Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 2013: The Curious Case of Debbie and Mark

Mrs. Marks - Math

There are a few communities on Facebook that I have recently joined and enjoy.  These are nostalgic pages where people share memories about what was once referred to as "the Wonder Bread years" through the formative years.  The memories of these years resonate more as we age.  We remember them because they are the years that made us who we are today. 
Certainly, our families were essential in molding us.  Most of us see our families continuously since those days and because of this we do not view them as much through nostalgic glasses.  Beyond family, we remember the people and places that we have not seen for a long time quite nostalgically.  Thinking about people and places we have not seen, and possibly not thought about, for years, churn up warm memories of times we all view as quite special.
The pages I liked are:

  • I LIVED IN DETROIT IN THE 60's-70's-80's
    I lived in Detroit proper in the 1960s and then in the suburbs the next two decades.
  • The Ol' Neighborhood 48227/48228
    While I lived in Detroit, our Zip Code was 48227.
    When people ask in what part of Detroit I grew up, I always answer Grand River and Greenfield.
It is not hard to see why I liked these pages.  People have posted photos of Detroit TV celebrities from Soupy Sales, Johnny Ginger, Captain Jolly, Milky the Clown, and more.  Others remind us of restaurants, parks, and other places that, given the state of the City of Detroit, are long gone or in ruin.  They were part of a time we all remember as, well, simpler.  We were wide open to learning, making friends, coming of age, and all without the worries that burden us as adults.  All the memories are good.  If I had to choose, the best parts of these Facebook pages are those about our schools, school friends, and teachers… but just by a little.
On these pages, I have met childhood friends that I have not seen or heard from in way too many years.  That is the nature of growing up in Detroit well before the era of email, cell phones, and social media.  The city was changing.  Everyone eventually moved out in what has been called White Flight.  So, we moved from the city to the suburbs and lost touch.  At least, this was my case.  It has been a wonderful experience catching up with the likes of Jim Zimmerman who moved away somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade and Patty Haley Abbott who I have not seen since ninth grade.
I have written often about Detroit both the Detroit of my youth and what has become of the city of late.  Other towns and cities have changed but not so dramatically as Detroit.  Perhaps because everything has changed so, we are all a bit more nostalgic about the Detroit, the 48227, and the Burns Elementary of our youth.
   On the Grand River and Greenfield page, a Debbie Eoll Igarashi posted photos of teachers from Burns elementary school.  Wow... She posted photos of our Principal Mrs. Larson who was famous for her lavender tinted perfectly coiffed gray hair.  She posted photos of three memorable teachers, all of which I had, Miss Johnston - 6th Grade, Mrs. Marks - Math, and Mr. Harris - 7th Grade.  These were wonderful and refreshing blasts from the past.
Ms. Larsen - Principal
   I have fond recollections of all these teachers.  Mrs. Marks stands out because she taught us something called “new math.”  Basically, we spent an inordinate amount of time in sixth grade doing base 5 arithmetic.  It was hard and tedious in terms of calculations at the time.  I was not getting it and because it was “new math,” it was beyond the arithmetic our parents took.  So, there was no help at home.  I struggled a lot with these and spent an inordinate amount of time on homework often on the verge of tears and frustration.  I refused to let it beat me.  I eventually got it and developed a passion for mathematics because of it
I commented a thank you on Debbie’s posting for these great photos.  She responded saying it was her last year at Burns and she took her camera to school.  Brilliant!  Why had I never thought of that?  I might have even had my own camera at that time.
These photos made me realize that there are almost no photos of the Burns years.  I certainly have very few and they are all family or Boy Scouts.  Almost none of us had cameras or never even thought of taking them to school.  The school simply did not have class photos or yearbooks the way my children had from kindergarten through college.  None of us, with the exception of Debbie, thought to bring a camera and capture those days.  That is what made Debbie's photos so special... they were and are very rare.
Ms. Johnston - 6th Grade
Then I thought about her comment on that being her last year at Burns?  The photos were dated June 1966.  That was my last year at Burns.  We were both in the 7th Grade.  We were both in the same class.  Odd, I could not recall her name. 
We exchanged a few more messages.  We determined that we were both in Miss Allen's kindergarten class.  We had many of the same homeroom teachers.  We remembered all the music, auditorium, math, and science teachers.  We knew many of the same people.
But, we did not seem to remember each other. 
We kept thinking of things that could spark our rusty memories.  It was odd.  We knew many of the same people.  We deduced that we were in Miss Jackson’s Choir and remember performing a concert of selections from the sound of music.
Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  No recall.  No recollection.  We both commented that it was very odd.
Debbie suggested that perhaps we hated each other.  I discounted that.  If we hated each other, we would have certainly remembered.  One tends to remember one’s close friends and adversaries. 
Of course, each of us, being on Facebook, has plenty of recent photos of what we currently look like.  Debbie posted a few more photos of her from the Burns days hoping it might jog my memory.  Nope.
Mr. Harris - 7th Grade
I commented that I take great pride in my profession as a management consultant to noticing the little details when working with a client.  I certainly should have remembered my classmates minimally from a photo even if the name was not ringing a bell.  Debbie said pretty much the same thing.  She is in sales and prides herself on remembering peoples’ names and faces.
She posted one last photo.  She was guessing that it was about the fifth grade.  She was standing outside the school.  I really did not have any photos of that era available in a digital format.
My parents had recently assembled a montage for my 60th birthday.  It was quite special and well done.  They had it put on a DVD with my own music as a soundtrack.  They had given me an envelope with all the photos they had used.  There was only one photo from my days at Burns.  So, I took a photo of the photo and posted it.

I looked at Debbie’s photo again.  Darn, if it wasn’t the same background.  It was quite likely it was the same day and that we did have school photos that one day.  She looked at the photos and came to the same conclusion.
We agreed that we must have been in the same homeroom and that either the teacher or a parent had taken photos of us.  Wow… but still nothing.  No hint or spark of recognition.  It was actually kind of comical at this point.  It seemed impossible that we did not know each other.
Neither of us had any recall of that photo being taken. 
Debbie Eoll and I went to the same schools from kindergarten through seventh grade at Burns High School.  Then we spent 8th and 9th grades at Cadillac Junior High.  After that she went to Cooley High School and Livonia Franklin.  I went to Cass Technical High School and then Livonia Stevenson. 
The metaphysicist in me suggested to Debbie that perhaps we attended elementary schools in parallel universes.  Both schools were in Detroit, both were called Burns.  They were identical in every way from every room, brick, student and teacher with one exception.  Debbie was in one school and I was in the other.  In this theory, the universe merged after we left junior high.  Good theory but hard to justify or validate.
It was time to let the mathematician in me take over.  A few paragraphs ago I wrote that it seemed impossible that we did not know each other.  Let’s fathom the probabilities.  There were two homerooms of students our class at Burns.  That means there were between 50 and 60 students.  If I went through and remembered every person I could I would probably come up with about 20-25 people.  A few of them, maybe four or so, would be close friends.  The rest would be acquaintances and just people that I knew.  That means there were another 25 or so that I simply would not be able to remember.
Think about where you work today.  You know people you work with closest to.  You probably know them well as you interface with them on a regular basis.  Beyond that, the degree of know and memorizing thins out pretty fast.  We can have a large number of acquaintances.  There are more who we see and recognize but don’t know.  There is a limit of people that we can know and remember while we are in the environment, be it a school or workplace.
Now… fast forward 40-45 years and ask the same question:  Who do you know?  Who do you remember?  The people we only saw, recognized, but did not really know have most likely evaporated.  Some of the acquaintances are probably hard to remember.  We can only recall for certain those closest to us.  The problem is even worse if, as in my case, you have not really kept in touch with people from that era.
There is a number, Dunbar’s Number.  It is roughly 150.  The number is named for Robin Dunbar a professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford.  In an NPR Report, she related a story about Bill Gore and his company Gore-Tex.  As his company grew, Bill Gore walked into his factory one day and realized that he did not know everyone anymore.  He also knew that the factory no longer ran as smoothly.   The conjecture was when a workplace got too big and the sense of community was gone, people were less likely to work as hard and less likely to help each other.
Bill Gore estimated that 150 people or less was the right size for a factory.  None of his factories are over 150 people.  When a factory hits that number, he will build a new factory, even if it is right next to the existing one.  In a 150 person factory, everyone kind of knows everyone.  Everyone knows the leadership team.  The factory is more agile and responsive to the changing market place.
This applies to the world of the Burns School class of 1966.  No wonder we felt a great sense of community.  We had a cohort of 60 or so.  We kind of all knew each other even though within that cohort not everyone was close to or really knew everyone else.
I imagine back then Debbie and I minimally recognized each other though we were not close.  As noted above, that bit of recognition simply evaporated over the ensuing years especially since there were simply no sightings or interaction of any kind.
This kind of explains the mystery.  While this makes sense from a probability standpoint, I am still partial to the parallel universe theory.
Anyway, I am glad to know Debbie Eoll Igarashi now and I am especially glad she took, kept, and posted those great photos on Facebook.


  1. Well, now, having a similar background as both Mark and Debbie AND (Mark) remembering BOTH Mark and Debbie, seems to be a reason to post. So what does that do to the theory? Prove or disprove? There must be several of us who are links like this...Do you think there were more than 2 classes as we grew older because there were several "split" classes. A and B sections with some "A's" and some "B's." By the time we were back at Cadillac,our numbers grew by leaps and bounds as there were elementary schools that fed into our newly created Cadillac Junior High School. At that point there were students not only from Burns and the original few of us who began kindergarten thru second grade at Cadillac, but an additional number from Dawson. Were there any others? Seventh and eighth grades expanded our universe to beyond Greenfield with the addition of those who were from Dawson. Seventh grade began the trips with friends out and about in the Detroit area. Winter Wonderland on Friday nights,bus trips with friends to Northland or downtown Detroit, and bike riding trips to where ever the bikes could take us(but telling our parents we were going to O'Shea.) My goal was always a Sanders cream puff!!

  2. I too, attended Cadillac. Tho, I came over from Edison Elementary on Grand River, east of Southfield. From Cadillac to Redford, graduating in '71.
    I remember only a few from Cadillac: my first day there was overwhelming to me since I saw no familiar faces. So much for all of the different boundary lines........tho in retrospect, it now makes sense to me after reading each of the above!
    Plus, think of how each was affected and how each ones' life was shaped or molded based simply on "boundary lines" ....... interesting.
    Thanx for sharing!!! ;-)