Upon exiting 8th grade the mantra was about how terrifying high school would be. No more “spoon feeding”, no more coddling, it was all on you from here on. It was as if history was repeating itself.
But before I get too far in, I want to take a moment to mention Mr. J.D. Martin, my 7th grade math teacher, and the staff at Salem Middle School.
My mom died on January 18 of my freshman year of high school. On the day mom died, then at 11:30 a.m., I went home and handled details around getting her moved.
But that afternoon, sometime around 4:30 p.m., J.D. Martin arrived in his pickup truck and knocked on the door. Mom had already been taken away by Ben Weathers and J.D. stood with a card and an envelope. I didn’t open it right away, but he gave his condolences to myself and my dad and left shortly after.
Later when I opened the card there was about $700 and signatures of practically every staff member at SMS, save the lunch staff and some of the custodians. That gesture, and the seemingly insane amount of money, has not been forgotten.
Mr. Stephenson, 9th Grade
Larry Stephenson had a rough few years. When my class was in 8th grade he developed a brain tumor and spent most or all of that year out of the classroom. By the time we moved into high school he came back, only to suffer a setback a year later and eventually die.
I mention this because Mr. Stephenson and I had a strange relationship. There are three over-arching stories with him.
First, he was suffering the same kind of brain tumor (right down to the cell type), as my mom. Since mom had died at the same time, I think he was somewhat forlorn about his prospects. The kind of cancer cells he and mom faced have a 99% fatality rate with almost no measurable remission time. “It always comes back”, according to mom’s doctor.
Second, Mr. Stephenson wanted a website and decided that I should do it. It was my second site ever, after Lori Hazelip requested a site. I was off to the races there, career-wise. But one day over the summer we worked on his site through the day and had dinner at KFC. Over a buffet of mashed potatoes and chicken we talked mostly about his treatment. In retrospect, I think he was trying to gauge how it felt “from the other side”. To find out what it felt to be someone who had to watch someone else suffer through cancer.
Third, Mr. Stephenson somehow came to my defense when I didn’t even know it. At the time another student, who I will allow to remain anonymous, was spouting off a tirade of derogatory terms about me online (ICQ!) and in school. Mr. Stephenson heard about this from another student (who I didn’t even know knew about any of it), and he wasn’t having any of it. After some yelling and swift calls home to a parent, that little problem went away. I like to think that this person isn’t the same today. I didn’t know any of this until weeks after it happened.
Mrs. Duffy, 9-12 Grade
Doris Duffy is about the closest living embodiment of Aunt Bea we have today. She cared about a lot of students in a very motherly way, but one remarkable achievement: she and I sent an email to each other almost every single day for four years.
They weren’t even about anything in particular most of the time. It was just what we did the night before or that weekend. It was a rare bit of routine in a time when my day-to-day life was far from consistent. Since I woke up extremely early to get mom early-morning pills, I’d be up and awake around 5 a.m. to respond to her before heading to school. (Part of the reason I showed up to work with Bonita Purlee each morning was just because she was about the only person there, but I literally had nothing else to do. Joan Barrett was always first in to school, followed by either Bonita, Derek Smith, or me).
It was (and I promise to move on from the sad stuff in a moment) Doris Duffy who received the note from the office, just as I sat down from lunch to start her 4th period class, that said my mom died. It didn’t actually say that, of course, but we knew, and she turned to me and I could tell from the look on her face that mom had passed.
Ms. Cooper, 9th Grade
On Wednesday, August 13, 2003, Ms. Cooper did the dumbest thing I’ve ever experienced with a teacher.
Why do I know that date so specifically? Because I have a ticket stub on my wall right here next to me from the Aerosmith concert she took me and Mariah Gilliatt to that night in Cincinnati, Ohio.
You can see why this is incredibly dumb: first year teacher takes two underage students across state lines to be with a bunch of Aerosmith, KISS, and Cheap Trick fans.
