By Susie Duncan Sexton
Dental floss, Vicks Vaporub applied to both flaky ears, Q-tips, copious facial creams, and tweezers rise rapidly to the top of the list of personal beauty products when tempus fugit(s)! Comfortable yet quasi-tailored clothing -- which covers every square inch of liver-spotted, puckered flesh -- ranks high once a person passes the magic freeing age of 60, and such garments will be worn ever onward until we reach some kind of rainbow bridge.
Saturday, September 13, 2014, many of us gathered at the familiar Eagle Glen Events Center for a combined "happy hour"/suppertime on the dot at 6 p.m.-- perhaps with a modicum of trepidation and self-consciousness. Time flies when you're having fun and the class of '64 now qualifies as "grown-ups" -- while just the other day we were manic, ill-at-ease, possibly competitive teenagers living in one building all together five days a week for four bewildering years. Some sailed to the top of the heap while most just watched -- I fall into the "watcher" category and still do. I was and always shall be allergic to "high school" in all of its forms!
Thus, although politely invited via the U. S. postal system and frequently encouraged by friend Cheryl Robbins Wood, I planned to ignore the festivities. What a stand-offish mistake that would have been! (Teddy Roosevelt once declared that President McKinley possessed “the spine of a chocolate éclair” – I thank Ken Burns and his exceptional documentary The Roosevelts for that factoid. I can relate!)
I admit that I was also a bit gun shy about this particular reunion because the last time I cooperatively attended (our 25th!), my door prize was experiencing 68 of my classmates crammed into my living room for a wild impromptu after-party that included smoldering carpets, overcrowded bathrooms, and Judy Johnson Spencer trapped beside my coffeemaker all night. It felt a bit like the manic scene in "Bye Bye Birdie" wherein "Spanish" Rose (the role I played) is chased by (and chases) a herd of frisky Shriners. Our Senior play, BTW! Our first musical ever and directed by Ray Moore. Unforgettable!
Don and I stumbled into sitting at the head table with the senior class president Tony Smith who has succeeded in life beyond any mere mortal's dreams and his spunky wife Marla who sparkled as a nationally renowned award winning baton "twirler" back in the day, Tony's twin Tom who attended West Point, Class of 62's Keith Kleespie whom we successfully smuggled past the ticket takers later in the evening, and Dr. Harry Staley with stunning wife Lisa who are more fun than a barrel of monkeys! All shyness faded away as we chatted about Isis nutsiness, vegetarianism, and gun control. (Tom proclaimed his weapon to be close at hand in his car trunk…in our car trunk we'd placed a stash of my recently published nostalgic paperbacks because I hoped to consider the reunion my own personal book signing event, but I forgot?) Tom Roe, the lanky boy who lived down the street -- with his own backyard basketball court -- in the 50s, hung out with us as did adorable Patti Ward. County Commissioner Tom Rethlake (married to Jeanne) dropped by our little round table to supervise us! We all forgot who we were and where we were and laughed and felt like we were the dearest friends ever -- in the entire universe!
My PLAN for the soiree consisted of converting everyone, inhabiting the room, to a vegan lifestyle and to insist upon the worship of all sentient beings…as far as I got would have been printing the name JANE GOODALL on my name tag which caused great confusion. Unlike Joanne Motz, I look nothing like I once did…she has not changed. (Oddly, Joanne and I can be viewed together in the nine photographs that husband Don and Lisa Staley shot as the entire class bonded on a set of concrete steps outside the clubhouse -- just exactly like Joanne and I posed in 1963 for a group photo on some stairs at the Indiana University Journalism Institute-- rooming together for two summertime weeks…how about that?) As I mingled, impersonating JANE while imitating her prowlings about with the great apes of the Congo, my Sunshine Dance escort Ecuadorian Al Jerves struggled valiantly to recall whom I might be as he hugged me while referring to me sweetly as "JANE Somebody"? (My corsage that long-ago evening included an imitation bumble bee!) His American brother Ken Kauffman (Al lived with the Kauffman family on their farm) mentioned reading ALL of my Talk of the Town "Old Type Writer" columns -- so I asked Ken if he wanted to "go steady"?
