is upon us!

If I could package the feeling I had when I was in the 5th or 6th grade and Memorial Day came I could become a millionaire. The idea that a looooooonnnnng summer ( it seemed time went by much more slowly in the days) was coming with no school work, even though I loved school, no having to wear a certain kind of clothes, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school, and best of all no having to get up and out at a certain time, was intoxicating. By now we would have either made or planned a trip all the way to Dayton to buy summer clothes for me at Rike’s department store.  I am not sure why my mother thought the clothes from Rike’s were superior, maybe they wore better since we did not have as many clothes in those days and they had to stand up to being played in and washed, but she always bought my school and play clothes from Rike’s. Because, as I have written before, we lived next door to East High and the “colored” part of the Memorial Day parade would be forming basically in front of our house , getting ready to march towards downtown and join up with the white part of the parade at the Fire Station on Main Street, my mother took great care in what I would have on for Memorial Day. It had to be red or blue or red white and blue. Until I was old enough to state my objections clearly the ribbons in my hair had to match.

The day that started off summer was sublime. Not only did it mean the end of school for months, it meant warm days, the  excitement of the parade forming, a picnic, either in our back yard or in Bryan Park, and everyone being in a good mood. My father loved all holidays, my mom, not so much.  Unlike other holidays like Easter and Christmas there was no need to decorate for Memorial Day  beyond maybe a flag and some bunting and because those were outside they were considered male duties. . No need for deep, deep house cleaning either. If we had company they were going to eat outside like the rest of us. The cooking was shared, with the men grilling and the women preparing simple things that could be done in advance like baked beans and potato salad. That meant the moms were in a good mood on a holiday for a change. My mother only seemingly enjoyed two holidays when we were younger, Memorial Day and Fourth of July, the rest of the holidays involved elaborate dinners, polishing silver and lots of work.

When I was small we would simply watch the newly formed black part of the parade go past our house, but later my father decided we should watch the entire parade, not just the black part. We would go down and establish a spot on the courthouse lawn, on more than one occasion I watched the parade from the cannon on the courthouse grounds. My father had seen a couple of white kids sitting on it the year before and decided that it was time for a little social justice, so he hoisted me up to sit and watch. It was not a particularly good seat comfort wise, the barrel of the cannon was not only rather slippery it was also a bit rusty in places, but I was thrilled to be up that high and to be able to claim the cannon as my private viewing post.

Because we lived next to the school and therefore the playground I knew I would have no shortage of playmates for the summer. Unfortunately my neighborhood ( it was unusual to go more than a couple of streets over for friends in those days) was short on females. That meant my summers were mainly spent with either me reading under  a tree or playing baseball, football or some created sport with a bunch of hard ankles. Even in those days of upper level grade school I tended to be a bit aggressive, uh assertive and I think that was another reason I tended to hang out with the boys more than the girls. My three choices were Jimmette who was older, Tootles, whose mother was white and therefore seemed a bit odd to me , she also went to the Catholic school, and Sarah Ann ( for some reason people frequently called girls by two names then, Barbara Jeanne, Sarah Ann,Mary Ester, not sure why) who was a complete and utter wimp. Sarah Ann did nothing physical period. She would not even play jacks, let alone dodge ball. Every evening in the summer she would go into her house, take a bath, put on a dress and sit on the front porch to wait for her daddy, Big Jim to come home from the pool hall he owned and ran. I hated Sarah Ann at one point because her appearance on the front porch was a signal for my mother to begin yelling “Coooookie!” That meant I had to go home. Some of the best games and talks seemed to always start shortly before dusk and that mean the call from my mother cut them off. One did not dare not appear, the consequences would have been dire. I am fascinated sometimes about how some children talk to their mothers. My mother did not hit me, except for that one spanking when I was five for falling in the hole, but let’s not revisit that, but she did not have to anymore than I had to hit my kids to make them mind. When did moms lose their juju?

And what on earth made children get “bored?” If my mother left me alone when I was 11 I could amuse myself all day and this was before computers, iPads, iPods and more than four channels on the television set. If I had ever presented myself to my mother and announced I was bored I would have been given several household chores to fill my time, from dusting to cutting grass. We tried to stay out of the view of our parents during the summer so we could avoid chores. The first time one of my children told me, less than two weeks after school was over, that he was bored i was amazed. I admit that shortly thereafter I fell into the pattern that was the middle class norm. The kids were enrolled in summer camp, lessons, excursions, you name it, they barely had a minute of free time, but then if they did get a lull in the activity they announced they were bored.

