A Very Hip Class

I don’t like class reunions. You never can find anyone you remember, and the jocks still won’t talk to you. But word was this might be the last reunion for the class of 1951 so I was in Spokane last weekend for the hundredth birthday of North Central High School.

Every reunion has a theme. The 30th year was the “Let me tell you all about me” event. We all sported designer outfits and exaggerated our successes.

The 50th reunion was, “My, she’s held up well.” I wore a red sequined dress so tight it made my support hose puddle up around my knees. We checked for classmates droopier or wrinklier than we. Double points for anyone both droopier and wrinklier.

But this was the 57th year for the class of 1951. We’ve come to the place where we either have problems or we are one. This time the question was, “When is your hip replacement scheduled?” (Mine’s in January.) The fashion note here was comfort. Golf shirts and very loose trousers – for ladies and men. It’s the first time I haven’t felt style deprived in my orthopedic shoes. And the entertainment, symphonic music by the student orchestra, was scheduled to end by 8:00 presumably so attendees could dodder home for hot milk. Most everybody headed for the casinos, though.

In 1951 you could send a letter for three cents, and many of us were writing to soldiers overseas. The Korean war still had two years to go before it was finished taking its toll of 190,000 casualties, and a classmate’s big brother had died at Thanksgiving in a place called the Chosin Reservoir. We did our patriotic best by dating every possible airman from nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.

Gas was nineteen cents a gallon – but only one girl in the whole class had a car and we comforted ourselves that we wouldn’t want to be “fast” like Judy. Of course we would have killed for that little red convertible of hers.

So last Saturday night, we remembered those times and talked about Miss Pinkham who was, hands down, the scariest person any of us ever met. She was at North Central teaching physical education the day the doors opened, and she was there long after we left. My whole ambition was to keep her from turning her fearsome attention on me. I managed this mostly by squeezing into my locker till just time to spring onto the gym floor,“Did we really learn anything in high school?” someone asked. I guess I did.

The very first day of the very first class, I slipped into my hated and required pink and white gingham rompers and realized with horror as it gaped open top to bottom that there were no buttons. Anywhere. And my mother had promised to sew them on. Indignant as only a fifteen year old can be, I stomped my righteous rage to Miss Pinkham’s office and told my perfectly reasonable story. “It was my Mother’s fault” Miss Pinkham seemed literally to grow several feet taller as she turned on me with fire issuing from her nostrils and blood in her eye. “ Don’t you ever,” she roared, causing the basket ball nets to quiver above her, “blame your mother, or anyone else, for a job that you failed to do.” Oh no, Ma’am. I tried desperately to withdraw my head into my shirt. Anything to get out of her sight. “You should have sewed those buttons on yourself!” Oh, yes, yes, I should have. I will. I always will.

No more button omissions for me. “You should be looking for ways you an help her. Never forget that!” I stumbled out of her sight. My mother worked two jobs and cared for my brother who was ill. Somehow I’d never noticed before. And, as instructed, I never forgot.

So it was worth the sentimental journey and the chance to remember that along with required lessons like math and English and the problems of Medea which she mostly brought on herself, it’s the life lessons that carry us through. Like those from Miss Elsa Pinkham and the class of 1951, a very hip year.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker, humorist and columnist and the host of My Home Town on Comcast CableTV76 and On Demand. She can be reached by e-mail at DOROWIL@comcast.net

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