Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Cookies and Growing Up

It's Girl Scout cookie time. I am reminded of this at work when the children of colleagues come by with their list in hand.

I am reminded when the doorbell rings and it's the little girl from two doors down, bundled up in her coat, smiling, two front teeth missing.

I am reminded when my other neighbor's granddaughters knock on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Must buy from all, even if it's just a box or two!

Oh, I remember Girl Scout cookies. My snotty little East Lansing troop did the cookie thing like others have before and since. I don't remember if we "won" anything. I just remember the cookies! (My mother, who was a troop leader told me years later we were a pretty bratty bunch! We also look hopelessly bored!)

I think if most of the kids in my Scout troop were to look back honestly, we would all say we weren't at all deprived. We lived in a lovely white-bread neighborhood where a donation at school for someone's get well bouquet would tally out equivalent to seven or eight dollars today.

It is the reason my parents moved when I was going into sixth grade. I was getting to be a little brat who wasn't impressed by much of anything and they were going to nip that in the bud by adding a little diversity to my life.

Of course I pitched a fit. What self-respecting ten-year-old wouldn't? But one doesn't have much choice in the matter at that age, so the summer before school began, I moved, leaving behind my best friend Michele (not at all snotty, I might add, and today a tremendously gifted jewelry designer) and the three Loomis girls who were very nice, too. I think (I hope) I probably wasn't all that poofy if I had such nice, down-to-earth and unspoiled friends.

You wouldn't have known I'd made much of a change from the neighborhood, or even from my elementary school. But when I got into junior high, I was surrounded by a wonderful mix of kids from all income and racial backgrounds. That was increased all the more in high school.

When I was in ninth grade, my friend Mary's parents tried to convince my parents to send me to the somewhat more posh, less inner-city school in the next county where "the kids would be more like they are."

Bless my parents. They had no intention of moving me out of the school they had chosen for me, years before I would attend it. It was probably the most significant and important decision that helped shape my life.

I was going to be a Big Red.

I not only enjoyed my years at J.W. Sexton High School, I thrived. My circle of friends was diverse. The shy kid who stammered in front of her junior high speech class became a drama star (well, not quite a star, but a relatively decent actress. And, while some may disagree, not a drama queen, either!). But I did discover this passion for theatre, terrific friends, music and so much more.

Our school board is considering whether or not to close my high school. The choice is between this and another city school. In both cases, the test scores are down, as are enrollments in the district. The thought of seeing this wonderful place close hurts me to the quick. A few years ago, I attended an open house there -- 60 years. I noticed things I'd long forgotten.

Pewabic pottery tiles in the walls...

... mosaic floors...

... a beautiful auditorium. I saw names on the stairway leading to the theatre's dressing rooms I'd long forgotten.

Stunning sculpture.

I made terrific lifelong friends in drama, like my friend-forever, Suzanne, with whom I shared the stage in "Barefoot in the Park."

And I've said goodbye to too many, including beautiful Gail Ulrich, whose heart was as large as the sky and who left this world decades before she should have.

The school board is looking for all the right reasons to close one school and save another. Which needs the least repair? Has the best reputation? Has the most kids walking to school? There are arguments to be made for both.

They don't care that thousands; no, tens of thousands of us, graduated with stories, friendships, life skills, new passions, a sense of confidence and self.

But I do.

So, in another month or so, when all the little Scouts who've come my way bring my cookies, I'll think back to my Scout troop, little girls who wanted to be grown up. And I'll think about what leaving did to help me grow up, too. I hope other kids will have the chance to experience what I did, where I did.

A Note about Photos: Some of the postcards are from my collection and others were pulled via googleimages. Some (tiles, sculpture) were by a fellow named Reid Sprite. Still other photos were shared on the Sexton Facebook page, so thanks, folks, for those. Finally, the cookie jars in the restaurant were taken at Van's Pastries in Grand Rapids. And note, that one looks like my childhood jar!)

Please visit my book blog, Chopsticks and String for a look at Alexander McCall Smith's "The Charming Quirks of Others."


Janet said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. All the way through from elementary to high school I went to small town schools where everyone looked just like me. I made sure my kids had a different experience. I love diversity and I think it makes life more interesting. Good for your parents!!

Jeanie said...

I think you should send a copy of this post to the school board. It makes a strong case for saving your school.

Sally Wessely said...

Reading this post brought so much to mind. It reminded me of my own "bratty" girl scout days. It also reminded me of many high school experiences. Like you, I was involved in drama and loved it.

Mostly, it reminded me that the best gift we can give our kids is to expose them to all kinds of experiences and diversity. Like your parents, my former husband and I strongly believed our children should go to school with kids who were not just like they were. We wanted them to learn how to live in a diverse society.

You were fortunate to have such wise parents.

Mae Travels said...

Quite a few years ago they tore down the Jr. High that I went to. That made me feel wonderful! I'm happy to say the high school is still standing, though.

Nice post!

Bonnie k said...

What wonderful memories! I enjoyed this!

Annie Jeffries said...

