We went to Hoover High School

Talmadge was our hiking grounds, the caves on lower Van Dyke, but we avoided Razor Flats

 "They didn’t even have ladies' choice at the dances back then."
  • "They didn’t even have ladies' choice at the dances back then."
  • Image by Dave Allen

Marking the end of a basement corridor in the Clarion Hotel (formerly the Lafayette), a doorway frames a rectangle of strong light. Figures move against the light. Shrill talk and laughter rocket out. Jean pauses in the hall to dab powder above her upper lip. She feels relaxed and expectant. Not at all nervous as she was at the 50-year reunion. She tucks her compact away in her purse.

Beachy Byrom: "We’d see a good-lookin’ girl walkin’ down the street, we'd pull over and pick 'em up...."

Beachy Byrom: "We’d see a good-lookin’ girl walkin’ down the street, we'd pull over and pick 'em up...."

At the reception table, Bernice {nee Given) and Faye (once Whitaker) check Jean’s name off a list. Bernice finds her tag among the plastic ranks in a box lid. She smiles vaguely: “Ah yes, I remember you.” Jean Loomis, formerly Chaffin. “We were in English together, I think." Were we?

 Jean Loomis: “We were in English together, I think." Were we?

Jean Loomis: “We were in English together, I think." Were we?

Faye licks an index finger and dips it into another box. She hands Jean a copy of the class history, the alma mater, the guest list.

 Jean says just watching the dancers, her classmates, brings back all the happy memories.

Jean says just watching the dancers, her classmates, brings back all the happy memories.

Jean pins her name tag through the fabric of her autumn-colored blouse. The tag has her picture from the high school annual. Bobbed hair and gentle features. Beneath her name, the outline of a Hoover cardinal perched on a blossoming branch. She takes in the room while she pins op the tag, smiling. Looks like a good turnout. Quite a few people here, some familiar faces. “Well,” she observes, "I guess we should find seats first so we don’t have to eat standing up.”

Dancers slip with varying degrees of grace around the wooden floor.

Dancers slip with varying degrees of grace around the wooden floor.

A banner has been thumbtacked to one white wall: “Welcome Hoover Grads and Guests!” Between the round tables, the grads and guests form and reform clusters. Light catches the silver in their hair as they nod, yes, I remember. Lunch-court cliques are reconvened. The popular ones gather their admirers around them. The outsiders sit alone at their tables, attempting to muster the nerve to cross the room.

To all appearances, they have remained faithful to the roles assigned to them years ago. They say, "Of course I’m the same person I was in high school! But wiser." There is superficial evidence as well.

The pretty, popular girls, still fashionably dressed, coiffed, with lacquered fingernails, moving about the room in clouds of perfume and confidence. The forgettable girls, peripheral characters sitting quietly in their flower-printed knits — old-lady clothes. The girls neither popular nor unpopular, dependable on committees, good students, like Jean. The boys: class cut-ups, rebels, Most-Likely-to-Succeeds. Now retired, white collars still in place.

Time has been weeding here among the class of '34. Jean says the graduating class was 265 students. The guest list shows 63 names. Average life expectancy has been exceeded by every one of them. There are more women than men left. Jean supposes the ones who have lasted are the ones who were the good students, the energetic ones: maybe they read more about health, Jean says. She skirts the room to an empty table near the back. She sets her purse on a chair, drapes her shawl over it.

Jean flattens the guest list out on the pink tablecloth. Her finger pauses on a name, and she squints at the ceiling. “Joe Alessio. He was a jolly fellow. Everybody loved him. He was quite a personality kid. Kind of a booster type of person. Anything that the school put on. he was out promoting it. He was a promoter type. I remember him that way. Everybody spoke to him in the hall. He was extremely friendly.

"I wouldn’t know him if I saw him." Jean raises her eyebrows, surprised at herself. Seeing the name has drawn a string of associations from her mouth, unbidden. This happens at reunions. Names on paper, a way of smiling, a spoken word triggers the memories. Guess

I’d better circulate now, Jean says.

They openly eye each other’s chests, attempting to read name badges and decode faces. You see, if you really study them, their young face comes to you, Jean says. Your memory of it comes back.

Those pictures help a lot. She is stopped by one man who remembers her brother. When she looks at him, she can't remember his young face. She can’t see it from his photo.

