Memories of yellow jackets rushed to my consciousness as I entered the old high school for a final walkthrough on April 16.
Much of what is now called Garner Magnet High will be razed as the school is rebuilt and renovated.
They can haul the cinderblocks away, but the memories are mine for now. I know how lives have been changed within its walls. Mine was.
It seems strange to think of the school as the old school. It was so fresh, so exciting, so overwhelmingly new when we walked into the building for the first time in the fall of 1968. It still had a fresh paint smell.
I rode to the new school with my brother in a 1947 Carolina blue Chevy down a new gravel road off Vandora Springs Road. The road had been cut through a former pasture, and a pond and an old barn were on the backside of the school.
There was no air conditioning, of course, but none was expected. Few, if any, of us came from homes with air conditioning.
But even though we were accustomed to windows being thrown wide open, the proliferation of yellow jackets was notable.
Mrs. Watkins’ English class was down the 100 hall (we had a 100 hall and a 200 hall) and apparently outside her open windows was a yellow jackets’ tunnel.
I think somebody killed a yellow jacket every day in that room for the first week. Of course, despite inquiries seeking confirmation, no other witness of the carnage has been identified. You’ll have to take my word for it. I remember the yellow jackets even if no one else does.
A few days into the school year, Watkins had us write a few paragraphs about ourselves. She wrote atop my paper something to the effect that apparently writing well ran in my family. My mother was editor of the Garner newspaper then.
It was the first time anyone ever told me I could write well. My life changed that day because of the red ink scribbled on a practically illegible story written on blue-lined paper. I had written about girls being gunky.
I paused to relish the memory of that long ago paper outside what had once been her classroom.
I smiled outside the door of the room that some mean boys had filled with crumpled newspapers. They lifted the ceiling tiles during a midnight raid. The newspaper stuffing was taken in stride by the administration. Not so the hundreds of crickets deposited with the paper.
An AV closet, a long room barely six feet wide, was around the corner. That’s where Mrs. Jenkins taught Senior English. It was essentially a row of desks down one wall. My most notable accomplishment there was a poem about a house full of rats who ate a poor soul who was seeking treasure. It wasn’t my brightest hour.
I walked the hall where The Great Turkey made his raid on the new school late one night that year. The Great One left gigantic orange cardboard turkey tracks in the hall. The turkey’s accomplices had slipped the janitor some dollars to look the other way and also to compensate him for the extra time needed to clean the turkey tracks and nests of gifts the turkey had left for notable teachers.
The Great Turkey left Mr. H. Wayne Bare, our principal, some hair gel to help with his flat top. Some folks, maybe just me, called him Yogi behind his back. He was a great principal. He had to be.
1968 was the year we integrated.
I had black teachers for the first time. There were black guidance counselors and administrators, including Mr. Sanders, one of the kindest people I ever knew. And there were black students who were a lot smarter than me.
I got to meet some incredible people that I never would have known without the consolidation in OUR school. It was our school.
The merger of the two student bodies, two faculties, two administrations is a matter of great pride in our community. I echo Garner Magnet boys basketball coach Eddie Gray, an OLD classmate, who says one of the best things that happened to him as a child was going to an integrated high school.
Not all my thoughts were pleasant during my walk, though. I strolled down a hall where I once bullied a smaller boy. I was young and stupid … and a jerk.
The walk through the walls evolved other unpleasant memories, too.
My feelings of inferiority were weighty then.
Here was the spot where some boys – I still know their names about 50 years later– made fun of my clothes. I doubt they remember.
There is the bathroom where I would go to stuff toilet tissue under my armpits because of the huge sweat rings under my arms.
Being a teenager was tough then and probably is more difficult now.
I wish I had been more kind to people. I regret words and deeds spoken and done in that building. I wish I had tried to understand people better. I wish I had known to hold my tongue. (I still need work on that one).
But I came to that school so many years ago as someone who was unsure of who he was or who he wanted to be.
As I roamed around the school with my daughter, all the feelings about myself were overwhelmed by how much teachers then, and now, care about their students. There is no mandate that the rooms’ decorations be fun, interesting, colorful, inspiring and welcoming. But many displays were glorious.
And the teachers who manned their rooms on that Saturday seemed thrilled when former students stopped in.
That love of kids is a most inspiring thing. Buildings are raised and they are razed. But the love endures.
As I left the building, I recalled a one sentence note, written in red ink on a blue-lined sheet of notebook paper. A word of encouragement can last a lifetime.
Tim Stevens: firstname.lastname@example.org @TimDStevens