Tuesday, October 01, 2013


A few days ago Rick and I had occasion to drive by what used to be the site of a high
school in my hometown. Now it's just piles of dirt.  It wasn't my high school, but my sister Patti's.   She made lifelong friends there, had a lot of fun, and it was a big part of her life.  She's sad, noting that now, all three of the schools she attended have been razed.  No more Palm Avenue Elementary, no more Whittier Junior High, and now, no more Admiral King.

I went to Whittier and Palm Avenue, too, but by the time my brother and I were ready for high school, the city decided we South Side Kids deserved our own high school. Yet, if that school was knocked down tomorrow, I wouldn't think twice about it.  I had a great high school experience there, but to me, it's just a building.  It means nothing to me.  What I remember when I think of high school are the people, and when I do remember them, in many cases I miss them.

Esther was one of my more unusual friends, and not because she was Puerto Rican.  Where I lived, if you didn't have Puerto Rican and Mexican friends, then you simply didn't have very many friends.  Esther's mom spoke very little English, and her dad's English wasn't very good.  Esther had a motorcycle, and she used to ride it over to my house, nine blocks away, to hang out.  It took a ton of begging for me to be able to ride on the back, behind Esther, just to go back to her house. 

Over at Esther's house, I got treated like a celebrity.  Apparently, at one point my father, who was a security guard at US Steel, did her father a favor when he was coming in or leaving by the gate Dad was stationed at.  My dad's badge had only his last name, and Esther's dad unfailingly called me by my last name whenever I was there.  I'd come in and say, "Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Rivera.  Nice to see you!"  Their faces would light up, and a double-barreled barrage of Spanish would follow, interspersed with my last name and "Esther!" in varying degrees of intensity.  A whole menu of dishes and drinks would be translated and offered to me via Esther, her eyes rolling, and I would usually smile and refuse gently. Once in a while, something too good to say no to would appear, and when I'd accept, Mr. and Mrs. Rivera would be thrilled.

Esther's mom had a pet mynah bird named Jose who spoke English and Spanish, but his best trick was impersonating an airplane taking off. It was uncannily accurate.  Mr. Rivera had a pet rooster who was downright vicious.  Until the neighborhood kids got wise, Mr. Rivera used to put a heavy string around the chicken's ankle and then sit on the front step.  He'd call out to passing kids, asking them if they wanted to come and see his rooster.  As soon as the kid would come up the front walk, he'd let the slack out, and this Tasmanian Devil of a chicken would go tearing down the path wildly, squawking and flapping.  Those were the best Sundays of his life, I think.

We'd spend hours sitting on the Rivera garage roof when the cherries on her three trees were ripe.  She'd yell down to her baby brother to hand up her guitar sometimes, and we'd eat cherries, spit the stones at the robins, and then she'd play (and sing) the only two songs she knew on her guitar, Something Stupid and Spanish Eyes.  At one point, I think she started working on getting Strangers in the Night, but I don't remember exactly.  I do remember her mother being really upset about the whole garage roof/cherries thing.  She was sure that I would either fall or get sick.  She didn't seem too worried about Esther.

Senior year, one of the best-looking boys in school started paying a lot of attention to Esther.  A bunch of us were, unfortunately, surprised.  We always knew her as a tomboyish, quirky, brainy friend.  If we had paid any attention at all, we'd have seen what he had been seeing:  cute figure (stacked even), big dark eyes, long eyelashes, great smile, smart, effortless confidence and fun.  They started going together, but it didn't change a thing.  She was still just herself. 

Esther once made a Time Capsule during a slumber party.  Our friend Patty ended up with it.  I talked to her a few years ago and she mentioned it.  I think it was in a Tic Tacs container, or maybe even a Sucrets tin.  I don't remember.  Does it matter? 

