I received news of our 50-year class reunion about a year ago. A class of 152 high school students would be asked to reunite in Columbus, NE on Labor Day weekend – and yet I really didn’t know a single one of them. And it was a confession made to me by Margaret Ericksen Egleston in an email—we weren’t part of the popular crowd—that made me think: Why would I want to attend this reunion of once vibrant teenagers whose lives I crossed paths with at a dull, low point in my life? A time where my actions were monitored by a highly controlling mother who believed the world would end (“Armageddon”) before I reached the age of twenty.
But after I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of attending. Maybe I would finally get to know people who I should have made friends with during that troubling period in my life. I must confess that I wanted to visit with Donna Ewert Dubsky and Margaret. Both of them had read and enjoyed my book, Growing Up in Mama’s Club, which describes my childhood.
My wife Helen and I organized our summer so that the class reunion would be the frosting on the cake. We left our Tucson home on June 30 and spent fifteen days at a rental home in Estes Park, CO. Then it was off to stay with friends in Long Pine, NE. (If you’re interested, I blogged that visit in July.) We followed that with four days in downtown Chicago and over a month in Grand Rapids, MI where we raised our children and where I spent 33 years of my working life. We arrived in Columbus Thursday evening and enjoyed an excellent meal at Dusters. On Friday morning, I visited with my 90-year-old mother, who still believes Armageddon is imminent. We showed up at the VFW Hall at 5:30 PM, where the reunion commenced.
When I walked into the Hall, I felt a positive, happy energy. I immediately knew that I’d made the right decision to attend. I had something in common with everyone in the room—our high school experience—be it good, bad, or indifferent. And as Jani Fey Stukas said, “we were the lucky ones as we were still vertical.”
Ron Graus was the first one to greet me. His smile was contagious, but of course he knows how to “work a room,” something that does not come easily for me. Mary McEnerney Goc greeted me with a big hug. I later learned that Jani had dubbed Mary, “The Generalissimo.” In spite of what Jani may tell you, Mary is the real deal, a hard-working “worker bee” and the kind of person I would want on my team. But there was one disconcerting moment: While I was making small talk with her husband, Dick, I told him how pleased I was to see Mary. The moment I mentioned her name, he immediately stiffened, came to attention, clicked his heels, and saluted. Maybe Jani and Dick know something I don’t.
I was impressed by the hard work and due diligence of Mary and Jean Treinies Munson who put together the “Class of 1961″ Binder. This was one of their many contributions, making the reunion a major success. It was definitely helpful to see pictures and bios of fellow students. (Donna did the cover art for the binder.) During those dead moments, as classmates circulated, it gave them time to digest what all had happened over the last fifty years. But there was plenty of time to visit. I particularly enjoyed good, lively conversations with Donna, her husband Dennis (a very cool guy), Bob Hughes, Gail Ballew Walters, Margaret, Bernard Hay, Kurt Leininger, Ed Loseke, Herb Peterson, Gerald Whitcomb and more. Remember, I wasn’t one of the “popular kids” in high school, so it was a bit of a challenge for some people to figure out who I was.
I would like to thank Lois Davis Rosacker and Diane Swan Amenta for making trips to Columbus to help Mary put the picture boards together. Special kudos go to Vera Lutjelusche Cromwell for finding some of our long-lost classmates.
On Saturday morning, we toured the newly renovated high school—a very impressive facility. Then it was lunch at Maximus; and dinner and socializing at the New World Inn. After dinner, we were treated to a nostalgic presentation by Brian Kluck and Jani. Helen and I said our goodbyes at the Sunday Brunch.
Okay, you must know that I had a great time. But just why can I lay claim to that verdict? As a socially stunted teenager, I had to bide my time before I could finally utilize my God-given talents. Perhaps it’s why I espouse satire and irony so passionately and why I can be self-effacing and comfortable with ambiguity. Life is too short not to laugh – particularly about ourselves. You tease people you like. At least that’s my M.O. I don’t think people should take life too seriously, and I don’t. The way the reunion was organized, it was a big stage for a performer, especially a big tease like me who is also a writer looking for a story. But what clinched access to my creative comfort zone was that at no time did I hear anyone say, “Woe is me.” Religion and politics were never discussed. What I heard were unassuming, happy people. What you see at age 67 or 68, if you’re still vertical, is about as good as it will ever get. You can no longer con anyone into thinking you are anyone other than who you are. You are as happy as you will ever want to be.
As my wife and I drove back to Tucson, I got it into my head that some awards needed to be handed out to the brave classmates who attended the reunion and to one who didn’t. But remember, I’m a little boy at heart and I love to tease. I admired people like Kurt, Mary, Brian and more back in high school and still do. But no one would go unscathed and my satirical awards would contain a little bit of truth in all of them. Everyone should be able to see themselves in each roast. In other words, my intentions would not be to offend anyone, but rather to entertain.
What I saw was an opportunity for classmates to see themselves in two time dimensions: Back in high school as teenagers—naughty, presumptuous and terribly naïve—while at the same time being the responsible adults and grandparents that we are today. After all – why does anyone go to a 50-year class reunion?