My  summers were never boring, they were full of catching lightening bugs, riding your bicycle behind the bug truck that sprayed for mosquitoes, ( wonder we are not all dead) , running, jumping, hitting a ball or dodging a ball, roller skating, bike riding, playing jacks and Mother-May-I? Going to Girl Scout Camp at Camp Greene, trips to the zoo, to Bryan Park, to Glen Helen, to see the fireworks, to go to the County Fair. It was a magical time. If ever I felt tempted to recite Elizabeth Allen’s  poem it would be on the day before Memorial Day. Hope yours is wonderful!

Backward turn backward

O Time, in your flight

Make me a child again just for

Tonight”

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Childhood, Race, Xenia

 

Tales of Xenia: High school teachers worth remembering

Going to high school in the 60s was exciting. Because of the newly minted anti-establishment revolution almost all of my classmates were of the opinion that while they might not all like each other we certainly liked each other more than we liked any adult. There was a continual loosely agreed upon conspiracy to do things we thought were right to do whether the teachers and administrators and parents thought so or not. As a matter of fact, the more they disliked it the more attractive it was. This was not normal generational perception differences, this was organized disobedience. It manifested itself in many ways, in dress and grooming to name two major ones. In breaking social mores was another.

When I was a sophomore girls were required to kneel at the request of the counselors to check the length of their skirts. If the skirt did not touch the floor the girl was sent home to change clothes, or her mother was called to bring her something more appropriate to wear. By the time I was a senior girls routinely kept a belt in their lockers, the purpose of which was to provide a method for rolling up your skirt to mid-thigh, the belt would hold the extra fabric you rolled up in place. Required to wear dresses or skirts, we were still able to go against the grain. Our dresses were not shirtwaists, they were shifts, a-lines, mod in other words, much more like the clothes shown in fashion magazines.  Madras plaid had its popular time with its ability to change color each time it was washed. Because there were fewer rules for shoes and accessories wedges and sandals and other trendy shoes began to appear as well. We thought we were very progressive. Of course, by the time I went back to do student teaching four years later there was no dress code at all and I turned into the shocked prude, very depressing evidence that I was no long not only a teenager, but I was no longer hip!

Hair was a real issue for us. It had to be long and straight or short and cut funky.  Even the white girls ironed and straightened their hair, the standard being no waves, no curls, nothing. Since my hair was long and wavy there was no way I was going to be cool, so I wore mine in a bun with a cool crocheted bun cover on it, or I wore two braids.  I was obviously not in style hair wise. The style was the issue with females, but the length was the issue with males. This was the era of the Afro and some of my classmates sported some impressive almost shoulder to shoulder creations. The rules of the school, written before integration and with white boys in mind, said that you hair could not touch your collar. It did not say anything about length. That meant that the black boys could have ten inches of hair because it was going to stand up and not touch their collars, while the white boys would quickly be in violation of the policy with much less hair. To their credit most of the white boys did not hold it against the black boys, they simply violated the policy and complained if they got caught and eventually organized to get the rule slapped down.

Our principal Mr. Benner always struck me as a mythical creature. He rarely came out of his office and when he did he hugged the walls while walking down the hall like he was afraid all of the students were infected with something contagious. Mr. Marshall, the assistant principal was much more outgoing and friendly and accessible. I suspect he did not care about the hair length thing, or the dress length thing and I think Mr. Benner was so busy avoiding us he did not even engage with the discussions.

In the area of social mores, interracial dating was one of the primary ways some of my classmates bucked the system. For some reason this was mainly manifested with white girls and black boys. The girls would sneak into the East End to parties or go to the drive-in, ducking down in the seat until it was full dark so she would not be seen. There were a few white boy-black girl liaisons but they tended to be far fewer. I am not sure why, certainly white boys were attracted to black girls. In those days it was socially acceptable for males to let you know if you made their liver quiver so to speak and they certainly were not shy about expressing their admiration.

One of the characters that taught at XHS was Olive Houston, who at one time was also the Mayor of Xenia. Tall, thin, ghost white, wrinkled and wearing way too much make-up she taught classes like speech and deportment. She was famous for calling students out for public displays of affection. Do not let Ms. Houston catch you holding hands or even touching a member of the opposite sex or she would lope up ( later she had an injury and would limp up) and chastise you loudly.” Young lady, decent girls do not indulge in displays of public affection, it simply is not done!”  More than one student opined that someone needed to take one for the team and take the aging old maid to bed so she would quit trying to keep the boys and girls apart.I think part of the fun of the relationship was probably the sneaking. Again, it was going against the societal norms grain and that was our bread and butter at the time.

