A New Year, but the Same Yearbook

Somewhere in the dizzying pace of May, everything bloomed — dogwoods, forsythias, rhododendrons and azaleas, and among the branches hanging heavy with blossoms of pink and red and yellow, the gentle draping of toilet paper.

Toilet paper: The sure sign Spring is in the air; the prank that connects baby boomer parents and their “echo boomer” progeny; the absolute proof that there's no such thing as a new idea.

I'm thinking about the timeless appeal of tossing rolls of fluffy white toilet paper through the trees as I drive through my neighborhood, thankful that my daughter hasn't attracted the kind of attention that would force us to spend a Saturday picking the stuff off our lawn. A few of our neighbors have their work cut out for them.

This week, just as sure as there is toilet paper in the trees and restaurants will be filled with nervous prom dates trying to remember what their mothers said about multiple forks, teens from coast to coast will engage in that timeless act of self-assessment — opening the yearbook.

It's a hopeful moment. Fresh from a giant cardboard box, still carrying the scent of printer's ink and binding glue, its spine not yet cracked nor its pages marred by the smearing of ballpoint pen, a new yearbook presents pages of possibility.

When they open it, every teen does the same thing — they turn to the index to see how many times their photo appears in the book. We all did this, even if we won't admit it.

The number of times your photo appears in the book speaks volumes about popularity and social status. Too many listings means you're a habitual “joiner” whose photo is included in every group shot from French club and debate team to pep band and government club.

Only one listing in the index means you're obscure — if it weren't for your official class photo you might be forgotten.

Somewhere in between are the popular students — the ones who pose for group shots while working on the homecoming float in the Fall or in front of a snow scene at Winter Ball. They're always in the right place at the right time.

For most teens, the yearbook committee has the power to define the high school experience. Somewhere, hidden behind the stacks in the library or at the top of the stands in the football stadium, someone holding a camera zooms in on your blemished face, your “hat hair,” your pants brushing dangerously close to the tops of your sneakers.

They catch you in a candid moment you recall as loads of fun, but which, when seen through an unforgiving 35mm eye, includes something in your teeth you cannot deny. As if high school isn't hard enough.

And then, someone — your best friend or the obnoxious guy from chemistry class, or maybe the girl who laughs really loudly in the halls — grabs your yearbook and writes the first message, forever marking the volume as yours alone.

Yearbook messages are as timeless as toilet paper. They're the same from year to year and generation to generation. They say “Have a great summer” and “It was great talking through a whole year of physics,” and “I'm glad I got the chance to get to know you — not.”

They remind you of things you did that you would rather forget (“I always loved how you mouthed off to Mr. Schultz”), of fights you had with friends (“We had our ups and downs”) and things that set you apart (“You were great in the play”).

They promise countless get-togethers in the summer and lifelong friendships beyond high school. They beg you to “Remember me always” and “Keep in touch.”

Yet, somewhere in the trite, predictable messages scrawled across the inside covers of your yearbook are the gems — the verses written from one heart to another that somehow transcend the span of time between the 18-year-old you and the middle-aged adult you became. They're the messages that ring true years later because they were written by that rare friend who stays with you from year to year and reunion to reunion.

My daughter looks at my yearbooks with confounded curiosity. The era in which I went to high school — the 1970's — is a decade so remote it's the subject of a TV sitcom. Not to mention, it's impossible for her to imagine that I was once a teenager with goofy friends who did silly things together. Mostly, when she scans the pages, she laughs at our hairstyles.

But, when I look at her yearbooks, I'm reminded that high school is much the same for every generation. Armed with only the insight of a teenager, we all think we're profound when we're really just sentimental; we're convinced our teenaged reality is an arbiter of things to come, when really it's just a building block from which we reach the next step on the journey.

May is waning, making way for the bright warm days of June and another summer. If I recall correctly, this is about the time my sophomore daughter will realize her high school days are passing all too quickly.

Then again, is there anything sweeter than a summer spent dreaming about all the things you still might discover in the pages of the yearbooks yet to come?

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage