Monday, May 05, 2014

The EHHS Social Order – 9.0 – Preliminaries

Ninth grade at Meadowbrook was both an interesting and confusing year.  We were at the top of the Junior High School food chain and considerably larger than all the other kids in the halls.  Our 7th and 8th grade years took us from kid games to boy/girl stuff to increasing competition for recognition in an expanding student population.

Before looking into our 9th grade social world to any extent, it’s probably a good idea to make this a kind of “round-up” article to clear the deck for the real 9th grade social piece…the next one.  I’m convinced that much of our collective experience and subsequent EH social sorting started about this time.  If you were a late comer to EH or from Handley, you probably missed this setup.

Lunch.  There was a little time in the mornings before classes for socializing with friends but, the real socializing during school days was done at the school lunch tables.  The tables seated about 8 comfortably and could accommodate a few more if the conversation was interesting.  While there was no formal admission requirements for a spot at any of the tables, there was a habitual herding of the same friends each day that tended to either include or exclude occasional interlopers depending on whether or not the interloper had achieved some degree of acceptance.  Acceptance was a complicated formula consisting of, in no particular order, humor, intelligence, athleticism, and personality...and maybe a few other traits that escape me now. 

While I have no particular memory of who my table mates were, they were most likely the same group I've mentioned several times earlier....McCoy, Guthrie, Tate, Means, Dillard, Koebernick, Shields, Scott, Hoffman, Brandon, McCook, Rigby, Grizzard, Dickerson, Cox, and maybe a few others.  Girls were the most frequent topic of conversation at those tables and I have a fairly clear recollection of hearing the very first description of a girl I would later fall for at EH.  Most of those guys had known her since the elementary grades at Meadowbrook but, she apparently had only recently grown up and attracted their attention in a big way.  They were in awe of her, and I must admit she was a lovely girl.  But, as a jaded kid from Richland, I had seen other lovely girls by then and was intently focused on our cheerleaders...and, she wasn't a cheerleader thus, not the coolest available at the time.

Parents.  As I’ve mentioned before, our parents were about an equal combination of wartime marriages and those formed a few years before the war.  Whether they went off to war or stayed home and were employed in home-front support industries such as the “bomber plant – Convair” or railroads, they all shared two significant experiences…their Depression-era childhoods and WWII.  

We substantially benefited from their shared experience.  But we were also influenced by their post-war ambitions, their successes, and failures.  When we were in the 9th grade their ages ranged from about 35-45 just as they were starting to hit their adult stride.  And those who were doing well provided their offspring with some advantages.

Neighborhoods.  Although the different neighborhoods didn’t play much of a role in our childhood world during these 8th and 9th grade years (1958-60), there were some discriminatory opinions held by some of our parents.  Those notions were generally held on the basis of house size and location.  For instance, west of Oakland was considered smaller and older, thus not the area held in high regard by our ambitious parents nor of much interest to those newly arriving to the area in the 1950s.  To my knowledge, most of the houses west of Oakland were pre-WWII.

Several of our former classmates told of there being a somewhat subtle discrimination between the Meadowbrook neighborhoods.  From what I can determine preferences were not any more than a fairly standard assumption of pecking orders of new vs. old and large vs. small houses and neighborhoods.

There was an area of larger homes (2000'+) built around Oakland Park in the early 1950s, near the W.B.A.P. TV station.  The station went in about 1948 and probably drew some of our parents there to work.  For the purposes of this discussion, "larger" means 3-2-2 or 3-1-1, homes and those around Oakland Park were probably the first of their size built in the area to any significant extent.  Smaller, larger homes (~1600') were built just to the east of Meadowbrook Junior High School about this same time.  So, the social center of the early fifties was in those areas.  By the time we got into 9th grade and started to take notice of such things, the social center of the Meadowbrook area had shifted east along Meadowbrook Drive as those areas toward the new EHHS developed during the mid to late 1950s.

Motor Scooters.  I don’t recall seeing these scooters at Richland in 7th grade but, they were thick at Meadowbrook Junior High by the time I got there in the 8th.  They may have been a Poly staple…I don’t know.  To my young eyes these were wondrous little machines that offered a huge improvement to our 13-15 year old mobility and instantly relegated our trusty bicycles to the back of the garage…totally “uncool”.  In spite of vigorous lobbying on my part, Dad wouldn’t buy me one of those scooters, thus leaving me to take the bus daily up Meadowbrook Drive to the school…another largely “uncool” conveyance. 

