Small Town is Relative

Actual Pep Club T-Shirt! At a ballgame!

Actual Pep Club T-Shirt! At a ballgame!

Recently, a friend shared with me a blog post called 10 Ridiculous Things that Happen at Small Town High Schools. I read it, and while there were several things that resonated, in other cases, I thought, “that’s not a small town, that’s a big town!” I graduated with 14 other students (and one exchange student), and ours was not the smallest class in the region. I had a friend who was one of five graduating that year. To be clear, that wasn’t just the number of kids graduating, and the hundred or so who didn’t graduate aren’t included – that was the number of kids who spent senior year with their peers. The number who actually had a signed diploma, we weren’t informed.

So, here I give you the points made on the blog post, and my responses.

1. You graduate with the exact same people you met on the first day of kindergarten. Small towns tend to be insular places, which means–at the risk of sounding dramatic–few new people come in, and no one ever leaves. Your class roster doesn’t change much in 12 years (which is why the arrival of a “new kid” is such a momentous event), and it’s not uncommon to go to prom with the kid who barfed on you in second grade.

This is more-or-less true. Early in senior year, the yearbook staff takes a photo called “13 years together.” This, obviously, is of the kids who started at school in kindergarten, and were still there. Committed parents, obvs. In my case, we had to take a test before kindergarten, and if we already knew our ABCs and how to count to 10, we were out. The kindergarten at my school was paid for by a grant which was more-or-less ESL – it was intended to teach migrant children things they’d need to know to succeed in America. So, my mom and another mom took turns driving me and two boys to a private kindergarten in a nearby town. Technically, I graduated with two people I went to kindergarten with. If you go by first grade, there were a number of people who moved in, then moved out over the years, but there was one core group of students, until some crazy gold rush in Colorado, which stole half of the boys in my class, since their parents decided to move and try to take advantage. We finished with five boys and 11 girls; one of whom was an exchange student. And we rocked. Image

2. Half the people in your class have the same last name. And at least three-quarters of the class are cousins. In fact, the yearbook might be more accurately titled “the family tree.”

Nope. None of us had the same last name, and none of us was related. We were the in-between class, because the one before us and the one after us totally fit that description. We, however, were beyond your incestuous accusations. Beginning the year after I graduated, and for several years thereafter, when I called the school and said, “Hi, Aunt Irma, can I talk to Mom?” – that’s pretty irrelevant. We were talking about the graduating class, not the staff.

3. The FFA wields an impressive amount of power and popularity. Whether or not your family actually lived anywhere near a farm, it was a smart move to join the Future Farmers of America.yearbook2

Yeah. The FFA. I think I was a senior when they started letting girls in, and those girls ruled the world. The boys, though? Meh. The person who wrote this post is likely at least five years younger than I am.

4. Eighth grade promotion is as lavish as many college graduations. I will never forget the time my friend Laila and I were discussing the details of our 8th grade promotion dresses and hairstyles in front of our friend Lydia, who went to a big school in the city. “What is 8th grade promotion?” she asked, and we were both stunned. “It’s when you graduate from middle school and you buy an expensive gown and get your hair done and walk down the aisle and get a diploma,” we explained. Lydia was totally perplexed. “Who cares about 8th grade?” she asked. People in small towns, that’s who. I got rid of my college graduation gown, but you betcha my promotion dress is still hanging in my closet.

There was no 8th grade promotion ceremony (for me, or for my daughter, at the same school, 22 years later). We had a “dance,” which was one of three middle school dances, where the chips and cookies were not plentiful, and chairs were set up on the west side of the cafeteria for the girls, and the east side for the boys. Never the twain shall meet.

Image5. “The woods” is a perfectly normal location for a party. Want to get drunk and shoot guns and make out? So does everyone else! Meet us in the forest half a mile off the highway–take a left at the big rock.

The woods. That’s cute. How about the rattlesnake-infested, desert hills. I assume that’s where the parties were held. I wasn’t invited. If they were in the woods, I doubt kids would have made it back for school the next day, since it took us about three hours to get to anything remotely like “woods.”