I doubt it.  But again, I don't care about the container.  We had lots of slumber parties, each one more fun than the last.  And I have the memories of them still, even though Esther, Patty, Lana, and I have all moved away from our hometown and each other, and whether they knock down our school or not.

post header image from www.slate.com


  1. Anonymous12:54 AM

    Oh, the memories from high school! One of the ones that came up in conversation a few weeks ago was the time that I decided to get my hair cut into a mohawk for picture day. I remember just before heading down to get my picture taken, you happened to come into my English class (it was 11th grade), and when you saw my hair, you told me to wait just one minute. You went back to your room and came back with styling gel, so that my hair would stand up more.

    After school, I got the mohawk cut off, so my parents never saw it; they had just assumed I got a haircut after school. So when the pictures came a few weeks later, my father was mortified. He eventually got over it, though, and laughs at the photo whenever he comes across it.

    Those were fun times :-)

  2. I attended 3 different high schools on 2 continents, and I couldn't agree more with you about the 'container' - I'm not sure I would even recognize the school where I graduated (I attended only my senior year.)I'm fortunate enough to still be in touch with a few of the people who were so important back then, and it's wonderful to have someone to share those memories with.

  3. LOL at Mikey's story. There is NO WAY I would have had the nerve to do that. Or the means - I rode the bus all four years of high school.

    My high school is still there - but has been expanded a LOT since I attended. But my elementary school was torn down. I admit I was kind of sad to see it go - but since I don't live there anymore I really couldn't fault them for it. The drug store that replaced it is a lot more useful to the folks around there :)

    I didn't have a lot of friends in high school - mostly my own fault. Friends interfered with stuff that *I* wanted to do (which was mainly to read & be left alone - ha!).

  4. Bug--I always found time to read. "Back in the day", there was no computer access, no cell phones, no social media, etc. Usually when school was over, I had a lot of free time, once my homework and few chores were done. My mother still comments at how my "nose was always in a book."

    Ms. Caroline--I'm barely in touch with anyone from high school, unfortunately, even dear Esther. As I've so often said, I am a Mover-Oner. Esther and I used to exchange Christmas cards for a time. She moved out to the PacNW, I think, and had two sons after her marriage. We've lost touch. It's okay, though. I like to believe that people move in and out of your life for a time and a purpose. She was a definite bright spot.

    Your experience is exactly what I'm talking about. Like me, you have collected people and memories. So much more tangible, in an odd way, than a building.

    Mikey--I thought that happened in your senior year, since pix then were mainly for IDs. But you would know better than I would. I'm just glad I could help. LOL.

  5. Hi Nance,

    First I want to thank you sincerely for all the support and kindness you have shown me since the passing of my husband, Roy. I appreciated your thoughtfulness.

    Now I want to tell you about my Puerto Rican former Daughter in Law.

    My oldest son enjoys being married.
    He enjoys it so much, in fact, that he is now courting his fourth wife. Wife number three was a fun loving, beautiful spit-fire from San Juan. She was so much fun but I don't miss her because I don't have to. I still see her and talk to her all the time. I'm not the one who divorced her.

    The first Christmas they were married was a real eye opener for our entire family. All of our lives we had celebrated Christmas by gathering in our home and singing "O,Come All Ye Faithful" and reading "A Christmas Carol."
    Charles Dickens would have been proud of us as we cooked our goose and helped Tiny Tim with his crutches.

    So, the first time that we celebrated the holiday at Chris and Elba's house was a shocker. First of all, nobody had decked the halls with boughs of holly.To tell the truth,the place looked like the set of West Side Story, with about 30 of Elba's relatives walking around in their skintight Tommy Hilfiger pants and high heeled shoes. And that was the BOYS!

    The voice of Jose Feliciano filled the room singing Feliz Navidad and
    Light My Fire..

    All of my white bread relatives came upon this scene and it's a good thing I remembered the smelling salts for Great Aunt Martha. She were shocked and silent;for about ten minutes.Then Elba gave her eight sisters the signal to start serving the delicious food they had prepared
    and by the time we sat down together and had eaten every bite of it we were all friends, and the real party began.