The eye is drawn to the flashy ones. Women who apply glamour with a hand weighted by the years. Demon grandmothers. There are a few among this mostly discreet crowd. Perfect red nails, hard and thick as insect shells, tip wrinkled and bony fingers. Curves of delicate, grandmotherly flesh are bound in satin acetate dresses and sag where they used to provocatively jut. Hair encouraged upwards and outwards to the majestic proportions of thunderhead clouds. Faces are smooth and tight, mouths stretched wide from the cutting away of jowls. Eyelashes cast extravagant shadows on the sharp cheekbones like hawks flying over canyons. Is the effect from dim eyesight or desperation?

Jean navigates a path between chair backs draped with cable-knit sweaters, between heads of white, marcelled hair. Falsetto cries of "Yoo-hoo! Over here!" Laughter in syncopated bursts. Hands wave excitedly to flag down old science class partners, the girl who sat in the next row in French. This is something you don't want to do every year, Jean says. Because each person has his own life. To go back and remember all the good you were a part of is a positive thing. Jean thinks of herself in high school as very sober, sad. No, not sad: she was active, she had friends. The memories are the happiest.

"We choose to remember what we choose to remember," Jean concludes.

The name Mississippi Room suggests a grace the room does not possess. The ceiling is low, supported by plain columns. The 50th was at the Hanalei, and the room was darker. The lighting is better here. The white walls help. Their eyesight isn’t what it once was, and if you have more light, you can recognize people more easily, Jean says. The dinner tables have been set in an L shape around a wooden dance floor. Two men in tuxedos have set instrument cases on the platform that serves as bandstand. The piano hasn't arrived yet. Behind them the wall has been carved to resemble a clam shell, the room’s one decorative feature. The drum kit is assembled; the noise of the guests is as deafening now as it must have been in the high school auditorium 55 years ago.

A spare man in a striped suit charges up to the reception table. His tag identifies him as Beachy Byrom, the evening's master of ceremonies. "Beachy Byrom, the class cutup," says lla Eismann. He jerks his chin in bashful agreement. "Me and my friends did our fair share of outrageous things in high school,” he says. He volunteers no details. For example? He pauses, perhaps to search his memory for supporting evidence, perhaps to find an acceptable anecdote. "We’d see a good-lookin’ girl walkin’ down the street, we'd pull over and pick 'em up and take ’em out to the ball game with us!" lla and Bernice titter and Beachy's eyes shine.

Faye, small and dark, offers this synopsis of her life; She left San Diego during the war and moved back later. The war. This generation kind of came up with the war, Jean says. It had a great influence on all their lives, as they married and started families. "People during that war were very proud of the country, very much involved. They felt very patriotic and idealistic." Red Cross, giving blood, driving all over town collecting fans to send to the hospitals in New Guinea.

"Many class members moved away from San Diego at that time," Faye says. "There is a woman here from Illinois, another who came from Hawaii.”

Jean has gone back to her dinner tables Evangeline Gerwig Deacon and her sister Beatrice arrive, blonde and trim, smiling. They set their things on the table next to Jean’s. "I remember you!" Evangeline extends a hand. "Hello!" Jean is pleased that Evangeline is smiling. She saw her at the 50th and she seemed remote. "You know, Evangeline," Jean confesses, "I always admired your name from afar in English class." "Did you? Well!” "I thought your name was so pretty and romantic. Like that poem by Wadsworth?" "Wadsworth, yes." "Evangeline came all the way from Oregon to be here." says Beatrice. "We’re staying in the hotel with Geraldine." Soon the three are deep in memories. Beatrice often finishing Evangeline’s sentences for her. Ditch day, skating parties, after school dances, the Girl Reserves.

Jean liked Evangeline. They saj clear across the room from each other in English class, but that’s where they both shone. She was more expressive then. She was something like Jean in that she would say something and then kind of shrink, not wanting to be noticed. They were both shy. Jean always says she was shy. She really was. She was shy always. For many, many years.

Geraldine Rapp, in a red plaid jacket, wanders by, camera in hand. "Well, we’d better get a table if we’re going to sit together," she says to Evangeline. The Gerwigs and Jean chatter away and make no reply. "I thought we were all going to sit together. Maybe it’s better if we don't!" Geraldine walks away again. She was one of the class officers. Jean thinks. On a lot of committees. Full of bright ideas. Friendly and managerial; she's still like that. Jean was on some committees, too; she doesn’t remember what they were. She was so shy she was afraid to speak up. Really, really afraid to.

