LESSONS LEARNED: High School is Hard
My sophomore year photo
High school days for me were for the most part exciting days full of experiences of a lifetime. There is a time that stands out out today as clearly as if I were reliving it today. It was not one of the high points of my high school years.
One in particular stands out for me as the one that caused a period of my high school years to be the hardest, the most difficult of my then 15 years. I was a sophomore the year of my unfortunate experience. Now, as I write about late fall, early winter of 1963, it as is I am watching the young girl who found herself in a most untenable situation.It was a stinky situation that resulted in her being absent from school for about three weeks. To fully explain the circumstances a little history is provided.
There's a big world out there. Bigger than prom, bigger than high school, and it won't matter if you were the prom queen or the quarterback of the football team or the biggest nerd. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.— uknown
The Summer of 1963
In the summer of 1963 something totally unexpected at my house. The house I lived in had remained the same on the inside and the outside with the exception of fresh coats of paints on the inside and outside, making needed repairs, and normal general upkeep on the place.
Our home had always been heated exclusively with a coal stove that stood about 5 feet high and probably about 45 inches in diameter. That coal stove heated our home well. I have no memories of being cold except first thing in the morning in the winter. At that time the stove had not had time to heat the rooms so we would lay our clothes on the metal frame that surrounded it to get them nice and toasty before we slipped into them.
I'll remember the laughter as we go our separate ways but there's so much we're learning and we cannot be afraid. There's a world outside our door and nothing in our way. But if it's not what we're both looking for, we'll meet again someday.— unknown
Heating and cooking
We had another cast iron stove that happily sat in our kitchen. It was used to cook special foods like fragrant slices of toast charred just to perfection and puffy, flaky biscuits. Once in a while in a large, fat cast iron pan would be filled with white beans and seasonings and set on that kitchen stove to cook for most of the day. An original slow cooker for sure, the aromas from the contents of that pot wove its way around the corners of our home into each room.
There was a third tiny potbellied stove in our washroom. The wash room was a cold room. It was shut off from the rest of the house so that none of the glorious warmth could escape from the main rooms of the house.
In the wintertime on wash days Daddy would bundle up in his winter coat and long grey work gloves and start a fire early in the morning so that after a few hours the room had heated up nicely and the chill was no longer in the air.
An end to an era
Although the coal stove had seemed adequate to me all of my first 15 years, I guess my parents decided they wanted to bring our home into the sixties. The summer of 1963 work began. Central heating was being installed in our home.
Our house sat on cinder blocks and there was a space of about 12 inches between the sod floor underneath it and the wooden frame of the building. That meant that all manner of animals would come to rest under there whenever they chose.
Work progressed on this big project. It did not take long for the old, familiar coal stove to be removed from the living room. All remnants of it were soon completely erased and it was as if it had never been there.
Was she ever mine?
The little story of the bird who was caged and was set free comes to mind. If it came back, it was mine. If it did not return to me, it was never mine at all. Perhaps my sweet little bird had shared only a few moments with me eagerly awaiting her time to be free.
A bird finds her freedom
During the construction process a tragedy did occur. I had a sweet lemon yellow pet Parakeet named Goldie. It was my job to change her cage each Saturday. When I changed the cage, I always let her fly around in the living room till I was finished. This Saturday was no exception. She was flying around enjoying her infrequent freedom while I took care of sprucing up her little cage. When it was time to return her to her now pristine cage, I could not find her. I looked and looked and called and called. I looked behind the draperies in all of the rooms as she sometimes would cozy up there I believe so she could see outside.
While I was searching frantically for her, I noticed a hole in the floor. It was a little register space with no little grate put over it ---a part of the new heating system. I know I had been told to watch where I stepped because of the danger of falling in one. But I never though about it the day I changed the cage.
I realized she must have gotten outside through the register. I ran outside to look for her and soon spied her high up in a tree. By this time my family was all out there with me trying to calm me down and to help coax her down. All day I sat out there while she flitted from branch to branch seemingly have the time of her life. Darkness came and my Daddy hung her cage as high up in the trees as far as he could get it. The next morning I raced out to see if she was there. Sadly she was not and I never saw her again. But I learned to reconcile her escape. It made me so happy to see her enjoying her freedom flying around totally unfettered.
The workers continued transforming our home from what many considered outdated, archaic heating arrangements to a more modern heating system. After all construction was completed and all of the rearranging was completed, life returned to normal.
Flash back to the 60s...my high school years
Overflowing with expectation
School began in September and I was so excited. I had only two more years left after tenth grade and then I would go off to college. Being a sophomore meant being able to join new clubs and participate in new activities that I could not in ninth grade. The 4-H Club and Future Teachers of America were two of my favorites. It was going to be a year filled with many new experiences and I was so ready to tackle each new hurdle that may arise.
Each day was filled with new learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. I was taking my second year of French and I loved my French teacher. She made each class period fly by and learning was thrilling in her class. She was also the Mother of one of the girls in the class so that added another dimension to her personality. We attended a number of parties around the holidays at her home.
Everything was going so well. This was proving to be my favorite year in school so far. To top off everything I was very healthy. Up to this point I had had a number of surgeries on my ears and still had repeated ear infections which often caused me to miss long periods from school. This year I was feeling 100% and was filled with so much enthusiasm it was impossible to contain it.
