Until the early eighties, I carried one photo in my wallet. It wasn't of any member of my family. It was of Jenny Turner. It was the senior picture she had given me (above). Now, thats just down right strange, dont you think? Some might think it signified unrequited love. It didnt. I knew Jenny from as far back as I can remember, and there were never any romantic elements to our relationship. But, she was special to me in an unusual way. After the news of her death, I thought about the reasons I carried her photo and tried to connect them to the feelings that arose after learning that she was gone. Im going to try to put those thoughts into words. Perhaps they will make some sense to you. Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of them. Regardless, maybe theyll help me wrap my brain around the early death of someone who was very special and very influential in my life.
My three daughters have gone through the Arlington, Texas school system. The two oldest have graduated from the largest high school under one roof in the state of Texas; Martin High School. My middle daughter just graduated in a class of 700. Thats a bit different from graduating in our class at LHS. Had her life depended upon it, she could never have known everyone in the student body of approximately 3,800. Because that high school is fed from several Junior Highs all over this part of town, which in turn are fed by several elementary schools in various other locations, few of the kids in that high school have known each other for more than a few years.
I went completely through the Littlefield school system, starting in the first grade. Fred Koontz and I used to show off our seesaw skills at lunch in that old playground next to the abandoned football field, (which some of you newcomers never even saw.) Like us, many of you went through the entire school process together. Some of you didnt get there until a few years later. But either way, it didnt take long to get to know everyone else. At graduation, Id estimate that each of us knew at least 90% of the rest of the entire high school by name. We played together. We fought together. We fell in love together. We got broken hearts together. We grew through childhood to early adulthood, together.
I also believe we formed each other. I believe we imprinted on each other. Like the old lesson about baby ducks imprinting upon the first object they see, I think we imprinted archetypes on each other. The dictionary describes that pretty well. It says that archetypes are the original pattern or model of all things of the same type. Consciously or unconsciously, I think we formed models in our heads of certain types from people we knew at school. I think we subsequently compared others who came into our lives with those archetypes.
Have I lost you? Let me give you a few personal examples.
I believe that since the sixth grade, I have compared all petite blondes to Edith Lynch. I know that often in my adulthood, I have seen someone and thought, She reminds me of Edith. I think Edith helped formed the model, type, benchmark, or archetype in my brain to which I compared all attractive petite blondes. Shoot, Reese Witherspoon reminds me of Edith.
There are many people from my Littlefield school days that are these type of models. Even though I may not always compare them consciously, I know the imprints are what I use to first take measure of someone falling into that physical, or personality, or character type.
In my head Tim Tapley, who I played baseball with from Little League to Colt League, will always be the archetype for the talented, happy, good-guy, athlete. Bill Nowlin, who lived a block from me and played cowboys with me until we were way too old to be playing cowboys, will always be the archetype for the truly nice, classy, gentleman with a high I.Q.. T.J. Reed, who ignored his extra hardware as he shagged grounders in baseball, will always be the archetype for the guy who never lets a difficulty hold him back. Gary Bradley, who I still remember making several of us spit milk out our noses at one of his dirty jokes, will always be the archetype for a smooth talking lovable rascal. Wilmer Williams, who would set the stands to hollering when he was called in from center field to pitch, will always be the archetype for a soft-spoken, extremely talented athlete who never blew his own horn. Mert, who was one of the very few girls in school that I wasnt totally afraid of, will always be the archetype for a fun, attractive, tolerant female who could also be one of the guys.
There are more. Ebert Ayres, Elton Boyd, Lefty Barker, Barbara Burleson, Gary Conway, Verna Jo Chambers, Ann Farmer, Linda Kirby, Fred Koontz, Mike Lumsden, Suzann Tatum and many more . . . carved their personalities and characters into my youth. Who they were and what they were, gave me a foundation upon which I compared others who were to come.
Jenny carved her personality and character deeper into me than most. Jenny was the archetype for the intelligent, beautiful, popular, successful, class leader, who was always down-to-earth and friendly.
In my school social strata, Jenny was way above us. She wasnt part of the popular group, she WAS the popular group. She lived in the upper stratosphere of looks, brains, and personality. Yet, not once in the entire time that I knew her, did she ever act like she lived on a different social level. Jenny went out of her way to be friends with everyone. Bobby Richey and I were stunned that she liked to occasionally hang out with us. I dont think she ever considered herself as anything other than one of the gang.