Jean feels a lot different than she did in high school. She was thinking about college; she wanted to go but she couldn't. Her father said the girls would get married; she had that to fight, too. She had this kind of depressed feeling. She wondered if something good was going to happen in her life. She felt very sober about it. She wanted to be able to dress like the other girls. Wanted good shoes to wear. Her parents helped her get her class sweaters. Babysitting money * bought a white cotton A-line skirt to go with the white sweater and red cardigan they had. She never felt so dressed up in her life as when she wore that. Memory jumps around on its hidden paths.

Three women have taken seats at Jean’s table. Lambs, with white hair and white sweaters and pure faces. They examine Jean’s name tag. and she theirs. Jean remembers Bette Ballantine's grin and her eyes And Tillie Roise, she’s so energetic. She was ten times that when she was young. Jean remembers her pink-and-white cheeks and her brown hair hanging down in a ponytail. Margaret Mitchell, who was she? Greetings are exchanged, and Jean turns back to the Gerwigs. Evangeline says she has kept in touch with some of her former classmates over the years. "You know what’s funny,” Evangeline says, "is when we get together it’s just like we're kids again. There’s never any feeling of having been separated at all. And I find this with old friends. I don’t find this with new friends at all. Old friends there's just a bond that's kind of hard to describe. No matter how long you’re apart, when you get back together — you know the other night I called Lou Cohen. Do you remember Lou Cohen? —’

"Oh, I always liked Lou!" Jean says. "He was so much fun!"

Arta Kemp and Molly Lou Shively were Jean's two close friends in high school. They would walk home together, the three of them. They were jealous over her. She didn’t suspect it. she was so innocent. They had such fun. Riding the streetcar, they'd laugh so hard people would turn and stare. Arta started to date boys before they did; she was much more developed. Although Molly was a very big-busted gal. Men noticed her for that. Jean kept in touch with them for many years. She wrote letters to Arta. Molly Lou was not a faithful writer, but Jean's sisters would run into her occasionally and relay messages. Molly Lou sang at Jean’s wedding, but she acted so strange, like she was losing her last friend. Then when Jean called her a few years ago she was so withdrawn, Jean hasn’t called back.

"Tillie?" Jean leans over confidentially. “Is that Evelyn Stewart over there? It looks like my memory of her. Yep. I'd say it is. wouldn’t you?" Jean gazes at a woman about to take a seat at a nearby table. She resembles Nancy Reagan.

"She was an only child. I think, and she was always dressed so beautifully with the latest styles. She was a really nice girl, so nice, really likable, too. I used to be envious of that. Her lovely figure and her beautiful clothes. We wore hand-me-downs from cousins. They were decent things. From my cousins in Boston."

A silk dress. Red and blue flowers on black. A lavender sweater, sleeveless, dark purple border. Boys noticed her in the sweater.

"She was just such a beautiful girl. She developed so beautifully. Long before me. The boys followed her home, and I still know where her house was on my way home. It’s on the corner of Monroe and I think Edgeware. Used to walk to school with her sometimes. We walked. Everybody walked. We walked all the way from Talmadge. Up to El Cajon Boulevard."

The Gerwigs get up to circulate, and Jean turns her attention to Tillie and Margaret and Bette. The group casts out lines, searching for common memories. Chemistry. The nice-looking dark-haired teacher who treated the girls in the class so nicely Next year Von Kleinsmith — d'you remember her? — gave me a D. Jean and Tillie were on the volleyball team, on the baseball team. Tillie could really hit. she could really play ball. Jean always like her name, energetic like her. Jean played basketball, too. There was a girl on the other team who would knee her in the chest.

Boyfriends are remembered. Girlfriends are remembered. Moaned over. Crushes have transformed, over 55 years. Margaret says. "I never dated. My mother wouldn't let me. There was a boy I used to know who went to military school ...” “I never thought I was a goody-good, really.” Jean says. "I had my music.” Margaret says.

"Kids didn’t date those days, you see, hardly at all,” Jean says. "I did go out with one or two. Borrowed his parents' car. I guess he liked me enough to invite me out.” A beach party at Del Mar. Her brother and his friends from USC. A boy who grabbed her and kissed her, forced her down on the sand. He was a psych major and told her she was inhibited. Once he took her to the Grant Grill Bar and bought her a brandy Alexander, she realizes now that's what it was. Her father managed the hotel, but he wasn't there that late at night.