Stars Over Meadowbrook.  The importance of this spring show at Meadowbrook can’t be overemphasized with respect to its influence on our budding social life.  The show was great fun for the participants and covered quite a wide range of performance talents and efforts.  The show itself was quite a production but, the most fun was the preparations that went into it.  A lot of youngsters were involved in a variety of roles so, there were opportunities galore to socialize, have fun, and goof off.  It’s my opinion that these shows alone were very substantial contributors to the many friendships that continued throughout our time together in those East Side schools.  Additional information.

Teen Canteen.  1964 Highlander, Carl Johnson, wrote a superior piece recalling the Teen Canteens that were a social mixing opportunity for all the junior high grades, 7-9.  Given the close proximity of these years to WWII, just 12-15 years in the rear-view mirror, there’s little doubt that the idea was patterned by what a number of our parents saw or heard of during WWII…The Hollywood Canteen.  A brief mention in a 1960 Meadowlark (the MJH newspaper) tells of a recent success with the Teen Canteen, drawing about 342 youngsters.  That’s almost half the school population at the time!

I may have gone to one or two of those dances but, for a number of reasons found them inconvenient.  As a new kid, I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t comfortable standing around waiting for someone to notice, nor in asking strangers to dance…too bashful, I suppose.  The Meadowlark mention also notes with satisfaction that the kids were all well-dressed…no jeans!  Mercy, that means those things were coat and tie and dresses….is there any wonder some of us vowed to move our default dress to cutoffs and sandals after we got free enough to make our own wardrobe decisions?   

Another reason I didn’t care much for those things….I didn’t know how to dance!  So, at this tender age, the social advantage went to the gregarious dancers.

Private Parties.  These were the parties thrown by people having a large enough house to host them, or by those whose parents would go together to rent the Meadowbrook Golf Club facility.  If you lived in a small house, you might have been substantially excluded from these shindigs.  You couldn’t throw a party at your place or, if you had a larger house, but few friends on account of being new….well, that didn’t work out either. 

Of course, private parties could be a real irritation if you weren’t part of the in-crowd throwing them.  Or, even if you were, you had the problem of how to deal with your conveyance to the shindig.  If it were say, a white panel truck driven by Dad or Mom, you might want to arrange a pickup around the corner, out of sight of the front door.  Otherwise, you might be embarrassed to follow Miss Hottie’s ride being announced at that front door as a GOLD CADILLAC, while yours would be the WHITE PANEL TRUCK!  Nope, Pop….meet me around the corner at 12, please.

Older Siblings If you had an older sibling, you may have been one of the luckier ones of us.  No matter what kind of childhood relationship you might have had with them, they represented an in-house source of somewhat wise advice.  The advice may or may not have been very accurate but, it was given by someone close to you who you could probably trust more than outsiders. For those of us without older siblings or, who were onlies....we were on our own.  Good advice was kind of hard to come by for a lot of us...both of my folks worked and even then, like most other parents of that time, were seen by their adolescent offspring as being largely clueless with regard to matters of the heart and of dance.

Sports, Clubs, Scouts.  Sports continued to be a large influence on our young lives; so were the scouts that had brought us together in smaller groups in elementary school and continued keeping some of us together on into junior high.  Special interest clubs were introduced by the school about this time and these provided yet more association opportunities.  Since most of these activities were school centric, I think participation in any extra-curricular gatherings tended to favor those living nearby the school.  Those of us living further to the east were somewhat isolated by the 3-4 mile distance.


Anonymous said...

You could still be cool at private parties if you had a white panel truck and a pink carnation. No wait a minute, it was suppose to be a White Sports Coat . . .

Gus said...

That white sports coat was a new requirement in my life...but, you're right, those white coats were a very necessary wardrobe accoutrement if you wished to have a chance of being seen as "cool".

Being able to dance pretty well was another "cool" requirement and one I hadn't mastered about then. Gay Burton had been taking dance lessons for 10-years by then...any wonder she was our Queen Bee?