… of Ninth Grade
By Jeff Salter
We’re blogging this week about the end of school. No particular year. Well, I remember several. Here’s one you may enjoy.
On the final day of 9th grade (my freshman year at Covington High School), I had special plans for the girl I’d been flirting with all year long … and whom I’d been fond of since 8th grade. Let’s just call her J.M. We had at least two classes together – Algebra I and General Science – and I sat right next to her in both. I never did know how much she “liked me back” but I sure did like her.
So, anyway, on that last day, after we’d received our final report cards and learned – officially – that we’d been promoted to the next grade, I caught up with J.M. on her way home. That was a very short distance of hardly more than one city block. But J.M. had also been joined by another female friend … and somewhere along the way, the three of us were joined by a mutual male friend. So it was two boys and two girls walking that long block to J.M.’s house.
Wish I could remember the dialog, but J.M. invited us all inside for some refreshments. [After all, it had been that looonnngg walk of over a city block!] I presume her mom was present, but don’t recall actually seeing any adults. So J.M. made some Kool-Aid in a flavor which soon was replaced (since it was ethnically offensive): Injun Orange. There we sat — four recently liberated soon-to-be sophomores … feeling all grown up.
Problem is: I wanted J.M. to myself. I had something important to tell her. You see, not only was that my last day in 9th grade, but it was quite nearly my last day in Covington. My dad had a new job four states north … all the way to Iowa. And, as far as I knew, I’d never see Covington again. Or J.M.
So, I wanted the other two kids to scram. But they didn’t. As I looked back on that scene, I’ve wondered if the other two kids were there precisely to keep me from being alone with J.M. Don’t know. As I said, I never had a strong indication of how J.M. felt about me. She seemed to enjoy my attentions and – to my perception – even encouraged them. Certainly, it could be said that she did not DIS-like me.
Despite having no way of knowing her heart for certain, I had made up my mind that before I left that town (and that state) I needed to declare my affections to J.M. I was all of 14-and-a half at this point. But I was so committed to clearing the air between us, that you’d have thought I was heading off to war the next morning.
Well, the afternoon had crept on and we’d run out of Injun Orange Kool-Aid, so – realizing the other boy and girl were obviously not leaving without me – we all three left J.M.’s house together … and I walked the remaining six blocks home.
Of course, I was terribly frustrated: having ginned up the willpower to declare my affections … yet been denied the opportunity by those two interlopers.
I got home, snacked dejectedly, and the phone rang!
In those days, you may remember, a household had only ONE phone, so a ring simply indicted an incoming call. No way of knowing who it was for. I dashed to the phone (on the wall between the kitchen and living room) and said, somewhat tentatively, “Hello?”
Somewhere way down in the recesses of my brain, I wondered if perhaps J.M. had realized that I’d wanted to talk to her alone … and that she was as frustrated as I had been at the intrusive company of the other two kids. Maybe this caller was J.M. and we’d finally have our private chat!
It turned out to be the local radio station. They had an advertising program in which they would call – at specified times – the 10th listing on the 2nd column of the 20th page of the local phone book. [Of course, the location changed with each call.] And that was our household’s lucky day to answer their question: “Which local business was mentioned in the radio program advertisement at the top of the hour?”
Well, I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t even listen to that local station. We were always tuned to either WWL or WTIX from New Orleans! But I was aware of a local business which did a lot of advertising with that radio station, so I guessed that merchant. Nope. Wrong answer. Thanks for participating. Better luck next time.
Well, not only had the call NOT been from J.M., but the stinking radio station didn’t even award me a prize for my clever guess! Doubly down in the dumps.
But then I had an idea: the phone! Yeah. I could CALL J.M. and declare my affections. Those two other kids wouldn’t intrude on our phone call! So I looked up her number. Dialed it. [Yeah, you had to dial in the old days.] I think her brother answered. I asked to speak to J.M. and big brother demanded to know who was calling. Reluctantly I told him.
J.M. came to the line. I suspect she was as surprised to get my call as I had been to hear from the radio station earlier. And the radio station’s call gave me a great intro to ease into the true purpose of my contact. I told her I about that call, and my bad guess. Then there was a long awkward silence. This surely would have been easier in person over a glass of Injun Orange.
Finally, I collected all my (scant) courage and reminded her I was moving to Iowa in a few days, likely wouldn’t see her again, and then I blurted out the central message: “so before I leave I just wanted to tell you that I like you and I’ll miss you.”
It was hardly the stuff of Romeo and Juliet, but those were definitely the most declarative words I’d ever spoken in the realm of ‘True Like’.
I no longer recall her response, if any. But my impression at the time was that she was too floored to reply. But surely she must have already known — after all, I had pestered her throughout 8th grade and flirted with her throughout 9th. What more specific expression of my affections could I have manifested?
Anyway, I got that off my chest. I think we wrote a letter or two during those next couple of months. Then 10th grade began — each of us in different schools and different states.
Interestingly, my banishment to Iowa lasted a single year and I returned to Covington H.S. for 11th and 12th grade. But by the time of my return, J.M. was dating the boy whom she would later marry. We spoke occasionally, in school, but neither of us ever mentioned that final day of 9th grade … or anything which happened, in person or by phone.
Which final day of any school year do YOU recall? Were any as embarrassing as this was for me?