He drove her down to the waterfront and parked by the boats. She kissed him. she remembers that.

And Phillip Vanderhorck had such a crush on her in high school. He was tall and awkward. Everyone considered him a genius. He taught her card tricks and how to read palms. He made a pipe organ from tin cans. He wrote songs and dedicated them to her; she remembers one; her mother thought it as so beautiful, "Roses in the Rain." Jean wrote poetry. She and Evangeline and Phillip would get their things on the board in English class all the time.

"Ted ... Williams — " Bette Ballantine gropes, "—he was two years behind us. remember?” "He had a crush on — he was in my study hall one year — he had a crush on... Mary Winters." "I've never forgotten him!"

Reminiscences are without conclusion.

The Hoover alumni punctuate their conversations with laughter. Chuckles are traded between the speakers, eventually dying with a groan to signify that the hilarity is simply too much to bear. When the reminiscences have ceased flowing, people move on to form new groups. A lot of happy memories, yeah. Oh. yes. I remember.

"I remember... ”

Up at Adobe Falls!" A general Ohhhh.... Jean says. "I was up in Talmadge. That was our favorite hiking grounds. Up there. Oh. ye-e-es. In the caves. We went in all the caves. There were caves on lower Van Dyke. We’d take picnics." "Out Waring Road." "Ohhhh." "My mother used to love —" "Nothing ever happened to us there. We’d pick wildflowers. We’d pick oranges off the trees down in the valley, and grapefruit off the trees ... There were groves, you know. And you could walk through the canyons... "

Memory slides back and forth in time and doesn’t move past the war. Jean remembers the crazy lady who carried a baby doll in a shawl and said to Jean: you killed my baby. Jean was one of those kids who got spanked all the time; she was feeling guilty for this, guilty for that. She was this horrible person. She felt sure she’d killed that baby somehow. Jean tells the story in a tender tone. Her painful memories have not been dulled by time but made fond. A source of solace.

As children, they would play in the empty houses in Talmadge while they were being built. They made guns out of wood and rubber and had wars over the back fence. They’d have bonfires in the vacant lots and roast wieners. A lot of freedom, because it was safe, you know. A lot of innocent stuff they did that was really fun. Things that didn’t cost any money.

"My parents used to get the Saturday Evening Post, and I’d look at the covers and say, ‘Oh. that’s nice, that’s just how we do it.’ All the traditional pictures that you see with Norman Rockwell."

Knitting pot holders to send to Africa. A service organization through church. Embroidering dish towels. They 'd take refreshments outside and look at the stars.

Evangeline appears at Jean's shoulder. She points to across the room. "Al Johnson, there’s a man you should talk to!" He lumbers over a short time later, big and red-faced. Bette and Margaret and Jean look up at him attentively, and he tells the story of his checkered high school career. A story he asks not to be repeated. He describes his later life, the job he told them to take and shove. A life of plain talk and muscle. He calls his high school self "a puny little punk," which makes the others laugh.

Al sidesteps away between tables as the laughter dies down. Jean doesn’t remember him at all before tonight. She talked to other people at the 50th. They aren’t here tonight.

A tanned man who owns a tennis shop and his tanned wife take two chairs at the table. Paul Hartson. His wife has sewn his high school letter onto a red golf sweater. He is wearing his class ring, malachite. Margaret, Jean, and Tillie couldn't afford the ring. They bought sweaters. Margaret says her children lost the sweater.

Red-and-white sweater sets. A new outfit for Senior Day, they had a beach party at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club Shorts and blouse together, with little stripes and buttons down the front. An arranged date for the prom. He was half a grade below her,

Delmer... Lundgren? He brought her a gardenia corsage. Her dress was lettuce-green taffeta, with a triangle cutout in back and white tiers of ruffles below the waist. Neighbors gave her a beaded evening bag; she'd never had anything so pretty. Others gave her money for shoes. Her mother made an evening wrap for her, black satin, lined with green taffeta to match her dress. Soft, light green. When she put it on, her mother said, "Jean, you look beautiful." It was the first time in her life she'd told her that, and she cried.

