Last Saturday I had the honor of attending, along with my husband, my old High School reunion. Egypt High School, no less, of the thriving metropolis of Egypt, Arkansas. Ok, it’s no ‘thriving metropolis’, but it does have a main street, a post office, a community center, a service station, and numerous dilapidated buildings abandoned during the mid-sixties. The reunion was actually held in the much larger city of Jonesboro; since the school itself had been closed down in 1967 and consolidated with numerous other schools to create the Westside School District of Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Someone had brought numerous yearbooks dating from 1939 up through 1965. I graduated in 1965 and it was great fun to go back through all the older books and find pictures of myself as a fourth-grader, fifth, sixth, and so on. The fun I enjoyed now was not the fun I enjoyed then—for like a few others in our small school (there were 18 in my graduating class), I was a member of an elite group known as ‘geeks’. Actually, I was probably the Queen of Geeks.
I’m not sure I remember when I first heard the word that described the group to which I belonged—the Geeks. But as with all establishments and most especially schools there are hierarchies that intentionally or unintentionally draw invisible lines that separate certain classes or groups. There can be numerous divisions such as the ‘popular’, the ‘attractive’, the ‘well-to-do’, the ‘poor’, the ‘mentally challenged’, and last but not least, the ‘Geeks’. The groups can overlap, but if you were ever branded a "Geek", there was no salvation and no acceptance by any other unless by another geek. And sometimes-even geeks wouldn’t associate themselves with other geeks for fear of even farther ostracization by the upper echelons of a society that loves separation and classifications—even in the very young.
My first realization that I didn’t rate very highly on this unseen ladder was an incident in first grade. A pretty little blond girl and myself had gone into the cloakroom to get our coats, when two young boy classmates blocked the door to our exit. One boy points to me and says to the other boy, "Let her out. She’s ugly." I don’t remember how I felt about that comment (although, I was happy to leave); but it must have made an impression on me as I have never forgotten it for over fifty-six years.
As I looked at my school year photos in those old year books at that reunion, I had to laugh at the face looking back at me—unkempt dark hair, clear smooth skin, no protruding ears, no bad teeth, small nose—nothing that would jump right out and shout, "GEEK!" But during my school years, I had no doubts that I was the ultimate in full-fledged Geek-ness. In softball I was the student never picked to be on either team’s side.
When students were paired in science class, the teacher had to place me—or rather force me on some other unwilling classmate as partner on a project. I wasn’t exceptionally bright; my high grades came from hard work and continuously studying. I always had my nose in a book while my classmates passed notes and threw paper balls at me. By working hard, I graduated 3rd in my class—but you have to remember there were only 18, so this was no remarkable feat.
I think my geek-ness emanated from the fact that I was painfully shy. I had few friends because I didn't know how to make friends. If someone talked to me, I would run away in fright. Thankfully eventually, like ‘Geeks’ from all walks of life, I outgrew the issues that held me back during my public school years. And not only did I learn to break away from the shyness that made life so tough, I came to realize that the ‘Geek’ in me made me into the person that I am today. I am no longer shy and my hard work during my formative years helped me make a better life for my family and myself than I had when I was young. And I sometimes wonder what my life would be like now had I not been that little homely Geek of the fifties and sixties.
My husband took my hand as we laughed at my old school pictures and said, "Babe, you may have been a Geek, but you are my rose." Making me think of Shakespeare’s ‘a rose by any other name….’
I lifted his hand to my lips and kissed the strong leathery wrinkles. "I will always be your geek, as well."
Sandra E. Graham, author, AMOS JAKEY and NICOLINA through American Book Publishing. I also write book reviews at Book Pleasures. Visit my website for more info about my books and articles: http://www.sandragraham-articles-books.com