Such a lovely reflection on the past, Jeanie. I remember being a Brownie and Girl Scout. It was the one constant in my life through the age aof 15. When we moved, which was often, there was always a troop somewhere.

Today it is cookie season and I'm waiting expectantly for four boxes to be delivered. Looking so forward to those peanut butter sandwich cookies.

Shane Pollard said...

Indeed a lovely post Jeanie, giving me an insight into schooling in your neck of the woods.
It's so sad when your old school closes - as mine did.
It was my secondary school where we were all boarders. However as years went by it became too expensive to run, with fewer and fewer pupils of families from the country being able to afford the fees.

I hope your old school stays open for your sake - nostalgia - so important as one gets older!

Shane x

Maggie said...

You have shown me a world and a childhood I never knew myself and made it all come alive for me.
I really enjoy your writing style.

Joanne Huffman said...

Gotta say this post started off with one scary cookie jar. I, like you, have memories of selling Girl Scout cookies as well as buying them as an adult, especially the year I had a broken leg and my mom had to drive me to the houses so I could hobble up the walks and deliver the cookies.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

The memories of school and childhood. There is nothing like it. I was not a happy schoolgirl---and never was a Scout---But, the GOOD memories of friends and certain expereriences STILL linger in my dottage....!
They tore down my Grade School. I will never understand why. It was such a pretty building....! So- called 'progress'. NOT!

LOVE all the pictures, but particularly the Cookie Jars....So pretty and so delightful!

Anonymous said...

I think Girl Scout cookie time brings back memories of some kind to everyone who grew up in the U.S. I can remember the first time I had to sell cookies. My first attempt was next door. I rang the doorbell and asked our dear friend Cora DeWandel if she wanted to buy some cookies, and she said no. I was devastated. My career as a saleswoman was over. It didn't even help when my mother explained that Cora was diabetic. I was relieved that my mother was a hairdresser, and I could sell the cookies to her customers without the fear of further rejection.

I agree with the woman who left the comment that you should print today's blog and send it to the school board.

Arti said...

LOL! The girl scouts do look a bit bored. What a wonderful keepsake, and a beautiful post full of precious memories and nostalgia. You're one memoirist, with all your visual journaling skills and artistic renderings. And, hope you've kept some video recording of the stage productions and musical you were in!

Marilyn Miller said...

I like Girl Scout cookie time. Now I need to watch for a Girl Scout. They don't often come to our door anymore, but I find them at the grocery store. Must go on Saturday.

What a lovely post and so sad for so many of these old schools. Portland has struggled with this same issue. My son was worried they would close his a year or two ago, but so far it is still open. Keep us posted.

Loved seeing the cookie jars too.

Icy BC said...

What a fantastic post! I love your yesteryears photos..

My son's elementary closed its door just 2 years ago after being in the neighborhood for over 50 moons..

Vagabonde said...

I enjoyed reading about your high school and looking at your postcards. My daughters were Brownies but now I buy the Girl Scout cookies when they have a stand in front of the grocery store. I grew up in France where high schools are just for learning. We did not have plays, scouts, or anything like this. We don’t have reunions. I don’t think that a single classmate came to my home or I to theirs – it was not done. I wish our schools had been like yours. The only school mate I know was an American whose parents were working in Paris. I found his name on the Web – he is a well known professor at a leading university in Texas and has written numerous books. I emailed him, he answered and said he remembered me. I replied but he did not – I guess he is too busy now.

Bella Rum said...

You guys were so cute in your uniforms. I love those thin mints. Yum!

They demolished my high school years ago. It's part the college now.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

How sad that your school might close. Sounds like a great place for you to do your schooling. I am envious of the fact that you were surrounded by such diversity. I grew up in small town North Dakota, so there was absolutely no diversity, and I am not exaggerating!!

jet1960 said...

Ok, my Emily would be terrified by your first 2 pictures, lol! Hates clowns! That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences as a Girl Scout and growing up at a new school. You were a cutie and still haven't changed!

Sorry to hear of the possible closing of your school! Sounds like it was a great place to be educated. Maybe you should write a book about it or, at the very least, a good story.

shoreacres said...

My folks would have had to ship me out of state to find some diversity - unless you count sending a Swede off the school with the Danes and Norwegians! That's a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but only by a bit. 1950s Iowa was pretty homogeneous. By high school there were exchange students, and one black family in town - but it took getting to college to find "diversity" - people from Illinois!

No Girl Scouts for us, either. It was all Camp Fire, and we sold candy. It was darned good candy, too - boxed chocolates. I didn't realize cookie season is here already - I never know it until the troops show up at the grocery store.

Kitty said...

I love this post. It brought back all sorts of memories about home, school and girl scouts. Scouting played a big part in my life from brownies to Sr. scouts, selling LOTS of cookies. And yes, I agree with the Jeanie that suggests that you send this post to the school board. Thanks so much for sharing. Love you.

Becca said...

What a wonderful post - but it makes me sad to think they might close your school. It's such a beautiful building, with so much good history behind it.


As for Girl Scouts - never was one, although I sure wanted to be. Loved those sashes with all the badges :)

Of course, I loved the cookies too (still do!)

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