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A memory from Middle School

By Richard Myers
Posted: 09/04/2020
Submitted by Karen -

It was probably 1957 or 58.  I was attending Eliot Middle School in Altadena.  It was an all-white school at the time but this year a black girl was enrolled.  Her name was Deborah Sweeney.  I supposed her parents were part of the “block busters”, the black people who were buying homes in the Altadena community.  They were called “block busters” because once they bought in, “for sale” signs popped up on lawns up and down the block.  “White-flight” was beginning.

Deborah was tiny and dark.  I was big and blond.  We were both excellent students and shared all the same math, language, science and history classes.  We both wore glasses, were very smart and very often raised our hands to offer correct answers in the classroom.  We were both very shy in those days.

Without really knowing her, I liked her.  She impressed me  She was neat, smart and smiled when I looked at her.  Sometimes I would see her eating lunch alone.  It made me sad.  I wanted to invite her to join me and my friends.  But I didn’t.  I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to.  

After Eliot, Deborah and I both attended John Muir High School where there were many more brown kids.  We continued to be good students and we did eventually get to know each other a little bit but now she had her circle of friends and I still had mine.

Today I am a long way away from Eliot and those years, yet I still remember the name, Deborah Sweeney.  Over my lifetime I have thought of her and wondered how hard that time in middle school must have been for her.  Those years are hard enough when everything is going your way and you have friends.  How hard it must have been for her to be going through that age under those circumstances.  What courage she had.  What courage her parents had.

Today, at 75, I still remember her name and how she looked.  I regret that I did not have the strength of character to reach out and make friends with her.  I still wonder who she became.  My guess is that she did something great with her life.  She was smart and brave.  I wish I could say, “I knew her when…”

- Karen -

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