She and I sat near each other in many classes. The most memorable one being Chemistry with Mr. Goodwin. We helped each other survive the other-worldliness of that class. Most of my band trips were taken with her in a nearby seat. We played many a hand of poker on the road. One year, we shared a hall locker. And, like most people, our most important conversations in school took place at those lockers. My memory is spotty about a lot of things in high school. (I can't remember in which time periods she signed her name with a "J", as she did on the Beat Cards elsewhere on this site and in my '66 annual, and in which time periods she signed it with a "G" as she did in my senior annual.) But, even with a spotty memory, I can still remember certain comments she made about trivial things while we were at those lockers. They werent trivial to me. They were important to me.
Here is a really ludicrous example. Once, she commented that she liked the fact that I wore socks whose color matched the clothes I was wearing, instead of just wearing the white socks every other guy wore. Well, that was it for me and white socks with black shoes. I could never go back. In my fifties, I still occasionally think about whether Im wearing socks according to the guidelines she gave me.
I wanted her approval. I wanted it because I thought she had her act together and knew what it took to be cool. If she made a nice comment about something I did, then I was almost cool. It was a way of being close to coolness. If she liked something I did, then maybe I was doing something almost right.
Theres a line Jack Nicholson delivers in As Good As It Gets. He tells Helen Hunt, You make me want to be a better man. Thats what Jenny did for me. She made me want to be better and made me feel like I could be. All of this simply through day-to-day friendship.
On graduation day, after the ceremonies, she stood in the back of the library with Bobby Richey and me as we were all removing our robes. At one point, she nearly broke into tears and apologized for not being a better friend to us. She felt that she had missed out on doing more things with us. This stunned Bobby and me. We were just happy that she had run around with us at all. We had felt extremely lucky.
Between graduation summer and the subsequent reunions, I had no contact with Jenny . Of course, I always hoped that she would be at the reunions, and that she would think that I had turned out a little better than she had feared I might. But, we didn't communicate at all except at those reunions. I knew little about her life.
At our fabulous 25th reunion, I could tell that something was wrong with Jenny. I did not know what it was, and only heard a few comments later about some of the troubles going on in her life. I talked with her for a little while, and felt the pain she was in. It stimulated something in me, and at the final ceremony, I asked Fred to let me say something. I made a short speech about the fact that I had discovered that many of us had gone through similar tough times. Many of us had gone through divorces, or business difficulties or personal problems. I said that this discovery had somehow comforted me. To realize that my classmates had also had some of the life problems that I had suffered, made me feel like I wasnt out there taking on life all by myself. I felt like we were taking it on as a group. I said that it made me feel good to know that not only did I share my past with the class of 67, but that I would share my future with it. I said that I was proud to be a part of that class.
Jenny was in tears before I had finished. Afterwards, she was one of the first who hugged me and told me how much they appreciated what I said. She didnt know that she was the one who had caused me to say it.
I have almost no knowledge of what happened in Jennys life in the years since that reunion. I guess, had I been a better friend, I would have stayed in contact with her. Ive never known any details to the problems that she faced in the years since graduation. I know almost nothing about what led up to her death. The fact that she went through hard times and illness without my knowledge or my help, pains me. She deserved better from me. She definitely gave me more in my life than I returned.
As that archetype I talked about in the beginning, of the one who succeeded and stayed a nice friendly person, Jenny was everything I dreamed of being. I havent done a very good job of living up to those dreams, but at least I had a role model. Im aware that I have used some of that model as a guideline in raising my three daughters. If I succeeded, they'll probably use some of that influence in raising their children. Who and what Jenny was, could actually affect my grandchildren. I call that long lasting influence.
I never know when Jenny's influence will pop up. Shoot, as I designed this web site, I kept finding myself thinking, "I hope Jenny thinks this looks professional." I'm guessing her imprint will be with me for the rest of my life.
Remember that photo I carried in my wallet? While I carried it, I knew it seemed like a strange thing to do. I mean, it wasnt a photo of an old girlfriend, or a present girlfriend, or family member. Why in the world would I carry it around? I finally realized that whenever I took it out to show people, I wasnt saying, See the beautiful girl who was my friend. I was saying, See the type of CLASS we had in my high school. I was showing them that a tiny wind-blown Panhandle town could produce people of class and substance. I was pulling out proof of my heritage. If my home town could produce a person of the class of Jenny Turner, then maybe I had a little class in me, too.
Now, Jenny is gone . . . suddenly and forever gone. We, who knew her, have to find a way of dealing with the shock. But, for me, mixed with the sorrow is the knowledge that, although I will deeply miss Jenny, I will never be without her.