Further arthritic "mingling" led me to Sandra Raupfer whom I always adored in grammar school even IF her parents had not owned the delectable five and ten cent store downtown where I bought all of my paper dolls (and hard candy) and to Sharon Dexter whose mom worked with my dad at the Blue Bell factory and to Jeannie Alvarez who joined us in the 6th grade all the way from Texas and to Lois Orcutt with whom I shared a fondness for Siamese cats -- they all looked fabulous and real and happy and beautiful. I bumped into Jeff Ott who owns a gun shop…but I love him anyway…always did! Jack Keiser, my Sunday school pal, is so handsome that I didn't know where to look. Everybody I passed by, during my journeys to the hors d'oeuvres table, impressed me as contented, confident, and friendly and landed and anything but old…still I needed to study nametags to be sure with whom I was chatting. And I decided NOT to convert a roomful of possibly former 4-H participants to vegetarianism nor suggest that we don ski masks and locate some wire-cutters and release all the farm animals from the surrounding townships into the downtown area as our contribution to society. Instead, I just swilled down one gin and tonic after the other, and became more relaxed as the evening progressed. The official program kinda eluded me as I'd achieved "dreamy dreamsville" by the witching hour. The only way to go…to a reunion. Cheers!
Enjoy the pix which might enhance this column for you…they are a hoot! I am still trying to figure out how I missed Charlie Fletcher and Jeannette Smethers…we gotta meet up again and do nothing but…MINGLE. And this we CAN do! From what I understand, the handsome but neglected art deco Blue Bell building is attempting to get itself added to the National Register of Historic Landmarks thanks to an innovative developer, and the 1932 structure just might morph into trendy loft apartments for senior citizens. Don and I are aiming for our apartment's location to be my dad's old front office? And a movie theater is planned…hot damn! I suggest that the class of '64 be allowed first dibs so that we can "all live together in a yellow submarine" on Whitley Street. Maybe a pool and tennis courts might be in the works? I am doing all I can, folks! I've been communicating with a terrific Chicagoan by way of reminiscences, research, and reams of articles that I have collected accidentally since birth. My scanner has begun to moan and groan, but ever onward and upward!
Speaking of which, Richard "Andy" Anderson (married to classmate Peggy Coon) searched for and found me, at the reunion, and related a silly story -- he and I shared one classroom back in the early 50s. He was a 3rd grader while I, a 2nd-grader, admired him from afar at the old West Ward Elementary School. Miss Betty Leffel managed to deal expertly with a split class that year circa 1953 (more tales for another day!) Andy announced that he and Billy Webber (whose mom Mildred was a Blue Bell secretary probably lurking around the corner), wearing cowboy outfits and sporting cap pistols on each hip, with spurs a-jingling strode into Daddy's office as kids and shouted, "Hands Up!" (These days, those two would have been hauled before the Supreme Court and featured on CNN as juvenile terrorists…) My amused dad asked what might their demands be. The result is that the three of them strolled to the bins of blue jeans housed on the second floor, and Andy and Billy walked back home wearing brand new denim WRANGLERS!
I apologize for concentrating on the maiden names of my lady classmates in the above report, but hey, that is who they were and still are to this day, in my heart! Also, while surveying a compilation of favorite memories submitted by classmates to the reunion committee, the first musical ("Bye Bye Birdie'') ever performed at our Columbia City "Joint" High School soared as the most popular, fondest remembrance. I am including a photograph for your viewing pleasure! That successful effort certainly shines forth as the highlight of my high school days…glad to see I am not alone on that. And a shout-out to classmate Lana Kaufman's cute, talented musician husband Paul Cochran seated at a neighboring table -- "Tall Paul" -- whom I worked with for a couple of months at First Presbyterian Theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when we performed "Stop the World--I Want to Get Off!" to packed houses in the 70s! We DO recruit outsiders into THE CLASS OF '64…that's the "WAY WE …ARE!" I loved knowing that pianist Paul and I were sitting back to back for three hours, and I had trouble leaving him alone!
"I don't share my thoughts because I think it will change the minds of people who think differently. I share my thoughts to show the people who already think like I do that they are not alone." (A Bit of Wisdom from the Facebook World)
Thanks to organizer Karen Kauffman for a fabulous 50th High School Reunion get-together, and GET WELL WISHES are extended to Sandy Pratt and Joanne Bates. I sincerely appreciate that former cop Larry Benzinger did not arrest me for jumping in front of him in the chow line!
A moment I shall never forget: sweet Carolyn Cleland stopped by our table, before the night concluded, and brought to my attention a hand-written note from my mother Edna who had complimented her for her leadership in the Sunshine Society which math teacher Bernice Carver created for any high school girl who wished to join -- no exclusions! Obviously this note, also part of the display of memorabilia, meant a great deal to Carolyn and spoke volumes to me on this very special occasion 50 years later. I love Carolyn, a gracious and loving person then and now.
SAVE THE DATE! I will be participating again this year in Allen County Public Library’s Authors’ Fair on November 8 from Noon to 3 pm – info at www.acpl.info. View video from last year’s event here.
Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in my book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title).
The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Memory Lane, North Side Grille and Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark.
And you can download from iTunes.
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Visit my author website at www.susieduncansexton.com
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