“Have a bitchin’ summer” and other teenage wisdom

One of the few positive aspects of the pandemic is having more time to complete tasks that have been on your to-do list since you could fit into the skinny jeans that you now need to donate to the thrift store.

Last month I offered my school sweater and high school yearbooks to Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, California. (Yes, I ‘m a Valley Girl and proud of it.) Founder and curator Tommy Gelinas was happy to add my artifacts to the museum’s collection.

You don’t need to be famous (or infamous) to donate items to a museum. The Museum of Flight in Seattle was happy to get my dad’s aerospace ephemera. In 2019 I shipped my mom’s 1946 yearbook and other items to a historical society in the Midwest.

Before I packed my yearbooks for shipping, I re-read the messages from my classmates for the first time since the week of graduation. The number of friends who included their telephone numbers (no need for the area code) was sweet. Even if you attended an out-of-state college, your parents would have that phone number for eternity.

I’m still friends with some of my high school classmates but many of them did not sign my yearbook. Some of the signatures spark no memory at all. I blame the classroom seating chart. I may have simply taken the easy route in each class and asked the students nearest to me to sign my yearbook.

The majority of the messages were the typical “have a great summer” and “see you next year.” A few inscriptions baffled me or made me remember inconsequential high school moments.

1973: 10th grade yearbook

According to Julie, Kathy, and Carrie, Mrs. Barbarini’s English class was tough. I don’t recall the work being particularly difficult, but then I was always a voracious reader who loved homework.

When I flipped to page 108, I spotted Mrs. Barbarini’s message that included this tidbit: “In fact, you are one of the unsung heroes of the Julius Caesar Day. You really helped make it a success.” I have no memory of Julius Caesar Day, but I am retroactively proud that I gave it my all.

Julie also suggested that I call her should I need a violinist. Thanks to Google, I know where to find her.

Carrie revealed she would be studying elsewhere the following year and promised to write. I don’t remember getting any letters, but I do remember her arguing with another student about the use of peyote. “You always get sick the first time,” she insisted. Good to know, although I never tested her theory.

Dave observed that we were still amicable in spite of all our differences and that I was a beautiful person. Differences? No clue.

Ellis felt our shared biology class was a waste of time. Not me. I remember Mrs. Katzman announcing on the first day that she would explain the difference between “organic, orgasms and organisms.” That kind of talk would likely get her fired today. Her yearbook message to me? “I’ll never forget you in those weird striped socks!”

Someone with an illegible signature wrote: “Long live the bass.” On the first day of orchestra class in junior high, I chose an instrument that was taller than I was. (Full disclosure: a string bass is still taller than I am.) Somehow, I managed to get it into my mom’s 1968 Chevrolet Nova so I could practice over the Christmas break.

Mark (or perhaps Mary) signed page 105 because he (or she) was featured in both the Hiking Club and Ski Club photos on that page. I recognize almost no one. This classmate also confessed half the people pictured were not members of either club. Wait, we had a hiking club?

Mike admitted he had been madly in love with me for years but had come to accept that we would only be friends. Pretty sure this was my elementary school pal who was both a kid and a kidder.

Ellen promised me a postcard from every country she visited during the summer of 1975. I do not recall any postcards. That bitch owes me mail. Just kidding. We’re still friends.

My best friend Nancy did not attend my high school, but she signed my yearbook anyway. It was a sweet message in her perfect handwriting. She wished me luck with “you-know-who.” You-know-who ended up being gay but turned into a wonderful lifelong friend.

Lisa encouraged me to “stay as nutty as you are.” Done!

1974: 11th grade yearbook

Robin wrote: “You have your bow much too tight. Don’t you know how to do it?” I continued to play bass, but apparently not as well as Robin. She played electric bass. Way cooler.

Carol started with a few pleasantries about the summer then predicted: “I will be tanner than you.” Yeah, but in 2020 I’ll have fewer wrinkles.

Tony wrote: “Have a good time with your yell leading because that’s the only thing you do good is yell.” Oh, Tony! The other thing I was good at was worshipping you from afar.

Ruben wrote: “I had a lot of fun just looking at you.” Holy crap. What did I do in 11th grade?

Two classmates wrote backward (!remmus doog a evaH) What are the chances that both of them had the same undiagnosed learning disability?

Mike (you remember him from 10th grade, right?) wrote: “You’ve always been a super fox, and I want your body!”

“I’m sorry about your nose!” wrote one classmate. No signature. No clue what happened to my nose in 1974.

Sherry wrote: “I’m glad that we’re still friends even through everything that has happened” and concluded with good wishes for the summer and high hopes for our senior year. WHAT HAPPENED, SHERRY? DID IT INVOLVE MY NOSE?

