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  • Brief Stay at a 'Happy Place'

    From the Marin IJ
    May 21, 2008

    I see that Tam High School is gearing up for its 100th anniversary celebration this weekend.

    I'm not sure yet if I'll go.

    My high school diploma is from Tam, but I was there for only a few months in 1942 and '43 - hardly long enough to memorize the fight song, something about red-and-blue, we will be true.

    Still, those few months left an impression, and a couple of the people I met there are still my close friends.

    We lived in Sausalito then, on a steep North Street hillside with a glorious view of the bay.

    I was in the junior class, beginning to think about college. The war was on: We moved to Marin when my dad became an executive of Marinship, the shipyard that materialized almost overnight on the shores of Richardson Bay. My brother worked on the graveyard shift.

    My family had always moved a lot - I had spent my freshman year at Redondo High, and part of my sophomore year in Laconia, N.H., so starting Tam cold turkey was nothing new.

    In some ways, my memories of Tam are almost a time capsule, without reference before or afterward. I remember the high ceilings and the long halls and the banks of metal lockers. The campus itself was lovely, with sidewalks and lawns and an outdoor theater where we went to noontime rallies. The cheerleaders were named Ditz Webster and Bern Bernardini. The principal was a square-faced old gentleman named E.E. Wood, nicknamed The Duke. He had white hair parted in the middle. I remember most of my teachers, particularly the handsome white-haired Ruby Scott who taught Latin, and Elizabeth Keyser, an English teacher with a limp and a passion for literature. Gus Gustafson, the football coach, was my history teacher and gave me the only B I got in my whole high school career. I liked him anyway.

    The student body was pretty homogeneous; the Japanese students had already been shipped off to internment camps, and the black people who worked in the shipyard had yet to arrive. We were a WASP-ish group, most of us expecting to go to college, though many of the boys enlisted as soon as they got their diplomas.

    I don't remember how I got to school and back - did I walk? Were there buses? My classmates remembered taking the train to school from faraway towns like Fairfax. I know that once I got from Tam to Sausalito, I would stop for ice cream at the Borden's shop next door to the plaza, where soon afterward a plaque was erected listing Sausalito boys who were fighting the war.

    I usually went home after school. I didn't socialize much; I never went to a dance. I had a few pals to eat lunch with, and now and then I joined the gang who bought snacks and smoked cigarettes at the canteen, downhill from the school. I didn't stay at Tam long enough to join the student newspaper staff, though I encountered several staffers later when we went on to college.

    Few families were untouched by the war. In one emotional week that year, my brother was taken into the Air Force, my sister was called into the Red Cross and my dad learned he was being transferred to Canada with Bechtel. My mother, meanwhile, had agreed to go back East to be with my other sister, who was giving birth to a child while her husband was away in the Navy.

    Just like that, my family was breaking up, and I had to figure out where I'd be. A couple of colleges were taking in kids at the end of their junior year in high school; I applied and was accepted. I moved to Palos Verdes in Southern California to live with family friends, and re-enrolled at Redondo High School, waiting for fall.

    I said goodbye to Tam High in a hurry. The Duke wished me luck; Miss Scott cautioned that I was too young for college.

    I didn't think much about Tam until years later, after I'd moved back to Marin and my nieces and nephews were enrolled there. They had the full high school experience; my nephew Wes was student body president. In recent years, I began attending reunion lunches with female classmates and a once-a year-party for couples each summer; I felt more of a Tamite then than I had as a student.

    For all of us, life is a patchwork of memories and people and places.

    Part of me will celebrate with the reunion attendees this weekend. My Tam was a happy place; I loved the teachers, long gone, and many of the classmates, now as gray-haired as I.

    I still smile, remembering the linoleum floors of the high-ceilinged halls and the shrub-lined paths that made the place feel like home.

    I was kidding about not remembering the fight song: "Tamalpais, Tamalpais, red and blue,"

    "In our hearts you are enshrined; we all love you."
Last Modified on May 24, 2008
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