The Class of 1966 – Musings Now From Distant Years

In August of this year, my high school graduating class reluctantly faces it’s 50th Reunion. I’ll qualify “reluctant” by saying not all are hoping it never happens. Far from it. We have some humorous people among us who relish the wonders of rediscovering our inner beauty with new faces and fresh new approaches. The fact is so many of us would not miss it for the world. In many of our cases, the new medium of Social Media – be it Facebook, Twitter or simply the internet in general – have allowed quite a few of us to actually get to know each other yet again, in an entirely new light complete with children and grandchildren, passions, and many of our diverse interests shared publicly. We have consistently been impressed with the creative energy of our peers as well as the richness of their family lives. We have also shared emotions.

At the same time, we lament the losses of friends who meant so much to us. It is a function of age that we encounter mortality on a recurring – if no less disappointing – basis. We all know the stab of pain we feel when yet another of us shuffles into the next world. We honor them with stories and memories from our past and prove and extend their immortality as we ruefully smile at the shared silliness and excesses back when we were helplessly thoughtless and probably at our most appealing. They still enrich us.

Susan Coffey, with the undoubted help of the indefatigable Sharon Hagerman, Larry Masters, Nancy Russell and suspicious other characters as yet unknown to me have decided I could contribute this piece as something worth entering in the silent auction which was such a resounding success in our other reunions. I confess I am intimidated as hell by the threat of producing work for this crowd whom I expect is anxiously awaiting my failure but not in a nasty way, ironically. Ha ha, anyway, it is my own private tension. Perhaps most readers of this are wondering at my doing something like this. I assume it is likely unexpected to many who have not followed me in recent years. Face it, I was a highly Non Intellectual high school quasi-student, know more for sports, laughs and flirting than scholarship and the cultivation of memory. That is an unfortunately proud legacy, in fact, a childishness which has stuck like glue to me and which I secretly hope never to leave behind.

Having said that, I certainly look at this project as something fairly serious and I absolutely relish the challenge.

Lord love a duck, we have all been through some incredible times.

Thus armed with qualifiers, I’m going to begin with a statement which comes from that era and which I feel has always more or less defined our group as placed inside the world’s “Whole Shebang”:

September of 1963 was one hot deal. My earliest memory was pre-admission ….I remember myself practicing football in weather that would shame Las Vegas. It stayed in the high 90’s with unendurable humidity during our 2 practices a day in August as classmates Steve Bare, Danny Howes, Roy Kennedy, Tom Higdon, Wayne Catron, Sam Tandy, Bill Smith, Larry Adkins, Sam Estes, Larry Moorman and others I probably should recall all lined up for Coach Ralph Genito’s uncompromising torture chamber. A group of 60 plus eventually made its way downward to just 31 players in a reprise of the Bear Bryant “Junction Boys” film. That Genito played for Bryant was readily – and painfully – obvious.

What eventually transpired was a very successful season, which led to even better seasons by the time this group graduated. This brutal introduction made for a supremely tough bunch of lads. I believe the eventual total record during our time at Senior High was along the lines of 34-6, if memory serves. Each season also saw OHS ranked at Number 1 in the state at various intervals.

When school commenced, we had already been there, is what I am saying. Of course, so had the marching band members, among many others in the various clubs and organizations which reached out to incoming sophomores.

I so remember my initial sense of finally walking the halls at Senior High at what seemed a vast, unending stream of friends and total strangers passing hurriedly by from class to class in an incredible maze of personality, style and vocal tone.  My own experience very much included choosing faces of strangers as symbols of my own strangeness – every single day I literally and silently recorded new faces for my entire high school sojourn. Every trip down a hallway represented an experience of seeing people for the first time.

As freshmen at Eastern, Southern, Foust and Western Junior High Schools, each and every one of us had looked forward to finally “getting there” to the Big O – Senior High. It was a virtual and shared Rite Of Passage. In many ways, we all felt the same nervous energy and curiosity. The sight of our friends provided us a comfort zone which we regularly relied on in our strangeness. There was no Hubris to be found. We arrived as the “tourists” in a gaping maw of high school energy, the smallest and perceived youngest of them all. As Captain Beefheart so eloquently put it in his song “Ashtray heart”:

“It was a case of the punks! Right from the start!”

