Hodgkins Junior High and the Seventh Grade
Adjusting to a new world
At this point in my story, things start changing very quickly. In elementary school, life was pretty much defined by grades separated by Summer vacations. In junior high, however, although that pattern continues, it becomes more accentuated by the rapid personal growth taking place. Hormones start kicking in, growth spurts occur, and that little guy who had spent most of his life just being a kid was rapidly becoming an adult. That’s what adolescence is.
Once a kid got used to the “grown-up” world of junior high, life was pretty good. After all, many of us were now chauffeured to school by bus everyday, we were all walking from class to class just like the kids at the high school, and, of course, there were plenty of new, sizzling babes to scope out, especially among the ninth graders. Whatever joy there had been in elementary school soon melted away like an ice cream sandwich on a hot, Summer afternoon. We had now hit the big time, and ice cream didn’t cut it anymore. Even friendships changed as most elementary classmates ended up in different classes, making new, and different friends.
When seventh grade began, it was still Summer, and it was still very sunny, and hot. That kept the almost biblical hoards of grasshoppers active in the fields north of school just to taunt us with the reminder that our days of youth were over like our Summer vacation, and, just like those grasshoppers, they would be gone by the time the seasons officially changed. Our new science teacher, Mrs. Way, helped drive that idea home, even though that was not her intent. She took us all out to those fields carrying jars laced with formaldehyde to collect grasshoppers to be used for dissection later in the spring. It didn’t seem too profound at the time, but, in a way, that act of doing something many of us had enjoyed for years anyway in this new, organized, and adult way, was kind of a metaphor for how we were all tucking away our memories of childhood to be put on the shelf for dissection at a later date, too. At the time, we just felt so cool being trusted to go off school grounds in the middle of the school day on this impromptu field trip. And, of course, boys were looking at girls, and girls were looking at boys. Yet, even in our new, adult world, there were some things we never had to let go of, and one of those was the joy of sports.
Just as every Fall brought the changing of the leaves, it also brought the World Series. That year, the Orioles played the Mets, and our English teacher, Miss Shoun, turned out to be a big Mets fan who wanted to watch the games even more than we did. They played day games back then, and it was no big deal to have a black and white TV rolled into the classroom. Even kids who didn’t like baseball all that much could enjoy how cool it was to be taking time away from academic pursuits just to indulge in America’s pastime - being lazy. And, since Miss Shoun’s team was winning, she was in a particularly good mood, and that bode well for all of us. The Mets won. That, and other events of the Fall of 1969 helped make the transition between stages of growth easier for all of us, and whatever trauma there might have been, quickly evaporated by the time something routinely familiar, Thanksgiving, rolled around, followed by Christmas, and then, New Year’s Day.
I remember New Year’s 1970 because, for the first time, we were visiting other family in addition to the traditional, family-wide, get-together with Aunt Helen and Uncle Al. My Aunt Helen and Uncle Al always put on the best New Year’s parties that were more like family reunions than anything else. It was a great way to start the New Year. This year, however, sticks in my memory because I remember watching the Super Bowl. I doubt the game was right on the first day of the year, considering the history of the college bowl games, but I do remember the game being played in January. That’s not particularly remarkable, but it is remarkable that the stepfather, Wes, was actually watching the game, too, and even showing an interest in the outcome.
You see, Wes didn’t care much for football. I suspect it was because he could never play the game, and didn’t know the rules, but I can only speculate. Suffice to say that he is one of only two adult males I have ever known who shared that negative opinion of the sport. On this day, however, things were different. The Chiefs of Kansas City were playing the Vikings of Minnesota. It didn’t hit me at the time, but Wes was from Kansas City, and may have had a dysfunctional attraction to his hometown team. Anyway, while watching the game, I remember hearing Wes say, “If the Chiefs get the lead, they’ll win the game.” What? This guy who hates football is suddenly an expert commentator on the sport? He was probably just repeating something he heard in a bar, but it did grab my attention that his attention was on the game, and that he was spot on. The Chiefs got the lead, and the Vikings couldn’t catch them. The AFL and NFL were headed for merger, but not with Wes. That was the first and last time I ever heard him say anything remotely positive about football, but his lack of interest in sports didn’t damper mine any at all. Mine was growing by leaps and bounds, even if it didn’t always work out so well.
After Christmas break, we headed into the Spring of 1970, and my first, real exposure to Track and Field with lanes, hurdles, batons, and track shoes. In seventh grade, it seemed like anyone and everyone was going out for any and all sports, even though I wasn’t among that group. As it turns out, some kids who never should have had access to lethal weapons were allowed to wear track shoes with long spikes, even during gym class, and, more importantly, while we ran our daily laps to warm up before class.
So, while I’m running my laps with everyone else, another kid purposely falls in front of me in a successful attempt to trip me. Unfortunately for me, another friend of his was following closely behind wearing the aforementioned long spikes. I tripped over friend one, which, in turn, tripped friend two who had the courtesy to step on me with his one inch spikes before falling on top of me. I remember the spike hitting a nerve, and sending off the sensation of a thousand funny bones up and down my leg. I let out a scream that gathered some attention. I explained what happened, but I got little sympathy.
You see, I had just learned a lesson about appearances. No matter what damage a puncture wound really did, it often just left a tiny, little mark, with little or no bleeding. Instead of sympathy, I got laughter and ridicule. It would have been better for me to have suffered a harmless, yet ferocious looking surface scratch than to have endured the pain of that puncture wound; first by the wound itself, and second by the ridicule of my classmates. Nonetheless, the lesson was learned, and the event soon passed into memory, but, at the time, I had no idea that I would ever end up running both Cross Country and Track in high school. Nothing seemed further from reality, except for, maybe, some guy walking on the moon. In fact, I would have laughed at anyone who would have even suggested such a thing. At the time, I was reluctant to walk a mile, let alone run one, and I just never saw myself as an athlete.
The incident passed, and the school year ended just like so many before had, and it was off to summer vacation 1970. We all had survived the seventh grade, although some of us bore more scars than others, and even though we didn’t know it, we really were a lot more mature than we had been just one year before, and, now, just a year away from high school.