    Chris put on all of his Latino music and everybody danced and drank Margaritas and it was one of the best Christmases any of us had ever had.

    I thought we were going to have to call the State Police to take Great Aunt Martha home,but Elba's cousin Baldo did the honors.

    One serious note: Elba's Mother did not speak one word of English and we could only nod and smile at each other all day. I asked one of Elba's sisters to tell her Mother that I was sorry that I did not speak Spanish so we could have talked together. When the sister told her Mother what I had said she began to cry. I was puzzled and asked why she was crying and the sister told me that Mom had said that I was the first person who hadn't said " Too bad you don't speak English so we could have talked."

    So, we gave each other a big hug instead of talking.

    I must say, I really miss those Puerto Rican Christmases.....

  6. Such a lovely vignette about your high school friend. Interesting that you describe her as "tomboyish, quirky and brainy." That goes against the stereotype of «latina girls» who have more of a rep for being flirtatious and superficial. I know from teaching tons of heritage speakers of Spanish that this is certainly not true, but it helps to have testimonials to the fact that every ethnic group has the same variables as any other ethnic group, in spite of cultural influences which can be very strong.

    @Nancy: Thank you for sharing your personal experience with Elba and how this gave you a whole new perspective with how to celebrate Christmas (and other holidays!). Your account was so enjoyable, and so very, very true. I did not have any appreciation for how "latinos" celebrated holidays until I went to Spain to live, and it was such an eye-opener to see that, in addition to such things as going caroling from door to door or attending midnight mass, that you could also be dancing in the streets (literally, and so much fun)! I think the take-away message is that the whole point of getting together to celebrate a holiday is to share the joy, whether it is singing hymns or dancing to salsa! It's a pity you do not speak Spanish, but no one can blame you for that, and how wonderful that at least Elba's grandmother knew that you paid her such respect. :-)

  7. Ortizzle--After I read your comment, I started thinking about all of my latina friends, and honestly, not one fit the stereotype you described. Maybe it was because of the very blue-collar town we lived in, or maybe it was because there were so many other cultural groups as well: Slovak, Polish, Slav, Hungarian, etc. I don't know, but I don't remember very many of the Latinas even wearing much makeup and being boy-crazy.

    Nancy--No need to thank me for being a friend. Ever.

    I have a similar situation in my family. My brother's ex (one of them!) is Mexican. They have two daughters, so there are often gatherings of both sides of the family. I certainly don't waste my time with the pedestrian food like pasta salad and baked beans. I can make a whole meal on Mexican rice and beans. And somewhere on YouTube is a video of two old ladies dancing on a tabletop in Mexico while on vacation there a week or so ago. I don't have much use for the ex, but the rest of the family is a hoot!

  8. Your memories for some reason reminded me of a friend I had in 5th grade. We moved a lot when I was a kid, and we only lived in that town for 1 year. I don't even remember her name. But her family was from Yugoslavia, and her parents didn't speak any English. Her house always smelled amazing, like some kind of yeasty bread that her mom used to make, which I always accepted when offered, because it was delicious. We used to ride our bikes up and down the street, pretending that we were on horses in a horse race. Those were good times, in a mainly unhappy year for my family.

    We had a parrot for awhile named Grandma (it was a male, but the name was already there when we got it), and it used to imitate the fighting/play sounds that our two kittens used to make hissing and spitting their way around the house.

    The Bug mentioned liking to read a lot. I remember lying to my friends, telling them I was grounded, so I could stay inside and read. Not all of the time, obviously, but if I were in the middle of a really good book and didn't want to let it go, or if I wanted to finish it before the bookmobile came around, so I could return it....gosh, anyone remember the bookmobile?

  9. j@jj--I always loved to read as well, but we lived very close to a teeny branch of the library. It was nothing more than a storefront, but the librarian was wonderful. She always let me take out way more books than the legal limit. There is a bookmobile here in my town. Kids adore it. Me, not so much. It parks on a side street that I use, and it gums up the whole works. LOL.

