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The Last Good School Year
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
It’s the season for graduation, for class reunions. People make a big deal about their high school reunions, but I really couldn’t care about mine. Pay $30 to see a bunch of people who made my life miserable? No thanks.
However, what I wouldn’t mind finding out is how my classmates from Mr. Huffman’s sixth grade class fared. That year was the best in my academic career. I had it all: best friends in the class with me, good grades, and a neat teacher. I didn’t miss much school that year, because I was so damn glad to be there. After a year and a half of home schooling through half of fourth grade and all of fifth grade due to health reasons, I was ready to return to class.
That September, on the first day of school, “Grease" truly was the word. We discussed the lyrics, the paperbacks and the album. I myself had a full-color photo paperback of the movie, complete with little dialogue balloons. I loved that thing. Of course, it’s gone. Much like everything about that year, except my few memories.
When I look back on it, it seemed like we were on the threshold of losing our innocence but didn’t realize it at the time. It was the beginning of change so subtle, we wouldn’t be aware of it until years later. We didn’t have a defining moment, like seeing a dead kid our age like the four characters did in the movie “Stand By Me.” I can’t remember the school year being punctuated by any major news event. True, there was some crazy guy in New York shooting women, calling himself "Son of Sam," but that seemed far removed from our lives. We weren't immune to crime; as a very young grade schooler, I remember our
teacher telling us to treat a classmate with extra kindness because his mom had been shot and killed. The only newsworthy thing I remember that year was my beloved New York Yankees winning the World Series. Our class would be one of the last sixth grade classes at Northcrest; the school system was changing to a four-year high school program. Junior high would become middle school. Next year, we’d have to worry about getting to classes on time. The little crushes in sixth grade were practice for future serious relationships, some with life-changing consequences.
But I never thought about it then. I was given the responsibility of being in charge of the school’s office during lunchtime. I brought my lunch every day and got to eat in the luxury of the secretary’s domain. I had a big desk, peace and quiet, and I could call my mom to chat if I wanted to. It also meant I let one of the school crossing guards I had a crush on use the P.A. system.
He was a character, as were a few other boys in the class. He belonged to a core group of scofflaws who got one, sometimes two, very solid whacks from Mr. Huffman when they screwed up. They went out into the hall, and the class went silent. It was impossible to not hear the hit, which sounded like a Goose Gossage fastball going into Thurman Munson’s mitt.
The second half of the school year, Mr. Huffman allowed us to move our desks together so we could sit with our friends. I had my own group I hung out with. Two best friends, who were girls, and a couple of guys, dorky but nice. Everyone was in some sort of group: the bad/fast/cool girls, the bad/misbehaved guys, the two guys who were intellectually beyond sixth grade and were more like 40-year-olds, the average dudes, and the quiet girls who avoided everyone. I can still remember some of their names. I remember the class projects we did. And sadly, I realized patterns start early. The guys who got paddled ended up with worse punishments in high school.
That year was the end of innocence and the realization, much later, of how good it was. Because it all went downhill for me after that, in a lot of ways. So I won’t be at my high school reunion. I want the sixth grade reunion, which will never happen. Or maybe I just think I want to know how we all turned out. In my mind, we’re all still 12-year-olds on the edge of the 1980s. Do I really want to know how many illegitimate kids we had? How about failed marriages? Or the collective amount of jail time we served? The year after, while in seventh grade, I remember feeling awful when the boy I had a crush on boasted
about smoking pot. That confession ruined him for me. That, plus being picked on
daily and bad marks made seventh grade my personal year from Hell. Of course,
the boy never knew how I felt, either about him or the class that made my return to to an elementary school classroom so sweet, if only for a brief time. Nobody knew. Until now.