Tuesday, June 15, 2010


My former high school Spanish teacher, Ms. Serafa is retiring this month and I wanted to send her a photo of the fantastic trip to Spain she took us on in the summer of '77. So I dusted off my photo album and found this picture. Atticus (16)looked at it with disbelief. "Is that girl holding a cigarette?" he asked--yes, I explained, students used to smoke in front of their teachers if they were over 16. , "And what's in all those cups?" Beer and wine silly! We were in Spain for crying out loud!
Sometimes when I regale my kids with a story of my own teen years Atticus will sigh and say, "You guys had so much fun." Usually this is in reference to something stupid and reckless we did which is now prohibited (which would be pretty much everything)--such as doing donuts in the school parking lot on a snowy day or cruisin' down Main Street with six or seven girls in the car, the radio turned up, and one of us hanging on to a coat hanger because the car antennae had long since fallen off. Current laws forbid driving in a car with more than one non-related teenager until you are 18. The law is perfectly sensible but not much fun.
This picture is just photographic evidence of a time long gone when kids were allowed to get in trouble some times and teachers and parents did not bail their asses out if they did. At our last reunion a friend reminded me of a band trip they had taken to Jamaica in the late 70's. On the way back through customs, one of the drug dogs sniffed out the pot the drummer had (surprise) and the police pulled him aside. When it came time to board the plane the police were still working the idiot over. One of the chaperones said to Willie, our band director, "Hey what are we going to do about him?" and Willie said, "F*** him. We're going home." And they did. No one got sued. I don't think anyone was even annoyed with Willie for leaving the chuckle-head there. In fact, I think his parents let him sit in a Jamaican jail a day or two before coming to get him.
Yes, kids. These things really did happen once upon a time in America. Kids got in trouble and their parents made them pay the consequences without the help of attorneys and phone calls made to authorities (well, unless you were a Kennedy).
It was indeed a different time and I thank Ms. Serafa and her husband Pete who were only in their mid-20s when they took us all to Europe and allowed us to have fun and even if it meant we might get into trouble. I thank them for turning a blind eye to some of our behavior and thank Pete for pretending to believe us when we missed curfew and said it was because we had not set our watches to local time (three weeks into the trip). It was a great trip and I know it changed my life, opening up a world I did not know existed and showing a sheltered girl from the suburbs everything from the running of the bulls in Pamplona to the majesty of the Alhambra in Granada to the late night discos of Madrid.
Now, thanks to overprotective parents and aggressive law suits most teachers don't take these trips. Those who do go have to impose such restrictions on the kids and themselves that they pretty much take all the fun out of travel (a teacher friend recently chaperoned a trip to Ireland. No one, not even the adults when they were alone, had a beer. Not one beer on a trip to Ireland. I weep for humanity.)

So today I salute Ms. Serafa as she moves on from her 35 years of teaching. I thank her of course for her countless hours of fantastic classroom teaching. And I thank her and Pete for showing Europe to me and so many others for the first time. I wish them well as they move on to the next adventure in their lives and I hope they can have a fraction of the fun we all did that summer.
And to Atticus I say, you will have plenty of your own fun and you will be ultimately safer than we were.
But you're right, sometimes, we did have more fun.


  1. Ooh, this is my favorite post of yours by far, mostly because I can relate to it so specifically. I wasn't on the trip to Spain, but our German Club went to Germany for a week in my Junior year. What Frau G let us get away with--it's hard to believe now. For starters, she took us to the Munich Hofbrauhaus for a stein of beer. (I swore one stein was the equivalent of at least 2 bottles of beer. It was probably a liter). Then later that night, I distinctly recall that one of our crowd had not returned as expected to the hotel, and rather than alert Frau G and get the kid in trouble, a friend and I (I think it was Kurt Kastner?) doubled back on the subway to the Hofbrauhaus, searching the neighboring streets for our drunk and lost schoolmate. We found him and got back well after midnight, and to this day I don't know whether Frau G ever knew about it. (If she did, she didn't lecture us on it.) The only punishment for drinking too much beer was having to endure an endless tour of Dachau (the concentration camp) the very next day, with headaches and light sensitivity like I'd never experienced before.

    Oh yes--I LOLed (literally not figuratively) at the mention of Willie and his language. I think kids today are about 10 times more likely than we were to use the F word around teachers, and teachers are about 100 times less likely to use it around students. Seems a little bassackwards when I think about it...

    So, who was the drummer who got stranded in Jamaica for trying to bring in pot? I vaguely remember that story. (I was SO jealous of anyone in jazz band because they got to do such cool trips...)

    Thanks for the great storytelling and the real insights into how things have changed--and what's lost and gained since then. Oh, and thanks for reminding me that I too am ancient (turning 50 on Monday.)

  2. Whoops, that comment above from "coolkid808" was really from me, Amy Buttery. I didn't realize my son was logged into his google account on this machine. Carry on.

  3. Hahaha..."I weep for humanity"...lots of good laughs in this one, and lots of reminders of my own high school French Club trip, I think in 1976...

  4. Drats! That dreaded Jamaica trip!! I saved only $200 so I couldn't go. And for years, when I would get together wih Tom and Drew and Bill they'd start talking about the Jamaica trip and pretend they didn't remember I wasn't there - a la "hey John remember the time in Jamaica where there was booz and girls for everyone and you.... of yeah!! YOU WEREN'T THERE - HAHAHAHAHAHA!!

    Congratulations Ms. Serafa - I got the worst grade of my High School career in Spanish; but it wasn't your fault. It was Judy and Gregs'. Haha! (It was mine own fault, of course...)