Forty years have passed since I graduated from South Dade High School in Homestead, Florida. My late father told me on that day to take a good look around: my classmates, those I’d spent nearly a year with, those I counted as friends, “You’ll never see them again.” He spoke from experience.
I had been in that Florida high school for less than one year, having moved there between the end of my Junior and Senior years of high school. The last year of junior high, along with my Freshman, Sophomore and Junior years had been spent in a small town in Nevada called Fallon, home to a Naval Air Station. The radar for the station was handled by the U.S. Air Force, which is why my dad was there, along with my mom, sister and I.
I had enjoyed my time in Fallon, living the first three years on the Naval Base, where I got to see the Blue Angels perform more than once. I also got my first two jobs in Fallon: one summer spent bagging groceries and working for tips at the Base’s BX until my parents took my sister and I to our first visit to Disneyland. When we got back, the BX had replaced me with someone else. Not long after that, I got a job delivering the local Fallon newspaper. The way that worked, I had to buy the paper at a discount from the place where it was printed; then I delivered it to subscribers. Once a month, I made the rounds collecting the subscription money. I pocketed the profit—which didn’t amount to much, given the handful of people that inevitably failed to pay up. As I recall, I didn’t keep that particular job too long, either.
At the end of my Sophomore year, the Air Force decided to send my father to Thailand for a year; it was the sort of assignment that my mom, sister and I couldn’t share. We were just thankful it wasn't Vietnam again; he'd already been there twice. So, we had to move off base. My mom found a condo that she could rent not too far from the school. It was near enough that I could ride my bike there.
My memories of my junior year include riding my bike on Saturdays to go bowling in a bowling league; I don’t think my team did all that well. I also remember that was the year of the comet Kohoutek, which was projected to be the comet of the century. It turned out not to be quite as spectacular as predicted. Nevertheless, it was easily visible in the evenings and I recall looking out my bedroom window toward the sunset where I could see it spread against the darkening sky. All I remember of my bedroom were the books—all of which I still own—set on shelves made of concrete blocks and particle board leaning against one of the walls.
My lunch hour at the high school I spent at the public library across the street. The librarian had a daughter that I shared an algebra class with and toward the end of my junior year the librarian approached me one afternoon and asked me if I would be interested in working in the library starting in the Fall. I sadly had to decline the offer, since I knew we’d be moving to Florida when my dad returned from Thailand. I also had to turn down an offer from the football coach to manage the team.
Even so, I appreciated the fact that I’d gotten to do three-fourths of my high school years in one school; as an Air Force brat, that was the longest continuous time I’d spent in any school.
So, my senior year I had found myself in a new school, in a new state. I went from a high school of 900 students to one where my graduating class was larger than that. In fact, the population of the high school in Florida was larger than the entire population of Fallon, Nevada. So that took some adjustment, but I managed and made friends, involved myself in extracurricular activities including doing a speech for the American Legion and participating in an art contest.
But my dad was right about the people I graduated with. I never saw them again. I left after my senior year for college on the other side of the country, in California.
But though I never saw the people from my senior year of high school ever again—just like my dad had predicted—I did see a few of the ones that I’d gone to school with my freshman through junior years in Fallon. Some of those kids had attended the church I’d gone to, and some of them ended up going to the same college in California that I did. And a handful of those kids—who of course are not kids any longer—I am now friends with on Facebook. Without the advances in technology, my dad’s prediction would have been entirely accurate; now it doesn’t have to be. And certainly, for my children, it won't be.