Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

Margaret in San Antonio, 1969, with brothers Bill and Stephen.
Margaret in San Antonio, 1969, with brothers Bill and Stephen.

The last time I saw the inside of Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio was in January of 1970. I was being shown the front doors, suspended for organizing girls to wear pants to school in protest of the dress code that said girls couldn’t wear pants. Given the height that skirts were reaching then, pants seemed a more modest alternative but that wasn’t my rationale. I believed we were being discriminated against.

It seems so silly now, forbidding girls to wear pants to school, but it was a big deal then, what with liberation movements popping up left and right. Of course, my high school used “Rebel Rouser” as its fight song, we flew the Dixie flag, the band played “Dixie” at football games, and Johnny Reb was the school mascot. Those symbols are gone with the old dress code.

I found that out last Friday, arriving for the dedication of the new library and its 50th anniversary. Why I was even going when my teen years were so full of rebellion against school is combination of rosy sentiment, a desire to show “them” I’d done something with my life. Still, driving into the parking lot by the familiar red brick buildings, my stomach shrank and my mouth dried up. It had been almost forty years since that was my life and here it was, in the school colors of red and gray once again.

The halls seemed smaller and the lockers were gone. The talk was of magnet schools and various programs no one imagined in 1970. A classroom full of computers sat in a building that didn’t even exist back then.

“Are you one of the teachers?” asked a young black boy, laughing at the vintage pictures I was looking at from my era.

“No, I just went to school here.”

“Really?” He looked aghast and then got distracted.

I thumbed through a 1970 yearbook, bright red with the Dixie flag on it. There was my class, juniors that year, the kids who’d been in my homeroom since 8th grade at Nimitz. To me, the page had a secret hole no one else could see, a little rectangle, right there between Robert Morrow, who played trumpet in band, and Tom Mueller, who was in ROTC. But it wasn’t really a hole, just a thin white margin between photos, right where my life had slipped away through my parents’ divorce, the onset of drugs, and those inescapable growing pains. In the space one year, I was out of the picture forever.

Driving to and from San Antonio always means listening to KONO and I do it on the AM side, not the FM, out of sheer nostalgia. KONO and KTSA provided the soundtrack for those years and without the crippling mantle of hipness that Austin radio wears, San Antonio glories in golden oldies. This time it was Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain” accompanying my drive out. The song’s wistful melody caught the sunny day and the tender lyrics of love and life past fit the mood warmly.

Riding beside me on the passenger seat was the 1970 Lee yearbook, with its Dixie flag.

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Robert E. Lee High School, San Antonio

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