Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday Thirteen # 84

Thirteen Things about my recently deceased alma mater

After school was out in June, it was announced by the Texas Commissioner of Education that A. S. Johnston High School was to be closed. Inability to maintain passing scores on standardized tests was cited as the reason why the school was closed, the name was changed, and the school "repurposed". Before the new Eastside Memorial High School opens at the end of the month, I wanted to reminisce a bit about the Johnston I attended, circa 1985.

1. When I started high school, Austin was in its second year (maybe 3rd?) of forced busing. I don't remember what they called it but all of our parents called it forced busing. Not only were folks from my neighborhood and a ritzy neighborhood across town bused to East Austin, but the families from around Johnston were bused to our neighborhood schools. I remember being in quite the tizzy about the whole thing and terrified because I would know very few people in my new school. Not to mention that I'd have an hour-long bus ride to and from school every day. It was with that attitude that I walked into Johnston High the first day. It was not the attitude I walked out with four years later. I felt that my class at least was cohesive, despite the differences that we brought to the table. Despite the fact that we didn't all choose to go to Johnston, I think we made a good thing of it.

2. I don't know how schools handle announcements and such nowadays but back in my time it was handled through PA announcements. First period we had the "official" announcement time, which was generally handled by Assistant Principal (I think) Melvin Chambers. Mr. Chambers was a wonderfully warm, funny man. I enjoyed his sense of humor and his kindness. I also enjoyed doing announcements with him from time to time. I can't recall now what it was I was doing announcements for, maybe soccer, newspaper, literary magazine, or NHS, but I did announcements often enough. To this day, I remember and enjoy his traditional sign-off: "Have a good day, and pass it on!" Mr. Chambers was awesome.

3. As awesome as Mr. Chambers was, Mrs. Handcox was as well, in the first sense of the word. She struck awe into all of us at one time or another. In other words, we were all scared witless by Ruby Handcox. I remember her as being a Dean, but I couldn't find any mention of it in the yearbooks I begged Sarah to schlep down to me. I know she was a dean, I just can't remember if it was my school or my mother's where she would have been called the "Dean of Girls". Anyway, Mrs. Handcox brooked no dissension about anything. If you got sent to see her, you were in major trouble, make no bones about it. I only had to deal with her twice in my academic career. Once was not due to a behavioral issue of my own, but when a custodian went berserk, ran into the cafeteria to attack a student, and ended up throwing chairs around. Once I saw what was happening, I bailed, leaving my books, papers, backpack, and sweater sitting right there. When it was over, my sweater had been covered in blood somehow and my mother was railing on Mrs. Handcox to replace it. I had to go explain to her what happened and why I left all my stuff to be covered in blood not belonging to me (um, I didn't want to get nailed by a chair?) I was quaking in my boots.

4. The other time I got sent to the office was on "Beach Day" during Homecoming Week. At that time, we were not allowed to wear shorts to school, something we thought was just totally against our civil rights as people. After all, it was hot in there. Right. Anyway, we were allowed to wear shorts to school that day. Of course, to be different, I decided to wear shorts and some sort of top which escapes me now, but over them I wore an oversized beach towel. So, yes, it could have looked like all I was wearing was a beach towel. No, I would not advise anyone else to follow in my sordid path but that's what I did and I got sent to Mrs. Handcox, who asked me what in the world possessed me to wear a beach towel to school. I told her that I had shorts on underneath it all and asked her if she wanted to see them. She hastily replied in the negative, gave me a knee-knocking glare, and told me to not do that again, please. I didn't. After all, we weren't allowed to wear shorts to school.

5. Johnston High School opened in 1960. My class was the class of 1985, so we had a big 25th anniversary Jubilee my senior year. It was a lot of fun to work on but I'm sure it was exhausting for the faculty who also worked on it. My AP English teacher was also the faculty member most responsible for the celebrations and I know she heaved a sigh of relief when it was all over...just in time to get us all revved up for our AP test. Poor Mrs. Parish! I still have the special stuff we wore on our gowns during graduation to signify that we were the Silver Jubilee Class of 1985. Woot!