Dinner is served. Each guest has placed a square of paper reading "London Broil” or "Boneless Breast of Chicken" at his place. The waiters are polite and smiling. Conversation ebbs for the main course. Jean remembers the first boy who asked her for a date, she was so shy she couldn’t even answer him. She was wearing her lavender sweater. "I panicked. I panicked. I panicked." Tillie and Bette chuckle. Arta Kemp and Ruth McMichaels and Frank... somebody, they’d get together on Saturday nights to have cocoa and cupcakes, and then they’d go dance to the Lucky Strike Hit Parade. Nobody had any money in those days, Margaret says.

Bette says, ”I don’t think there was religion at Hoover. I don’t remember much." Margaret says, "We always saluted the flag....” "In the program for graduation. I remember they gave the benediction.”

"But we weren't given the theory of evolution either.” "Or creationism." "Neither the theory of evolution nor creationism. That wasn’t taught either." "They were very strict about religion. It wasn’t something we got." "No. No.” They talk around mouthfuls of soft and overseasoned meat. "Do you remember the black girl?... " "She was in my class..." "Ellen Edmonds...." "Ellen Edmonds. I’ve never forgotten her." "There were only three or four black kids in the whole school!” "There were no black families living in the area." "There were some in Normal Heights." "There were a lot of white people there too." "I think most of the black people who are here now came later, after the war." Heads nod. affecting bland expressions; this is scientific inquiry, we have no opinion. "I never noticed that there was any prejudice," says Margaret. "But there were only a couple of black children at Hoover. There was a boy and a girl. The girl’s father was a mail carrier."

After the dessert cups (strawberry-and-banana parfait) have been cleared away, the guests begin to scout around the room again. Geraldine Rapp arrives at the table. She stands next to Jean's chair, and they talk about marriage and grandchildren and the old neighborhood, which Geraldine never left. Sixty years in Kensington. Now young people are moving in and fixing up the houses, paying for new cars what Geraldine’s parents paid for their house.

Geraldine’s sister had a car; she'd give her and Ruth Heller rides to school. They’d ride in the jump seat. Tillie says, "You lucky thing!" "But anyway I talked to Ruth to try to get her to come," Geraldine says. "But she would not come. She would not leave her husband, who is approaching 80." "Whom did she marry?" Jean asks. Geraldine says, "She married a Jewish man, from the Dallas area. He's been very good to her." "I liked her parents. I remember how gracious they were when I'd come to visit.” "It was a lovely family,” Geraldine says. "And I have kept in touch with Ruth, and we have a ball together." She raises her camera. “Well, anyway, I’m out of film now. I’m staying all night here with the girls. I couldn’t put 'em all up in my house.”

It was the Depression. Doing housework for people. Jean would get 50 cents, 75 cents a day. Boy, on a Saturday, she'd be over that scrub board all morning and ironing until late. She did her share. She did her share. They had to let the housekeeper go when Jean was 14. There was the Depression on. People dying of diseases that are treated with drugs now. A streptococcus infection would flame through them, their faces would turn red, and you’d know they were goners.

"I used to get a nickel a day for my allowance —" Bette says. "You were lucky — " in junior high school. For one year." ‘‘Oh.” "I saved until I had 75 cents. And then I went down to Whitfield's and bought a yard of material at ten cents a yard.” ”I bought underwear. Seems like I always needed underwear” "Do you remember when we had to make bras in seventh grade?” "That was my first bra." "I'll never forget it.” "You had to make an apron for cooking class. And shorts and a bra. In your first year of sewing in seventh grade." "Sewing and cooking were obligatory in seventh and eighth grades." "I liked the cooking." Jean says. "And I liked sewing." The teacher spilled ink on the linen Jean bought for her Class Day dress and got the stain out with curdled milk.

A blonde in a blue satin party dress drifts over. Her plunging neckline reveals a plump, freckled bust. "Did I go to school with you?" she asks Jean. "I’m Velma Shelton, '34." "Oh! The gorgeous gal, from high school. I remember you! You and Evelyn Stewart I always thought were the prettiest things in the class. Jeez, you were so good-looking!" "Oh, thank you. And what’s your name?" "Jean Chaffin. Do you remember me?" "Yeah, I remember!"

"She was a busy girl," Jean tells Margaret and Tillie. "She dated a lot, I remember that!" "Yes, I was a busy girl. I was president of the class. I ran for everything! I was the kind of girl, that... I mean, if I knew then what I know now!" "I know what you mean!" Velma's exit is obscured by a general merriment. She was always a real peppy girl. Jean wants to say Betty Boop type. Velma was that type. Lovely figure, well kept. Vivacious type.

