Fifty Years, Part 1

By Paul Ketterer

Part 1 in a 2-part essay

Central High 1951, slightly before my time there

Central High 1951, slightly before my time there

Fifty years ago, I graduated from Madison Central High School. All that is left of the building is the arch formerly over the front door of the building, facing the 200 block of Wisconsin Avenue. The building is gone, and there is no Central High in Madison any more – has not been for forty-five years.

The barrenness of the site, now a parking ramp for the upgraded Madison Vocational and Technical Institute (Madison College) is an appropriate symbol for my public education experience. While by no means abusive, the fact that I was able to slip through the system in 67th class rank while doing no more than 15 minutes of homework a week shows how unchallenging the academics were. I did manage to learn a vast array of information, by osmosis from class time and much more from personal reading and interests. So much so that in the infamous PSAT and SAT my class rank was number one.

This disconnect was reflected in physical endeavors, as in pick-up basketball games I always did well, but did not make the basketball team. With one exception – in a one-on-one with our all-state center, I failed to even get a shot off. He either stole the ball or blocked my shotI ran well in private runs of five miles, yet finished dead last in every one of my cross country meets.

Socially, my perception is exemplified by an experience at the end of our 9th-grade year. The Loft has gone through a number of reincarnations in the past fifty years, but at that time it was the place to be for high-schoolers, mostly Madison East and Central though a few high-society West students would show up. A mass mailing went out to all finishing 9th-graders inviting them to join. Most got theirs on a Thursday, and the conversation on the bus on the way to school involved would they go and what would they wear. I had not received mine, and was certain that the invitations went to the popular kids, and I was not included. Mine did arrive on Friday, the day of the welcome party, and the Loft became an important part of the next two years for me. Telling was my interpretation – I felt invisible – no one knew I was smart, or a fast runner, or a kind friend.

There are some rational explanations for the invisibility. I was often at our cabin fifty miles away. The two summers after my 6th and 7th grade years I spent entirely there, as well as most weekends. My closest friends were country kids from the cabin area, and I was confirmed in the church local to that place rather than Madison. The church youth group there became important to me, as well as one on Madison’s west side, where my close friends were West High students. As a result, I didn’t have social time with locals other than after school. I was often not physically present in our neighborhood.

I found the world of reading much more enjoyable than most “reality” and spent hours upon hours untouchable by any around me. I was a brooder who was traumatized by nuclear proliferation, nightmaring several times a month about observing/being in an atomic explosion. Always afterward I felt out of touch.

College years provided a wondrous contrast — three of my grade and high school friends continued with me to the UW. I treasured those deepening relationships.

The context of this reflection is the opportunity to reserve a place at the Inn on the Park July 26, 2014th for only $29.95, including eats and entertainment. There is a “pub crawl” at the southside VFW the 25th as well, for $5. The question is: “Do I want to go?”

How have I been the last 50 years? Would anyone be interested? Fifty years ago they didn’t seem to be, in any way shape or form. I spent most of my career in the public eye, with much attention and influence, and with a dangerous, secret interior. About the public stuff people have plenty opinions, most of which I’ve heard, and in none of which am I the least interested. The interior is too personal, and healing too sensitive. It’s really none of their business.

Am I interested in their last 50 years? Only the three good continuing friends. One of them will not be there; with the other two I have had recent contact. I have some curiosity about the other invisible ones from grade school, the ones least likely to be there.

The last reunion, the 45th, took me right back to that first trip to the Loft.

“Am I dressed ok?” “Will anyone talk to me?” “What will they think?”

Should I go?

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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2 Responses to Fifty Years, Part 1

  1. nmalvin says:

    Those last questions are ones I’ve struggled with my whole life when anticipating social situations. Thanks for being a mirror to let me see them.


  2. Selma Deweu Calna says:

    This is 180 degrees from my own experience in the class of 1943 when we lived just four blocks from the high school.


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