Mr Conrad, our Chemistry teacher made a habit of throwing beakers at students and telling them to catch, at the same time shouting how much the beaker cost if you failed to catch it. He also would throw chalk at you if you missed a question or failed to pay attention in class. Nothing like getting pegged with a piece of chalk because you were daydreaming! I am not sure he threw at girls, as I remember it was only boys who got hit. Gender discrimination. When I was in his class ( I was a lab aide in my senior year) we had an incident that required my father to visit the school, something parents did not do except under dire circumstances in those days. Mr. Conrad announced one day that we were having a pop quiz and that the reason we were having the pop quiz was that “one of your classmates” had asked him to help move a wooden bridge from the storage room downstairs to a truck so that it could be used as decoration for the prom and he had hurt his back during the process. Now my classmates knew I was the only person in the room on the Prom Decorating Committee, a fairly prestigious position, and that was me.

The young man behind me who I will call Hank, a large white boy, was not a good student. He was teetering between a C- and a D+ and being an athlete he had to have a C to continue to play football. “Can I push her down the stairs for that?” he asked the teacher. “Sure”, Mr. Conrad answered, no doubt presuming that Hank was kidding. He was not. I jumped out of the desk before he pushed it over and sent it crashing down the stairs. I was shaken up and went back to the class expecting some punishment for Hank. Instead Mr. Conrad, who was no doubt shaken up himself ( the noise had been impressive) told me it was my fault and instructed me to bring the desk back upstairs.  Shocked, I refused. He told me I had to. Instead I marched into the counselor’s office and told her I wanted to drop chemistry. Mrs. Haines ( I had been changed from the hateful Mrs. Hasty) was a calm , motherly white woman and she talked calmly to me and went to visit Mr. Conrad. I went home and told my father what had happened and assured him I was positive that if I had not jumped Hank would have truly pushed me down the stairs with the desk. My father did not take kindly to that and met with the principal and Mr. Conrad the next day. I received an apology from both Hank and Mr. Conrad.

Mr. Conrad was a good guy, we became good friends in my adult years and I am sure he was as amazed as anyone that Hank actually pushed the chair down the stairs.He liked to joke a lot but did not understand that some adolescents do not have good decision making capabilities.

Some of our teachers had the bad habit of getting romantically involved with students. When I was in school it was all male teacher/female student, this evolved ( or devolved) later to include female teacher/male students. Unlike today anyone 16 or older was considered to be able to give informed consent. I suppose there were laws on the books even then about statutory rape, but they must have been ignored, a music teacher, an English teacher and an administrator all dated and eventually married girls while the girls were still in high school. I do not remember any outrage, we kind of thought it was cute that those authority figures could be captured by one of our peers. Times were different.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Education, Xenia

 

Tales of Xenia: HIgh school friendships, enemies and skullduggery!

Getting integrated in the 9th grade made my high school years ( even though technically the 9th grade in Xenia then was Jr. Hi) very interesting. After I figured out that white kids were very little different from black kids, except there were so many darn more of them, I could relax and begin to look at them not as alien creatures, but as contemporaries with melanin deficiencies. There were lots of things we had in common, quite a few things we had different—it was hilarious to me to hear them call the downtown area “uptown” even when they did not live in an area when it would have been up-anything to them. They were more divided along economic lines than we were. Our sorting took other avenues, particularly whether or not you were “cool.” Cool was not something we could define, we just knew it if we saw it. I was not cool. I wore glasses, I was studious, and believe it or not, relatively quiet, I was also not allowed to do a lot of things the cool kids do, like stay out late, go to the skating rink frequently ( my first trip to the skating rink resulted in a doctor’s visit to remove a four inch splinter from my hand—the floor was wood) and I absolutely could not “hang out.” I also was not the best dancer in the world shall we say. The slow dance was no problem, hanging on and swaying after all is not difficult, and I could do a mean cha-cha and Spider and even the Social, but fast dancing as we would call it, some called it hand dancing, was not my specialty.

I was saved from social ignominy by a couple of things. My boyfriend was cool, and he had a lot of parties and he had access to a car. As difficult as it is for youngsters now to understand most teenagers in my era did not own a car. Some of them had cars that belonged to the family that they could use often though and that was almost as good. Most teenagers in my era also did not have jobs by the way, not unless your parents owned a business. My friends Sally A., whose father owned the A &W drive in and Susan C whose father owned the dry cleaners pulled some shifts , but working to support a car was an anomaly in my time.