    Lots of Yugoslavs and Russians made the sweet bread paska. Very eggy and wonderful. If it wasn't that, it was probably just that family's daily bread. All homemade bread is fantastic, imo. Yeast bread smells particularly wonderful. I really need to start making some.

    BTW--a bird named Grandma, regardless of its sex, is terrific.

  10. I am one of the apparently freakish people who look back on high school mostly with affection and nostalgia.

    The high school I attended is now a thousand times nicer than when I was going. I am jealous.

    As for Latinos/native Spanish speakers- it is difficult to grow up here in Southern California and not have any friends of Latino heritage. My best friend in elementary school was actually born in Argentina. In my Catholic elementary school, non-Latino students were completely outnumbered and were the minority.

    I had a large group of friends who spoke Spanish and credit them with teaching me all of the cuss words in Spanish that I know to this day. Of course I know more Spanish than just those, but those come in handy a lot more often.

  11. Gina--Oh, I don't think it freakish at all. Most people I know look back on their HS days with a great deal of affection and satisfaction, me included.

    Learning the swear words in a foreign language is always the top priority. I took 8 years of French, and I think we never stopped asking about swear words--real swear words, not just "Mon Dieu" and junk like that. I got the best Spanish swear words not only from Esther, but also from my friend Minnie Ravioli. Her real name was Minerva Reyes, but once I give a nickname, that's it. LOL.

    Thanks for stopping by! It's always great to see you here.

  12. One of the best parties of my life was getting together with four of my highschool friends for a few days, a few years ago. After almost forty years, we still conected.

  13. Mary G--How lovely to see you here once again! I hope the weather up in Ontario stays nice; we're going up again soon.

    My 83-year old mother just went to her high school reunion a few weeks ago. She had a great time. She was amazed at how many folks were there, and at how they all still talked about fun times in school. They all have other things to talk about too, but sooner or later, it all led back to something from the Old Days.

    There is a lot to be said for shared history, I think.

  14. Nance, I haven't visited your blog (or anyone's) lately because I was busy helping with my (gulp!) 50th HS reunion. So this post caught my eye.

    I enjoyed your trip down Memory Lane, probably because I spent the last 6 months thinking about my HS days.

    I volunteered to set up a private blog for my class which I worked on for months and continue to work on even after the reunion. Besides our entire yearbook, I posted photos that hadn't made it into the yearbook, articles from the school newspaper, programs from plays, concerts, football games, commencement, and more. (Yes, some people saved all of that.) I also created a page for each classmate.

    The best part of my role in this was that it brought back memories of people, things, and events I had forgotten. As I ran across names, I realized that I had at least one vivid memory of each person I knew. I loved learning what paths each classmate had taken. Some were predictable, but there were some surprises, too. One was that so many of my classmates who had not headed to college after HS graduation, ended up earning at least one college degree. And then there was the realization that about 15% of our classmates were gone.

    I've never been big on reunions, but I went and had a great time. My only regret was that I didn't have at least an hour to sit and talk to each and every attendee.

    Someone once said that whoever you are in high school, you will be as an adult, only more-so.

    There were lots of gray and white heads ---except for the guys who had lost their hair --- and most of us now wear thick glasses and some of us are twice the size we were in HS and a few walk with obvious aches and pains, yet, the years melted away revealing the same people we were 50 years ago, only older. What fun!

  15. CJ--Bless your heart. Good for you. My mom just went to her 65th class reunion and kept marveling over how many people were there. I've yet to go to a single reunion (not my thing), but it's coming up on 37 years now. How can that be?

    I thought really hard about "whoever you were in high school, you'll be as an adult, only moreso." I can't decide if that is true or not. I guess I'll have to think some more!

    It's so nice to see you back here. I hope you make it a regular stop.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...