I didn’t actually graduate from Permian High School – we moved to Austin in the summer before my senior year. I was pretty upset about that. I had grown up in Odessa and attended elementary, junior high, and high school with the same kids all my life. Worse, I was going to miss out on being a Pepette as a senior at Permian. Pepettes are the pep squad for the football team. They are not cheerleaders. They do not dance. They don't play a musical instrument. They don't parade onto the field at halftime and do anything. No, they just stood in their own special cheering section in the stands, a magnificent vision in black and white. They wore matching black and white sweaters and black pleated skirts and white knee socks and black and white saddle oxfords and matching hair ribbons. Oh, and each one was armed with two pom poms. Their mission was to cheer on the team, as if there weren’t throngs of others in the stands doing the same.
Even more exciting, each Pepette was assigned a football player to lavish her attention on. She made him a hand-painted poster each week to hang in the hallways. She did supportive things like bake cookies for him during the week. She was his own personal cheerleader.
The Pepettes were an elite group. Of course, they were not as exalted as the cheerleaders. We had only five cheerleaders, unlike today when schools have whole platoons of them. Back then, the cheerleaders were elected by the student body. So, yes, it was a popularity contest, although they all did a bang up job of cheerleading, too.
So here’s the most amazing part about the fact I was going to be a Pepette: the Pepettes were also elected by the student body.
Do you get the implications here? For the first time in my life, I was elected to something that was more or less a popularity contest. I still have no idea how it happened. I was not a member of the in-crowd, not even of its lower rungs. Sure, I knew most of the popular kids—after all, we lived in the same town all our lives--but that doesn’t mean they invited me to their parties or called me just to chat. Heck, most of them didn’t even acknowledge me in the halls. Sure, I had other friends, mostly nerds like me. I may not have looked like the stereotypical nerd, but inside that’s basically what I was. So it was heady stuff indeed to think I was going to be a Pepette. My senior year was going to be glorious.
But it was not to be. The summer before my senior year, Daddy left his storefront law practice in Odessa for a job with the State in Austin. We left Odessa, and I spent my senior year in obscurity at a high school in Austin. To make matters worse, Permian ended up playing the Austin school in the state finals and lost in the final seconds of the game. It was a bummer of a year all around.
All this to explain that I didn’t spend that watershed senior year with my old classmates. So I was somewhat out of the loop when my 30th high school reunion rolled around. What surprised me the most was how much the social levels had changed. Upheavals had taken place during that senior year I missed. Those who had been near the bottom of the social order had risen, and some of those near the top had fallen. (Sounds biblical: Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.) Classmates I’d never seen interact before were now buddies. Those who were outcasts before were now crowd favorites. And the in-crowd kids were actually friendly, although they still pretty much hung out with one another. I had a pretty good time.
Except for a couple of people, I haven’t seen any of my classmates since that reunion. But I feel like I’ve somewhat kept in touch--they seem to populate Facebook to an amazing degree. I don’t even try to keep up with all the chatter. But I realize there are some really funny, interesting, and creative people among my old classmates. They share a wide range of fascinating occupations, everything from a botanist studying rare plants to jazz pianists to journalists-turned-ministers. Who would have thought they would emerge from the isolated backwater town of Odessa?
Still, in a reunion situation, I fear that conversation with most of my former classmates would bog down after a few short minutes. So it might be better to be friends from afar and skip the time and expense of traveling to West Texas. Even attending the Friday night football game isn’t the draw it used to be. And that’s saying a lot. Odessa has always been absolutely fanatical about Permian’s football team. It was Permian’s team that was featured in the book Friday Night Lights. But since those heady days of state championships won by a wiry, hardscrabble team that was usually up against boys that outweighed them by 30-40 pounds, things have changed. The football team isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure. And some of it is due to that book. Odessans felt deceived by Pulitzer-prize winning author H.G. Bissinger. After all, he lived among them and befriended them for a whole year, then turned around and wrote what to them was a scathing betrayal. I guess they didn’t understand the concept of immersion journalism. They were surprised, as so many understandably are, when someone masquerades as a friend just to get a good story.
Anyway, because of Friday Night Lights the town leaders decided to devote more funds and emphasis on academics and cut back on football. Permian hasn’t won a state championship since 1991.
Still, I was tempted to go to the reunion, except that we are already booked for a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. And, yes, I checked into the safety situation there. My research revealed that the most dangerous situation we may encounter in Playa is a cyclist on the sidewalk. So it’s more likely we’ll get mowed down by a bicycle than a drug lord’s machine gun. Besides, rates are great. That may have something to do with the fact that September is in the middle of hurricane season. But what are the odds? I'm not worried.