Tales of illness and hardship are told in the ladies' room by women touching up their lips or smoking cigarettes, cross-legged on a low sofa.

Husbands who have had surgery. Bone grafts. Bypasses: Husbands who died. Children who died.

Back in the dining room, someone raps a knife against a water glass for silence. "We're very lucky to have a group this wonderful. It's hard to believe 55 years have gone by. We're doing pretty good." Beachy Byrom stands behind the imitation-wood podium near the welcome banner. "Louder!” someone yells. There is no microphone. "Doesn't it make you feel good just being here?" The guests nod to each other and applaud. "We're getting on in years now. We're getting to the place where we're getting a little bit nervous...” Squeals of laughter. "Hear! hear!" "So I thought we might want to push the next meeting up to three years instead of five. Would that go over with you, to meet again in three years?" "Sure!”

"Yeah!” Applause. "I don't think... we can keep puttin' it off!" The laughter is loose and loud. "Might as well face facts.”

Letters are read aloud, from absent class members. As Beachy announces the names, murmurs break out. Someone keeps shouting "Louder!" and "We can't hear you!" Beachy tries reading louder, but his voice cracks. He cups his hands to his mouth for the next letter.

The piano’s arrival through a side door is applauded too. Beachy moves over to the dance floor to continue his speech; sound echoes better from there. "Introduce everybody so we can see who’s here!” "Roll call!"

As at a high school rally, the popularity of various students is evident by the level of applause after each name. The women are called by their maiden names. After Beachy concludes, he yells, "Did I miss anyone?" Evelyn Stewart stands up shouts her name, but people across the room don’t notice. Beachy is notified of the omission, and he announces her. She stands up again and curtseys, an index finger laid against the cleft of her chin. Beachy attempts to take a vote on when to hold the next reunion, but factions break out. "Two years!” "Three years!" A show of hands proves confusing. Beachy raises his palms in a gesture of helplessness.

The three men on the bandstand, jackets removed, strike up the Hoover fight song. Midway through the second chorus, a few people have found their song sheets and join in.

  • Hail, Herbert Hoover High! This is our song to thee;
  • Long may your banners be crowned with victory (with victory).
  • We pledge our love to thee, And our sincerity;
  • We will be true to thee — Hail Hoover High!

The band swings into a fox trot. Six couples take the floor. Velma Shelton and her husband dance energetically, her polka-dotted hip sash swinging. Faye Whitaker and her husband execute smart steps, the profit of ballroom dancing three times a week.

The piano is inaudible behind saxophone and drums.

"It’s kind of a stag atmosphere here tonight ...” "And no lady here is going to get up and ask a man,” Bette says. "They didn’t even have ladies' choice at the dances back then. And you were lucky if there were enough boys to ask you," Jean says. "I finally quit going."

There is a raffle. Purses are scrounged through for eyeglasses and tickets. Neighbors are consulted; it’s so dim in here, I can't see the numbers. Read that again, please. Prizes include several healthy potted plants.

A slim, dark-haired man sits down in an empty chair at Jean’s table. The photo on his name tag shows a handsome young man, moody-browed.

The name is Fred Lovett. The band begins another number. The saxophone was made for nostalgia. It takes the melody line, hinting at the lyrics. No one at Jean’s table can remember the name of the song.

They had after-school dances. Right after school. They’d wear their midis and navy pleated skirts. Jean used a wool skirt her cousin sent with a mend in it. She runs two fingers along her right hip to show where the mend was. She had to keep that hole darned. Four years, the same skirt. "The only individual things girls had were sweaters." "The dress was not as important then. Although girls yearned for pretty things, oh. Lord yes." "We didn't have all this jewelry when we were kids. We didn’t wear jewelry," Bette says. "Some of the girls, they wore makeup. I had to wash mine off before I got home because my dad would bawl the hell out of me. He threatened to kick me out of the house if I didn't quit pluckin' my eyebrows!"

Jean remembers buying dark lipstick, wanting to look like Joan Crawford. Tangee lipstick, you’d buy it for ten cents at Kresge's. Her mother thought it looked vulgar, so she’d put it on in the bathroom at school.

