That Kempsville High School Year

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Kempsville High School, Virginia Beach, VA. (Photo by Jeff Wills, October 27, 2017)

At 24 years old I moved from the Virginia Beach, Virginia, area where I was born and raised, to the Washington D.C. area, where I have lived ever since. Of course over the years my wife and I have traveled back a lot to visit family and friends. I’ve always been a sentimental person, and its gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and had children. Time is a curious thing, and like Thoreau, it’s a stream I like to go fishing in.

I took the above picture in October of 2017. So about 9 months ago now. Surprisingly, this view is basically the same one I had every weekday morning during my 10th grade year as I pulled my car into the Kempsville High School (KHS) parking lot. The school year was 1982/83. What surprised me, and the thing that still fascinates me about this picture, is just how little the view has changed in the 35 years since I left KHS and transferred to F.W. Cox High School.

KHS was already 16 years old, and overcrowded, when I arrived in 1982. But here you have it, exactly—or so it seems—as I left it: The same bleached red brick building, without any noticeable exterior renovations, with its trademark covered walkway in front. The view—the reminder of a bygone world—set off a whole chain of related memories.

At that moment, in my mind, I could hear a female voice making announcements on the PA system, then the final bell ringing (7 throughout the day), and I could see the crowds of kids emerging from school, many boarding one of the parked yellow school buses lined up in two rows, paralleling the covered walkway. And then there were those, like me, who drove to school. I could see them emerging from between the buses and fanning out into the parking lot. As I stood there preparing to take this picture with my iPhone, I could see the ghost of my former self walking between the cars in the filled to capacity parking lot, headed to my car, books in hand, fumbling for my keys. Like my fellow teenagers, I was in an upbeat mode. It was the best time of day, because, of course, I was leaving.

I wasn’t a particularly good student in school; in fact, I was pretty bad, owing to a lack of focus and my social life taking priority over my academic one. A typical teenage male problem it seems. I can’t say I have a lot of great memories from that year attending KHS, only that it was a significant part—9 months worth—of my teenage years. What really makes this picture and the related memories so wistful is how it reminds me of that unique time in my life. I was a teenage boy who’d recently gotten his learners permit and a new car—a 1982 black Ford EXP. Not exactly a cool sports car set of wheels, but a nice new car nonetheless that I racked up, much to my dad’s chagrin, a lot of mileage riding around looking for friends and things to do. My dad was shocked at how many miles I could put on a car in a year. It was the pre-cellphone era, so targets had to be hunted down, not quickly acquired via text message.

A car begins a whole new phase in a teenager’s life. My parents were easy going and forgiving and so naturally, being a self absorbed kid, I took full advantage of that and spent a lot of time on the roads and hanging with friends. My grades suffered. The most significant friendship I made from my year at KHS was with an easy going guy named Joe Smith. Yes…that’s his actual name. From Joe’s friendship, I connected with a whole new group of friends and had my first serious girlfriend. It was the best of times, it could be the worse of times, it was a time of growth, a time maturing and trying to find my way.

Back then my dad would often remind me “these are the best years of your life.” He meant that for now (because of him) I didn’t have to worry about paying bills and keeping a roof over my head, I didn’t have adult cares to contend with, I just needed to focus on “getting an education,” and staying out of trouble. Two things that became even more of a struggle from that point on. But the truth is I’d do it all over again. Those really were great times, some of the best years of my life, and it all worked out…thank God!!

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