1968: A Personal Memoir: Presidential Politics

Part IIIb of a multi-part series

[The author and his pal, Fred Lancaster,  had  agreed on the "inevitability" of one of them being elected Student Council President. The Very  Fabric of the Universe was threatened when a  girl, newly arrived from a military base overseas, decided to test the Pre-Ordained Order of Things.]

Mary Wolak’s family lived on 25th Loop at Sandia Base. That street, on the east side of the base, had the larger houses for the colonels and generals. Her father, an Army colonel, was the base engineer. My family lived on 51st Loop, on the western boundary of the base. This was literally as far away from 25th Loop as one could live. My father was an Army major, about to be promoted to lieutenant colonel. At the time I met Mary, Dad had just left for Viet Nam. We would remain in the house on 51st Loop until he returned.

Because we didn’t go to Catholic school, my siblings and I had to attend “catechism” or”CCD” classes. [CCD stood for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine]. These classes, taught at Sandia Base by the Sisters of Charity and a few lay volunteers, had been on Saturday mornings when I was younger. At some point, the classes were switched to Sunday mornings before the 9:00 a.m. Mass. Sunday was not a sleep-in day in our house. As I had expected, Mary Wolak turned up for ninth grade CCD the Sunday after our encounter in the school hallway. The ninth graders were taught in the sanctuary of the chapel, because instructional space was short. Mary Wolak sat two pews in front of me, due to the Sisters rules that boys and girls did not sit together at Mass. (A violation of the spirit of Vactican II, in my opinion. Fortunately, I had the good sense not to point this out to Sister James). As I looked at Mary’s brown hair and listened to her voice as we sang, 1968 threw at me what was about to become the second great unrequited crush of my teen years.

But Mary just wasn’t buying what I was selling. And I tried everything. She tossed them right back at me. Although there are explanations–and one big one, of course,–why in 1968, the year Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was an Oscar-winning film, a Polish-American girl might keep an African-American guy at arms’ length, there was something different about her parries. I realized that aside from the crush, I would like Mary Wolak in any event.

*** *** ***

Back at school, the presidential campaign was in full swing. There were posters for the three candidates. Mine featured a representation of a doorkey, with the inevitable and unfortunate slogan: “He’s the key to our success!”

On the day of the election, there was a school-wide assembly in the gymnasium. The three candidates would speak and the student body would return to their classrooms to cast their ballots.

Fred Lancaster and I had worn ties that day and Mary Wolak showed up in the brown suit I had first seen her wearing. There was a straw pick for speaking position and I got the third and last position. This to me was a good omen. Fred had to go first. As he rose to speak, I could observe in the audience scores of purple objects made of construction paper affixed with straight pins to their wearers’ lapels. They were doorkeys and each said, “I’m on Craig’s Key Team.”

The speeches themselves I don’t recall in great detail. I’m sure Fred listed reasons why he would be a good student council president. I do know that Mary Wolak introduced herself and said why she was running for president. I do know that after my speech, it seemed that there were a million people crowding around me and that I had a headache.

About two o’clock that afternoon, the principal, Mr Mock, used the school intercom to summon the candidates to the office. My recollection is that we didn’t make to the office, but were met outside by Mrs Dart, the much-reviled [well, muchly and mostly by me] drama teacher, and Mrs, Campbell the Younger, who was the student council advisor. Mrs Dart began announcing the results for the “down-ticket” races. My informal coalition partners, Judy Worlund and Eva Castleman, had been elected vice president and secretary respectively . . . and, yes, I had won the presidency! Amid exultation of some and gloom of others, the candidates were dismissed to return to class, except for me.

Mrs Dart said, “Young man, did you write that speech yourself?” Uh-oh, where is this going? I thought.

“Yes, ma’am, I did,” I said truthfully. Mrs Campbell the Younger said, “We’ve never heard a student speak like that before. Not just the ideas, but the vocabulary . . . .”

Mrs Dart said, “With ability like that, you should be in the Honor Society. Why aren’t you?”

I thought very carefully about what to say next. Hearing my mother’s refrain in my head, “Honesty is the best policy!”, I decided to go for it.

“Well,” I said measuredly, “I got a ‘D’ in a course in eighth grade.”

“What course was that?” Mrs Dart asked.

“Drama,” said I.

Mrs Dart seemed taken aback momentarily. Then she said, “Mrs Campbell and I have reviewed the Honor Society regulations and it seems that we have the power to admit any student who character, morals, and achievement meet the desired standard regardless of his grades. So from this moment on, you are a member of the Van Buren Honor Society.”

Now this was sweet!

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Craig

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