But I can be serious from time to time. So first, I would like to crown Donna, Rita Speckmann Kafka, Bernard, and Mark Loseke as the best looking physical specimens at the reunion (and Mark is a cancer survivor). They all looked pretty damn good for the amount of tread wear they have on their 68-year-old vehicles. I would like to suggest that Mary Goc run as an Independent to be the next governor for the great state of Nebraska. She would have my vote. The award for the two most unassuming, this-shit-didn’t-go-to-my-head College Blue Bloods from our class go to Margaret and Brian. The classmate spouses that earned gold medals for attending go to Dennis Dubsky, Dick Goc, Danele Peterson, Josette Kluck, Darlene Asche, and my wife Helen. But after checking my “Johnny Carson crystal ball,” the Purple Heart Award has to go to Bob Hughes’ wife of fifty years, Darlene A. Hughes.
The biggest No Show Award goes to Roger Cooley. If everything I heard about him at the reunion is true, perhaps there was good reason for him to spend the weekend with his family at the lake.
I saved the most prestigious award for last, and it goes to Matthis Asche. I never knew Matt while in high school. But when you sit next to an outspoken cancer survivor for two hours, you learn a lot about a person. And he is definitely LOUD! But that could be because he is hard of hearing. He had to tell me what he had to say while we were herded and seated into a noisy bar-like environment. Matt’s award is for being the classmate, in my opinion, for what Mark Twain says gets most people in trouble: He knows way too much stuff that ain’t so. If you don’t believe me, ask him how safe the neighborhood is around Wrigley Park in Chicago, or what news network presents the most unbiased news. That’s just for starters. In spite of his obvious handicap, he has lived all of his adult life with one woman, his wife Darlene. And it is not difficult to see that she loves and adores him. So his faults must pale in comparison to his strengths.
So fellow classmates, what did I miss about the Reunion? What else needs to be said? I hope you will take the time to comment on what for me and my wife was a remarkably good time. Our 50th-year class reunion was definitely the best.
P.S. If you have had your fill of my awards and silly insights about fellow classmates, you may want to stop here. But if you’d like a little more frivolity, my consummate satire, and an occasional “blue light” moment, please read on.
The award for “After all these years there is still a fire and sparkle in her eyes along with a contagious laughter” goes to Donna Dubsky.
Brian Kluck is the most likely classmate to be indicted in the near future for sexual harassment. And I know the woman—Xena is her name—who will file the lawsuit.
Posthumous awards go to Bob Mann for “When you start believing your bullshit you will get yourself into some serious doo-doo” – and Dale Risk’s skills at getting classmates to ask him, “You want me to do WHAT?”
Karlyn Kuper Carson wins the “Miss Hoity-Toity look-a-like” contest. But then, that is the fabric of good designers.
Herb Peterson wins the: “It’s all right for guys to hug” award. He is also a finalist along with Brian Kluck, Larry Ball, Bob Ahrens, and Brant Egger for the “Pizza, Pizza, Pizza – I never met a Pizza I didn’t like” award.
I personally won three awards. They are: “I liked this guy better when he was in high school” award; the “I didn’t like the guy when he was in high school – and now, fifty years later, I know why” award; and ”Mr. Potty Mouth.” I am a bit concerned about always being singled out for my colorful language.
When I asked Gerry Whitcomb if he thought his second marriage would work, he responded with a loud, clear, “Fucking A.” (Okay, he may have said that in one of my dreams.) But if you spent any time with Gerry’s wife, Maryanne, you would easily see why he thinks she is a keeper.
Kurt Leininger was nominated for “Am I running out of gas or did I lose a marble along the way?” (Okay, we could say that about everyone at the reunion. But Kurt has some pretty broad shoulders.)
A classmate we will never see at a reunion, Gordon Bahner, made either the most inane or most profound statement as he reflected on his high school years: “I neither appreciate nor regret my years at CHS. I do not believe they prepared me for the real world.”
And with some regret, I am deeply saddened that while he was serving honorably in the military, shortly after high school, Jon Swanson unwittingly earned the “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you” award.
The last award is titled: “You got to be kidding!” It goes to Donna Ewart Dubsky. How is it possible for a responsible, intelligent, God-fearing woman like Donna to tell her classmates that one of the highlights of her high school years was when Nikki Gibbs smeared peanut butter all over a toilet seat in the girls’ bath room? Now I can see why some guys would say that, but not this classy grandma. Then again, wasn’t she a carhop at Y-Knot Drive-In in a previous life?
I would also like to recommend that our class of 1961 adopt as our song: We Did it our Way. The lyrics:
“Regrets? We’ve had a few,
But then, too few to mention.
Life is what it is and we can’t change a lot,
Our thoughts and beliefs are all that we’ve got.
It is what is and easy to see,
We are as happy as we want to be.”
P.S.S. Brian Kluck and I never had a conversation before this class reunion; not for the first 68 years of our lives. I don’t know if he knew that I existed. That all changed shortly before we had dinner on Saturday night. I could see that he was eyeing me curiously as we talked for ten minutes. Maybe he recognized me as a kindred spirit. However, as Helen and I were about to leave to go back to our motel, he whispered something quite profound in my ear. If I can remember his exact words, it went something like this. “So I see that you like irony. And it is with that in mind, I want you to know something that I observed over the course of this evening’s activities. Your wife, Helen, and Mary Goc have a lot in common. Both of them have been married to real Dicks all of their married lives. And I think you are a much bigger Dick than Mary’s husband. How ironic is that?” (Okay, Brian never told me that. But I think that’s what he was thinking.)
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