A Door You Don’t Want to Open

From my junior high school yearbook.

By high school I’d decided that I wanted no trinkets (such as yearbooks) to remind me of the four miserable years I’d spent in high school. Truth be told, I probably brought on my own misery by telling my classmates that everything they held dear was stupid.  Football – stupid.  Proms – stupid.  Cheerleading – really, really stupid. And what was smart?  Protesting senseless wars, archaic dress codes and, well, just about anything. It’s a miracle my classmates didn’t drown me in PE, which I probably also protested. 

However, before I became such a sanctimonious nincompoop, I was an insecure junior high schooler desperate to fit in.  Not only did I buy yearbooks, but I had everyone I ran into sign the darn things, even the teachers!

Recently I cracked open my junior high school yearbook. I was looking for a name mentioned by a friend that sounded familiar.  I didn’t find the name but I was opening a door that should have remained forever closed.

First to the good memories: Above  is my favorite science teacher.  He was young, red-haired and fool-hardy enough to lead an astronomy club full of thirteen-year- olds up to the shingled rooftop of a four-story building where there was nothing to stop anyone of us from rolling off the edge.  

My German teacher insisted we call him Herr Assmus. I guess he figured that if he was going to be teased for his name by students, he might as well go along with the gag.  However he had his limits. One day, after being forced to teach German in a room also used for Sex Education, he erupted in a fury: “I cannot teach German with a penis staring at me!”  Then he proceeded to rip a diagram of a  penis off the wall while we all cracked up. 

This teacher hated me.  I had absolutely no homemaking skills and practically burnt down her kitchen.

My art teacher reminded me of Tony Randall from the Odd Couple.  Fastidious and neat but always smiling. 

Our custodian was always on the spot when we forgot the combinations to our locker but never scolded us.  I guess that’s why he got a special place in the yearbook.

 Nori had it all:  Looks, athletic ability, and a stable family. He was also an alcoholic. I went out with him once in high school; he picked me up drunk and took me to a party with other football players and their girlfriends.  There he proceeded to get even drunker and wandered off to a bedroom where the school’s “easy” girl serviced the boys while their prim girlfriends sat together and gossiped. One of the other football players became disgusted with the game and took me home. Not long after, Nori drove off a cliff up at Tahoe.

After his death, we found our his other “shameful” secret:  he was Jewish.

Blake took one psychedelic too many and ended up in the state mental institute. When we went to see him, he claimed to be Jesus. Not long after, he also died.

Dee was so cute and bubbly that all the boys had crushes on her, even the ones from out in the sticks where she would have been called “colored” or worse.  She disappeared from school one day without a word.  Months later we found out from our sex education teacher that she’d bled to death in an alley in Oakland, California after an illegal abortion.  I often think about her. Fourteen years old. 

My mother tried to set me up with this guy because his father was a self-made millionaire. He had a Trump-like personality and actually shot someone he’d never met in the back thinking he’d get away with it. Pretty boy didn’t last long in jail. 

Above is the James Dean of our class. His rebellious streak got him slapped around (and worse) by the male teachers (hey – this was a different time).He’s probably in jail but I liked him.

 This gal actually murdered someone and got away with it. But it was okay because he was a Piute Indian and she was the daughter of a prominent socialite. On her picture she wrote “Nancy is a queer.”  As far as I know, she is still alive.

Okay – we didn’t all turn out to be murderers or drug addicts or dead in an alley somewhere. Jon, who was a neighbor of mine, is a lawyer who worked in the Obama administration. The last time I saw Johanna and Lucille was at the premiere of their art show at the De Young Museum. Steve was Mr. Popular all through school because he was kind and thoughtful to everyone.  He’s a basketball coach out in Winnemucca.  

Oh and I found a picture of my ex-husband as a thirteen year old which you don’t get to see  because I want you to have some respect for me!

My advice to you all is stay away from those old yearbooks.  Reopening them is often  like playing the game Jumanji.   

To see legitimate doors, check out Norm Frampton’s ThursdayDoors challenge. 

37 thoughts on “A Door You Don’t Want to Open

  1. Hi Jan,

    There seems to be some confusion here since you are using yearbook photos from my high school. Since I know you did not do it on purpose, I have concluded this is more confirmation that rips in the fabric of life do exist. Being a Tin Hat alumni, you probably have attracted a number of what some refer to as “passive rips” in your backside allowing leaks of various material to enter into your go to system. You are probably an easy target due to your location, there in your mountain top retreat overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. However, you did leave out all the stuff about segregation, the burning down of the school, the “Soldier of Fortune Murder”, the acid attacks, and the rattlesnake that Billie Rice brought to school in his backpack. Oh, and there was that incident where the kid blew his hand off with a homemade bomb at the airport attracting a full FBI investigation. But I guess, over all, this was a very good post and the Log Lady says hi. Thanks. Duke

    • Oh, I forgot about those dudes. Thanks Duke, you’ll have to tell me the story of the Soldier of Fortune Murder because I’ve forgotten. I have stronger memories of junior high than my rather preppy high school – writing this post helped me remember why. Hi to Log Lady…. Another dog?

  2. Jan, I’m bolting the doors to my yearbooks up even as I write this. I don’t wanna look back, so I’ve even thrown away my rearview mirrors! There were some good stories there, bad stories, and horror stories too, and I suspect my yearbooks are full of the same—and I fear my story might get drudged up if those books ever get opened. What a collection, though. A fascinating post.

  3. I think if my classmates had been as colorful as yours I would not have been forced to seek entertainment elsewhere…👍👍 I always thought of my classmates as “Synthetics.” Every time a new kid showed up I would say to myself, “Is this kid the answer to My Cry for help?” 😐😒😑

    • This was mostly junior high – by high school most of the kids I knew were like the republicans in congress – in lock step with each other. Except for the psychopaths, of course. Oh wait…

      • Hahahahaha! I pretty much went from K through 12 with the same dull kids. the worst of it was the lack of Adventure and negative attitudes. Dullness was rewarded. It was a culture of dullness and rigid rules that all started with “NO.” Hahaha College was better.👍👍

  4. Fascinating stuff. Talking about doors! I like to picture you telling others about their stupid lives. Amazing life stories too, I feel so sorry for the bubbly girl.

    We don’t have the yearbook tradition, only class photos and reunions. At my last primary school reunion (6-14 years of age) about 5 years ago, I was floored the most by three people:

    1. My first love whose face got transfigured by all the beer, who turned into a bitter divorcee with a teenage daughter and who had quit his car-selling job and decided to move on his own by the magic lake and chew tobacco. I told him about my plans to move to Tuscany. He sighed and said it was a common destination for Slovenian girls. I said it might have to do with Italian men and their way of expressing emotions. He said: “What if your parents didn’t teach you how to do that?” I said: “You find a girl who will.”

    2. A girl who had become a blonde mom of two, who looked the happiest of all and disclosed that she had quit her marketing job and opened a beauty parlour. She looked the best of all too;

    3. A man who works in Dubai in construction but is happiest during his two summer months off work when he moves to a tiny peninsula in Croatia where he had bought an old Zastava 101 car and drives it around and thinks of nothing.

    Life is pretty extraordinary. Thank you for letting me write here because on my blog these people might not be so happy to see it.

    • Luckily I don’t have any contact with the people I grew up with but to be on the safe side, I didn’t use the last name of anyone still around. Two of them are lawyers!

    • The yearbooks are pulled together by a team of popular kids thus they’re generally full of pictures of the athletes and cheerleaders! The rest of us were luckily to get our names spelled correctly (mine never was)! Thanks for the reblog.

  5. This was an interesting walk through your high school. I loved this take on “open doors”. These retrospectives can be serious reality checks. It seems that your high school had more than its fair share of unhappy endings.

    I don’t like to venture down memory lane very often. Viewing life in the rearview mirror can get addictive and cause us to take our eyes off the here-and-now. Yes, those yearbooks stay hidden away in a box in the basement.

      • That is interesting – they look so much older!

        My high school years were pretty good – it was university I don’t want to remember. And I too had no interest in having any yearbooks from my university years.

  6. Brilliant. There’s enough here for a box set Jan. Preferably directed by the Coen brothers. I really liked your coy reference to Wacker the bondage man, sometimes called custodian. No wonder he’s remembered in the year book. 🙂

    • Thanks Colm. Truth be told, many of the male teachers were ex-Gestapo officers who like to rough up the boys which in those days was considered a good thing to do! Hope you and yours are well!

  7. Opening up the doors of the past is a tricky proposition. Love the story about the German teacher in the sex education room, Jan — expertly written, had me laughing pretty hard.

    • Thanks Jet. I had Herr A for three years as he moved from the Jr. High to the High School at the same time I did. After graduation I lived for a year in Germany but still couldn’t master the language!

  8. Oh, so much truth all at once, and so well-written.
    We keep our mutual year’s book on the shelf in the living room. The other six of them are in the garage. A real waste of money, truly.
    Anyway, there were four of us grads here a few weeks back and one guy got REALLY into the yearbook and I thought he was never going to stop yearbooking and join us in some present day conversation, but it did generate some chat.
    The teacher who was a perv, the boy who drove his car into a building and we still can’t know if it was intentional, our classmate who was brutally murdered, who’s been arrested and who came out — interesting decades later, but not how we’d like to spend our time regularly.
    We were in the generation of people whose yearbooks were mailed the following summer, and so we have not a thing written in them. Sad, really.

    • Our Jr High yearbooks were amateurish and very cheaply done so we generally got them during the last days of class and marked them up badly before getting home! I wonder how many of them survive to this day. Several of my friends who didn’t like their pictures actually blacked them out or wrote silly things over them!

  9. I liked the comments and found this both sad but somewhat realistic. I’m not sure if we had so many deaths, but as we get older I suppose we will naturally lose some more. . . I has a great high school time, in band, Science Club, theater, literary magazine and yearbook staff. Basically a busy “nerd!” 🤓

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