Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Locks and Lockers

Remember these?

It all started with my morning walk yesterday. I locked up the house, enjoyed a pleasant walk and went to put the key in the front door and I couldn’t unlock the door. After various efforts were successful, it was time to replace this thirty-seven year old lockset from when our house was built, which led to getting some extra keys made and making sure some other locks worked smoothly–you know how it goes!

In the weird way my mind works, it took me back to junior high and high school and the days of putting padlocks on our lockers at the beginning of each school year. At West and Chaney, I remember being told that they had to be combination locks, not key locks. I guess they were afraid keys would get lost more easily than combinations. I know that when I would get a new lock, I’d practice opening it about a dozen times to get the combination ingrained in my head. After a few days, you didn’t really think but it was as if the dials turned themselves to your combination

Lockers. The one space at school we could call ours. Some did really fancy jobs decorating their lockers. I think the most I ever did was tack a poster from a record album inside the door of mine one year. Supposedly lockers weren’t actually that secure. It was said you could bust one of those locks open with a well-placed blow with the heel of a shoe. I never tried it and don’t ever recall getting my locker broken into. But I wasn’t exactly a fashion pacesetter and didn’t keep much in the locker but a jacket, a sack lunch, maybe a gym bag, and whatever books I didn’t need for that part of the day. As I think about it, I probably didn’t need to put a lock on the locker, but probably better safe than sorry.

It always seemed your locker was at the other end of the school from where your next class was, and so it was a dash to make it before the bell–a controlled dash that is because we couldn’t run in the hallways. There were those tales of kids getting stuffed in lockers. I was probably too big to stuff and I can’t think of anyone I knew who had this happen–of course, would they admit it?

Then there were gym lockers. These weren’t assigned, you just grabbed an empty one. I think they all smelled of sweaty socks! You stripped off street clothes, donned gym clothes (including those embarrassingly short shorts!), and locked up your things before lining up in front of Mr. Angelo. For me, the most precious thing I locked up was my glasses–we weren’t allowed to wear them during gym. That was fine when we had to run laps or do calisthenics. But then as now, I’m pretty near-sighted and that was a distinct disadvantage in any competition with a ball. Mostly, people learned pretty quickly that it was a disaster to pass to me, so I would just stay on the move, defending, looking busy–the trick was not to look like a slacker. When I went to shower and change, I had to get within a foot to see the combination–I wasn’t trying to keep others from seeing the combination so much as seeing it myself in my glassless state!

I’ve noticed that the lockers these days tend to be brighter colors (I recall ours being pretty drab) and they have locks built in. It makes me wonder, do the schools change the combination each year. I wonder how that works. It’s been a long time since I put a lock on a locker–I’m surprised we still had one around the house! It was my wife’s and she even remembered the combination. I can’t say that I remember any of the combinations of my locks.

It’s funny how memories are triggered. Now you are probably thinking back to getting a lock at the beginning of school for your locker. Maybe you can still see that locker in your head. Maybe, like my wife, you remember the combination of your lock. I’d love to hear your locker stories. They were so much a part of our school days but probably not the first thing you remember.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Locks and Lockers

  1. Another memory is that pranksters who learned someone else’s combination would open the lock and put it on backwards, so that the owner had to flip it up and open it in an unaccustomed position.

    More subtle was achieving the same effect by sneakily reversing the lock while it was hanging open while the owner was busy with the contents of the locker. The fun here was that the victim himself (surely girls didn’t do this to each other, right?) was the one to lock the locker with the lock backwards and therefore harder to open the next time.

    I still remember the combination of the lock that I first used in 1971. I brought it to Africa in 1987 and actually used it here for at least 15 years. But I don’t know the combination to the lock that is in the drawer right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We had built-in locks in high school. I don’t remember what we did in elementary.

    The only locker related prank I recall was when someone put grease on the locks to make them too slippery to turn. They didn’t use enough, so I was able to open mine without any trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ah , lockers…One year at Chaney I had a locker just outside the doorway on the left near the stage. Because of the nerdiness in me, I took a frosted incandescent light bulb apart and rewired it with a 3-Volt flashlight bulb. I then screwed it into a porcelain light fixture with a pull chain. I soldered small batteries in the base and hung it on the inside of my locker door. I would get interesting looks when I’d open my locker and pull the chain when the hall was busy. Yes, too much time on my hands.

    Liked by 1 person

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