Not to mention that one of the sorters for what group you fit into, preppy, jock, hood or other was whether or not you participated in extra curricular activities. The hoods did not, period. Hoods did not even play sports although some of them were no doubt talented, they simply did not view school as a community, more like a detention center, but then that is basically how they were treated, like inmates. In those days the idea of equal treatment for all was an alien one at XHS. If you were one of the “good kids” and this was not based on the criterion of race or necessarily income, although poor kids somehow seemed to end up overrepresented in the “bad kid” category, there were different rules for you. For example, us good kids had, if you kept a certain grade point average, unsupervised “honor” study halls. That mean the most precious commodity that could be offered during the school day, fifty minutes with no adult supervision.

Needless to say the honors study hall was a breeding ground for mischief. Several notable examples come to mind. The first is when my classmates took one of my teachers’ VW bug apart and put it back together in the lobby of the school, they did not do that in one period, of course, but the idea was hatched during the honor’s study hall. The other, meaner, incident was when several of us ( yes us) convinced one of our male classmates to take one of our female classmates who was something that rhymed with witch, to the drive-in and neck with her and then get up in honor’s study hall and give a graphic description of how far he got with her.  Do not shake your head about bullying, she was a nasty individual who reveled in saying unpleasant things about other classmates, especially girls and especially disliked people from the wrong side of the tracks. She was not a nice person. Even so, I did feel a slight pang when she ran from the study hall in tears. Remembering some of the things I had heard her say with others as the object of her scorn, however, I did not let it bother me too long.This young lady was a cheerleader and fairly attractive and was pretty sure she owned the school. I suppose youthful lack of empathy and understanding led us to arranging the dastardly deed. We believed unequivocally in an eye for an eye.

Most of our attempts at our version of justice, however, were directed towards the principal and teachers, not each other. We kind of considered ourselves to be united as victims of their oppression. Another one of the honor’s study hall plots that was hatched revolved around my classmate Peggy‘s  ability to faint on demand. Peggy, who was a very pale, slender girl with reddish hair often looked rather like she was not quite there anyway. She was quiet and kind of tended to fade into the background. Peggy was not of good family as we said in those days and ergo was not actually in honors study hall, but we decided that we should recruit her in difficult situations like pop quizzes and therefore overtures of friendship were made that might not have otherwise been made. Eager to fit in and be popular, as we all were, she bought into the plot. Our biology teacher Mr. R. was an effeminate little man, very pale, rather chubby, already balding in his early thirties,  who shared with us ad nauseum that he really wanted to be a farrier, not a teacher. he had moved to Xenia because we had a farrier school in town and he took the teaching job so he could get money to pay for his tuition at the school and to live on.  He was afraid of bugs and snakes and frogs so we did not do much dissection, mainly we studied things in books. He was, however, fond of giving pop quizzes, a practice we absolutely hated.

So Peggy was put on notice. The next time Mr. R announced a pop quiz she was to faint. One Wednesday he announced we should get ready to take a pop quiz and on cue Peggy went limp, and in slow motion slithered out of our modern plastic molded chairs with attached writing surfaces. Mr. R looked stricken and amazed. I thought he might faint too. We all made much of the incident with exclamations of “Oooh she fainted!” just in case he was too thick to get why she was lying on the floor.

After a brief period of inertia he sprang into action and after several foiled attempts at scooping her up ( she really was out and limp) he finally managed to get her into a kind of fireman’s carry situation and dash out towards the school nurse‘s office. At least that is where we presumed he went. We frankly did not care. We had accomplished our goal. We were not going to have a quiz and we had obtained our version of Nirvana,  a class with no teacher for more than ten minutes or so.  We made use of Peggy’s unique talent on several occasions, she never seemed to be the worse for wear and we always enjoyed it enormously. It was win/win. She got to be lauded for her contribution to our need for control and we got to disrupt the day without personal risk, because good kids did not get into trouble!