Tillie says they didn’t have money to go to a movie theater. No, we didn’t, Margaret adds.

We’d pool our pennies, Tillie says, and buy some gas at nine cents a gallon, and put it all together and buy two or three gallons of gas. Go for a ride. Go into town. Margaret says, Go into town.

Jean and her friends would talk and eat. They’d go to matinees on Saturdays. The library. Walk by the house of a boy they liked. "We had our hard times, but I thought they were great. We didn’t have as much as some people, we never had a car, but we got by."

"They were much simpler times," says Fred Lovett. "We were really subdued. We’d go over to my place and play cards. We'd say, ‘Let's have a party.' And a party was. we’d buy a box of cookies and make coffee or tea and play cards." He points at Margaret. "And she reminded me of the times we used to go downtown to visit her father, he worked on the railroad, an outing was just go down and visit him.” Skating parties. The Mission Beach Plunge. Tennis get-togethers, him and Paul Hartson, a couple others. "It's amazing how we used to spend our time, get together, without getting into trouble, really."

Fred says, "I remember one time, just to prove we could do it, some fellows and I got some beer, a pitcher of beer in Tijuana, and drank it and got sick. But you wouldn't take a girl down there" "No." Margaret says. Fred says, "I was the fighter. I was the guy who got stomped. The man who would stomp me was Milner, I don’t know if you remember Marion Milner? He's an ex-cop. He went on the police force for years. I saw him about six months ago."

“Do you remember," Margaret puts in in her milky voice, "Martin. Louis Saint Martin? Louis Saint Martin?" Bette is saying, "No. No."

"Yeah. He played the drums," Fred says. "He fell down the stairs.” "He fell down the stairs." "He played the drums." "He fell down the steps at Hoover. He had some kind of a spell. He fell on those iron stairs. But he was a real good drummer." Margaret says. "He sure could play those drums." "Oh, yeah."

Fred wasn't really involved in school. He liked the girls. He wasn't one of those bookworms. He has stayed in San Diego all of his life. He never left. He had a pretty intense job. They were paying a pretty decent salary, so he didn’t really think about leaving. He and Margaret laugh loudly at how San Diego, and life, has changed. Lovett says he feels "utter confusion." "The traffic, the pollution. San Diego used to be such a pleasant place. If my wife weren't so ill. we’d be moving.”

"We’d go shopping on a Saturday, and we’d always see someone we knew," Lovett says. "Yeah,” Mitchell echoes. “We’d walk over to a farm...." "It's gotten so large." "My cousin took me out to dinner the other night," Margaret says. "And she drove me down El Cajon Boulevard. And I said, 'Well? Where’s Hoover?’ And she said, ‘That building right there.' I said. My God.' ” Fred remembers them laying the cornerstone in the school. The ceremony. His dad in his mason’s hat.

"Can you tell me something," Margaret says, irritated. "Why did they all of a sudden decide to make El Cajon a historic boulevard?" "I don’t know who did that.” Fred says. "We came out here in December of ’23.” Margaret says, "and El Cajon Boulevard was nothing but dirt road." "That whole area between El Cajon and University." Fred says, "it’s just not a good neighborhood anymore." "Well, when we came here," Margaret continues, "we moved into an apartment house down on Imperial " "Today you wouldn’t even want to go down there!” Fred says. He pauses and reins in his voice. "Yeah. Well, I don't know.... I've lived here for over 70 years," he says, "and I suppose I’ll end up dying here"

The bad part of town was Razor Flats, Fred says. "That’s where the police hung out....” "Below Market Street. You didn’t go down there."

"Oh yes." "We used to call it Razor Flats below Market Street out towards. .." "Imperial?" Margaret suggests. "Down by the Navy bases, even," Jean says. "We called it Razor Flats because you needed to use one..." "Down off Broadway I never walked in that area."

It was a very moral time, a very innocent time, Jean says. Parents protected their children from seeing things. Three girls murdered, one year. They found one by the Boy Scouts' camp in Balboa Park. Down at Caliente, Mama saw Jean Harlow. She didn’t have a stitch on under her dress. She leaned over and put the dice on the table, and you could see all the way to her knees. There weren't any homeless people. There were soup lines downtown. They fed people at the Y. too. Jean would go swimming at the Y, if she had the car fare, and she’d see them.

