|Me, at today's Marshall Municipal Swimming Pool|
In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated for a second term. I didn’t follow politics. The voting age was twenty-one and I wouldn’t be eligible for another three years. Gasoline was twenty-four cents a gallon, a first-class postage stamp was three cents, and a new car was around $2,000. The Bridge on the River Kwai received an Academy Award for best movie. Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, and Buddy Holly were among my favorite music stars. Television shows I liked included You Bet Your Life, Tales of Wells Fargo, and The Danny Thomas Show.
Why go back now?
My school was Marshall High School in Marshall, Missouri, where I was born and raised. Can’t say precisely why I waited fifty-seven years to attend a class reunion. Maybe I felt my life was too ordinary to share, that I wouldn’t appear as successful as the other graduates, or my physical condition and clothing would not rise to a standard I imagined of my classmates. Whatever my thinking, I didn’t put the invitations onto my to-do lists.
Several things motivated me to attend the 2014 reunion. One was the invitation. “This will be our last reunion,” wrote Sandra Hilton Bucksath, one of the organizers. “So, please make your best effort to attend. We want to get together one more time to enjoy each other’s company.” What could I lose? My classmates were likely to be as overweight and gray-haired as I was, if they had hair and I don’t have much.
I was intrigued by the location of the reunion dinner, the Martin Conference Center at the Nicholas-Beazley Aviation Museum at Marshall Municipal Airport. Marshall Flying School was established at the airport in 1925 and became the largest civilian flight school in the world. My father was a civilian pilot. I vaguely recall he flew in and out of the Marshall airport. Perhaps the museum had a record of his flight certificate, although I don’t know whether he received his license in Marshall.
My wife made me do it
Finally, and probably the biggest motivator, my wife Eryleene embarrassed me into attending. “You have to go,” she said. “You won’t forgive yourself if you don’t. You’ve told me stories about your classmates and you should see them again.” Then she played the you-may-never-have-another-chance-to-go-home card. “Your mother and her parents are buried in Marshall and this could be the last time you visit their graves.” Eryleene had been to Marshall a few times in our marriage as we visited family and for the funeral of my mother and grandmother.
“Visiting the graves would be good. And I could show you places of my childhood memories." I knew some of those memory places might not be there.
“And we can take pictures,” she replied.
Locations flashed through my brain: elementary schools I attended, houses I lived in, places I worked, the church I attended.
Thumbin' to the swimmin' pool
One place that came to mind was the municipal swimming pool where my younger brother Gene and I had season passes just about every summer. “Cheap entertainment,” our mother often said. It was natural and common for us and our friends to hitch rides to the pool with strangers. We stood at the corner of Odell and Yerby, a residential area approximately one and one-half miles west of the pool, carrying swim trunks wrapped in towels. We held out our thumbs to passing cars; sometimes we waived the wrapped trunks. It didn’t take long before we had a ride. After swimming, we asked drivers leaving the pool parking lot if they were going to Odell and Yerby, and again we quickly got a ride. It wasn’t only the boys; girls hitched rides, too.
“Totally crazy,” Eryleene sometimes said when she heard me tell that story. “Smart parents don’t let their children do that today.”
Back in 1957, though, in a small rural town where the biggest crimes were sneaking into a movie theater or running stop signs—Marshall had no traffic lights—we felt safe hitching rides from a street corner.
Coming up in Part 2: Conversations at the reunion dinner.
Photo: Eryleene Groner