Posts Tagged ‘oral history’

High School Reunion 4: oral history video

June 1, 2018

We made up a book, just a spoof

And the card was inserted, as proof

A system so swinal

Failed half on the final

And, fifty years later, there’s proof.


Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. I followed 3 years Community Health Center work with a return to traveling and adventures in temporary positions in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska. 2017 brought me adventures in Iowa, Alaska, and northern British Columbia. After a month of part-time in northern Iowa, a new granddaughter, a friend’s funeral, and a British Columbia reprise, I am taking a break from Sioux City for my 50th High School reunion.  Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

I arrived half an hour late for the oral history session video recording, ready to tell the truth, and as always, the truth contains some ugliness. I sat and listened, and after a moment glanced at a sheet of suggested questions.

The discussion, as I entered, ran to the subject of the hardest teachers; two names came up repeatedly.

One brilliant math teacher held the patent for the circular slide rule. (Few remember the slide rule, a computing device limited to 3 significant digits; making it circular rates as an act of pure genius.)

The other taught Senior English. He didn’t stop at the difference between metaphor and simile; he distinguished good from bad literature and taught how to read in depth.  Every week we read a book and reviewed it in addition to the class reading assignments (for example, Moby Dick).  To teach us to work under pressure, he would surprise us with a 3 page paper due the next day.

He had a fully subjective grading system and never gave A’s. A single misspelling, grammatical mistake, punctuation error or use of the verb “to be” would bring a decrement of a letter grade.

None of us could remember the single ambiguous question that failed so many on the final, so that half the students walked with the class but they didn’t graduate. A quarter attended summer school.  Even then, some didn’t pass.

Yet, for all that, many of us still write, and all of us read critically.

No one but me remembered an easy teacher, a man who taught music theory and composition with clear expectations and lots of praise.

I described the day Mr. Esbenshade announced he would speak no more English in Spanish class, and how I thereby learned to speak Spanish.

Another question asked about pranks. The Class of ’67 outdid us.  They sodded the English teacher’s room and wrote “Good literature can make you smell the grass” on the board.  They carried the Headmaster’s Bentley to the front steps and left it where it couldn’t roll.

But a group of my classmates, fed up with the weekly English assignment (read a book and review it), reviewed a non-existent book and had the audacity to make up and insert a card for the library’s card catalogue. They got away with it.

Discussions wandered from the original question. Most memories and vivid stories took place outside.  People rappelled off the dormitory roof; they hiked and biked and skied.

Once, the Mountain Rescue leader (who also taught shop and played viola) sent some of the students on a deer drive. Jumping from a tree onto the deer, dispatching it with nothing but a knife, he showed the students how to dress out the carcass and he fed them the meat.

The second to the last question asked if, knowing what we do now, would we choose to go to Colorado Academy for our education.

Nothing comes without a price, you can never get more out of something more than you put in. We all agreed we got an incomparable education.  So we talked about that question, but not one of us would answer it.