There was a tramp in high school. Jean doesn’t remember her name. She wasn’t crude, kind of sweet, really. The kids that hung around the cars in the parking lot were called the tough kids. They weren’t any poorer than the rest. No girls got pregnant. There was a rumor. But most girls, sex was the last thing you’d do.

"San Diego was always kind of rough, hidebound Republican city,” Jean says. “It was a quiet place, if you stayed away from the Navy,” Fred says.

He works on the formulation of his sentence. “There's a lot of these foreigners that moved in here. Some people who moved in here are very nice. But some people just don't contribute.”

Lovett says, "Everybody’s out just for their own little fun. The politicians especially. The government people are looking out for themselves.” “There's always been corruption in government,” Jean says. "We have more watchdogs now, so it comes out. There are problems now that we didn’t have then too. I think this country's gotten pretty fat and indulgent.”

“Amapola” plays. "I’ll tell you what shocked me the other night," Margaret says. "My sister took me to Hillcrest. It was just like San Francisco.” “Yeah, for a while there it was pretty much just gays,” Fred agrees. "It just isn’t my bag.” "I didn’t know of any gays in high school,” says Margaret. "There weren’t any gays," Fred says.

“If there were, they were hidden.” “Today,” Margaret says, “people are making love and everything else, right out in the open." "Yeah, it’s in the open now.”

Jean feels sorry for the younger generation. There's so much coming at them. They’re almost inundated with possible careers, with life choices, with ways of thinking. "How do you make a choice? Unless you have some principles in back of you? People don't talk about right and wrong anymore.”

They talk about the bomb. Jean doesn’t understand why they worry about it so much. Her generation got over it. “Maybe it’ll happen sometime, but you can't sit there and worry about it or you wouldn’t live.” Jean waves the paper with the class history on it. The class motto: “Still Be Doing, Never Done.” Bette takes her leave. Tillie and others are waiting by the door, arms folded, sweaters hiding their hands. "I think we're going to go on upstairs." She pats Margaret on the shoulder. Fred nods and says goodbye. He leaves, too. Margaret leans closer to Jean’s chair. "I was in the orchestra"; she pantomimes a violin. She doesn’t play anymore. She kept her violin for many years. “It was fun. I was kind of... within myself.” "Yeah." “The one thing I wanted to do was to join the Girl Scouts. I didn’t. My mother didn’t approve. She thought they weren't nice girls. In her opinion, but she didn’t know.”

Margaret behaved herself in high school. She had to. Her mother. (Her mother was born in Prussia and came here in 1894.) “She was the youngest of 12 kids. In 1914 she got married. He was shipped overseas and got killed. In 1918 she met another fellow, he was shipped overseas, and he was killed. In 1920, she met my stepfather.” Between sentences. Margaret’s mouth settles into a thin, firm line. There were boys she liked but she never dated. She didn’t go to dances. Her mother wouldn’t let her. She was that strict. She wasn’t much for studies, and the photo on her name badge shows the face of a girl one forgets. Margaret has not stayed in touch with anyone from high school. She didn’t really have any close friends in high school, she says. After high school, she worked at a Navy supply base. She herself lost two fiances in World War II. “I met a divorced gentleman, and we started going around together, and my mother didn’t approve. So we decided, to heck with this, we’ll move.” She now lives in San Jose, in a low-cost senior housing project.

She has come hundreds of miles to be here tonight. Her grandson bought her ticket. "High school was a happy time. Times were hard, but everyone had it hard.” Few people remember her tonight. People squint at her name badge and smile politely, pretending to recognize her. “I was in the orchestra,” she says helpfully, sawing her pantomime violin.

“Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” ends. There is no applause. Jean says just watching the dancers, her classmates, brings back all the happy memories. “Because those are the things I prefer to remember.”

Jean has talked to people mostly about memories of certain things they have done. She has asked them about their lives now. Most people don't want to talk about their lives now; she doesn’t understand that. Perhaps the biggest difference between who you are in high school and who you are 55 years later is the amount of pain you’ve experienced. Jean considers this. She says, “That’s what you learn from, though. I have been talking to people who never seem to have had good times.”

“Sentimental Journey" plays. Jean hums along as she gathers her purse. Dancers slip with varying degrees of grace around the wooden dance floor. They are all still here, the wallflowers and the socialites. People feel around blindly for their memories, piecing them together to form a past more picturesque than real, and are comforted.

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