6. I always thought it was quite strange that the school was named after a Confederate general who was killed in the Battle of Shiloh. I mean, we're talking about a school where I, as a Caucasian, was definitely in the minority. I mean, I guess he was a big-time general and great strategist and all, but let's have a little respect for the neighborhood where we find ourselves. Anyway, the yearbook was called The Confederate and the newspaper was called The Shiloh, which, again, I found rather an oddity. I don't know of many publications which are named after the place where the person after which the school was named was killed. Go figure.

7. Our school colors were a light blue and scarlet. Very ugly combination, in my opinion. Although most of the student organizations wore red with the blue as an accent, the drill team and cheerleaders wore the opposite combination. And, of course, our graduation robes were that light blue as well. I had nothing against the light blue, it just didn't look good with the bright red. Of course, then I went to the University of Texas whose colors are burnt orange and white, so I never did catch a break.

8. The mascot of Johnston High was a ram. Back in the day (meaning, long before we came along), they had an actual ram who came to the football games and all. I think they called him Ramsey. When Ramsey got too cantankerous, the story goes, he was barbequed and enjoyed by the student body. Either that or was allowed to spend his leisure years on a farm out in the country. I still believe the bbq story. Texans are big on bbq.

9. I was actually dreaming about Johnston last night, which is why this whole TT thing came into being today. I dreamed about the giant ram thing that was mounted on the wall of the gym. I say ram thing because I don't really know what to call it. It was a giant anthropomorphized representation of a muscle-bound ram doing this Black Power thing with a fist and dressed in 70's style tank top and bell bottoms. To be quite frank, it was scary. In this dream I had last night, I was questioning the school board about what was going to happen to the ram in the gym. Somehow I was able to talk them into letting me have it and I took it home. In my convertible. Yes, it was a very strange dream. I so wish I could find a picture of that thing because I know that my words totally do it no justice.

10. Of course, I fully exercised my bent for writing when I was a student at Johnston. I wrote for the newspaper all four years, becoming the features editor in my senior year. This was a total plum position because the features were what everyone read first. Loved it. I was also on the staff of (and was a major contributor to) the literary magazine we started when I was a junior or senior. I loved Rampages. I could have my poetry published and people actually thought it was wonderful. Go figure. It's been a long long time since then, but I still have some of those poems. And they're not bad.

11. Surprisingly enough, I also earned four varsity letters when I was at Johnston. I was the manager of the girls' varsity tennis team, which "earned" me my first letter. I distinguished myself on the team by being the one the girls liked to hit tennis balls at the most (I screamed and ran away from them). I also made some mighty fine ice water for them every day and could do more sit-ups than anyone else on the girl's team and half of the boy's team. Ain't time a wrecker?

I did actually earn my letters for varsity soccer. I played on the defense, ending up as the goalie and team captain by my senior year. Back then, soccer was not popular. I probably could not have made it in today's soccer world. But I had a good time then. Back then, we had so few people come to our games that they often sat on the bench with us, to keep warm. Yeah, we were a cozy little group.

12. My graduating class was something like 345 people. I was 3rd from the last to graduate (my maiden name started with "Y"). I read in an Austin American-Statesman article that there were only 500 students in the school last year? Good grief! They must have been rattling around in the corridors.

13. I still have nightmares about Johnston. By and large, I loved Johnston, so I don't understand where the dreams come from, aside from just being anxiety dreams. I dream that I'm trying to find the journalism room (always the journalism room) and that it's moved from where it used to be. As I leave one corridor through an outside door to get to an adjacent corridor, all the outside doors disappear and seal up so that I can't get back into the school. I then have to hike about a mile to find my car (we drove to school my senior year because we moved out of the county and I wanted to finish up school there), which is not easily located. I'm pretty frantic by this point and I usually wake up. I don't remember Johnston that way, but it lives on in nightmares.

So, farewell Johnston High School. I'm inexplicably sad that it no longer exists but in our memories but I'm grateful for the happy memories that I made there.
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3 comments:

yasmin said...

Happy TT. So sorry to hear that your school is being closed but I loved reading your memories. Thanks for sharing.
Fellow TT Participant

NurseExec said...

You remember far more about your time in high school than I've forgotten, LOL! Your TT was a great read. Stop by anytime...

Leigh said...

#9 was my favorite. What a laugh I got out of that visualization your provided. You have to have some high school photos you can share??? Maybe the one on beach day. I just know you had to have taken a picture of that. I also endured the injustice of no shorts...and lived to tell about it.