6. Line dancing is part of the Physical Education curriculum. Forget yoga and archery, when it’s time for PE, you put on your crusty uniform and line up in the gym to do the grapevine to the “Watermelon Crawl.” And trust me: when you’re 26 and go on a road trip and find yourself in a rural dive bar with a juke box, these skills will come in handy.

Line dancing, no. Square dancing, yes. Also, there’s a story in there about how I put my head through the windshield of a VW Beetle during a square dancing class, but this may not be the time and/or place. Plus, what’s the “Watermelon Crawl?”

7. Getting stuck behind a tractor is a perfectly good excuse for being tardy. Driving a tractor to school is an even better excuse (“I tried to get here in time for the test, but my combine tops out at 26 MPH.”)

Completely true. Also, if you have a gun in your truck (for hunting after school), please park in the church parking lot across the street, because guns aren’t allowed on campus. The “stuck behind a tractor” excuse also works if you’re late for work, as does, “got behind a school bus.”yearbook

8. The football coach is also your history teacher and the librarian is also the lunch lady. Teachers at small schools have to wear many hats. Some of those hats are not necessarily supposed to be worn simultaneously, but whatever.

True. Also, you’re probably related to one or both (hi, Mom!) But, when you go to another school, the history teacher and lunch lady will be the softball umpires. Their experience at softball is, well, they’ve heard of it.

9. If you have older siblings, your reputations begins wherever theirs left off. Here’s how it works: on the first day of class, the teacher is doing roll call and they get to your last name and pause. They look up and say, “Any relation to (older sibling’s name)?,” you say yes, and then the teacher will either inform you that your sibling is a perfect human specimen you can never live up to, or sigh dramatically and mutter, “Oh good, another one.” Upperclassmen will also make sure you inherit any of your sibling’s nicknames.

Ugh. This should read “siblings or cousins.” In 8th grade, I had a teacher who called me “Reg-Kath-Jul-Angie.” Unfortunately, Reg and Kath were valedictorians. Fortunately, Jul was a huge troublemaker, so I seemed like an innocent bystander in comparison (hey, Julie!). Also, the teacher doesn’t pause to ask if you’re related. S/he knows exactly who you are and who you’re related to. I like to think my awesomeness worked in my younger brothers’ behalf. The nickname thing? Also works on teachers. One teacher, faced with her fifth Sillonis, called my sister (one year older) “Sillonis,” and me, “Little Sillonis.” Others were more creative. Salamihead comes to mind.

10. Senior pranks often involve farm animals and/or manure. Both are so plentiful, it just makes good sense to utilize them, you know?

No such thing as a senior prank, or a senior skip day. Things went bad a few years ago, so anyone who participates in such things gets to spend the week after graduation sitting in a classroom. And really, those things are so common. Do you have no imagination? Regular, non-senior pranks have to be far more creative than that. What are we, FFA members?

Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember

I don’t often participate in the writing challenges, but this week’s looked like fun.

Freestyle memory. Write I remember at the top of your post, hit start on the timer, and write about the first memory that comes to mind. Ten minutes. Don’t stop.

Of course, I ran out of time – I still had a few things I wanted to add, but them’s the rules, so this is what we’ve got. I went through it once for typos, but other than that, it’s 10 minutes worth of freestyle writing. Should I apologize now, or once you’re done reading?

I remember …

It was a Thursday night in March, and our family’s watching of the yearly basketball tournament was put on hold in favor of a trip to the hospital. We arrived, my mother and I, and discussed what was happening with the nurses.

Two days old, four generations.

Two days old, four generations.

They didn’t seem convinced that we needed to be there. A nurse phoned my doctor, who was at a black-tie dinner.

“Put her on a monitor,” the doctor instructed. He didn’t believe me, either. The contractions were five minutes apart by then, and lasting almost two minutes apiece. I was pretty sure I’d come to the right place, but because the labor pains were all in my back, and not in my abdomen, nobody believed me. After a couple hours of rubbing my back to help ease the pain, my mother believed me.

One week old.

One week old.

The maternity unit was full that night, so I had to share a room with another laboring mother. She must have been on some good drugs, because she slept, snoring loudly, the entire time we were together. Upon settling, I asked my mother to turn on the room’s TV so we could watch the game.

