A Year That Made Me

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Late during the event approximately half the attendees remained and got together for a memorable photo.

(Susan tells me, “Why would I want to attend a first grade reunion on a work night?”)

Last night I met up with some of my peeps from ninth grade. Jim Duffy reminded me he bought a Peter Frampton LP from the record store I worked at from 1970-1974. But, for everybody else, it was the first time I had encountered them since graduation day in June 1969. Forty-seven years!

Plus there were a few persons who had matriculated to Roxboro from Fairfax Elementary, and this means I first met them in 1960.

It was blast. It made me dizzy. We’re at the age where life brings on the bittersweet, but as more than a few told me, ‘At least I woke up on the right side of the dirt.’ The event occasioned my telling people that twin brother Tim has passed away in 1993. This elicited some moving and warm remembrances. It is amazing how quickly people reconnect and do so warmly and with vulnerability.

Nowadays, Facebook supports the generation of reconnections. Yet, nothing surpasses the fleshy, embodied connection! This is especially so because of the singular impact ninth grade made on me.

Ninth grade at Roxboro Junior High in Cleveland Heights began unfolding in September 1968. I had just turned fourteen. At the time I was a happy-go-lucky, shy, kid who didn’t get the striving thing.

School wasn’t an attractive way to spend time because, as I understood it back then, teachers would just tell you stuff without really telling you the good stuff, such as, how what they were telling you connected up with other stuff.

Ninth grade would end up the one school year (of not too many,) that is etched in my mind for its transformative import. The school was doing a pedigogical experiment called something like, the humanities program. Toward the end of September the head of the program, a rumpled, chain smoking english teacher, James McGuinness met with me in the teacher’s office suite. He sat me down, and brought in a first year teacher, Ron Palladino.

He told Mr. Palladino something similar to:

“Take Stephen under his wing and support in any way Stephen’s quest for knowledge while also helping Stephen organize particular presentations which will verify his learning.”

I don’t know what interactions in the first weeks of school moved Mr. McGuinness to assign to me a personal guide. What next transpired was the only terrific academic year I ever put together.

(Although, when I next attended the private school Hawken, I was a good, not stellar, student–except for cursed spanish class. Still, McGuinness and Palladino had raised the bar impossibly high.)

In retrospect, I recognize how McGuinness had completed a narcissistic circuit–a good thing–and so, ninth grade was my greatest school year.

I’ve had to conjure the equivalent of McGuinness and Palladino over the decades I’ve tenaciously continued to self-direct my learning, exploring, making connections, creating spider webs of knowledge. The moment in September 1968 I experienced support and affirmation for my aspiration about the satisfaction of curiosity was key.

It was also the year of a ferocious dual block set by Mike Baum and yours truly on a muddy field during the last minutes of the fourth quarter in the season’s last football game. This block collapsed the left side of the Wiley Junior High School defense, and allowed Tom Olmstead to scamper into the end zone. His touchdown were the first points Roxboro had scored in five football games. Nobody noticed the block at the time, except for me and Mike. High fives.

Ninth grade was the year Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt came to visit Roxboro, and hang around for most of a school day. It was the year my hormones overflowed while granting no great romantic triumphs. Our social clique was very influenced by our liberal parents; (and thanks for all the good times, Kate, Joan, Sarah, Sara, Greer, Kathe, Dave, David, Paul, my brother Tim, and others–no doubt.) I have sustained a friendship with Kate Kuper since the fall of 1966!

It is really close to impossible to fully explain and describe what it was like to be fourteen in an era easily marked by stretching it between the election of 1968 and the Woodstock Festival of August 1969. Or, alternately stretching the year between Coventry Village and Cedar-Fairmount.

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