A new decade and the end of dreaded middle school – Halleluiah!
I began my last year of middle school – 9th grade – in the fall of 1970. I don’t have specific memories of that last year other than knowing I had some friends at school and I didn’t feel as isolated as I did in 6th grade. I also had a really good English teacher who somehow made diagramming sentences (they don’t do that anymore) fun.
Ninth grade was also my last year in Girl Scouts, an activity I started in middle school and really enjoyed – especially camping and anything outdoors. I still visit my Girl Scout leader when I go to Richmond to see my mother. I remember some of the songs we sang – Barges, White Coral Bells and Dona Dona (about a calf on the way to the slaughter house who wishes she were a swallow flying free overhead.)
“Stop complaining,” said the farmer
“Who told you a calf to be?
Why don’t you have wings to fly with
Like the swallow so proud and free?”
Calves are easily bound and slaughtered,
never knowing the reason why.
But whoever treasures freedom,
like the swallow has learned to fly.
The highlight of my 16th year was my first trip to Europe in the summer of 1971. The tour was sponsored by an International Study program (I have no idea how I even learned about it) and was designed to expose students to the culture and history of the countries visited. It may be that a teacher at my school was trying to get a group together but it didn’t work out so I joined a group of students and their teachers from Memphis, Tennessee.
I guess one advantage of being an only child and feeling friendless at school, was that it made me more willing to go into new situations where I didn’t know anyone. I was already used to feeling isolated when I was with other people, so how could it be any worse? Maybe it would be better! So the first time I met this group of students and teachers that I was going to spend the next six weeks in Europe with was when my mother drove me to John F Kennedy Airport in New York to board the plane.
I LOVED it! We visited Spain, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France and London. In each city, we stayed on the campus of a local university and took classes (just a day or two) taught by a local teacher. Then we did lots of touring to see the places we’d just learned about. I have vivid memories of almost every place we stayed, although by the time we got to Paris and London, I was getting a little homesick.
In the fall of 1971 I began high school at John F. Kennedy High School – a brand new high school on the opposite side of town from where I lived. Court ordered bussing to achieve racially integrated schools in Richmond VA was in effect. My educational experience had come full circle – now instead of walking four blocks to go to a “white” school when a “black” elementary school was closer, as I did when I started kindergarten – I was riding the bus for almost an hour to integrate a predominately black school.
“White flight” began and private “Christian” schools sprang up in churches around town. Talk about hypocrisy! I recall that my parents actually asked me what I wanted to do and I wanted to go to the high school that my neighborhood was assigned to attend. It didn’t matter to me that it was across town in a predominately black neighborhood. I don’t even remember the “long” bus ride being an issue. Racial equality appealed to my sense of justice and if I could be part of that I was “all in.”
And a really wonderful thing happened when I started high school in the fall of 1971. For the first time ever – I felt completely accepted for who I was. It was okay to be smart – kids at my new school didn’t make fun of me for that. They didn’t kick books out from under my desk. They didn’t make fun of my clothes or my hair. They just accepted me exactly as I was. It was a profound and emotionally powerful experience and it was wonderful.
So I’ll choose two adjectives for my 16th year since so many things happened – adaptable and accepted.