I won’t pretend that we were friends, in my understanding of the word now. We were classmates in prep school wherein everyone knew one another because of small class sizes. Today, Sally Ride became, to my knowledge, the third person from my graduating class to pass away. Earlier this afternoon, former astronaut Sally Ride rightfully was celebrated and eulogized by the President of the United States as the first female American astronaut in space. After getting a passel of graduate degrees at Stanford, she had applied to NASA as a lark and the rest, literally and figuratively, is history.
At top is her inscription in one of my school yearbooks. The oblique sentences refer to 1) my torturing her with bad puns or humming the song “Mustang Sally” (with its chorus of “…ride, Sally, ride!”) during our stint as lab partners in dissection of a fetal pig (no opt out in those days) and 2) my having set her up on a blind date with my then friend Jerry Mathers, star of the “Leave It To Beaver” television series.
There’s an actual correlation. Most checking the obits won’t read that Sally even as a teen had a sense of humor as advanced as her other attributes. For her Senior Personal Quotation underneath her official Senior yearbook portrait, shefurther mangled surreal existentialism into, “I do not think, therefore I am a mustache.” Jerry, an acting pro used to his place in the center of attention, proffered great wit for a young person as well. As God is my witness I thought they’d get along great. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. Disastrous double date, with half the parties attempting to smoke bananas. It was, after all, the 1960s.
The first classmate to check out from our class did so within a few years of our graduation, dying in a motorcycle crash abroad. The second, married to a State Dept. bigwig, herself a journalist and personal assistant to Hillary Clinton, at least managed a further four and a half decades after our prep school for her life of myriad accomplishments.
I remember many fun times at school with the first, and also with Sally, a great sport in two senses of the words. My memories of the second in our class to die however are impeded by her tacit disapproval of me all throughout our school years. Ultra-bright and multi-talented in all the curricula, she was rewarded scholastically as she would be later in life: her intelligence was quantifiable.
In retrospect, I was off the radar for someone like her, since I excelled in something undervalued in that environment, visual creativity. Besides one measly art class, there was neither attention paid to nor rewards to be garnered for being as talented in the arts as someone with 800 scores on each of the English and Mathematics S.A.T. tests is in scholastics.
No mentors, no recognition for the arty gifted, unlike Honor Students. It fell upon a few of the more observant teachers here and there even to perceive this undercurrent. There was a French teacher who playfully would mis-translate texts (e.g. “I’m worried my wife’s baby is not mine. And it’s not. It’s a baby dragon”) which made me sufficiently comfortable to offer novel twists on his homework assignmentsto complete same, translating songs of the era like “Hey Mr. Spaceman” by The Byrds into French to watch the class and him giggle at petits hommes verts.
I wasn’t even aware that he’d seen through my joking to get myself through the school days and back to my art (I drew all the time at homewith music playing for much needed distraction to tune out copious badness, and tried to teach myself photography without having any suitable equipment) until he wrote the following inscription below. He was right: I did find it more and more difficult. And I never forgot him either.
Excellence is excellence, no matter which solution. Rest in peace, Sally Ride, justly celebrated for her accomplishments, rightly honored in history. She had a great sense of humor.
Taken from this post:
TALES TOLD OUT OF SCHOOL 5.0: SALLY RIDE, two solutions, and mortality