I Wouldn't Trade it for Anything

By Tom Blank '56

When I look back at the trials and tribulations of growing up in the 50s and attending Mepham High School, I wonder how I ever made it.

Mepham's discipline, dress, moral and physical codes were the toughest on Long Island."No" being the key word (no running in the halls, no talking almost everywhere, no Levis, no sneakers, no booing at sports events, no skipping gym, and on and on.)

You see . . . I was a hood, a rock, cool, whatever. I acted like Rocky Marciano and looked like Howdy Doody. I wore peg pants, gaucho shirts with the collar up covering my DA haircut and, of course, the pointed shoes. I sneaked my father's car out at night and belonged to a social club (not a gang). As the years progressed, I graduated to Levis, engineer boots, leather jacket, and a curl hanging right over my forehead. I walked the halls of Mepham ignoring the stares and comments of my fellow students in their chinos, V-neck sweaters and white bucks. I sneaked smokes during study hall and went to Benson's super market for a hero at lunch. In junior and senior year, I drove my car around with the convoy of Fords, Chevys and Mercs playing James Dean and laying rubber around the corners. We took the curve in the driveway as fast as we could and played chicken on the bend on Camp Avenue. We were cool.

Then one day a wake up call came. Some fellow students, athletes and chino wearers had a fatal accident, and Sprig Gardner (of the paddle your butt years), the hall monitor that day, let us know exactly what he thought of our style of living. To most it went right over their heads, but for me it was a challenge. All 110 lb of me tried out for the football team. Did you ever see the size of Bill Sandie? I was not even cut from the team; I was just told to "Forget about it."

I was determined, so I gave up smoking, got a crew cut and tried out for Cross-Country. I made the team and ran with two of the best (Art Pritchard and Tut Burtsell), and I received a varsity "M." I never wore my sweater, but my girl Genie Essex (now my wife of 41 years) did. I started wearing chinos, with the buckle in the back, V-Neck sweaters, and you guessed it, white bucks.

The only people happy about this were my parents, Mr. Gardner, who had a convert, and of course Pat Boone. My next step: basketball. All 5'8" of me headed to the gym. By now I was 115 lb, and I did get to dress for one game against the JV Team. They thought so much of my talents, that they gave me the only wool warm up suit, the good stuff went to guys with names like Metzger, Portman, Nathan, Tucker, and Dietz. I remember a lot of their names, but I wonder how many people remember mine.

While my fellow hoods dropped out of school and most entered some branch of the service, I continued on like a man without a country. My new dress code made me an outcast with my old friends, and most other students, being wise beyond their years, recognized the fact that at heart I was still a hood, so I didn't meet many new friends.

In June of 1956 I made my father the proudest man alive by becoming the first male in his family to graduate from high school. In September 1998, I became Pvt. Blank, US ARMY, and in November 1997, Genie become Mrs. Pvt. Blank. She, of course, took the rank of Corporal one rank higher, an honor she still holds, only now she's a Sgt. First Class, and I'm still a Pvt.

My life was formed in those years, and we still see and remained friends with many people from Mepham. My 5'6" is now, 6' and the 115 lb became 215 lb over the years and any envy I may have had for the tall, dark, and handsome athletes has long passed, as I realized they also added to their appearance the same way. Besides, I married my high school sweetheart, who always believed in me. We have five children, twelve grandchildren, and both own our own companies.

I was fortunate to go to SUNY Farmingdale at night and progress from there.

My days and nights during high school taught me to use my limited skills. I hope all my teachers know the impact they have on our lives. All the work ethics and social graces they imparted to us still remain. Grammar lessons did not fair so well, as you can see from this letter. If I was overly endowed with intelligence, I would have understood this then, but it's the old story, "If I knew then what I know now."

If I had to thank anybody, I would start with my teachers and friends in school. Although my parents were the guiding force, all my habits (good and bad) were molded by the people surrounding me in the school atmosphere. So looking back and having turned out excellent, if I must say so myself, I would be foolish to try and change anything. And I wouldn't change my days at Mepham for anything.

P.S. I would also like to thank Bill Haley and the Comets, the Penguins, the Platters, Alan Freed (Moondog), Fats Domino, and Murray the "K" for the music I still enjoy and listen to.