The Boys Are Back
Small Town, Big Talents
By Pat Walch
Growing up in a small town like Meridian in the 1950s was probably the best start anyone could have in life: the perfect atmosphere to create memories and friends that would last a lifetime. But that was what a small town was about. We knew everybody, every kid in school—and everybody’s parents knew ours. Meridian’s population in 1950 was barely more than two thousand, and its city limits extended about a mile. If you crossed Cherry Lane on the north side or Franklin Road to the south, you were in the “country.” The grade school and high school were smack in the middle of that mile, a couple of blocks apart. As “city” kids, we walked to school and roamed that whole mile in all directions. Many of us attended all twelve grades together.
My best high school memories are from art class when I was a freshman in 1956-‘57 at Meridian High. The studio was isolated above the gymnasium entrance, and it seems to me that the familiar phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” might easily have been coined almost sixty years ago in that classroom. Our teacher, Vi Leighton, recognized her students’ need to develop their own talents rather than conforming to her standards or to those of our peers. Made up of a mixture of grades nine to twelve, we were freelancers, doing our own thing, which might range from cartoons to landscape oils to water colors. There were no real assignments, and no segregation: freshmen sat next to seniors, beginners beside experts. We helped and encouraged each other, played pranks on the teacher and students alike, slipped out to the dark stairway to sneak an occasional kiss. Our teacher took it all in stride and most of the time got even with those she knew deserved it. These days, I love being able to change the color of things with a swish of the cursor at my computer, but it definitely lacks the fun and motivation of working alongside talented upper classmen like Theodore J. “Ted” Smith, J. L. “Jerry” Snodgrass, and William “Bill” Rockhold.