Mesa Musings: Junior high at Rea

In September 1956 I enrolled as a junior high student at Everett A. Rea School on Hamilton Street on Costa Mesa's West Side.

Though an elementary school today, in '56 it and Horace Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Heights were the only two junior high schools (grades 7 and 8) in the school district.

I rode my bike three miles from our home on the East Side to attend Rea, though I occasionally took the bus.

Our principal was a dour fellow by the name of Puffenbarger. Fiftyish, we thought him quite ancient and quite intimidating.

Tall and portly, his face glowed crimson when provoked. As a result, he earned one of the truly classic nicknames I have ever encountered: "Puffy." The title said it all!

We'd be on the playground engaged in some nefarious activity, like pitching pennies or shooting marbles, and a lookout would shriek in a hoarse stage whisper, "Here comes Puffy!"

Puffy … er, Mr. Puffenbarger, used to make the daily announcements on the school's public address system.

I was forever losing my textbooks — the bane of my junior high experience. Books seemed literally to climb out of my locker.

It became almost routine for my mom to notify the office that I'd lost another book and Puffy would sorely embarrass me on the PA. He'd say something like: "Jimmy Carnett has lost his seventh-grade social studies book. Let's help him find it." (He could have further narrowed the search by adding: "The book contains the message, 'In case of fire, throw this in,' scrawled in pencil on the fly-leaf.")

One afternoon, at the end of my physical education class, our coach entered the locker room to make an important announcement as we showered. He shouted, "Listen up men!" then read from a clipboard. As he spoke, I committed the grievous sin of saying something to the guy at the showerhead next to mine.

The coach stopped in mid-sentence and called me over. I was to be an example.

In his right hand he clutched the dreaded "paddle" – specially crafted by the school's wood shop teacher. It had fiendish holes strategically placed on the flat surface of its "business" end.

The coach, who probably stood 6 feet tall and 2, 220 pounds, proceeded to swat me. The dastardly smack stung like blue blazes and my eyes misted, but I refused to cry.

My seventh-grade social studies teacher, the suave Mr. Lister, was an accomplished ballroom dancer. He and his elegant wife taught dance classes Thursday evenings in the cafeteria. We learned all the fashionable steps, and were encouraged to employ them at the school's popular Friday night dances.

In the fall of 1957, my dad and I attended a father-son banquet in the cafeteria. Guest speaker was Steve Musseau, first-year head football coach at Orange Coast College. Musseau showed action footage from the previous weekend's game, and praised the play of running back Gary Bagley. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was destined to attend more than 200 OCC football games in the future as a student, alumnus and 36-year OCC employee (and 21 years as football PA announcer).

In March 1958, for some reason, I was selected to deliver the student address at an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony on the Rea campus. I presented impassioned oratory, written by myself. I noted that J. Sterling Morton founded National Arbor Day in 1872, and read selections from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir.

I recently drove by the school and discovered that the tree no longer stands. So much for posterity!

My Rea graduation was in June 1958 in beautiful Pirate Stadium, opened just two years earlier on OCC's campus. The ceremony was the first of my three graduations in the stadium (Rea, Costa Mesa High School and OCC).

In September 1958 I enrolled in the first class at Costa Mesa High. I'll tell you more about that later.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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