Delighted as I was to have been released from the clutches of the nuns, who had been encharged with my education, I could not have imagined the misery that awaited me in New York.
I was sixteen, so it was decided for me (as usual I was not consulted) that I should attend a year of High School.
Perhaps in a different system of education, another year of school might indeed have helped prepare me for college. At the time I was clueless as to what I wanted to “do”, with my life and I opted for four years of college in the hope that I might find out.
But I could have done without the Senior Year of High School. I shudder thinking of it.
In the American system, for those of you who don’t know, “Senior Year” is a Big Deal. By the time you are promoted into the senior class, you have formed your special friendships, your little groups. You know who everybody is, who is “cool” and who is not. And basically you really couldn’t care less about some strange looking irk who just turns up, apparently not knowing her left foot from her right, afraid to even speak to anyone. I mean, where did she come from?
Well that was me. Fresh out of convent school. Never met a teenage boy before and certainly didn’t know what to say to one. My whole class in England had comprised some 40 girls. Now I was in a class of over 500 boys and girls, 2000 in the school.
I had happily worn a uniform till then. It equalizes everyone and takes the anxiety out of deciding what to wear. But in consequence, my wardrobe was quite small and having been closeted in a convent, I had little enough knowledge of fashion even in England, but here I was in New York, feeling like the gormless twit that I was.
Aunty Kay was very sympathetic. Having had no children herself, she didn’t know that much about High School, but she had good fashion sense and she set about to find me some outfits to wear. Only there was a money “issue”.
As I was only ever party to the repercussions of my “arrangements”, and never to the actual planning of them, I don’t know what my parents discussed with Kay and Ray concerning “funds”. I was very fortunate in that my wealthy grandfather had contributed a small sum of money to help me with my new life in the States. Sometimes I felt as if he was the only one who realized what a huge step I was taking. It was my intention to use that money for college, when I got there.
However, – it seems as if there has always been a “however” in my life! Nothing ever went according to plan….Kay and Ray decided it was time to call my parents and ask them for a contribution to my clothing fund, perhaps even for my basic “maintenance”!
Ray never let me live down the outcome of that call. In those days, overseas calls were still a fairly big thing, something that didn’t happen all that often because of the expense, and Ray basically never had two spare pennies to rub together. But funds were required, so he dialed my parents number in Barbados and duly got my father on the phone. Whose words became legend, as far as Ray was concerned:
“What is the purpose of this call?”
I think it basically went downhill from there. I did not speak to my parents but was only told that money would not be forthcoming. Which made me feel slightly awkward.
Thank God for Grandpa Smith. Perhaps he had an inkling that his son was planning to discharge responsibility for his youngest child. After all, my dad had asked Grandpa for the funds he could “expect” from Grandpa’s Will, in order to build his business in Barbados. Could you imagine having the almighty cheek to make such a request?
Well, I was lucky to have that money and I would worry about college if and when I got there, so that was that.
Most of my High School experience has been purged from my mind. I do remember that Kay dropped me off that first awful day. I felt sick and overwhelmed.
I’m not sure how I even knew where to go, but somehow I obtained a homeroom number and I found myself taking the pledge of allegiance.
Then I was dispatched to a class called “World Problems”. Oh God was I out of my depth. I had no clue what they were talking about and couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to understand.
Feeling very demoralized, I glanced at my program to see what was my next class. Italian. I had been assigned an Italian class. Why? My aunt and uncle knew I had spoken French in Asia. Why wouldn’t I have been assigned French? This was rubbish, so I decided to get it sorted out and bravely marched off to my “adviser’s” office:
-“Hello, I’ve come to get my shedule sorted out.”
-“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Then the penny dropped. He wanted me to speak American:
Stupid man. It was not an auspicious start, but I did get transferred to French. Which was just as well, considering I was likely to fail in just about everything else.
Next on my list of torture was Math, wherein I encountered something called “The New Math”. I thought gloomily of dear Mr. Burn, back in Bideford, who had taken so much time and trouble to indoctrinate me with the British Maths. I couldn’t face the ordeal again. I decided that whatever I had learned from B. D. Burn was going to have to suffice. I quit Math there and then. To this day I use the “Burn” method which has proved adequate to my needs.
And then, – sound the trumpet! We were going to a PEP RALLY!!!! WOO WOO!
Oh I was very unhappy. Cheering? Rah Rah and all that rubbish? In some ways I think I must have been an old person already. I was so not in to all that.
Somewhere in there I had a Homeroom period when at least I only had to sit and consider how miserable I felt.
And then we were released for the day and everyone was rushing for their buses. The horrible school buses. Those damn yellow buses have haunted me for so much of my life. But that day I had not been told my bus number so I stood there as they all drove away and had to walk home. Which was certainly not a big deal. When I was seven, maybe younger, I used to walk to school in London, by myself.
But I got sorted with my bus number the next day and climbed aboard like everyone else. Little did I know that when I went to work at the airport, I would end up having to ride the self same sort of damn bus to the parking lot. Day in, day out, yellow buses. How many hours did I end up spending, waiting for those wretched buses?!
After that first day at High School, it’s a wonder I didn’t run away, but I must have still had a lot of stamina back then. Kay was always a great support. She and I bonded very quickly and she became more of a mother figure than I had ever known, but even more, she was my best friend. I can’t imagine anything more daunting than having a 16 year old girl, a basic stranger, dropped into your life suddenly.
I have always wondered what sort of life Kay would have had if I had not dropped in and blown it all to bits. Perhaps that is a slight overstatement as it didn’t happen all at once, but certainly things were very different than they might have been, and although she always said that I helped her, I was not convinced that she would not have been better off if she had not agreed to accept me.
The 1964-1965 school year was very long….