Our 1963 yearbook
Stinky Little Culprits
This fall was different though. New interlopers came to town that year. They were black and white and had very bushy tails and they were stinky. Our new unwelcome residents under the house were skunks.
We would have never known except like the kitties they needed to establish the pecking order. It seems the skunks wanted the kitties to know that there were some new gunslingers in town and their weapons were very powerful. It was not long till the order of skunk spray permeated our house. It is an acrid and foul and most unwanted odor to have envelope your home.
The next day I was more than a bit anxious to get dressed and leave home hoping that by the time I got home the odor would have dissipated and the skunks would be gone.
A stinky encounter
About the beginning of October the temperatures dropped as they usually did around that time of the year. As usual animals found a way to huddle under our house. There were still a few spots around the perimeter of the structure that somehow the workers had not completely closed in when they installed the new heating unit.
Usually the only animals that huddled under the house were some stray kitties in the area. Their presence under there rarely resulted in any problems. Once or twice we were privy to a few authentic cat fights but once the pecking order was established there was no more scrapping going on under there.
The odor came along
I ran down the quarter mile lane to the bus. Once I was on the bus I found an open seat, sat down for a second and decided to move to one closer to the front and waited, saving a seat for my best friend. Before long I heard kids saying, “I smell a skunk.” It was strange. You could not smell the odor on me. You could smell it where I had been. It was as if I had marked my territory.
I made no comment when the kids said that and no one realized it was me.
When I got to school, I went to my locker and put my purse inside, got my books, and headed to class. When class ended, kids poured into the hallways and as they passed my locker they would say, “I smell a skunk.” I chirped in, "I do too!" Thank goodness the odor was somewhat generalized around the locker area so you could not tell it was my locker from which the piercing distinctive odor was emanating.
High school was hard for me that year especially as I was just finding my own little place in the world. It was not hard because of others but I did see some kids being mean to others to the extent of being able to call it bullying. I did not want that to happen to me.
When I went home, I told my Momma about my narrow escape from being discovered as skunk girl or some worse label. I was mortified and terrified that someone would discover my secret and I would have died a thousand deaths.
Home from school
That night there was another barrage by the skunks, marking their territory. I knew that I could not go to school again and risk being discovered. I would have been totally humiliated if anyone found out I was reeking of skunk odor.
The principal of the school lived at the end of the quarter mile road that I ran down each morning. So my Momma went to see him and explained what had happened. He told her she could keep me at home as long as it took to chase the skunks away and to rid my clothes of the odor. He brought my assignments to me each day and took my work back to school the next day.
My momma moved all of my clothes to the wash room area which was not in the part of the house where the skunks’ spray had permeated. However by the time they were removed they all smelled of skunk.
There was an old tale that washing in tomato juice would remove the odor but it did not work and there were some things that could not be washed like my long wool winter coats.
So all of my clothes were sent to the dry cleaners. When they came home, they were all hung in the wash room area to keep any skunk odor from getting on them.
The first thing that was done to our was house was to completely close in any openings that still remained open so animals could crawl under the house. The next thing that happened was that Daddy set crab pots around the place with food inside. The skunks were trapped and he drove them to a forested area several miles away to release them. It was a long difficult task but after about two and one half weeks for all of them to be caught and removed.
By the end of the that period of time, our home was back to its normal lovely smell. I was able to return to school. My friends all wanted to know why I had been out of school and I lied. I could not tell the truth. It was too painful. I really do not remember exactly what I said but I imagine I muttered something about being sick which would not have been unusual for me.
High school remained hard for me because I was a worrier at the time. I worried that I would not fit in somehow. Most of my friends came from moneyed families. My family was one of meager means and while no one would really guess that we were not well off, I knew. And in hindsight, I guess I was a bit envious of my friends. Yes, the green-eyed monster game to town. All of my friends had the name brand clothes, shoes, and stereo systems. When they got their driving license at age 15, they got cars.
As I write this I see what a foolish child I was. I was the child of loving parents who doted on me. And they gave me all that could in a financial sense but far more than many received in love and emotional support. I was so blessed to be the child of parents who loved and cherished me.
Lessons learned: life is hard, God is good.
High school is as hard as we make it. Sometimes. Sometimes there are contributing factors to make it hard but often it is our own doing that makes it hard. Such was the case for me.
A New Awareness
The year I had anticipated with such excitement became a year that a new awareness of this complex world that I would enter soon. It was the year that I became more of woman and less of a little girl.
“When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
Life is hard but God is good...
It was a few weeks after my own personal fiasco that our nation lost a leader and caused our country ito be swallowed up in a period of mourning. The death of a President touched the lives of all. It did not matter if you had voted for him or not, he was the President and he had fallen.
I was sitting in my Latin class when the announcement came over the loudspeaker telling us that President Kennedy had been shot and that he had died. An extremely unsettling feeling fell over the class. No one spoke. Our lives were so unfettered with worry and violence that this announcement was almost too much to understand. We left school that day having lost much of our innocence. Awareness of the world outside of our small town, our high school days, did exist and came crashing into our gentle way of life.
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