The Day They All Walked Out

When I was in high school, it was a turbulent time of change in the United States. We had been at war in Vietnam for several years, and people were protesting it.  The hippies had come into being.  The young people were learning about drugs.  They had begun teaching Sex Education at school. and I was the only student in my high school in California that my parents had signed a form saying I was not to be in the Sex Education class.  The way we dressed was becoming more and more casual.  At the time of this story, I was at the heart of it all, in California.  The girls were wearing mini skirts.  Some of the skirts were so short that if the girl bent over, you could see her underwear, but we weren’t allowed to wear pants to school. I wore mini skirts too, but not as short at the others. I had spent the previous year in Oklahoma, and had appreciated the conservative values and become a Christian. The guys were wearing bell bottomed blue jeans. They were wearing sandals, but had to wear socks with their sandals because it was against the dress code for them not to wear socks.  The girls wore their hair long and way down their backs, and some of the guys wanted to wear their hair long too, but the dress code was stopping them.

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We were in what was called The High Dessert in southern California.  There were miles and miles of nothing but dessert with Joshua trees (a kind of big cactus), horny toads, snakes, and sand. Sometimes we had sand storms that blew that sand so hard it stung my legs when I was wearing those mini skirts.

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The drugs were so prevalent that when my parents signed to take me out of Health class so I wouldn’t be in the Sex Education part of the class that in that class, a guy had tried to talk me into taking drugs with him before I left the class, but I had refused.  And then, when I got into Study Hall where they put me instead of Health Class, there was a drug pusher who came.

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I always sat with Randy in there, a crazy, but cute guy that all the girls liked that I couldn’t figure out. I had met him because I was running for my P. E. class, and as I was running along, he ran up and grabbed me and gave me a big hug completely confusing me. I struggled and got away.  When he showed up in my Study Hall sitting next to me, I asked him why he did it, and he said, “I always do things like that. I wanted to meet you.”  The Vice Principal was in charge of the study hall, but he never stayed.  There was a girl there who was always coming over to talk to Randy and I, but I didn’t know her.  She came up to us once and said, “They told me he would be coming and would sit by the record player.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  In a few minutes, the Vice Principal left like he always did leaving us alone.  After he left, a guy with long hair came in and sat by the record player.  The girl went and sat in a chair opposite him, and something was exchanged between them.  I didn’t really know what was going on until the girl got into a chair with wheels and was pushing herself all over the room quickly here and there and yelling, “Whee!” She had taken some kind of drugs, and the guy by the record player was a pusher. No one could tell because we were afraid of being called a NARC (Narcotics undercover policeman), and if people thought we were a NARC, we would be beat up.

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My older sister had also warned me about another group to stay away from that could beat me up if I wasn’t careful.  They were the Brown Berets.  The Brown Berets were a group of Hispanic guys who had banded together to fight for the rights of the Mexicans in California.  There were lots of Mexican Americans in our high school.  My sister had warned me because once I was walking down a breezeway between the classes on my way to class, and a group of Mexican American guys had formed a line, all holding hands blocking the breezeway.  They wouldn’t let me pass.  I wasn’t about to try to break their hands and go through them.  I noticed at one end, they didn’t quite have enough guys to completely block off the breezeway, so I did what they didn’t expect. I ignored them, and walked around them by going over to the end and walking through where they couldn’t completely close the breezeway off. They were so completely stunned when I did it, they didn’t know what to do and let me walk away.

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Not all the Mexican guys were like that, though. Every morning before school, I stood around talking to Eddy. Eddy was the captain of my baseball team from my P. E. class, and he was extremely nice to me.  All the students stood around in the square at the center of the school before school began.  This square was mostly concrete with picnic tables, but part of it was the Senior Lawn. My sister was allowed to go on the Senior Lawn because she was a senior.  She ate lunch at the picnic table on the Senior Lawn. If you weren’t a senior, you weren’t allowed on that lawn.  One morning, there was a bunch of ruckus, and there had been a guy who wasn’t a senior who tried to go on the Senior Lawn, and the senior guys grabbed him and took him in the bathroom and gave him a swirly in the toilet.  That means they dunked his head in the toilet and flushed it.  He came out with wet nasty hair.  They let Randy, the guy I had trouble figuring out from Study Hall, on the Senior Lawn, though, even though he wasn’t a senior because they all like him.  That connection came through me. Randy liked to walk me to class. He was always trying to carry my books and walking me to class. My older sister and I looked like twins, and one day, he accidentally approached her from the back and pulled her hair saying, “I’d like to walk you to class.”  When she turned around, he could tell it wasn’t me, but he walked her to class anyway, and she fell in love with him as did all the other seniors. Randy was the only non-senior allowed on the senior lawn.

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One morning, I was standing with a group of girls talking to Eddy, my Mexican friend, and someone came by saying, “There is going to be an assembly before school, and we all have to go.”  They told us where it was, so we all went.  It was all about the dress code.  The students were wanting to change the dress code. One guy was very explicit about not wanting to wear socks with his sandals.  The girls wanted the right to wear pants to school, etc.  I agreed that we should all be allowed to wear what we wanted.  It made no sense to wear socks with sandals. I never had.  They told us after the assembly that we were all to go out to the front lawn and have a “sit in.” We were all just going to sit on the grass until the school gave in and changed the dress code.  I thought changing the dress code was a good thing, but I always went to class.  I thought about it and decided to go on to class.  I was an extremely good student. I always did my homework. I never skipped class.  I was classified as one of the “smart” students and was always put in the more advanced classes.  I didn’t want to get myself in trouble by going to the lawn instead of going to class.  I was afraid my sister would be out there, though. She had a “go along with the crowd” type of mentality.  She wanted to be part of the “it” crowd so badly!  She wanted to be a hippie. When we had lived close to San Francisco, she begged and pleaded with my parents to let her go to Hade Ashbury, the street in San Francisco where all the hippies were hanging out, but they never let her go.  Since she and I had long hair, sometimes were were mistaken for hippies, and it made her happy.  She loved to rebel against our parents, and she wasn’t always reading like I was. I just knew she would go out there, and I worried about her.

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Most of the students in the school went to the lawn in front of the school and sat on the grass protesting the dress code.  There were hardly any students in class. In some classes, there were only 2 or 3 students, and in others, I was the only one there.  I worried about my sister all day.

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I kept getting news from the “Sit In.”  Someone came by selling oranges, and the students all bought oranges and sat there eating oranges.  Next, someone came buy selling marijuana, and the students were all sitting out there on the lawn smoking marijuana.  It was illegal!  I was really praying hard that my sister didn’t go out there!

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At the end of the day, I got on the bus to go home, and my sister was there. I asked her if she had been out on the lawn, and she hadn’t. I was so relieved!  At the end of the day, the principal agreed to sit down and talk to the representatives of the students about the dress code and see what they could to change it. The students had won, but had they? How many had not smoked marijuana before that day? There were so many protests back then.  Everything was changing, but was it all for the better?



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