High School Years, 1955-59, Part 4
|Mary Wakefield Buxton|
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— “Doubt everything you read or hear today, Mays,” Father said as he dropped me off for classes at Vermilion High School. “The human brain is easy to manipulate and the world is full of charlatans who will take advantage of those who don’t think for themselves.”
I was now a junior, and miserable without a boyfriend. All the boys in class had ditched us girls to pair up with incoming freshmen girls. How could those creeps have left our sophistication and beauty for those silly, immature gigglers?
Sister Alice went off to Denison University that year. One weekend she brought a “Virginia gentleman” home to meet the family. He was from Newport News, wherever that was, drove an MG convertible, dressed exquisitely, had beautiful manners, and spoke eloquently in what I learned was eastern Virginia “Tidewater” accent. His arrival to small town Ohio was equivalent to an arrival of a French chevalier.
Mother instantly thought one of her daughters should “snap him up.” Snapping up a man was how Mother described the process of falling in love and getting married. Snapping up a man sounded hideous to me, and I rather doubted a man would much like it either.
I liked the Virginian. We soon were engulfed in an all-weekend debate over the Civil War. He spoke derisively of the North and “damn Yankees,” which astounded me. When he spotted the sign “General William Tecumseh Sherman Highway,” he pulled off the road. “No respectable Virginian would ever drive on this road!” he passionately exclaimed.
Wow! Something new! Trumpets blew a fanfare in my brain followed by rockets bursting into an explosion of fiery lights. I suddenly felt a strange sensation that traveled like an electric charge throughout my body. I couldn’t take my eyes off the Virginian.
That evening at a skating party, we dug up an archaic pair of old-fashioned black skates for the Virginian that must have come down from Olde England. The blades curled up at the toes. We laughed as he sat on the ice and laced up the skates, but when he skated off my eyes followed him. I saw he looked like Hans Brinker, a favorite character in literature, more than my 16-year-old heart could bear.
The next day I asked the Virginian where I should go to college. He suggested a woman’s college in Virginia. I decided that was the school for me.
Perhaps there are better reasons to choose one’s college (or future husband) than seeing a man furiously drive off a highway because it was named after a Yankee general? Or look like Hans Brinker while skating? So be it. My heart was set.
Core courses my junior year were American Lit, chemistry, American History and Spanish 1. My English teacher assigned an essay every week and I began to write. Once started, I never stopped.
That year I was “Miss Pidgie” in the junior class play, an eccentric 90-year-old lady who kept a pet bird she constantly talked to as her companion. Fortunately, I was not stage struck and did not have to pack my bags and head for New York City.
I also learned Father’s “cogito ergo sum” advice could hurt one’s grades, as exemplified by a term paper I wrote for history class attacking FDR. My paper might have been brilliant, but Roosevelt was my teacher’s idol. I got a C on my paper.
One spring afternoon I heard I had been kicked off the cheerleading squad. Mortified, I was unable to ask the advisor why she had dropped me. That afternoon I went home from school, threw myself on my bed and wept. Losing one’s position on the varsity squad was devastating; all happiness in life ended forever.
Later the principal saw me in the hall and asked why I had been dropped from next year’s varsity squad, but I had no answer. The next day I was mysteriously returned to the squad. Years later I learned Father had intervened on my behalf.
That summer I started smoking cigarettes. Mother followed me around the house fanning smoke and shrieking disgust her daughter was smoking. Holding a cigarette in my hand gave me a sense of power. (I smoked all through college and up until my wedding day in 1963.)
During our wedding reception, my husband of 45 minutes reached over and took my cigarette. “No wife of mine will ever smoke cigarettes!” he said, while I shot him a furious look. I was too busy receiving wedding guests to argue. I quit smoking on my honeymoon.
My senior year loomed. Thank God, only one more year in “dullsville!” I couldn’t wait to leave boring small town in Ohio and hit the big times in Lynchburg.
(Continued next week)