Honestly, how were we to know that what we entered then would set us up so incredibly well for our futures during the upcoming turmoil and amazing churn which was and always is American history? The lessons experienced in Crystal Edds’ or Louise Brodie’s English classes had ramifications over which I have long wondered at their persistence. The Math classes of Mr. Puckett’s resonated hugely for Jim Nation, Jim Gilmore, Denise Hilliard, Susan Parish, George Dejarnatt, Jimmy Walker as they patiently picked their ways through intellectual puzzles which led to eventually terrific and successful careers as achievers, Moms and Dads. Speech and debate classes so overlooked by so many led to some eventually marvelous political awareness on the parts of so many who embraced them then. We had a virtually world class chorus. The Rose Curtain Players presented near-professional dramas.

The intellectual growth fed to our class by such a competent teaching crew has led to many accomplishments by high-end intellectuals, but it may have formed an even more important lesson plan for the less renowned among us. In the end, it is my belief that a good education supplies more than simple job qualifications. I honestly believe we were taught that absolutely anything is possible. The promises of a bright shiny future, which are the staple of Valedictorian and High School Principle’s speeches upon graduation led us to understand the subtle relationship of idealism and personal success. When they kicked us out into the world, 3 years after we entered, we joined the speedy maw of history, some in ways far more direct and immediate than others.

We eventually lost friends in Viet Nam, that great vacuum of turbulent idealism and counter idealism which sucked us up and tossed us around like dice in a cup in Las Vegas at unfortunately tender, barely mature ages. As a result, for some of us, our collisions with reality contained the absolute and most horrific “worst of Mankind” – War – death and destruction on a scale which was so incredibly hard to fathom. It killed James Conkwright, a person I am still delighted I was enabled to spend time with, (even if Tommy Jones and I once cheated him out of $8 in a poker game, a shame we both still talk about in a wry admission that we both miss him to this very day). The Viet Nam veterans in this class were numerous, a list I am afraid I cannot render. But, know that within 4 years of our matriculation at Senior High, we had men falling physically to wounding and death during a controversial war which sucked up numbers of young men like an out of control industrial vacuum. Nor does this begin to cover the psychological and spiritual wounds which many of us carry to this day.

We moved along, graduating from colleges, many of us already reading the future and just plain going to work, some of us even before graduation. We began the hard work of being citizens and many of us moved directly to the equally hard and rewarding work of being Moms and Dads. We mowed our own lawns. We had some beer. We flirted and searched for acceptable mates. We got married and bought homes.

Some of us traveled, unready to settle down entirely while so much mystery remained to be studied and seen. These were the restless ones, people sort of like myself, actually, to whom I always feel obliged to seek out to discover what they found themselves. Their captivating stories of their adventures in France, Tokyo, Saudi Arabia, or merely their fascinating inner journeys to psychological continents and planets of which we know little we let  speak of in poetry and art. Or they inform us in words we learn to value, in dimensions of time and space we had not seen before this. I am unaware of anyone who became a preacher or Priest, but I am willing to bet top dollar that we produced some.

It is my belief that the rudiments of our educations alone put us in an excellent vehicle to make whatever journeys we all embarked on. At the time of our experience, Owensboro High School was exceedingly proud of what their students were accomplishing. And, make no mistake, this piggy-backed on top of what had already been accomplished by others who went before us and resulted from the successful educators who led us to these moments. It was obvious to us all that a high quality of student and eventual citizen was not some weird anomaly from our school. We were – in the last analysis –  an extremely fortunate group.

We discussed values and often economics in our school. We were forced to study our histories in those classes we were so hilariously reluctant to attend. We studied higher mathematics, from Plane and Solid Geometry to Trigonometry to Calculus. We had Physics and Geography classes, Government, Chemistry. We were required to write out in long hand form and, of course, in some cases typed form, entire thematic choices for our Senior English subjects. We were made to pay attention whether we liked it or not. To this day, I respect the manner in which we were taught. It was a tough love in so many ways, added to which were the expectations of our instructors which were etched in rock. Those expectations as much as anything else were the engine which drove the bus.