UNLV vs. Arizona in the Sweet 16. Tark the Shark vs. Lute Olsen. I was not missing this. Soon, a nurse came in and checked the monitor. “You’re in labor!” she announces. No kidding. Thanks for the update. She then walked to the TV, announced,

“You don’t want to watch this!” and changed it to some nature show. I waited until she left, then looked meaningfully at my mother. Mom walked to the TV and changed it back to the game. Soon, my aunt came in. She decided she needed to be

Happy baby.

Happy baby.

with us every step of the way, including the delivery. I didn’t want to be Momzilla, so I remained calm and figured one more family member in the room would only make the event more joyful. Then my aunt thought she’d help me out by slapping a wet washcloth on my forehead. Again, a meaningful look to my mom, and she immediately and gracefully removed the washcloth. Ah, the nurse is back. No, really, we do want to watch … OK, Mom? And she waits till the nurse leaves and puts the game back on the TV where it belongs.

Eventually, we move on to the delivery room, a surgical suite, with windows on the doors. My delivery nurse is a woman who grew up a few miles from me. Her father was my elementary school principal and her mother was my first 4-H leader. The doctor is the same man who delivered me and my siblings. Peeking through the window is another nurse, who I knew from 4-H. In time, a bouncing, 7 pound 6 ounce girl was born, and there was much rejoicing. Took a bit to get her to cry, and I was worried, but the doctor assured me she was

Merry Christmas! Age 21 months.

Merry Christmas! Age 21 months.

perfect. My mom took pictures of each of us with the baby, and my aunt took pictures of my mom with the baby.

We went to my new room (without a snoring roomie), and my mom and aunt went home to get some sleep. It was 4 a.m. Around 10, Mom came back, this time with my dad and brothers. Flowers arrived. More pictures are taken. Teenage uncles with their new niece. Grandpa holding his first grandchild. It wasn’t until two days later my mom realized there was no film in the camera.

Murder Mystery: Part II

(If you missed yesterday’s Murder Mystery: Part I, and if you care to read it, it’s here.)

It was a pleasant, cloudy (mosquito-infested) Tuesday evening. Hubby and I decided to wait on dinner and head out on our walk. We went east, toward the Atlantic, and as is our way, stopped seemingly every few feet to take a photo or inspect something to see if it would make a good photo. We started strong, waving at a couple neighbors, finding some interesting detritus on the street, killing a couple mosquitoes.

Grrrrr. Git off my lawn or I will bite you!

Grrrrr. Git off my lawn or I will bite you!

And then.

I saw it. The coolest bug I have ever seen. Hubby wandered off to look at some dinner-plate-sized dahlias, while I chased this bug around the leaves of a pumpkin plant.

And then.

“What are you taking pictures of?” I kept chasing the bug, and let Hubby deal with the woman, who insisted that he needed to see the flower garden around the back of the house – “it’s my cousin’s house, it’s OK!” and proceeded to give him the grand tour. They came back around to where I was, at which point, she insisted we must AT ONCE admire her Rose of Sharon. So, she took us across the street to see an unspectacular Rose of Sharon, with a few pretty blooms. There was also a bee working on the blooms, so I chased him around for a bit. The lady was still talking.blog5

At some point, she got to the “where do you live?” question, so Hubby told her the name of our street. She repeated it, and then brightened. “Sally Smith* lives on that street! Sally was admitted to the hospital Sunday! She fell and broke her hip!” This is information we already had. “Sally” is our next-door neighbor. Side note: the diesel engines and air brakes of a fire engine are particularly loud when they’re in your driveway on a very early Sunday morning.

And then.

Her face brightens with a new thought. “Your street is famous for that murder!” I reply that we haven’t lived there long, so we don’t know the story of the murder. Her face now looks alarmed. She grabs her dog and high-tails it toward her front door. “But you didn’t tell us about the murder!” I say. She yells back: “Google it!” and slams the door.

The fabulous Rose of Sharon. I think bright red blood dripping off the petals would really set the mood here.

The fabulous Rose of Sharon. I think bright red blood dripping off the petals would really set the mood here.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that the murderers were never caught, and she thinks we’re them. Likely eyeing her dog as our next victim.

* Sally is not the person’s real name. One of us isn’t planning to violate HIPAA today.

