Clans

Does anyone enjoy high school?  I didn’t have an especially good time in high school.  For that matter, I don’t recall enjoying school much at all, although I took pleasure in getting good grades.

I grew up in Napa, California in the 1950s.  My parents moved there from Vallejo when I was four.  I attended Lincoln Elementary School, Redwood Junior High (2 years), Silverado Junior High (2 years; change of districts, I assume), and Napa Senior High (2 years, class of ’63).  I recall mother saying Napa had the only 6-4-2 school system in the state, probably because at that time, Napa Senior High was the only high school in the county (at least, the south county), and it barely had space for 2 grades.  My graduating class (1963) had 700 students in it.  They have more high schools now.

I don’t remember ever feeling part of any group at any time in school, with one exception that I’ll get to.  I wasn’t well as a child (chronic sinus infections), and in elementary school I had to spend exercise periods in the principal’s office, because the “cold air” was “bad for me.”  You form a lot of friendships in elementary school, and there I was, reading in the office.  In Phys. Ed., I was the kid on the bench, or in right field, where I couldn’t do any damage.  The only school-related activity I really enjoyed was the high school choir.  The Napa High School-Junior College Choir, under the baton of the late George Hildebrant (RIP, Uncle Hildy), was the only place I felt at home and accepted, and those are the only reunions I enjoyed attending.  I sang, which I love; my singing was accepted and appreciated; I felt vindicated and part of a communal effort when we won prizes at the Music Educators’ National Conference.

Recently I learned why I never felt I belonged, courtesy of Facebook.  Some time ago I joined the Facebook group Napa Senior High Alumni.  I have yet to see a name I recognize on the list, but of course it covers alums for probably a 40 year span or more.  Yesterday someone asked, “How many of us had parents that went to Napa High?”  I responded by saying, not me, my parents both came from out of state.

I’ve been absolutely floored over the last few days to see the fifty-eight responses flood my mailbox, fifty-four of them saying, oh, my parents attended, and a sizeable minority of those saying, my grandparents attended, in one case back in 1903.  Three people besides me responded no.

Every little kid has the paranoid conviction that there’s an “in crowd” in school, that he or she doesn’t belong to.  Napa High was attended by kids from a large group of families that had grown up together over generations. What do people do when they all live together like that for years?  They become a clan; they don’t call it that, but that’s what it is.  And clans, on the whole, are exclusive; outsiders accepted only on sufferance.  I may not have been paranoid to think I wasn’t accepted there, a smart-mouthed, much too intelligent girl living in a dumpy part of town (an old house on a dead-end street, next to the railroad, no less).  The kids in the big, nice houses in the good neighborhoods had other interests.  My dad didn’t even work in Napa; he commuted to Vallejo to work at Mare Island, where he had a blue-collar job.  I had half a dozen friends, all with interests as odd as mine; none of us were part of the “in crowd.”

This may also explain why so many of the people who attended Napa High still live in Napa.  They have clan affiliations; that’s where they feel they belong.

It certainly explains why I left Napa to attend U.C. Berkeley and never lived there again, apart from a few months after my divorce while I looked for a job.  Most of my odd friends also left.  I went back to two high school reunions, and then stopped; everyone I talked to lived in Napa, nobody was doing any of the things I was doing.

I don’t think I realized until just now, how small Napa was in the 1950s.

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