Alisa wrote: “Do you believe we got up before 7:00 am just for orchestra? We must have been insane!” Yes, we were insane, but most teenagers are.

“Dear Annette” began one boy’s message. I remembered that he once said I looked like Annette Funicello. He signed it “Steve (Frankie).” How sweet was that?

1975: 12th grade yearbook

Ah, senior year. Two semesters to wrap up my high school experience and live down the nickname “Bucket Butt” given to me by the aforementioned you-know-who. I had “junk in my trunk” long before that was a thing.

Craig wrote: “Paula, You’re the best face-maker, and I hope you keep it up.” Dude, that was my regular face. I was not trying to be funny.

Ellen reminded me about “drip-dry buildings.” This was an in-joke that would crack us up every time. Note to self: Call and ask if she remembers what the heck we were talking about. (Ellen has the distinction of signing my yearbook three times. That’s dedication.)

Jeff wrote a lovely message, then added: “P.S. I hope you enjoyed Siddhartha.” I vaguely recall zipping into the school library mere moments before he did and checking out the last copy.

Jann mentioned Mrs. Serpico’s English class is less than gracious terms. Seriously, did everyone except me hate reading and writing?

On the other hand, three classmates described me as “vivacious,” and all of them spelled it correctly.

Laurie wrote: “You’re so zany! We’re twins! After all the fun we had, I was hoping we’d turn bad!” She must have written that on Opposite Day because she ended up working at a retreat center devoted to Christian mysticism. Hardly a career for Betty Rizzo.

Karen, a friend since seventh grade, wrote: “I’ll always remember walking home from school in 120° weather.” What I remember is that I tended to walk so fast that Karen struggled to keep up with me, even though her legs were roughly twice as long as mine.

Randy, the boy next door who drove me to school each day in his totally cool Firebird, wrote: “To one of the most far-out, rowdiest people I’ve come to know.” He remains an upbeat, sweet guy. Several years ago, he and his wife made a long drive to see me perform stand-up comedy.

My trip back in time was a hilarious break from the stress of 2020. Try it. Make some hot cocoa and pull out those yearbooks, scrapbooks, and photo albums. Stay safe.


  • Rebecca

    Okay – I laughed and then got inspired. We’re getting a storm on Saturday and I’ll make some time to get reacquainted with my senior yearbook. So funny! Not a surprise you were a character back then, too!

    • Ellen

      Omg, I too have no memory where the “drip-dry building” came from, but for some reason, I still laugh when I hear that!

      I didn’t send you postcards from each place??? What a bitch!! lmao. I was probably off getting drunk with those foxy Dutch guys or Italian Homies we met at the various hostels we stayed at. My mom liked to tease me that when they asked me what I learned on that trip, my answer was “to drink beer” tbh, I actually don’t even like beer, or to even drink. I think it was definitely those foxy guys. I’d probably do it all over again if I got the chance.

      This was a great trip down memory lane!!!

  • Nancy

    This sums up the life of “Polly”! I laughed and cried through the whole thing!

    Yep! “You know who” threw a wrench into our plans, didn’t he?

    I’m inspired to look for my yearbooks in storage now’. Lol. Thanks for the laugh! Always with you! ❤️

  • Kim P

    This is great, Paula! What a fun way to explore the past.

    Julius Caesar Day … lol, that is awesome. I have no doubt you made it a success!

    I love the visual of you trying to get the string bass into your mom’s 1968 Chevrolet Nova.

    I have to confess that I was one of those people who showed up in club yearbook photos even though I was never in the club. But hey, if you tell a bunch of high schoolers that the photographer will be here all day, and if you’re in a club you can leave class to be in the club photo … well, then … you get Kim Dixon mysteriously showing up for Math Club, Hiking Club, Cycling Club, Spanish Club, Future Farmers of America, and a few others I can’t remember.

    Stay nutty! And have a bitchin 2021!

  • Bonnie Schroeder

    This is hysterical, Paula. High school in 1973?? OMG, I’d dropped out of UCSB, gotten married, and was in the throes of my divorce then! You are a youngster!!!

  • Patty Drasin

    Love that you donated your yearbooks and sweater! I gave my mascot outfit to Carla, I think that was her name…the previous year’s mascot. I still have my Letter Girls sweater as well as my brothers Letter Mans jacket. You were always a bright and shining light and your brilliant mind and quick wit constantly kept me on my toes. Russ Mahler and I still talk about you.
    Love ya, Bucket Butts,

  • Steven Craig

    LOVED EVERY BIT OF THIS!!! The humor, the anecdotes, the “Where Are They Now?” updates. All of it. And you!! YOU!! I could totally see middle school you in my mind when I was reading this.