I think she figured this out at some point around 8:30 when a drunk guy rolled down the hill beside us. On a school night no less. We got back in town sometime around 3 am.
BUT BEST STORY EVER, RIGHT!?
Almost as good as that time Louis Snider put a numbing agent on the lip of her Mountain Dew bottle.
Mrs. Hartsook, 10th Grade
I hated doing “projects”. They took much time. I could bang out a 3-page paper in under an hour. But a shoebox diorama? That really screws with my Saturday. You can only glue shit together so fast.
So it’s no surprise that while I enjoyed the lectures and the energy and knowledge that Jeanne Hartsook imparted, I absolutely dreaded the projects.
So much so that by the time I was in 11th grade I asked to get switched into Derek Smith’s Government and Economics class instead of Mr. McKay, who was also project-heavy. I just wanted to write papers.
Mrs. Campbell, 11th Grade
I think it was my junior year, anyway. I made a habit of walking into class every day and saying, “I’m here, make a big deal.”
On my birthday they did. Office staff arranged to stall me after my 5th period class, which was weird because none of it seemed at all important. I think the discussion was just, “How are you doing?”
Eventually we walked upstairs, which was also weird, and every one in Shenan Campbell’s 6th period class, including my good friends Heather McDaniel and Rebecca Scott, were lurking in the dark to yell, “BIG DEAL!”
Mrs. Allen, 9-12th Grade
What can I say about Debbie Allen? I spent four years in her classroom, most memorably with Thomas Smith, Chad Curtis, Shaun O’Donnell and Chris Shireman.
But later on there were web courses with other folks, including Heather McDaniel and Rebecca Scott, where it felt like Thomas and I were the only ones doing anything.
I think Thomas’ site for the Washington County Community Foundation lived on for years, as did mine for the Salem Education Foundation (which I can’t even find online at all now). Though I believe they still use some of the graphics Thomas did in places, so I guess he wins the longevity award.
It was in 10th grade that I remember thinking very clearly, “Holy crap, I can make money at this, like, now. Someday I’ll run my own business.”
Mrs. Quatroke, 10/11th Grade
Early in my sophomore year Roseanne Quatroke was administering our graduation qualifying exam to me and a class full of other people. This was the morning of September 11, 2011. She stayed collected through the morning, but by lunch too many TVs were turned on and we knew what was going on. Or at least as much as anyone knew at the time.
I imagine that sort of “carry on, let’s finish this first” sort of mentality can’t happen today with a phone in every pocket.
Mr. Carter, 12th Grade
I don’t say this lightly, but my etymology course with Mark Carter has probably proven to be one of the most useful classes I’ve ever taken. I routinely run across words as an adult and think, “Hmm, this has a Latin prefix, so it must mean such-n-such.”
Mrs. Bedwell, 12th Grade
Jeanne Bedwell closed out her decades-long career with our class, and I’m glad she was there for the 04-05 year. A lot of people come back later and routinely say she was the most in-line with true college-prep of any other teacher.
But I just appreciated someone who would laugh, sometimes inappropriately, at whatever thing I would say. It could go over everyone else’s head in the room, but not her’s.
I remember this kickball tournament. I can’t remember if it was to raise money or was just for the sake of a game. But the late Louis Snider was playing and you had to have a custom-ordered T-Shirt in order to play and he didn’t have one.
So to make it work, him and Josh Sebastian would just space themselves out in the kicking order so when Louis went he’d have enough time to run around and get back to home base. There he’d just take the shirt off and give it to Josh, who would throw it on, kick, and keep going.
This went on for some time and I remember this only for the ingenuity of the loophole.
I imagine the model biological cells we made are still sitting in the showcase outside Greg McCurdy’s door.
Jeanne Bedwell’s “I -heart- Clean Air” sign.
