Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Checking In With the Class of '55

Class of 1955, Menominee High School 

Dear George,
I flew up to Green Bay last Thursday to attend the 60th reunion of my high school class in Menominee.  It’s the fifth M.H.S. reunion that I’ve attended over the years.  I always get nervous beforehand, but, as in the past, it turned out to be a lot of fun.  Katja has accompanied me at previous get-togethers, but we didn’t want to put Mike, our one remaining sheepdog, in the kennel, and so I went alone this time.

I rented a car at the Green Bay airport.  I don’t know whether or not it’s symptomatic of my aged mind, but the rental guy talked me into pre-paying for a full tank of gas for my Toyota Corolla.  He said I could return it on empty and save about twenty cents a gallon.  That sounded excellent, except, as I realized later, a full tank meant about 350 miles of driving, and it was only fifty miles from Green Bay to Menominee.  I purposely drove around town twice as much as I normally would, but I only used up half a tank and wound up paying about $6 per gallon for the gas I used. 

The Green Bay shore from Bob & Lois’ home

I’d arranged to stay in Menominee with our long-time friends, Bob and Lois A.  Bob was one of my best friends in high school, and we’ve all gotten together every time that Katja and I have visited Menominee.  Over the last decade Bob and Lois have built (with just the two of them doing all the work) a magnificent 6-bedroom home on the Green Bay shore.  Katja and I have seen it in progress over the years, and it was a treat to stay at the finished product.  Bob founded and continues to run a very successful manufacturing company in Menominee which specializes in high-quality wood-frame beds and mattresses (see  I slept on one of their firm’s mattresses, and I’d say it was the deepest sleep I’ve had in years.  Though they didn’t attend the reunion, we spent a lot of time together, chatting about the old days and catching up and enjoying one another’s company.  Lois made a photo album of our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, from one of our previous trips, and it brought a tear to my eye.  

Mingling at the American Legion

The reunion events included a Friday evening mixer at the American Legion Hall on First Street and a Saturday evening dinner at Riverside Country Club.  Our class had 153 graduates, and about seventy people (including spouses) attended the two events.  As in the past, I was struck by how easy it is to reconnect with friends from one’s youth, even when you haven’t seen one another for many years.  There weren’t any nametags at the Friday event, and I had difficulty identifying people, even when we had been close friends sixty or seventy years ago.  Some people hadn’t changed much over the years, but many looked completely different.  There was more gray hair than at past reunions, but people were lively and in good spirits.  Whether true or not, everyone thought we were the best class in Menominee High School in our era, and there was a lot of felt solidarity. Reunions celebrate school and friendship ties during a crucial life stage, and they reaffirm many of our longest-lasting relationships.  One of my friends had lost his wife of 47 years to cancer, but had remarried two years ago and had begun a new and happy life journey.  Another had been discharged from a hospital in Marquette just hours before the reunion dinner, but was bound and determined to make it (which he did).  A lot of my Washington Grade School classmates were there, and we had fun recounting childhood experiences.  My teenage high school pals were also full of zest.    

Most of my classmates are 78 this year, close to the average life expectancy for adults in the U.S.  About a third of the members of our class are deceased, and, while it wasn’t mentioned much, I think that our late life stage was on people’s minds. People were glad to still be around, and they were glad to be wtih friends who’d been important all these years.  A list of deceased classmates was read aloud to the group, and I was struck with how many meaningful and memorable experiences I’d had with the individuals mentioned.  It was a shock to be missing such a big group of good people. 

Electric Square in downtown Menominee

Whenever I’m home, I spend time driving and walking around Menominee and Marinette, taking photos and visiting various places from my childhood and adolescence.  When I drove into town the first day, the local sights immediately aroused a flood of memories and emotions.  I took a bunch of 
photos in Henes Park and walked across the Interstate Bridge and back, doing the same.  On Friday and Saturday mornings I went to all the Menominee yard sales as well as local thrift shops, the twin cities’ main antique store, and the M&M Plaza flea market. I walked about the downtown areas in Menominee and Marinette, had two cheeseburgers and a shake at Mickey-Lu’s, got a Menominee T-shirt at one of the shops in the Historic District and bought a couple of Menominee history books at the Spies Public Library.  My cousins Ann and John Buscher and I enjoyed lunch at Culvers, catching up on family news.  (Tossing my diet to the winds, I returned three more times to Culvers for their delicious frozen custard). My sister Vicki asked me to check out her property on the Menominee River, just adjacent to where our family home used to be, and it was pleasing to be at the beautiful riverbank once again. 

Sally and Dave S.

My very first childhood friend, Sally S., was at the reunion with her husband Dave, and I helped arrange for them to come over to Bob and Lois’ house on Sunday morning.  Bob, Sally, and I had been best of friends in high school, and that was an enjoyable mini-reunion in its own right.  Lois made a crab salad for lunch, and then I was on my way back to Green Bay for my flight home.  I ran into a major traffic jam at Green Bay, took the first exit available, and got a bit lost on my way to the airport.  It didn’t matter much because my flight was delayed nearly an hour because of weather problems in Minneapolis.  When I arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I only had 12 minutes to make my connection to Cincinnati.  I ran through three big terminal buildings, finally hitched a ride on one of the airport golf carts, and arrived at the gate with about two minutes to spare.  Katja was waiting for me in the Cincinnati airport, and Mikey was out in the car.  It had been a quick and exciting trip.  I was tired out and happy to be home again.

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