Sunday, August 18, 2013

Harvard Classics, Jr. Classics, School Annuals--A Journey Through My Wonder Years

Today, my plans were to clear off a bookshelf upstairs that was full of old books. As I set about my task, a dusty one that reaffirmed that I have never been a domestic goddess, I carefully took down my "Harvard Classics." This was a set of books that my parents bought us kids years ago so that we would be up on English and American classic literature, poetry, Shakespeare, you name it.

I have to say, and I do this in a non bragging way, that I have read just about everything in those books back in my childhood and teen years. It was and still is good stuff....interesting literature written by the Masters. Beowulf is one of my favorite stories. It's supposedly the oldest epic poem, but it's like all the types of stories I like to read. It's about good versus evil, and it has a big bad monster in it. I love most Shakespeare. Truth be told, I love to read. It was instilled in us (my sister, brother, and me) from the time we were very young. Being an Air Force family, we traveled a lot. In every place we traveled, my mother found the library and took us there. I loved the library in New York City. It had that distinct smell of books along with wood and oil soap. If I close my eyes, I can smell it now.

But I digress. I took the books off the shelf, dusted them one at a time and put them in a box. We didn't need those old books. I took the Jr. Classics off the shelf, dusted them and put them in the box with the Harvard Classics. No one had opened any of those books in years. My children are all grown. They read them back in the day, but then technology came along and much more complex research could be found on the internet After I boxed those books, I went toward some larger books and discovered school annuals, my annuals. Much to my delight, I found an annual from Waller Elementary School in Bossier City, Louisiana. It was from 1956 and I was in the 3rd grade. I had forgotten I even owned that book.

Without so much as a thought to continuing the task of cleaning that shelf, I gathered up all my annuals and carried them downstairs to go through them. The next hour and a half brought giggle inducing reminiscences of a childhood now long gone.  I smiled when I saw the faces of Carol and Nancy Wilson, twins who were my best friends at Waller. I saw Denise Caruzzi and thought about how much I wanted cute little sandals like hers, but I had to wear corrective high top ugly brown shoes because I was pigeon toed.

 I opened the pages of an annual dated 1960, and, at first, had no idea what school it was. Lo and behold, it was from Salina Jr. High School in Salina, Kansas. My family was stationed at Schilling Air Force Base, and I loved it there. My best friend was Marga Lee and we had just the most fun times together. This annual was from my 7th grade and there I was smiling at the end of row two in my black corduroy jumper with a white blouse and a black velvet ribbon tied at my throat. I can remember that outfit like it was yesterday. I also had a gray full skirt with a pink poodle on it. Boy, did I love that skirt.

I remember my math teacher was Mrs. Morrison, and almost every Friday, she and I would have a multiplication speed contest at the board. Now, I have to admit to being able to multiply really quickly. I beat her a few times when we had these really long problems on the board. The kids in the room would just go nuts. Thinking back, I wonder if she let me win. She was that kind of teacher..all knowing and just great.

I didn't have anything from the 8th grade at Smithwood Elementary in Knoxville, Tennessee. My daddy had retired from the Air Force at 37 years old for some reason. I think it had something to do with his girls and Airmen and the Vietnam War. Anyway, I went from a junior high to an elementary school, and it was a culture shock for me. Just about all the kids grew up together and no one had been out of the United States...a lot not even out of the state. I was pretty miserable that year, not because the kids weren't nice. They were. I just missed talking with kids who had traveled like me. I survived with the help of books. I immersed myself in Trixie Belden books. The Bobbsey Twin sagas were too young for me by then. Funny thing is, I never got into Nancy Drew books, but I liked "The Hardy Boys" anything.

I went through my Holston High School annuals one by one. The first day I met three girls who would become my friends all through high school...Hilda, Gwen, and Marlene. I scoured those annuals for pictures of us and noticed what a gawdawful picture my junior year was. When I was 15, I read "Gone With the Wind" in three days straight. I don't think I slept much. Mama fretted about me staying up, but she mostly left me alone.  It was a glorious experience. I also read "1984" by George Orwell and it changed my way of thinking. I read the book in 1962 so 1984 was still pretty far away, but I thought about it.

I went on to my college annuals from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee. It was a Baptist college and had some pretty strict rules when I first got there, rules I wasn't used to. I thought many of them were silly like not letting women wear pants except hidden under a raincoat or not allowing women to be out later than guys and that sort of thing. I was a women's libber way before there were women's libbers, but I had a ball at that college. I didn't let rules define me. I was a drama person, so I was going to hell in a hand basket anyway. I loved my drama teacher, John Lee Weldon, and I still follow his guidance to this day when I'm in the local productions at our little theater. The rules changed by my junior year anyway.

It brought back so many memories to see some of my best friends in college. My roommate, Cheryl Bostic, and I were two of a kind. We were best buddies and still keep in touch. I also keep in touch with Jo Glover Donahoo. The summer I graduated Jo, Sandy French, Bryn Weirman and I were members of the Glover Girls. We didn't do much of anything, but our theme song was "Sweet Caroline" for some reason.

It was at Carson-Newman that my short story professor, Dr. Pettigrew, told me that I would be a writer some day. To a college junior who loved to write more than anything, those were sweet words I have never forgotten. He asked me to read my short story to the class for my final. I had balled it up in my pocket thinking it was not worthy, but on hand just in case. I remember as I struggled to read the wadded up paper that he had a grin on his face and a sparkle in his eyes. What a dear man he was.

It was a journey for me...going through those annuals. Those books told a lot about my life...who my friends were, what I did, what people thought of me with their autographs and paragraphs within the pages. I evidently was a "sweet girl with a great personality." I had to snicker when some guy said something about my Irish temper and flashing Irish eyes. Lordy, that was a long time ago in a different world.

I didn't get the rest of the book shelf cleaned off. I decided to dust that shelf and replace the books I put in a box. Those books are old and worn, but no longer dusty. I think I had great parents to get us books that meant something...that were/are timeless. I may just have to start with the first Harvard classic and read the whole set again. Or I may just take comfort in the fact that those old books, books from my growing up years, my wonder years, are still with me, settled on a comfortable shelf stay.


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I am in the "cleaning out the old" phase of my life. However, nO way could I throw away my memories even though I have not looked at them for years. I will leave that task to my children who have also left their memories in boxes in my basement.

You must have had a wonderful time that day recalling the times and people of your life.

gg said...

Enjoyed this. Didn't know you were a CN grad.

Coleen Brooks said...

Yep. Loved it there even though I didn't follow all the rules. :-)