Today, reading a book I'm going to review for Kirkus, I heard over the shop's PA system the very familiar sounds of ... "Runaround Sue" by Dion, sans Belmonts, with whom he'd recently split. (Here's a link to a YouTube video of Dion performing the song.") Here's my story--sad but true. It's about a girl that I once knew ....
And those sounds formed a carpet that carried me back to Hiram High School. As I sat there this morning--listening, remembering--I could not have told you what year Dion released that song. But I knew I was in high school. I could picture those old Hiram High sock hops, could see myself dancing (not a pretty sight, believe me), could remember the emotions that song evoked at the time.
When the song finished, I asked my dear old iPhone about the song and learned that it was released in September 1961 and soon perched atop the charts.
John F. Kennedy was in his first year as President. The Cleveland Cavaliers did not exist. The Tribe sucked. Hawaii, The Agony and the Ecstasy, and Franny and Zooey were the year's bestselling books. Faulkner and Frost were still alive. Hemingway had shot himself on July 2.
The fall of my senior year at Hiram High School. In some ways, being a senior was a great relief. No older kids around to hassle me (and, yes, some did). We were now the Kings and Queens of the school. A tiny school (my graduating class, swollen in number because some students from nearby Streetsboro, whose high school was temporarily closed, had joined us, still totaled only about 40--according to the graduation program--see image).
Years later, I used to tell my own students that I'd graduated tenth in my class. They were (moderately) impressed--until I told them about the Forty.
I had a lot of fun my senior year. In the fall I played the Judge in Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury; in the spring I had a good role in our senior play--Ever Since Eve (don't ask). I was named to the All-Portage County Basketball team (2nd team--as my WRA colleague Tom Davis never tired of reminding me). I batted .451 for the Huskies' baseball team (I was the catcher--also pitched some games). I was back together with my girlfriend, who'd dumped me my junior year to date my best friend ... you can read more about that by looking up awkward in the dictionary. (She would dump me again over spring break our freshman year in college--wise woman.)
I didn't knock myself out in my classes. But I still did fairly well. I just took a look at my transcript. Here are my year's average grades that 1961-62 school year:
- English: B+
- Amer. Gov't.: A-
- German II: B-
- Adv Math: A-
- Choir: A-
Looking at those grades, you wouldn't guess I'd make my living as a language teacher. Or that I actually really sucked at math. But my senior year I had the best math teacher I'd ever had--Mr. Nuspl, who was also the assistant basketball coach.
The social life at Hiram High was not wild. We had sock hops; we had a few formal dances (the Y-Teen Christmas Dance, the Prom). We all flowed over to Hiram College on Sunday nights (after CYF--Christian Youth Fellowship) to see the feature films which the college showed in Hayden Auditorium (forty cents' admission, as I recall). My girlfriend was a ticket-taker, and we sat up in the stage-right balcony (her assignment), back row on the aisle (her assignment), where we made out (no one behind us!) and caught enough of the film to speak sagely about it afterwards.
At those sock hops and dances that year "Runaround Sue" was in the air all the time. It has a lilting kind of sorrow about it--a perfect sound for high school kids, who bounce back and forth between lilt and sorrow all the time. At least I did.
Here's a link to the admonitory lyrics.
This morning, the song was over soon enough; the music shifted to Ray Charles (and yet some more memories arrived) while I tried to focus on a dense biography I'm reviewing.
But Dion and Ray triumphed, so I walked home. And their songs remain in my head right now as I type these words.