Middle school was full of awkward moments for me. I had a massive crush on this kid who was a year older than me. My highs and lows of sixth grade revolved around how many times I’d pass him in the hall and whether or not he remotely looked in my direction. I’m also pretty sure he didn’t even know I existed.
My friends had crushes on his friends. We assigned each guy a number so we could talk freely about them and pass notes without anyone knowing who we were referring to. But nothing we did was really that secretive, we wore our hearts on our sleeves, and anyone close to us or with half a brain and observation skills probably figured out who it was anyway.
It was a time of supremely awkward hair styles. I’d decided to get rid of my little-kid long hair, and go for feathered bangs. What every other girl seemed to easily achieve took me hours, lots of hairspray and awkwardly placed bobby pins. I more often than not ended up with “wings” instead of the Farrah Fawcett look I desired. And then in seventh grade, for some unknown reason, I decided to cut it all off, and have layers all over. I looked. Like. A. Boy. I was miserable. Because now my cowlicks were even more pronounced and I could do nothing to hide them.
Pair that with a body that puberty forgot, a wardrobe full of hand-me-downs, and you have the tri-fecta for middle school self-esteem issues. When every other girl was getting curves, I only bought a bra so I wouldn’t be the only one wearing undershirts in the girls’ locker room.
How any of us survive middle school is beyond me. Probably lots of luck and a smattering of mercy, I believe. And if we’re lucky, friends.
I had a great group of friends. We used to decorate each other’s lockers- inside and out- for birthdays. One of us would make a giant poster filled with messages and inside jokes, and the rest of us would take turns bringing in balloons and streamers. We all traded locker numbers and combinations at the beginning of the school year, so we were prepared from the start. It was a very time-consuming elaborate set-up for each birthday. We must have had some very generous teachers to let us go out into the halls and do this every other month. Or rather, teachers who understood the value of friendships in middle school. I still remember a lot of those birthdays.
We dissected frogs in seventh grade science and had a substitute teacher who was an aspiring actor. Lots of girls had crushes on him and he showed us the very inappropriate movie “Bachelor Party” once. We had a history teacher who was old when my Dad had her. The rumor about her curriculum plan for 8th grade U.S. history was that she loved our country so much that she couldn’t stand to teach the Civil War. And guess what? We spent 9 months studying- in depth- mercantilism, colonialism, and the Revolutionary War. We never actually did get to the Civil War.
We did have an interesting and fun, and now apparently defunct, rotation through Industrial Arts (IA) classes: drafting, woodworking, printing, cooking and sewing.
In printing we used these (what I now assume to be) ancient letter press machines. We set up movable type (our names, or catchphrases) in the frames, our printing teacher Mr. Trifidlo – do not ask me how I remember his name- would put a blob of ink on the disc, and we’d pull the handle a bunch of times to spread the ink on the rollers. Then we’d put one sheet of paper at a time in the machine, pull the lever to ink the typeface and it would print on the paper. One. Piece. At. A. Time. Mr. T would glue the stacks of paper together for us, so by the following week we’d have our own notepad. It was pretty cool.
In woodworking class we made wooden key holders and baskets. Yes, 11-14 year olds operated heavy machinery. I don’t ever remember any serious injuries, interestingly enough. This class is the reason I know what a wood file and a plane are, and when you should use different grades of sandpaper.
In sewing class I remember making a stuffed animal- a bunny- and a skirt I actually wore. Yes. Yes, I did.
I know in our cooking class we must have made dozens of different recipes from 6th-8th grades. I only remember one- the cinnamon buns. I wish I could remember my teacher’s name, but it was over 30 years ago, so you’ll have to give me a pass on this one. Although I have no explanation of why I can remember my printing teacher’s name, but none of the other IA teachers. I do remember that it took two class periods to make the cinnamon buns though- the first class we mixed all the dry ingredients together and then cut in the shortening. The “coarse crumbly mixture” was saved until the next day when we added the milk to turn it into dough.
I don’t know of anyone else who saved this recipe. And I don’t know where it came from, other than my cooking teacher who handed out purple ditto copies of it to us in class.
I used to make them for Christmas presents for family and friends when I was in high school. Then it just became my thing. I carried the recipe with me through getting married, three moves to three different states and three kids, and rewrote it countless times.
I don’t think many of us can say we still have things in our lives from our middle school days. Most of us would probably rather forget a lot of it. Although I’m pretty sure I still have that wood basket. You grow and change so much during those years that the things you like- music, clothes, books, even friends- don’t usually stay the same. If you are lucky enough to have some of the same friends from those years, then that’s pretty special. If you are lucky enough to look back on those years and be able to pick out the good stuff and laugh at yourself for the rest, then maybe it’s enough to be grateful that we don’t have to go through that again.
I can’t take credit for this recipe, but I’m happy to share it as a tribute to those middle school years- emotional, awkward, funny, often miserable and yet sometimes amazing, and also a part of who we are today.
Cinnamon Buns (Lincoln Middle School, c. 1985)
(This recipe is doubled, yields approximately 3 dozen, depending on how you roll and cut the dough)
4 cups flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 cup shortening (can use 1/2c. margarine, 1/2 c. shortening)
1 1/3 cup milk
Also: margarine or softened butter, and mix of cinnamon and sugar
Preheat oven 400 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.
Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar, and sugar so there are no lumps. Cut in shortening with pastry blender or knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk all at once, stir with fork, scraping at bottom of bowl. Turn out onto floured surface and knead dough for at least 30 seconds, til it’s not crumbling anymore. Add flour as needed so it doesn’t stick to your surface. Roll out dough on floured surface until about 1/2 inch thick. Spread margarine (or butter) over surface of dough. Sprinkle cinnamon/sugar mix over dough.
Roll dough up starting with the longer side- jelly-roll style (If you start on the short end you’ll have less, and fatter biscuits) Use a length of thread to cut rolls about 1/2 inch thick (Put length of thread under rolled dough, cross ends over the top, pull ends of thread away from each other, thread will cut dough) Buns at the ends of the rolled up dough will be smaller than those in middle, cooking time is the same. Put on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Watch carefully- bottoms tend to burn, I switch trays halfway through if using top and bottom oven racks.
These are good with or without butter on them; when they cool, they are a dry biscuit texture. They reheat well in microwave for 15-20 seconds each. They’ll stay fresh for about 5 days in ziploc bag. They also freeze well. Enjoy!