Resistance in a Small Town - Laurie Harriton
“Sons and daughters of East Stroudsburg, with songs and cheers draw nigh, to praise our alma mater, our glorious Eastburg High. No school excels East Stroudsburg. We battle for the right. True to these her colors, the purple and the white.”
1965. The five of us sat unmoving in our bleacher seats, staring straight ahead, surrounded by legs, as 700 teenagers at a mandated pep rally, stood up, hands on hearts, and sang our high school alma mater.
Which was packed with lies. Many schools excelled East Stroudsburg. Most. Possibly all. No human being with a shred of honesty or integrity could stand up and sing those words.
This school was the kind of place where teachers did not want you to raise your hand and ask questions.
When mini-skirts became fashionable, this school issued a rule saying that girls who wore skirts shorter than 3 inches above the knee would be sent home. A male teacher walked from homeroom to homeroom with a ruler. We were called to the front of the room and instructed to kneel as he bent down and measured. In protest, we showed up in Granny dresses. New rule. If a girl came to school in a floor length dress, she would be sent home.
This school had a band teacher who sat me, the only girl in the trumpet section, last chair 3rd for over two years. Finally, he moved me to last chair second. I screwed up my courage and went to his office. “Mr. Zellner,” I asked, “Why am I always last chair?”
“I do not want girls in the trumpet section. They are too distracting.” I was moved to French Horn.
Having transferred from “the outside,” it took my identical twin sister and I three years to make friends. But when we did, they were glorious outsiders.
We knew BG from summers on the Shawnee Swim Team. One year he was sent to Kentucky to build houses for poor people, and came back deeply in love. With a boy. “I’m a homo!”
“Are you sure? Our friend has a crush on you.”
“I’m sure.” What could be more fun than a friend who could report from the locker room how all the boys we had crushes on were hung?
Lynna had long hair, blue eyes, and a huge, happy smile. When she was 12, her minister had shown up at her school and called her to the hallway. “I have wonderful news for you,” he said. “Your Daddy is with God!” He had been killed in a farming accident.
Claire called herself Fang. Gangly, blonde, and subversive, in her black and white cow coat, she had parents, Stretch and Marie, who were small minded and prejudiced. Whenever we picked her up, Fang insisted we send BG or Reggie, who was black, to knock on the door.
There were others, the transfers like Laura and the Jarretts, the Catholic kids like Carmen and the Gunnells boys, the talented kids like Barbie and the Pappalardos.
One person knew another, and then another, and soon our crowd expanded past the halls of “Eastburg High.” We met all the other high school misfits from Blair Academy to Pleasant Valley, to Mt. Pocono. We met the misfit adults from the Phoenix players, who led to all the misfit college kids. It was international. Everyone in the Poconos who was into the arts, politics or drugs knew each other.
After school, we rushed over the bridge to hang out on Main St. Stroudsburg in front of Rea and Dericks Drug store or inside Mainline Music store. The boys got seriously into rock; the girls preferred folk. They learned to play the guitar. We learned about racism and the Viet Nam War. We decided to organize a “Love In” on Courthouse Square in Stroudsburg. Lynna’s brother Gino had been arrested for something like loitering, so we would chant for him too.
Our mentor was the Jarrett boys’ mom, Irma. She had thick blonde hair, and wore patent leather mini-skirts and boots. Her older son, Keith, was playing piano with some jazz group called the Charles Lloyd Quartet. We loved her, she loved us, the daughters she had never had. Soon 20 kids were standing in front of the statue on Courthouse Square in our bell-bottoms, beads and buttons, holding up signs and shouting “No more War!” “Bring our boys home.” Then we crossed the tiny street and stood in front of the jail. “Free Gino Krause! Free Gino!”
Lo and behold, the concept of speaking truth to power crossed back over the bridge and into the halls of East Stroudsburg High School.
One day in Girl’s Hygiene (the boys had Health) we were reading about our private parts. They had to be clean or we would have discharge on our underpants. I raised my hand, “But I am clean, Mrs. Fritz, and I have discharge on my underpants.”
“Then you are not clean.”
I turned to the class. “Is anyone else here clean and still have discharge on their underpants?” My sister and Laura’s hands shot straight up, but then there was a pause.Then Barbie’s hand went up, then Jeannie‘s. Then Carmen and Amy and Bernardine. Soon Mrs. Fritz faced an entire class of young women with their hands in the air because they were not dirty.
“I guess it’s a different kind of discharge,” she conceded.
The very next year after we graduated, girls were allowed to wear pants.