|My 1957 high school class reunion in 2014|
After introductions and chitchat, I saw on the sign-in table a framed list of names of deceased classmates. My eyes moistened as I read the names—not only because the individuals were gone, but because I was unable to put faces to some of the names.
At the gathering that night, I recognized only a few classmates, since I hadn’t seen them in nearly six decades. I spotted Dick Bueker, whose father was superintendent of schools when we were students. Marshall High School was renamed Bueker Middle School in 1976, when a new high school opened west of town adjacent to rerouted U.S. Route 65.
“Wayne Groner,” I said, as I touched Dick’s arm. He gave a disbelieving look.
“You are not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“You are not. You’re a ghost.”
I didn’t have a ghost-comeback line, so I launched into one of my favorite stories. “When we were kids, we played in the basement of Sandra Hilton’s house. You, Sandra, Carol Nichols, and I rummaged through boxes and hangers of grown-up clothes and put on mystery plays. We made up stories and took turns being victims and villains. One of our props was an old bedroom dresser with an attached mirror.”
A flat look. “Sandra said you mentioned that. I don’t remember.”
Neither had Sandra when I told her the story that morning.
Another story opportunity came when I interrupted a group that included Janice Esser Reinhart. After handshakes and introductions, I said confidently to Janice: “Your father owned a jewelry store. Each year he gave a high school senior a new watch for citizenship and I received one.”
Janice smiled politely. “A lot of people thought that was my father’s jewelry store, but it was my uncle’s. My father owned several liquor stores in and around Marshall.”
“I did not know that,” I said, in a feeble attempt to imitate Johnny Carson.
Among those at our dinner table were Gay Griffitt Rooks and her husband, Wayne. I told them Eryleene and I spent several hours earlier in the day visiting places of my childhood, including my first school, Benton Elementary. My family lived two blocks away, near the corner of Benton and Jackson. I tried to spot the house for Eryleene but couldn’t identify it.
“I know exactly which one,” Wayne said. “Five eighty-five South Jackson, second house from the corner. Brothers Donnie and Ronnie Wade lived several houses away on the other corner.” Donnie was a classmate at Benton school.
“How could you possibly know my house?” I asked.
“My family moved in after yours.”
“What makes you think I lived there?”
“You drew pictures all over the walls of your room.”
I was still incredulous of his magical feat. “What kind of pictures, and how do you know I drew them?”
“Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, mostly. You signed your name.”
That I was dumbfounded is an understatement. I had no remembrance of the drawings. Evidently, since it was a cheap rental, my parents had no contrition that I marked on the walls.
An alias, a debater, and a girlfriend
A couple of tables from ours sat a classmate I recognized. I didn’t remember his name and didn’t speak to him before he left. After dinner, I went to his table and met Ken Randolph, also a classmate.
“Who was the guy who left?”
“Don Gibson,” Ken said. “He preferred the name Don Taylor. He wanted to write western novels using the name Taylor.” Ah, then I remembered. He wore western clothes to school and sometimes a yellow scarf around his neck. For his senior picture, he wore a Kentucky Colonel black bow tie. I don't know whether he became a writer.
Throughout the evening I looked for Hal Lowenstein. “He sent in a reservation, but it looks like he didn’t make it,” Sandra Hilton told me. Hal and I were high school debate partners and when we were younger played in his house across from the school.
As things wrapped up, I recognized Carol Clark Evan, my first girlfriend. We hugged and I introduced Eryleene. I didn’t date Carol until after Irv Williams did; he was at the reunion, his first time back. Small talk with Carol didn't reveal anything embarrassing about our relationship, which was quite ordinary and innocent. After dinner, Eryleene wanted to know more. Predictable. I didn’t share much, except Carol was a knockout in a swimsuit.
Coming up in Part 3: A poem by Ben Swinger, class of 1957.
What were surprises at your high school class reunion after many years? Leave your comments below, especially if you attended your twenty-fifth reunion or later.
Photo: Tammy Kerksiek, Lee's Studio, Marshall, Missouri