Position: 33°24’35″N 104°31’27″W
“Roswell? Why do you want to see Roswell?” Carol asked, giving me the side eye. “Because,” I replied, “I want to see where you went to high school.”
Key to our southwestern road trip was the opportunity to visit family and friends. Having only connected with Carol’s dad, Bob, via Zoom calls during the lockdown, now we were fully vaccinated we wanted to celebrate his 96th birthday a little early. In 1972 Bob left his professorship at West Point and accepted the role of Superintendent/President of the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) in Roswell. Back then NMMI was an all-male enclave and Carol was enrolled in nearby Robert H. Goddard High School the following year.
Here is a curious thing about Goddard High: it has an alter ego. Designed during the height of the cold war, and with a huge Air Force base nearby, Goddard High is the town’s main fallout shelter. From the street it looks like so many 60s era single story beige brick buildings. Functional, dull and modernist right down to the Helvetica font on its name. Classes, however, were held underground, without access to natural light. Only the gym, theatre, and a few administrative rooms sit above ground. Kids barely noticed the shower heads in the entranceways, put there to wash off radioactive dust. Despite the missiles outside, the building was never used for anything other than education.
High school is a defining experience for those lucky enough to attend. It’s not the end of childhood, but the kangarooing start of adulthood. It’s a bit like learning to drive a manual transmission. When you first slip the clutch the car hops forward, so you quickly take your foot off the gas. The car either hops to a standstill, or stalls. Some kids never take their foot off the gas, others never get the car moving. Most muddle their way through.
Forty-five years ago, in hundreds of small towns like Roswell, much of teenage entertainment centered around sports and cars. Without Facebook or TikTok to distract them, kids expended a great deal of energy horsing about in fresh air. For Carol that meant skiing, tennis, cheerleading, and cruising Main Street with her BFF Ginger whenever she was in town.
Boys drove everything from super-charged muscle cars to their family’s station wagon. It didn’t much matter. Friday nights were a chance to rev your engine while your girlfriends razzed the other guys from the back seat. Carol says it was all innocent fun, but I’ve seen Hot Rods to Hell and that movie is almost a documentary. Given the hijinks they got up to during the long, hot summer of 1975, if I pitched Ginger and Carol’s biopic to a Hollywood mogul I’d say, “Think Thelma and Louise tango through American Graffiti.”
Each winter Carol bundled herself along with her skis and two strapping lads into a powder blue Fiat 124 Spider for the cramped, nerve-shredding trip up to the Sierra Blanca ski area (now Apache). Powering through Ruidoso, the little rear-drive sports car sped up and down the mountain with all the elan adolescent invincibility engenders. Tracing their tortuous route in mid-July left me wondering how she ever survived to adulthood.
Eventually, graduation rolled around and coincided with her dad’s new appointment as president of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Reflecting on how many of her high school classmates never left the area, Carol decided that her time in Roswell wasn’t long enough for her to take root there. Part army brat and an inherent adventurer, her horizons stretched even further than the vast distances of southern New Mexico.