John Calhoun never washed his water cup. And Bonita Purlee never drank the bottom swig of coffee until Joan Barrett bought her a coffee mug warmer for her desk. I remember this only because on my desk right now I have a cup I never wash for water and a coffee mug that I only drink every drop out of because of my mug warmer.
My famous penis-bruise came after I gave blood. I had just turned 17 and was in the gym, squeezing the little ball to give blood. Except I kept squeezing. For three hours.
I just wouldn’t bleed and the nurse kept coming over to twist and prod me to get me to bleed. By the time she was done my arm was so bruised and sore. Sadly it was in the shape of a giant penis on my forearm.
When I finally did stand up, I started to faint because the bandage didn’t hold and blood immediately gushed down my arm. I haven’t donated blood since.
Rebecca Scott ruined one of my favorite shirts by placing a small marker dot on the arm. I haven’t forgotten.
The second-most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen after Andrew Armstrong’s mustard use in elementary school was Derek Smith’s PopTart.
Every morning he’d walk into Bonita Purlee’s office with two PopTarts and place them in the microwave. With butter on top.
They came out just as soggy and bastardized as you can imagine. I’m guessing he doesn’t still do that given his success at losing a lot of weight. So that’s just good all around.
Jackie Arnold would sometimes write passes to pull me out of class, usually with “friendly” teachers like Jeanne Bedwell, so she could ask me how to do something on a website. This was back when she was in charge of the SCS website.Fun fact: the swirly marks around the SCS logo? It’s just the letter “Q” stretched all out of proportion around the courthouse.I didn’t think about it at the time, but now I recognize how incredibly ballsy and somewhat funny it is that Salem used the Courthouse in their logo, which is a county-wide symbol. So screw you, Eastern and West Washington.
Rebecca Scott, Heather McDaniel, Ian Hartsook, Heather Mannely, Shenan Campbell, and myself all went to London the summer of 2005. While in London we’re hungry and Heather Mannely just looks at us and says, “Well, we can go to a gas station for chips or something.”This has been a refrain we have not forgotten. Of all the times to skimp on dining, who would go to a gas station for potato chips in London?
About a year after my mom died, I got a pass to go see Judy Matthews. She had decided it would be a swell idea to send me and Chris Amick to this camp for kids who lost a parent. God knows what sort of story would have come out of it if Chris and myself had entertained the idea.
Obligatory mention of Terry Griffus. Sorry, bro.
Sometime after I received my driver’s license Jake Hattabaugh and I started spending every weekend together. Usually we’d head up to Seymour to see a movie, or go to Clarksville. The stories of these weekends could fill a small book.
As is the case when one of the few (and for a while, the only) openly gay people in a small town are together, people just assume you’re together. Which was never the case with us. I mean, come on, he wore a tail for, like, a week.
Judi Howey approached me one day in the hallway and just said, “I have a job for you.”
She literally had a job for me. I was to go to the Washington County Historical Society that weekend, a few weeks before my 15th birthday, and talk to Willie Harlen.
I walked in and said, “Judi Howey sent me here.”Willie replied by setting down his newspaper, turning around and saying, “Oh, good, you’re good with computers, right?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”
“Good. You can start Saturday.”And that was my first job.
Tanner Terrell was the best waiter I’ve ever had. After working at the Historical Society, I’d go down to Christie’s every Saturday afternoon for lunch. My lunch hour started at 1, I’d walk in at 1:10, and he’d practically have my sweet-tea-no-lemon with a club sandwich and waffle fries ready and waiting for me.
I still remember the sincere look of appreciation on Ashley Harmon’s face when she came up to me in the hallway and said, “Justin Harter, thank you so much.”
Her home had just burned down and I remember going out to my car to write a check. I can’t remember how much I donated, but it was evidently enough to write a check. I had been working for a little while and was making solid money for a teenager doing odd-jobs fixing computers and stuff around town. I dropped it in the donation jar and didn’t figure I’d hear anymore about it, but I still remember her sincere appreciation.
What a crazy time.