Abilene High School Class of 1961

November 29, 2006

Michael Grant on the AHS 61’s 45th class reunion…

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnodam @ 11:22 pm

Friday, October 13, 2006

The 45th reunion

In the old days, high school reunions left me hung over. Today, they leave me hoarse.

At the 10th and 20th reunions, it was all about breaking into old cliques and drinking your way through your own personal high school highlight reels. Last week, at the 45th, it was all about talking to everybody with a nametag on, with a subtle double-clutch from the past into the present tense. There must have been 100 of us, and if we didn’t all talk to each other, it was because we ran out of time.

All those dipwads, the thumbnail photos of the faces in our senior class yearbook, Abilene, Texas, High School, Class of 1961. Beautiful dipwads, athletic ones, accomplished ones, most likely to succeed, and most likely never to be heard from again, ones. But still dipwads, barely damp with identity after three years in a West Texas high school adult factory.

Now, by God, they all have stories. Amazing stories, happy stories, sad stories, tough ones, routine ones, special ones, brave, even heroic ones, survival ones, triumphant ones, hopeful ones, all written on the road, all those strange highways, that brought us individually from 1961 back to Abilene in 2006. I guess we just had to wait for it. We didn’t have much to talk about, at the 10th and 20th reunions; we hadn’t had enough time yet. Now we have, and it was worth it. I have names, listed on an envelope, just to jog my memory of the fabulous things they said. Many people didn’t come, staying away from the way we used to be. They would have gone home wiser than they are now. But how were they to know?

Sweet, demure, Ellen Turner was there. She taught senior English; I was in her class. Now she’s 94, be 95 on Nov. 18, and I hope somebody in Abilene reading this will bring her flowers. Her best subject, she said, was math. She loved math, but she understood it so well that she didn’t want to teach it, because it would have been boring. I never knew that. She had a relative, a brother or a cousin – 45th-reunionists’ memories aren’t as dependable as they used to be – named Raymonde (I am almost positive she said it was spelled with an “e”) Howard, who was flying a C-47 over France on D-Day and was shot down and killed. Mrs. Turner remembers that as soon as she heard about the invasion on the radio in Abilene, she had an awful feeling that Raymonde had died. She told me how to find his grave, in the military cemetery at Normandy.

Mrs. Turner’s husband was the technician that wired together Abilene’s first television station, KRBC, in 1953. I never knew any of this. Later, he built the studio at KNIT Radio, the first station devoted to rock and roll in the 1950s in Abilene. A disc jockey at that station was Slim Willet, who affected hillbilly dress and accent and wrote unremarkable country songs, with the exception of “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” a national hit for Perry Como in 1954. Slim, whose real name was Winston Moore, actually was a smart man with a degree in English. “You know, Mrs. Turner, Slim Willet was actually an erudite man,” I said. “Yes,” she smiled, patiently, “I know.”

I am sorry now that Mrs. Turner may think the former student sitting next to her was named Gary. I had forgotten my nametag, and Molly Cline, the reunionmeister, wouldn’t let me go through the lunch line without one. So off her registration table, I selected Gary Hooker. I wanted Cathy Cox, but Molly wouldn’t let me have it. I had earlier introduced myself to Mrs. Turner as “Michael,” but when I sat down next to her, she said, “Hello, Gary, how are you?”

I stayed with Bob and Marilyn Cluck. When we were in high school, Bob’s mom always seemed to have a lemon icebox pie made when I came over to their house. Last week, Marilyn had a lemon icebox pie ready. A thoughtful thing to do. Bob and I went to the Dixie Pig for breakfast Saturday morning; my uncle Clyde used to take me there for pancakes every Saturday morning when he got back from World War II, in 1946. I bought a couple of Dixie Pig t-shirts – I brag often to my wife, Karen, about the Pig – but I left the damn things in the back of the rental car. At the 45th reunion, we were all starting to slow down.

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