** I Googled it!

Murder Mystery: Part I

Whenever possible, Hubby and I like to take walks in the evening. We grab cameras, toss in a few extra lenses and start wandering around the neighborhood. Because we are strangers to most of these people, our presence has caused wide and varied reactions. Most people start with “what are you taking pictures of?” and go from there, others call the police, and in one case, Hubby was chased off the sidewalk in front of a very angry man’s house.

This is us. We are obviously a very scary pair.

This is us. We are obviously a very scary pair.

We’re careful not to trespass on private property, confining our photography to sidewalks, parks and streets, and we try not to aim directly at houses or make it appear as though we’re looking in windows (though on occasion, if we see cool architecture or something, we might actually BE shooting the pic through your window – typically using the window as a frame. I promise – we are not trying to see your wife naked, nor are we casing the joint for valuables).

We’ve been walking the neighborhood long enough that we have a few regulars – people who tell us something they’ve seen that they think we might be interested in, or, more likely, who just wave and say hi (and then there’s the woman who brought a dead butterfly to our house, because she’d seen me shooting it the day before). Some folks, when finding out what we’re doing, invite us onto their lawn for a closer look. Some give us history lessons, and tell us where they acquired their flowers/trees/etc. One couple even invited us inside the house they were remodeling, offering to let us shoot off their deck (sadly, it was the wrong angle, and we didn’t get the images we’d hoped for).

I swear, officer! We're not taking pictures of the homeowner's teenage daughter!

I swear, officer! We’re not taking pictures of the homeowner’s teenage daughter!

We’ll never know what inspired the people who called the police, which has happened twice, to our knowledge. The first time, the officer stopped, rolled down his window, and asked what we were taking pictures of. We chatted for a bit – he had looked to purchase a house two doors down from ours, so he knew the neighborhood, and was assured that we were not engaging in any criminal activity (in broad daylight on a public street). The second time, the officer seemed to be stalking us. Following us from street to street. At one point, Hubby stepped off the sidewalk onto a driveway to get a closer look at something he wanted to photograph, and I made him get back on the sidewalk, because I didn’t want to give the officer any excuse (I also, in the guise of photographing Hubby making an image, took a photo of the black SUV that was stalking us). (Note to Quincy Police: a black SUV with tinted windows and a PALE BLUE “POLICE” LICENSE PLATE: maybe not the best “unmarked” car you could have).

Did you know this tree was one of several that were gifted to the City of Quincy from its Japanese sister city? It was a gift to the homeowner from the mayor. The things you learn by walking around the 'hood.

Did you know this tree was one of several that were gifted to the City of Quincy from its Japanese sister city? It was a gift to the homeowner from the mayor. The things you learn by walking around the ‘hood.

All that information just to set the mood for what happened last night. Stay tuned.

(to be continued …)

RIP, Blue Bug

We had a good run. It seems like just yesterday that I drove you home from the dealership, all shiny and new, then to my former workplace, so I could rub it in my former co-workers’ faces that I now had a job that allowed me to buy pretty things (it’s not my fault – they could leave, too, if they wanted to!). Image

We taught two teenagers to drive (only one of whom actually tried to kill us all), spent a year with a 6-foot German girl folded into the back seat, and you cradled my grandmother while I drove her to the ER after she fell and hit her head.

And now, the guy at the repair shop has the nerve to say repairs will cost more than $2,000 and that you’re “not worth it.” Has he met you?

You patiently and without complaint allowed me to afix flowery brake light covers and magnetic flowers and peace signs to you (I didn’t know it would make you look like a Barbie car, I swear!); you seemed to enjoy it when softball players piled in, tossed their bags in the back, and asked you to take them all over the Northwest for tournaments. Image

You drove me to the urgent care while I sat in the driver’s seat, bent over in pain from kidney stones, and even went willingly to college with my daughter, when I needed to use her automatic transmission car, after I tore my Achilles and couldn’t use a clutch.

We’ve been together for 14 years, through thick and thin, happy and sad times, but it’s time to say good-bye, my friend. Because while I disagree with the mechanic’s assessment that you’re “not worth it,” my checkbook is squarely on his side. It’s nothing personal, but it’s time.