I’ve published a version of this earlier, but today- September 14th, 2023 is a special day. At my age it’s not possible to remember what I was doing two weeks ago today, but a half century ago today… well, those events are burned into my soul. It was a Friday and it was a sharp turn for the better in my life. Thus, I republish this as a celebration version of the moment when I moved to a very nice place called Freeland, Michigan. It was a warm and friendly place filled with good people and to this day, although I live far away, I still consider it “home.”
As the summer of 1973 drew to an end my parents were at the rough end of a long decision process. Their oldest son, me, had just spent, or perhaps “wasted” is a better term, the past three school years at an east side Saginaw, Michigan Jr. High School called Webber. A century later that crap hole is nothing more than a vacant lot and I, for one, could not be more pleased about that. At Webber, nearly EVERY day presented a fight or a shake-down or some other pointless commotion in the classroom. Very little learning went on other than street savvy. By summer of 1973 I was scheduled to enter Saginaw High school where things were actually worse than at that hell hole called Webber. Mom and Dad were sure that their smart assed son would get knifed in a week at SHS. They had just one real choice- move.
While our house on Freeland’s Dawn Drive was still being finished, the school year started. About a week and a half into the school year my folks finally arranged for me to live at my aunt and uncle’s Freeland home on Church Street so I could start Freeland High School. Mom and dad had tripled… I repeat… TRIPLED their monthly house payment to move the family from Saginaw, Michigan’s Sheridan Park to our new home in Freeland. But until our house on Dawn Drive was finished in late October, I’d be commuting between Saginaw and Freeland every week. Frankly, it was worth it to escape the Saginaw public school system.
My first day at FHS began early on a Friday morning. In the pre-dawn, mom drove me from the east side of Saginaw out to the farm town of Freeland. Due to overcrowding classes for the high school were on half-day sessions beginning at 7am and finishing at noon. Thus, by the time we arrived at the school things were well underway. We stepped into the office where the ladies in the office staff were expecting us. After some standard enrollment paperwork and their constructing of a schedule for me, the new kid, I was quickly becoming a FHS student. The one problem was that the Saginaw public school system was so far in the dumper that as a 10th grader at FHS I would need to take a few 9th grade classes just to catch up.
Soon mom and I found ourselves in Principal Tom Vitito’s office as she finished my enrollment paperwork. About the only kink in the process came when mom informed Mr. Vitito that I’d be absent every Tuesday until further notice because I was under subpoena as a witness in a murder trial. His eyes got big with this “My God what kind of kid have I just enrolled?” look. Even after Mom assured him that I was a witness for the prosecution, he still looked a bit worried. I recall that he asked me what happened and I told him that I was not allowed to talk about it until after the trial… that didn’t really help.
By the time that the paperwork was done I’d missed first hour class and had to go on to my second hour class- Michigan History. One of the ladies from the office led me to the classroom, introduced me to the teacher, Mr. Judd Terwilliger, and I was told to take a seat. Feeling like I had “New Kid” tattooed all over me I was given my text book. Yet, what I was really concerned about was not the class, but the up-coming change of classes. You see, at Webber, every new kid who came into the school anytime after the first week got jumped and beaten up sometime on their first day- usually in the hallway between classes- it was sort of an indoctrination. Thus, I figured that the bell to end that class could very well be my introduction to hallway pain.
The bell rang.
My next class was Drafting with Mr. Dan Craig and I had to walk nearly the length of the school to get there. Yep, there I was walkin’ along with my antennas up expecting to have to drop my books and fight at any moment. The worst part would be that me, the five-foot seven-inch 135-pound scrawny new kid was gonna lose any hallway fight. Surly, sometime today I was due for a pummeling that would make a street hockey fight seem like a love fest.
Yet, nothing happened!
In fact, as I walked toward drafting class, there were three pretty girls standing by the office and one of them actually smiled at me! I forgot all about getting beaten up- I was completely enchanted. What kind of a place was this?
I had “break” next in the “cafitorium” as I pronounced it, perhaps that was where I’d get jumped. Nope… just kids, vending machines and more good lookin’ girls. It had to be some sort of a ploy… they’d get me at dismissal and beat the snot out of me outside of the school… right? Yet, there had not been a single fight all day, and no one hustled me for my lunch money (which was in my shoe, just out of habit) and kids actually carried books around. Plus- no cops… the whole day went by and the police didn’t show up at the school for anything. Then at dismissal, everyone simply went home. No one was hanging around in large groups looking to nail the stragglers… everyone just… left.
I walked to my aunt and uncle’s home to wait until my mom could come back out to Freeland and pick me up and take me back to Sheridan Park for the weekend. There were two nice bikes in the garage and my uncle had told me that I could use either one whenever I wanted. Since I had about five hours to kill, I decided to take one and ride out to the airport. It was a fine day as summer was still hanging on and Tri City Airport was just a short bike ride away. I parked on Freeland Road just off the end of Runway 5, sat in the grass watching the aircraft and thinking about that girl in the hallway who’d smiled at me. Freeland High School was polar opposite of what I had expected. Instead of getting chided and beaten up by thugs, I’d been enchanted by an amazing blond!
The next day I was back in my Sheridan Park neighborhood telling all of my friends about my new school. No fights, I didn’t get jumped, no commotion in the classrooms, no hustles for cash, plus the place was filled with good looking girls! My pals were amazed, but convinced that I’d get jumped the next week.
That never happened.
Freeland High School was a safe clean place where learning actually could and did take place, but it took several weeks for me to get used to it.
I was lucky to escape SHS and to end up in FHS and to graduate with the class of 76. However, I got the funny feeling that Mr. Vitito always kept an eye in my direction, perhaps expecting another murder trial.