A Baby Boomer's Scrapbook

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Grades 8 and 9: Northeast Junior High


My memory of 8th grade at Northeast blurs together with 9th grade and I canít separate them in time.  I remember what seems like long, and often cold, bus rides to school where we were dropped off to spend the first several minutes in the morning waiting in the cafeteria for classes to start. I think we had enough time to read or do homework but I think I mostly spent my time just looking around.  There was always a teacher there to monitor our behavior and I donít think we were able to get away with much screwing around.


My mental impression today is that, com pared with the other schools that I had gone to so far, Northeast seemed big and cold and impersonal. 


The classes I remember are Metal Shop, Art, English, some sort of government class, a math class that taught Algebra and Geometry, Science and Phys Ed.


Metal Shop seemed to be the place to go if you were destined to be a blue-collar worker. As you might expect, all of the kids that took that class were boys and, while most of them were interested in the metal casting process so that they could make knives out of broken hack so blades and cast fancy handles on them, I made a dustpan and a footstool. I guess that was probably a sign that I wasnít quite as macho (not a word that we used back then) as the other guys.


In Art class I made a piece of jewelry that eventually was sent to some art exhibit and came back with a yellow ribbon attached that said ĎHonorable Mentioní.  I remember being amused at the time because it was mounted in the display box backwards with the backside showing instead of brightly polished front side. It was a pendant and, when I designed it, I never thought about the probability of it spinning on a neck chain where any side could be seen so I only finished one side. It was a good lesson in design that stuck with me.


I remember helping to layout, cut and assemble a ceramic mural, which was destined for a large wall near the front entrance to the school. I think that process took most of a school year.


The Art teacherís name was Mr. Hopfensburger. Everyone called him ďMr. HopĒ. It is easy for me to remember him because he was short (like me), enthusiastic and energetic.


There was a boy in class who, as a Mad Magazine fanatic, could easily and quickly draw any Mad Magazine character.  I think his name was Richard Staehling and he got along well with Mr. Hop because he was so talented. Unfortunately, he seemed a little too aware of how good he was and was often an arrogant jerk to those whose work he thought didnít meet his standards. I donít know why I remember him. Perhaps I was a victim of one of his off hand remarks about my own work.


I have another reason to remember Mr. Hop. One day in 1985, while I was on a business trip to the Hughes Helicopter plant in Culver City , California , I was walking through an engineering office and saw the name Hopfensburger on a drafting table.  When I stopped to ask the guy sitting there if he had any relatives in Midland, he told me that he was Mr. Hopís brother and had been a designer at Hughes for many years. Small world.


My memory of the government class consists of a mock Presidential election in 1960. I donít know if Midland was a Republican town or not at the time but I was only one of about three or four kids in my class who voted for Jack Kennedy.


For two reasons that I can think of, a class that I didnít like was English. The first is that the female teacher had a regular habit of clearing her throat into a Kleenex and then throwing the tissue in the wastebasket. I donít know if she had a medical problem but she did it so often that by the end of each class the wastebasket would look half full and after a while it got to be kind of disgusting. The second reason that I didnít like her was that it was her decision that kept me from taking a foreign language class in the 9th grade because my English grades werenít good enough in the 8th.  Her judgment probably made sense according to the rules of the game but I didnít like it much at the time.


I think I remember the math class for being public chided by the teacher for either not doing well on a geometry test or not turning in some geometry homework or both. Whatever the reason, I didnít like that class either.


A class that I did like was Science.  The teacher had a cage with snakes in it and he bred and raised a lot of mice. I think he was raising the mice to see what kind of colors and patterns he could get from selective breeding but, in hindsight, although he wouldnít do it until after school, he may have been breeding them just to feed the snakes. Feeding the snakes seemed to be a problem because those rascals wouldnít eat anything unless it moved. I remember more than once after a rain, if there were night crawlers and worms or frogs out on the sidewalk trying to escape the water, he asked us to go out and gather some up as snake food.


Frog dissection day was probably straight out of the movie ĎETí except that Elliot was not there to advocate for ďFrog FreedomĒ. Iím afraid, on that day at least, all of those poor frogs really did perish in the interest of science.


Right next to the Science classroom was the Audio Visual Lab where the movie projectors and tape recorders were kept.  I was one of the kids that volunteered for AV Lab to set up and run projectors and show all of those wonderful education films that we all got to watch every now and then. I did that for an hour each day instead of going to Study Hall. Whether they were any good or not, the best thing about the movies was that they were usually better than listening to the teacher.


One of the movies that I set up was especially memorable. As I was threading the film in the projector in the girlís gym, several girls walked out of the locker room before they had their tops on and buttoned. They didnít notice me until they were almost to the bleachers and when they did see me, turned around and ran back to the locker room, screaming all the way. I didnít know what else to do at that point so I finished getting the projector ready to run. A minute or so later, the teacher came out and politely told me that I could go and that she would run the projector. Yeah, I know, it doesnít seem very interesting now but, at the time, it made for a real good story to the other boys in AV group.


I probably remember the most about Phys Ed. This was the first time Iíd ever been in a locker room situation where everyone showered together and, as you can imagine, there was a lot of mental comparison going on as well a plenty of intimidation and Ďgrab assí behavior. It was also difficult to avoid being at the business end of a snapped towel. As you would expect, although I seemed to avoid much trouble, the boys that were small or weak seemed to get the most harassment. 


There was lots of just plain competition as well.  It seemed important to keep track of who could run the fastest, jump the highest or farthest, do the most push-ups, set-ups or chin-ups and who could climb and descend that big rope hanging from the ceiling in the shortest time.  Being chosen first when being picked for a team was important but probably not being chosen last was equally as important. Being chosen last or not being chosen at all in the girlís choice dance when we had co-ed lessons in the gym was also really embarrassing.


Now that Iíve brought up the subject of girls and dancing, Iíd like to bring up the subject of my Junior High love life.  Iíd like to bring it upÖ but Iím afraid I didnít have one.  Now I donít know if I can blame my unfulfilled desire for a love life entirely to my size but, at that age, girls are growing faster than boys and not only was I about the shortest boy in school but I was shorter than almost all the girls as well.  Of course, we canít really rule out just plain old bad breath and body odor.


Of course, to put my size problem in perspective, there was a kid with only one leg. When playing softball, he was a good hitter but, because of his wooden leg, he often got tagged out while trying to run the bases.  As he was growing during the school year, it was obvious that his wooden leg had be com e too short. One day he came to school with a new leg. Unfortunately, in order to keep replacement costs down, the new leg was made too long so he could grow into it. I felt sorry when I saw that it made it even harder for him to play ball.


Being short wasnít really that big a problem after I noticed that.


All in all, I donít think my time at Northeast was particularly happy or memorable.  I think I had the same problem at Midland High in the 10th grade but Iíll talk about that in the next chapter. Not too many low points but not too many high ones either. I guess you could call them my ďProzacĒ years.


MaryLou Woodruff tried to help me with her 8th grade yearbook but I donít have a yearbook from either the 8th or 9th grades so, without the pictures in my hand to jog my memory, Iíve left out a list of names for the people I should have remembered in these classes..


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