John Grindrod: Long forgotten, yearbooks become historical volumes

As a history lover, whenever I’m reading a historical book, I’ll often wonder what would be said about my own life should I have been included in such a volume. Then, it occurred to me, even devoid of any renowned moments in an otherwise fulfilling but pretty ordinary life, there actually were indeed four history books of which I was a part.

They all carried the same title, The Flame, and it took some time to find them in my basement, where they’ve lain unopened for years. So, I grabbed the 1968 edition and began note-taking as I turned the pages, gleaning what I could about my 17th year.

Inside the front and back covers, I saw a very good feature, one, I’m certain, I paid almost zero attention back then, given my, no doubt, teenage egocentric orbit. Both of the last two pages were boxes that showed photos and blurbs of new stories. While I’m sure I skipped over reading almost all of them while wondering if that pimple in the middle of my forehead would disappear before prom, I’m also sure since I would soon turn 18 in the Vietnam War era that I took note of Box 11, a photo of U.S. Marines boarding a Chinook helicopter in South Vietnam during monsoon rains. My pals and I had already started speaking in whispered tones among ourselves about the potential of our soon being in our own Box 11.

Looking at my classmates’ photos in the Junior Class section prompted two immediate thoughts. First, I was reminded that my history was so very much intertwined with others’ histories. Each class grade was upward of 250 students, totaling close to a 1,000 in a school that now has a total enrollment of around 250. As for that second thought, it was indeed melancholic gazing at so many youthful faces of dear friends who predeceased me.

As for the group photos, I looked at the group varsity football photo and didn’t see myself in it. In one of the most-regretful of my youthful decisions, one made for the most trivial of reasons, I quit during August two-a-days before that school year started after playing well both as a freshman and sophomore. At the time, I had no idea the number of times I would rue, even decades later, that impetuous decision. But while quitting was certainly part of my youthful history, it did serve me well in a future when I can honestly say that it was the last time I ever quit on a worthwhile endeavor.

Of course, I spent some time looking at faculty photos. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would realize my history was shared with many very talented and dedicated teachers who worked for far less money than their public-school counterparts. I spent some extra time looking at the photo of Miss Virginia Moore, who taught me both American history and English. She remains, posthumously, from kindergarten through graduate school and in perpetuity, the best instructor who ever stood before me.

As for the words written by those I asked to sign, well, those were perhaps the most insightful in my reconstructing my adolescent history. Throughout the book, I read every one of their scribbles several times, many of which were on pages with ads that featured now-gone businesses, such as Pangles Master Markets, Nick Brown’s Shoe Repair and Nena’s Lounge.

I think because of my own youthful insecurity, I passed that yearbook around to anyone I thought would take it, I suppose, yearning for approbation from whomever could provide. Pushing aside all the slang spellings, especially from the girls, like “cuz,” “nuff,” and “tuff,” I was able to draw some conclusions as to who I really was at 17.

There was indeed a certain commonality in their words, especially with many of the girls, who wrote that they hoped I would get everything I would ever want out of life “cuz” I deserved it, a laughable notion that I, or anyone else for that matter, was deserving of everything ever desired in life.

Yet another popular idea put forth by the girls was that, should I never change, I would go far. The notion that, at that age, that I was a polished product may very well have been the most absurd idea ever promulgated.

As for another common thread, there were far too many entries from my mates that read, “Without you, (insert name of subject) would have been a drag.” Of course, that tells me that I was precisely the kind of class clown that, years later during my 30-plus years teaching 17-year-olds, I did not tolerate.

While so much of what I once possessed at that age and have since left far behind, the outgrown-and-discarded Chess King-purchased clothing, those scentless, dried-up bottles of English Leather in long-ago times when I thought I needed to smell a certain way and that slide rule that always confounded me, indeed it was a long-left-unopened yearbook that became for me, on one rainy afternoon, quite the interesting history book.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].