The same cannot be said for our teachers. One of my English teachers, when I was a senior actually, had been a fat girl in college.  After she graduated her wealthy parents sent her to a fat farm and she slimmed down nicely. Except for still having legs that did not really have ankles she was fairly slender. Her pleased parents had sprung for an impressive wardrobe as a result. Twin sets, short sleeved or sleeveless sweaters with a cardigan of the same color over them were all the rage that year and costly. Miss B had them in all the colors of the rainbow. She also had a yen for cute high school boys and could be seen flirting with some of our hunks openly in class, even going so far as to ask the young men openly what was going on and what they were going to do over the weekend.  She would evidently show up sometimes to enjoy herself with the young men, although to what extent I never was privy to. All of us females were, of course, outraged at her obvious penchant for young flesh. She would, however, get her comeuppance shortly after we graduated. She and the football coach, Coach H were caught doing the horizontal hula in the teacher’s lounge after school by my French Teacher, Mrs. L! Miss B was fired, Coach H was not and I was the beneficiary of a delightful description of the event my Mrs. L years later when I went back to do my student teaching under her direction.  ” Melva”, she breathed in dramatic fashion( she always called me Melva) I opened the door and there there were, mostly naked,  flagrante delicto right on the teacher’s lounge couch. I was appalled, I backed out, but I simply could not forget what I had seen. I had to report it! ”  Mrs. L was a very proper lady and she was truly horrified at this crude lapse of couth. I can still hear her tone of outrage and disbelief.

Ah well enough tales of XHS back when the earth was cooling.

Those were different days! 🙂

 
6 Comments

Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Education, Uncategorized, Xenia

 

High School Reunion: The agony and the ecstasy

I am going home next week to attend my 45TH!!!! high school graduation class reunion. The Class of 66 was a special bunch. I know everyone thinks the people they went to high school with were special, but mine were extra special. From my classmate Nedra whose palms sweated so badly on test days that she had to carry wads of paper towels to blot them to keep from ruining the paper the test was on to my friend Mary Beth who was so much better at basketball than the rest of us that only I could guard her–not because I was athletic but because I could make her laugh and miss the shot.  We had the first prom where two girls ( no they were not gay, just tired of missing dances) attended together, we had some of the first sit-ins and protests and we had some friendships made that have stood the test of four plus decades.

Unfortunately, we also had some enemies made that have stood the test of time. There are only a few people in my class I sincerely dislike, but I disliked them in the 60s and I dislike them now. Racism is the primary cause, but a couple of them are just nasty. Fortunately, most of the people I do not like ( and they number fewer than five out of a class of more than four hundred) will not attend the reunion. They are flawed enough people that they do not want to associate with their classmates.

Most of my classmates are great people, thoughtful, caring, decent folks. True, some of them are Republicans, but we cannot hold that against them, they were probably raised that way.

At our last reunion ( at least the last one I attended) , the 40th, I was amazed to see how good some of my classmates looked and how bad some of them looked. How you looked in high school evidently is not a measure of how you are going to look forty years later. Some of the cutest girls look  like they have been “drove hard and put up wet”, to use a country saying. The men generally have aged better, some have lost hair and gained pot bellies, but I could still recognize the faces on most of them, not so much the women.

It is unfair but we do not age as well as men in general. Maybe they simply were not as cute as us in the first place and therefore the decay is not as noticeable, I have no idea.

Anyway, I am going to look forward to going to the Homecoming Game  (Go Bucs!) on Friday unless it rains, and to the dinner on Saturday. I will sing the fight song and alma mater at the game and hug dozens of classmates at the dinner. Eventually if it is a typical reunion people will begin to cluster in friend groups. My table will be the one where the blacks will congregate. After a while some of our white friends will brave the divide and come over to chat too. The few of our classmates who never managed to understand race  and leave behind racism will not be among them.

I doubt sincerely my racist classmates have any idea they are racist. They simply think black people are not as good as white people and do not understand why that belief should be held against them. Fortunately as I said earlier they are few and far between in the class of  ’66.

So get ready classmates. I will be the one in the velvet pants and black and white zebra striped top with a beaded neckline  and velvet blazer with a big rhinestone button. Depending on the weather I will either have on black heels or mules with a zebra striped wedge.  Get ready to be hugged and screamed at; ” Oh my goodness, look at you! ” ” I am so glad to see you, you look great!” ” How are the kids?” “Tell me what you are doing?”  “Where do you live?”  And get ready for lots of sentences that start out ” Do you remember…..?”

I remember. And the memories are almost 100% good, I loved high school, I liked my classmates, my teachers, my school and my town. I still do.

Hooray, for Xenia High School, for she’s all right.

Keep Colors Flying, Go on with the fight!

Hooray, for Xenia High School, Never give in!

Hooray for Xenia High School, For she will win!

