My sister, 12 years older than I, was in its first graduating class. She was extremely smart, and all the teachers let me know what a wonderful student she had been. Really confidence building for an incoming freshman! My parents planned to send me to college but not her. After all, she was just a girl. They changed their minds when faced with the reality of her brilliance. She was Phi Beta Kappa at Mount Holyoke and earned a physics degree when women just didn’t do that kind of thing.
Scott was a wonderful school with wonderful teachers. Most were unmarried women. Back then teaching was one of the few “acceptable” jobs for single women. I remember being surprised at Mrs. Perine’s prefix.
Miss Greer taught mathematics and I had her for algebra and geometry and maybe more. I was terrified of her. She was tough, could draw perfect circles, and had eyes in the back of her head. She also encouraged my love of mathematics. Eventually I realized she was the best teacher I ever had, and I dedicated one of my books to her.
A coach after my time was Brian Hill who was to go on to lead the Orlando Magic. When I read about his background in the Orlando Sentinel I wrote him describing my connection. He replied with grace and asked if I had known his brother, Fred Hill, who was one year after me. I didn’t know him, but I knew of him. He was a football, basketball, and whatever star. He wound up coaching at Rutgers. There was a beautiful girl I wanted badly to date and finally I wrangled one. Unfortunately, she felt ill and asked to be taken home early. I learned that upon my departure she had a miraculous recovery, becoming well enough to go out with Fred. Neither one of us wound up with her. We were both lucky.
There seemed to be any number of interesting classes available beyond the traditional curriculum. I was in band, pretty standard, but I also took shop (girls took home economics—that’s the way it was back then), mechanical drawing, and printing where I set type. I was on the stage crew which worked backstage on plays and concerts. We had an orchestra in addition to the band. The glee club, along with the orchestra, put on the Messiah every year prior to the Christmas break, a pretty big undertaking for that age level. It created in me a lifelong love of Handel’s opus.
In physics the close-to-retirement teacher stood us in a circle holding hands. He approached with a device having two attached wires. He broke the circle and thrust one wire into one of the freed hands and the second into the other. A jolt passed through the body of everyone in the circle. Our lesson on static electricity! Thank goodness no one had a heart condition. In chemistry, without the blessing of the teacher, I attempted glass blowing. I never became very good, but I also didn’t set the school on fire or incinerate my lungs.
We wrote ALL the time. In history, physics, chemistry, English of course, and who knows what else. I pity the poor teachers who had to decipher our creations. But those requirements, along with my Dad’s help, taught me lessons invaluable in college, my career and my retirement writings.
My thoughts occasionally return to those halcyon high school days when life was simpler. They were happy ones. But then I recall that, while they might have been happy for me, they were decidedly less so for many others. It was long before women were allowed the choices they now have. People of color had it tough, even in the north and certainly in East Orange, New Jersey. I didn’t know what “gay” was at that time, but I do know there was one boy who was “different” and he was mercilessly bullied.
But for me my first 13 years of formal education were wonderful, and I will ever be grateful for the pre-college experience that grounded me in the basics that would serve me well.