Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The girl in the yearbook

I read some time back that high school yearbooks are going the way of the dinosaurs.

That’s a pity, because even if your high school memories are immortalized on a hard drive at some data center somewhere, it’s not like having a book in your hands and turning the pages and seeing the photos.

My high school memories from 1974 to 1978 are pretty dull compared to most, but I have kept the yearbook and its long reach back to a world that hardly exists today.

Recently, I found that yearbook while reorganizing my garage, and looking through it brought back tons of memories.

Newtown High School is still in Elmhurst, borough of Queens, city of New York, and it is still educating, though some have their doubts. Some dismissed it as a “zoo” back then; indeed, a few wags dubbed it “Zootown.”

Nonetheless, those of us who made the effort got a decent education.

On one page of the yearbook of the Class of 1978, my class, is a picture of a girl who did not graduate. It’s like she’s frozen in time, a pretty girl with her long black hair tied back. She’s in a class with a look of deep concentration as she moves a pencil over a pad. I think she wanted to be an engineer.

I suppose it was that look that inspired me to pursue her (I’ll call her P.G.) in the clumsy way teenage boys pursue girls. I even wangled an invitation to her house to study Spanish with her, and it was crushing when I asked her out on a date and she turned me down. That had never happened to anyone on “Happy Days.”

I pointedly ignored her after that, but my anger was beginning to melt away. I had big plans for my life and, in December 1977, had persuaded my parents to let me join the Marine Corps after high school.

I had talked to P.G. after I had signed up for the Marines, and she expressed some dismay at my decision. We parted and I saw her in the corridors during class changes occasionally.

It must have been February 1978 – at least sometime in early 1978 – when I was chatting with a friend who knew her, and I mentioned that I thought I could be friends with her again.

“Vinny,” the friend said, “P.G.’s dead.”

I would have preferred if he had hauled off and sucker-punched me in the gut. The effect was the same, and my former love interest would still be alive.

He told me the story. She had slipped and fallen on ice outside the school a week before, and had hit her head on the pavement. She went home, where she began to feel ill.

The rest of the details were sketchy, but the end result is that she died.

P.G. would not graduate in June, would not go on to college, get married, have children, raise a family, have a career or draw up the design for anything. I’m sure her family was grief-stricken, and there was no news of the tragedy anywhere. Maybe they wanted it that way.

I sometimes thought about going to her family’s house and expressing my condolences, but I was 17 and had no idea what to say.

What will sound odd to most people today is that there was not a great outpouring of grief among the student body, and even those who knew her continued to attend classes. No floral displays, no teddy bears, no protest marches, no week off for public mourning.

The yearbook was not dedicated to her, and did not mention her name anywhere. It’s almost sad, like she never really existed.

Today that would seem callous; back then, it was just the way we dealt with things. Newtown was a large high school and it was easy to be anonymous.

Maybe mourning inwardly is the best way, and does the most honor to those who have died.

I think about P.G. when someone famous dies, and people act like it was a member of their own family and use it to get their name in the paper or on TV. P.G. is a picture in a yearbook that’s owned by someone in Florida who cannot forget her.

I guess if there is a lesson in this, it’s never to hold grudges against someone, because you may never get the chance to talk with them again.


November 4, 2008 - Posted by | Education, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Beautiful tribute to the importance of yearbooks and to your friend, P.G. She would have been pleased. Your blog was particularly meaningful as I am part of a committee organizing the 40th Reunion for Newtown’s Class of 1972. Sadly, our school will be shutting its doors and getting a new name after June 30, 2012. The choice, needless to say, is not theirs.

    Comment by jheit | March 31, 2012 | Reply

    • I am stunned to hear that Newtown is closing. It’s a shame that they’re doing this.

      Comment by Vincent Safuto | April 1, 2012 | Reply

  2. Particularly beautiful tribute to “The Newtowner” and your friend P.G. As a member of the Class of 1972, it is with great sadness that I tell you that the school will be closed by the city as of June 30, 2012. Your blog touched me on many levels. Thank you.

    Comment by jheit | March 31, 2012 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: