My oldest son started high school this year. He is officially the first person in our family to be a freshman, play football, and attend an American high school. My husband and I grew up in South Africa where “football” means soccer and words like “freshman” do not exist in the lexicon.
That first week of school, my newly appointed freshman fielded a lot of questions from his curious siblings and even more curious parents:
“Have you made new friends?”
“Are your teachers nice?”
“Do they know your name?”
“Are your classes hard?”
“How do you know where to go?”
“Who do you sit with at recess?”
And then my husband asked the one I’d been dying to ask all week, the one that would explain it all and let me know exactly what American high school was like and how it was going for him:
“Is it like Rydell?”
“Grease” is one of our favorites. Mine for the love story, happy ending, and signature John Travolta moves, his for the musical genius of Franki Valli and those unforgettable melodies. “Beauty School Dropout” and “Greased Lighting.” ‘Nuff said.
“Dad,” my son’s teenage voice was patient, but I glimpsed a tiny eye roll. “You know Rydell is a fictional high school, right?”
The high school world of “Grease” may be mythical, but these words of wisdom uttered by some of my favorite Grease characters carry truth across the decades and continents:
1. The waves crash, the music swells, and Danny and Sandy clutch each other in a passionate farewell smooch in the opening scene. “Oh Danny, is this the end?” breathes a very much in love Sandy. “No Sandy,” he replies with way too much insight for a T-Bird, “It’s only the beginning.”
That’s for sure. High school, and specifically senior year, may be the end of some carefree and fancy-free, but not all. It’s definitely not the end of adventure, romance, and excitement, but rather the start of a gazillion new experiences, both wonderful and painful.
2. Upon meeting a bewildered Sandy on the first day of school, Patty Symcox, the “hostess with the mostest,” gushes: “We’ll have so much fun and get to be lifelong friends!”Her hopeful tone, perfectly swinging ponytail, and ever-bouncy step send shivers up my spine… but she’s not wrong. It is possible to find your BFFs in high school. Friends come and go throughout life, it’s true, but sometimes that friend you met on the first day of freshman year, the one you shared secrets, heartaches, nail polish, and gum with, the one you believed would be your forever friend… she really is.
3. In one of her highly entertaining addresses to the student body, Principal McGee delivers this memorable line: “If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”Get involved. Participate. Find something, anything, that inspires, motivates, energizes, and join in. Long days of high school, work, and life in general are often less lonely and easier to manage when we feel part of something bigger than ourselves.
4. Upon witnessing Danny’s too-cool-for-school T-Bird persona, a heartbroken Sandy yells at him: “You’re a fake and a phony and I wish I never laid eyes on you.”This is something I struggle with every day, to remain absolutely true to myself no matter what I think others might desire or expect from me. The best, most fulfilling, freeing, and only way to be is to be me.
5. Super-stud Danny with the signature jet-black curl down his forehead is the clear leader of the T-Birds. On graduation day, Danny discloses that he lettered in track and trades a letter jacket for the T-Bird leather over his tight black tank. This bold move is interpreted as betrayal by his non-athletic cronies. “You guys can’t follow a leader all your life,”he declares to their hurt and incredulous faces.
There is comfort and security in following someone else’s lead, in not having to think too hard about where to be and how to be and why to be. But, like anyone, leaders stumble, fall, move on or away, and so the best, and possibly the only, person to follow and believe in is yourself.
6. One of my favorite Greasers is the sweet, helpful, wide-eyed Frenchy, whose hair turned pink in a disastrous beauty school escapade. I love Frenchy for her optimism. She wholeheartedly believes that everything will be alright in the end. And it is.
ChaCha flirts with Danny, Rizzo worries she’s pregnant, and the rival schools face off in a hellfire road race at Thunder Road. There is palpable friction between the friends, who will soon graduate from Rydell. But on graduation day, they find each other at that memorable carnival on the football field with most of these problems resolved in that happily-ever-after Hollywood way. “The gang’s back together again!” yells a delighted Frenchy. My heart swells every time I hear this line. No matter the age or era, there is happiness, excitement, and carefree joy when old friends find their way back together again.
Grease is the word.