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Mychal Wilmes: Yearbook is reminder of those who shaped us

It doesn't seem that long ago, but the 1970 high school yearbook pulled from the shelf proves that it was.

The football team in muddy uniforms celebrating victory, teachers working in their classrooms and Future Homemakers of America girls gathered around a decorated cake. The name Future Homemakers heralds a different era even as the club's official programs — Stay in School, You and Your Values, Focus on Family, Marriage Calls for Preparation and Action for Citizenship — remain relevant in our complicated world.

Young men in blue jackets — girls weren't involved then — were members of the Future Farmers of America. There weren't many, but those who belonged were convinced that they would follow in their fathers' footsteps. I was among them, although my future plans involved Army enlistment. A close friend said that's what he intended. Because the future was as murky as advanced algebra, I'd tag along with him.

He enlisted while I dealt with flat-feet rejection.Certain things are not meant to be.

Social studies teacher James Tohal made the Vietnam War more real through spirited class discussions, which pitted hawks against the doves. I was more hawk than dove, figuring that since a brother went there it was the least I could do. Current events, be it President Nixon's secret plan to end the war, the Black Power revolt and social turmoil were worth staying awake for.


Tall and lanky English teacher Paul McMillan demanded respect because he survived World War II's Bataan Death March. But that didn't stop me from refusing to read "Moby Dick,'' a cumbersome book that only scholars could appreciate or understand. J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye'' better fit me, though it was only a little more understandable. It was also dangerous, given that the church and my mother considered it morally objectionable.

We were the first boys allowed to take home economics classes. It was a product of a young teacher who thought it important boys learn how to cook. She and we were blessed with iron stomachs, given that pancakes, salads and main dishes were taste-tested and often were right-near inedible.

Four decades on, and thoughts of heart-fluttering crushes return. None amounted to anything, except for the one who told me on a shooting-star night that I ought to consider college. It otherwise would not have crossed my mind for reasons related to low grades and disinterest.

I went, and the fears returned. The first test yielded an "F.''

It seemed time to quit, but someone said it would be foolish to quit.Indeed, some things are meant to be.

The Gianteens Yearbook raises lots of what-might-have-been questions that perhaps are best left unanswered. However, there is little else on a cabin-fever Sunday afternoon. Memories are better at telling us where we come from and where we have been, but aren't so good for divining the future.

I ran into a former classmate this past summer. He had gotten into drugs and alcohol and when asked said he had no interest in reliving the old days when we ditched typing class together. He had always been a rake and rebel, using his typing class desk to hide cigarettes that he sold to younger students.

"School never did nothing for me,'' he said to explain why he never showed up at reunions.


I felt a little sorry for him.

Maybe it was because after all these decades, school and teachers like Tohal, McMillan and the home economics instructor helped shape what I have become. When the end comes, as will for all of us, we will watch the replay and more fully understand the whats and whys of our lives.

For now, it is enough to say somethings are simply meant to be.

Mychal Wilmes is managing editor of Agri News, a weekly agriculture newspaper published by the Post-Bulletin Co. His column appears every Monday in the print edition.

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