Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again and while I know you actually can go home again, it’s not always recommended. I discovered that when I recently spent a week in my hometown helping my sister out following her hip replacement surgery. Thankfully, surgery went smoothly and while my sister was in the hospital I found myself with a rare thing on my hands: time. No husband, kids, house, dog, cats, work, friends…nothing but me alone in my old bedroom in the house where I grew up. Well, not exactly alone. There were about ten million memories in the bedroom too so things got a little crowded. Actually, ten million memories plus my pack rat sister’s stuff so it was more than a little crowded; it was downright claustrophobic.
Among the treasures I discovered among my sister’s belongings was a postcard of the local junior high. Upon seeing it I had an instant urge to crawl into bed, tug the covers up over my head and tell my mother I was too sick to go to school. Unfortunately my mom has been gone for several years so that wasn’t an option but that picture postcard showing a mid-century school made me instantly feel like the socially awkward dork that I was throughout junior high, although to say that I was socially awkward is quite the understatement. That is a bit like saying the Pope is sort of Catholic. I was socially awkward extraordinaire, complete with glasses, a retainer and six inches taller than everyone else with a figure that could have fit quite neatly into a test tube.
But beyond my dorky physical appearance, experiencing junior high was difficult in so many ways. More was expected of us academically (always a challenge for someone who memorized the TV Guide instead of homework assignments) and while the other girls seemed to have caught on to growing up and were doing a splendid job at it, I was still secretly playing with my Barbies. Other girls knew how to talk to boys while I, then and still the World’s Worst Flirt, couldn’t even look at a boy without turning red and stammering. The two years of junior high felt like two hundred and I doubt anyone was happier on graduation day than yours truly. I can still remember thinking on that June evening that nothing in life could be as tough as junior high and lo and behold, for once I was right. Nothing has been as dreary as seventh and eighth grades and hopefully nothing ever will be since I’m not planning on being incarcerated any time soon.
The teachers were tougher too. While our grade school teachers hadn’t held our hands, they had held us up. That stopped in junior high. Instead we were expected to figure things out on our own. While I can see now that the teachers really did help us in the long run since at some point we were going to have to develop a few problem solving skills, at the time it simply sucked. Gym class was the worst with the 600 yard dash, the rope climb and endless physical education “units”, all requiring the wearing of one piece polyester uniforms that never fit right. Of course the gym teachers ruled supreme in those classes. It didn’t matter what kind of note you had from your mother (and I had an entire locker full of them), if you were well enough to be in school, you were well enough to participate in gymnastics.
Looking at the postcard did bring back a few good memories such as of our Home Ec class where Mrs. Townsend taught us how to make pizza on English muffins and the best peanut brittle on the planet. Mrs. Townsend also rescued me before the Eighth Grade Spring Fashion Show when my handmade creation–a gingham pinafore that looked like it had been whipped together by a nearsighted toad–threatened to fall off my test tube like body. Mrs. Townsend fixed my dress for me without saying a word, just sewed it up one night and it was ready for me to wear the next day.
Naturally, as soon as I found the postcard I took a picture of it and put it on Facebook, expecting to hear at least a few groans about those damn gym suits. Didn’t happen. Apparently everyone else enjoyed junior high (with the exception of one PM from a like minded classmate who always was a genius). So junior high wasn’t horrible for everyone, which makes me happy. That said I would like to add that there’s nothing about it that I’d like to experience again–other than having a figure that would once more fit into a test tube. Oh, and maybe another English muffin pizza. And some of that peanut brittle.