A year ago, I was inundated (in a wonderful way) with pictures that were being taken 470 miles away. Photographs of Class of 1971 classmates from West High School in Iowa City, Iowa. Fifty years – OMGoodness. How can that be? Time certainly flies.

I had planned to attend our 50th Reunion. I counted down the days long before I had a printed calendar that far in advance. A sticky note on the last page of the calendar I was using said “WHS 50th June 2021.” But in June, I wasn’t in Iowa City. Why?

I made my reservation, chose my entree, and sent my check. I reserved a hotel room. I chatted with classmates on our private FB page, each of us looking forward to seeing one another.

Then, as the day approached…I canceled. Instead of being with classmates, I sat at home enjoying the pics and wishing I’d gone.

Ahhh…reminiscing can be therapeutic. Enlightening, in fact. But, it can also be frustrating. Now, this isn’t a pity party; it’s simply an exercise in self-reflection.

My WHS years (1968-1971) weren’t awful. I wasn’t miserable. I didn’t hate school – at all. I liked almost everyone; in fact I can’t remember anyone I disliked. But, I just hardly knew some of my classmates.

West High was a brand new school when I enrolled as a sophomore. I remember being overwhelmed by the size and by the number of students and teachers. Most classmates transferred to West from other schools in Iowa City but I was a “new kid,” having just moved to the area from Winterset (Iowa); and before that, from southern Wisconsin.

For some reason, I have memories of the building itself: The journalism room, library, little theater, commons, stairways, front steps, and those long locker-lined hallways I could easily get lost in! But I have few memories of hanging out with classmates. Was I that much of an outsider?

Come along as I think back…as I list some random memories!

  • Getting on the wrong bus to rural North Liberty after the first day of school (Oh my! Talk about lost!)
  • Square dancing (!) and gymnastics in those crazy gym uniforms; such a fashion statement – Not!
  • Hanging out with my church friends at Stidham’s house (Jo, Deb, Dennis, Ted,…)
  • Losing my uncle (not much older than I was) in Vietnam; THAT was tough!
  • Working at Henry’s on the Coralville Strip – they had yummy fries!
  • The drivers’ ed simulator – why do I remember that?
  • Barely (oops!) touching bumpers with a parked car while learning to parallel park in downtown IC!
  • Making Baked Alaska in Home Ec
  • Dick Slaymaker’s death; I must admit, I hardly knew him, but that was a sad time.
  • Spanish with Mr. Tresnek – Hola! Oh, how I loved Spanish, but only took it one year.
  • Lunch line (so many choices but then – hardest choice of all – where do I sit?)
  • Unpacking the lyrics to find out why Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge!
  • Mr. Shott’s history class – I may have had a teacher crush on him, LOL!
  • Sewing a navy blue, double-breasted, wool, maxi coat in Tailoring class – such an accomplishment!
  • Working on the school newspaper staff – I loved that!
  • Typing and shorthand with Mr. Swanson – that was his name, right?
  • Graduation 1973 – caps in the air JUST as I was stepping off stage (next to the last graduate).
  • The principal’s letter scolding us afterward!
  • Chicago bus trip when Eddie’s “recycled beer” (vomit) permeated the air for miles and miles – yuk!
  • Avoiding a pile-up when a car spun out in front of me on an icy interstate bridge
  • Hanging out at Sugar Bottoms (across from our pastureland)
  • Anti-war demonstrations and vandalism in downtown IC – it was a tumultuous time to be young.
  • Working at Oaknoll Retirement Complex during my Senior year (through Office Education)
  • Singing with a group of friends at our church – what fun that was!
  • Many tears after Love Story – my youngest aunt was terminally ill so it hit too close to home!
  • Taking my SAT at the university – OMGoodness! That was stressful but a relief when done!
  • Sliding, ever so gracefully, into the ditch in heavy snow on a country road near North Liberty
  • Teaching little ones during Vacation Bible School – I loved that.
  • Buying my first leather purse cost $14.42; My mom had a fit but that purse lasted forever!

Interestingly, few memories include classmates. I hung out with so few away from school – just Kathy Ishman (another new kid). Many classmates had shared lives since elementary school. I certainly wasn’t in the “in” crowd – any “in” crowd – so classmate interaction was limited to the school day.

Don’t get me wrong. I had WHS friends and we’d talk at times – both guys and gals. Others never spoke to me (or I to them) – just another face in a long hallway.

I had a positive attitude and was friendly – I think – but I don’t know if I portrayed that very well at West. What stifled my personality? I never tried out for plays, choirs, etc. Wasn’t in band. Didn’t do sports. Didn’t even watch sports much. Chose not to go to dances and parties (was I invited?). Never dated. Of course, the promise ring on my finger (as a senior) labeled me off-limits, but no one lined up to ask before it was there – LOL! And, I was okay with that. No big deal. I’m just reminiscing – remember?

My church friends weren’t in my class (Jo Stidham was younger; Deb was older; others didn’t attend West). I sometimes saw Carol Kempf, John Scott, and Archie Thomas who were Kathy’s neighbors. Bee Walker and Mary Bozek were on my bus route.

I thought highly of (and saw great potential in) many of my classmates for their poise, personalities, and motivation, but I probably didn’t tell them. My bad!

So, who was I as a WHS student? Oh, to be a fly on the wall during high school. What would I see? Who did my classmates see? Did I appear to be a loner? Aloof? An introvert? Did anyone see potential in me? I don’t know.

Thankfully, in the 50+ years since high school, life has gifted me with much more self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-confidence than were witnessed (or felt) back then. I don’t think I’m any different than I was then. Perhaps I’m just more willing and able to BE who I am now!

But, as I reflect today, there is one thing of which I’m quite sure. I sure wish I’d attended my 50th class reunion so classmates could really get to know me, and I, them!

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