It was a good, high quality education. We had an education which, in the very highest sense, kept our curiosity alive. This was the essential gift of our lives. Curiosity knows no age. It is as timeless as the memory of our first kiss.

Real Life

And we moved along with the river of Time itself. Our children matured, politics raged as some of the vital material of good citizenry. Controversy abounded as the best of us relied on the give and take of dialogue to try and reach clearly imperfect decisions. We oversaw so many social changes it frankly boggle the mind. The racial and gender-specific changes which occurred since our graduation, while bumpy as hell, have produced a far more egalitarian society.

We have watched the incredible birth and development of technology and the Internet. The global nature of life has become immediate. I regularly communicate with Israeli’s on a near daily basis. Got a question? Just ask. In 5 minutes now, we know the answer from another perspective, even if it comes from Mexico, Australia, Iraq or Israel.

Our careers have been recorded and, for most of us, they are also finished. The achievements here are frankly as off the charts excellent as would be the case almost anywhere. A recitation of special accomplishments by the members of our Calls of 1966 could occupy our time for literal days and weeks.

Make no mistake – successful families are duly noted here. Indeed, nothing is more important.

The shame in my recollections is in the sparse reward I can offer such an immensely successful, still smiling and popular group. Nor are these successes surprising. We expected no less and so did those who taught us. Now we are somewhere else, altogether, aren’t we?

Things got real. And then it got really, really real. The 50th Class Reunion. I mean, how real is that?

We now find ourselves collectively approaching our 70th birthdays. This 50th Reunion surprises us – well, at least me, anyway. We seem to have arrived here on some amazing Express train – maybe on of those Japanese or Euro models that travel up to 300 MPH. As we collect ourselves and dust off the accumulated dust from our most recent 50 year experience, we pause as we consult the world as we now know it. Amidst the love and caring we receive upon this reunion – as we bestow the gratitude of decades to one another and to those others so intimately and objectively responsible for our journey’s fate, our wisdom comes to the fore as the gift given to those who age with the curiosity planted by teachers whose greatest accomplishments are a restless mind.

Carl Jung has an interesting take on this era we now share together. His quote:

“The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.  A human being would certainly not grow to be 70 or 80 years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning. I believe the approximate time between ages 56 and 83 offer each of us the opportunity to make the process of aging a positive and life-enhancing experience. Regardless of whether we find ourselves only approaching that “afternoon” of life, or deep within it, we need to learn and stay conscious about what we can do to live an ongoing life of quality and purpose.

Jung implores the aging personality to discover himself “while sweating the small stuff less”.  I believe we all understand the glimmers of wisdom in these remarks, even as we live in an age which too often is prone to devalue the elderly. I believe the combined wisdom derived from the experiences of one widely-informed, OHS-educated person such as every single man jack one of us offers a window into eternity all on its own. So many connections are made when we find ourselves dropping the pretensions of competing with younger people. For most of us, that sort of work is already done.

Our actualization is beginning, not finishing. We are far more able to tie together strains which avoided our intellects owing to a lack of interest or because of competing impulses and needs based on the stages of life which delivered us here. I feel this reunion takes place at a juncture for many of us which faces us with choices we never appreciated until now. We can now remember our private nightly dreams, for example. We are better able to verbalize our thoughts, worked out in precious solitude which is a right of our maturity. Our imaginations should be getting a boost and our recognition that so little changes in spite of the strident claims of media outlets so dependent on fear to sell themselves as somehow necessary.

Our paths are not finished, is what I believe. In fact, we face a richness of experience which only concentrated truth, memory and love can give. I am extremely proud to be able to offer my own experiences as an equal member of our OHS Class of 1966 tribe in relishing our experience together from not only the past, but also into a very colorful, disciplined and delightful future.

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