And so will the members of the Class of 66!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Childhood, Education, Xenia

 

Xenia Tales: I am integrated Part II

I finished my glorious career at Central Junior High on a high note. Not only had I done well on the French scholarship test of achievement, my grades were sufficiently high to inspire the administration to present me with my school letter, tastefully done in real red chenille. I am  not sure how many of my fellow students received such an honor but my memory reports that it was far from a rare occurrence.

As the great day of graduation approached–yes we had a graduation ceremony for having completed junior high, small town school districts are big on pomp and circumstance, we had to go shopping for the appropriate attire. Girls were to wear white dresses boys were to wear black pants and white shirts. Suits were okay for the boys but not mandated, I am not sure about ties. Because this was a de facto admission to high school status, even though 9th graders were technically freshmen, since we were at Central Jr. Hi we were not viewed as high school students, it was understood that we needed to look like young adults at this ceremony.

That meant the females were expected to wear heels. If not required by the school dress code it was definitely required by the standards set by your peers, a much more stringent coda than anything the school could pronounce, of course.

I had worn high heels a time or two, to church functions and the occasional fancy dance, but this was different. The ceremony was held at the Field House next to Xenia High School. This venerable edifice was where we played basketball games, had the occasional other sporting or social event. It was a big deal. Most of us had been going to something or other at the Field House for a long time. The plan for the ceremony was that we would all be seated in chairs set up on the floor, our parents, other relatives  and friends would be seated in the stands.

We had assigned seats, I do not remember if we were arranged alphabetically or by height. Anyway, your row would be led out by a faculty usher and you would go on stage, one at a time to receive your diploma ( certificate) and any other awards you might have won–this is actually when I was presented with my certificate for the French test and with my vaunted chenille Central “C” and be applauded by the crowd for your achievement(s).

This sounds relatively easy, until one considers that in order to go on the stage we were not to go through the usual egress route, doors to the left and right of the stage. No, for some reason, lost in the misty mists of time, it was decided that we needed to go up some temporary stair placed on the right  side of the stage and down another temporary stair placed on the left side These wooden stairs, which definitely smacked of a relatively rudimentary shop project, had no banisters, no sides at all and they did not seem to be of a uniform height.

As a result during our practice sessions a lot of people had difficulty navigating them. I was one of the ones having difficulty. I have always been very near-sighted and not being particularly athletic I always wanted to look down at the stairs while attempting to climb them. This meant that I was prone to not see the next step coming up and therefore I would stumble. I stumbled in the first rehearsal I stumbled in the second rehearsal and I almost fell off the stairs completely  at the third rehearsal where we ( the girls only)had been encouraged to “wear the shoes you plan on wearing to graduation.”

As graduation day approached I was a nervous wreck. Here it was my first official public appearance as a newly integrated member of the CJS student body and I, a black girl, was going to fall off the stairs at the ceremony, I just knew it! What would them mostly white crowd think? What would they do?? Laugh, yell things, snicker, pity me?I would not only be facing personal embarrassment, I would be letting down the entire black student body, recent and not always so welcome immigrants from the East End.

The day of graduation dawned sunny and bright, nothing like my mood, and the entire family piled into the car to go to graduation. I had on my new white dress and my new white heels which looked very good but which I was unsure I could trust not  to betray me during my integrated public debut.

We arrived at the Field House and I bid my family adieu to take my seat with the rest of my classmates. Music was played, speeches were made and then the moment of truth arrived. A teacher appeared at the end of my row, it was our turn to go on stage!

I gritted my teeth, stuck out my chin and marched towards the treacherous stairs, wobbling a little even on the flat in my unfamiliar footwear. I made it to the foot of the stairs and on the signal of the faculty member stationed at the foot of the stairs, began the climb. There were no more than six steps, but to me it seemed like Everest.  I made it up the stairs without incident, and when, having received my awards, I made it down the other side uneventfully, a small round of cheers and applause went up from quite a few of my classmates.

My mother commented on the small outburst after the ceremony.   She thought it meant I was massively popular,  and considering I had not been at CJS but one year and that some of the apparent accolades had obviously come from my white classmates she was very impressed. Actually, of course,  they were expressing their relief that their ceremony would not be interrupted by the arrival of an emergency crew in an ambulance summoned to tend to me as I lay broken at the bottom of the rickety stairs.

I have chosen to let her believe this 40 plus years that I was, indeed massively popular with both my black and white classmates.  I learned a long time ago never to correct folks who give you more credit than you are due. There are always far more who  are willing to  give you less than you are due.  Just take the compliment, try to live up to it, and consider it necessary for the balance of the universe.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Childhood, Education, Race, Xenia