Seems fitting somehow …
cold day in San Francisco,
Seems fitting somehow …
cold day in San Francisco,
so much beauty and money
in one single place.
we idolized you so much,
you were like heroes.
Then, that class trip fiasco,
And class trips were abolished.
NOTES: The class ahead of us in high school was impressive. It included some very smart and talented people who challenged and inspired us underclassmen.
Counted among its members were some of the best athletes, actors, debaters, musicians and scholars ever to come out of our little Missouri town of Marshall. When they went away to college in the fall of 1969, they returned on their breaks with fascinating stories of life at their campuses.
I paid close attention to their testimonials, and followed a couple of them when it came time to make my own college choice.
The class of 1969 certainly went out with a bang. Our high school had long had a tradition of the senior class trip, which involved a long trek to some exotic destination far enough away to make getting there grueling and sleep-deprived.
That year the seniors made the long bus ride to Six Flags Over Texas. But during the course of that journey, something happened.
The stories we heard were somewhat hushed and confusing, but whatever happened was so serious that school officials cancelled senior trips forevermore.
The next year, there was not even a discussion about our own class taking a senior trip. Not. A. Chance.
The Class of ’69 was already notable in that it had voted to abolish the venerable tradition of selecting the most popular and respected girl to preside over Achievement Night as Miss Fair Marshall.
Now, our heroes had managed to put the kibosh on another tradition. In a way it enhanced the reputation of the Class of ’69 even further. In addition to all their other superlatives, they had also become the Biggest Screw-Ups.
I’m hoping some of my old schoolmates from the Class of ’69 might finally come forward with the true story of what transpired on that notorious trip. Why don’t you just come clean? Confession is good for the soul and the statute of limitations on your crimes certainly has expired.
Some members of my own class are still a bit aggrieved that we didn’t get to have our senior trip because of you.
It would be good to be able to put the scurrilous rumors to rest, and to finally forgive and forget.
STYLE NOTE: Like haiku, the tanka is a traditional Japanese short poem form with a prescribed number of syllables. The pattern is 5-7-5-7-7.
cheerleaders stirred crowds and our
NOTES: Here’s another invaluable photograph from my friend, Susumu. This must have been taken in the fall of 1968, amidst an exciting small town high school football season.
It most certainly was an away game. The home games of the Marshall High School Owls were played at Missouri Valley College’s Gregg-Mitchell Field, and this setting does not look familiar. I’m guessing it might have been the away game that year at the home field of our most hated rival, the Excelsior Springs Tigers.
Marshall had been playing second fiddle to the Tigers for several years, just unable to put together enough power to overcome dislodge them from the top of the Missouri River Valley Conference.
The year before, we had endured a humiliating defeat as the Tigers came into our stadium and beat us on a frigid night in Marshall. Those old aluminum benches had never felt so cold.
This year turned out much better. Coach Cecil Naylor had us worked into such a frenzy that we could have taken on a band of Viking berserkers. We travelled into the Tigers’ home turf, took care of business, and vanquished them 20 to 0.
But I digress.
The topic is cheerleaders. What is with their mystique? And why couldn’t they get a date with their own classmates?
I could be misremembering, but it seemed that very few cheerleaders ever dated guys in their own class. Older guys might work up the confidence to “date down” with a cheerleader from lower grade. But mating between cheerleaders and a classmate was scare and rare.
One of life’s great mysteries. The Cheerleader Paradox.
Mysterious even when you factor in the fact that in our little town, many of us had attended school together since first grade, and the rest of us had been together in the same building since 7th grade.
The long history and close familiarity meant that most of your classmates were like family. That contributed to sense that the cute girl in chemistry class seemed more like your sister or your cousin than girlfriend material.
I mean, you’d grown up together! You’d seen each other on good days and bad days. Good hair days and bad. You’d fought on the playground in grade school, and competed for teachers’ attention. Not much mystery left.
But even that doesn’t explain the Cheerleader Paradox.
Dr. Freud, call your office. I’m open to hypotheses.
The old hometown is aging, as am I,
The once wide streets grow narrow with the years,
As night descends, you all but hear a sigh,
For what once was has gone, and twilight nears.
Now friends and kinsmen number fewer, too,
And memories fade like the painted sign
Proclaiming that the city “Welcomes You!”
Strange how one’s soul and place so intertwine.
Life used to bustle round our stately square
‘Til commerce shifted to the edge of town.
The grand facades are now much worse for wear,
Some landmarks have been torn completely down.
The business of my life took me elsewhere,
Cracks grew in walkways of both man and town.
NOTES: I must ask forgiveness for reposting this poem so soon. But one of the photos sent to me from my old friend and schoolmate has made it necessary to repeat myself.
Quick explanation: During my junior year of high school, our school hosted a foreign exchange student from Japan. Susumu jumped into the life of a Missouri farm town with both feet. Among other activities, he participated in music competitions and he landed a role in our semi-annual school musical. Ironically, that year we were producing “South Pacific,” which took place against the backdrop of the U.S. war against Japan.
Susumu was a real sport, even when his role as Lieutenant Cable involved him talking about “Japs.”
Susumu took some photos during his year in my hometown, and he shared them with me recently. The photographs are full of beauty and nostalgia for me.
The shot above is an image I’ve been seeking for a long time.
I actually had something quite like it in mind when I wrote this poem.
The shot is of the southeast corner of our town square. The large, 4-story brick building that dominates the scene is the original Farmers Savings Bank.
The east side of our square was clearly the “serious” side of the square. If you could just see a bit more to the left in the photo, you would see the other bank in town, Wood & Huston, which anchored the northeast corner of the square.
The Farmers Savings Bank was a landmark. I still remember walking in there for the first time in the mid-60s with my dad to open my first savings account. I had landed a job detasseling corn with DeKalb, and needed to sock my money away in a safe place.
My memory of the bank was dark wood, glass and really fancy tile or stone floors. I could be completely wrong. But that is the impression the place left on me.
It definitely gave me the experience that banks at one time strived for: Substantial, important, unshakeable, solid, eternal.
I also have another memory of that building. I’m not sure if this is a real memory or if I imagined it. The memory goes like this: I’m with a couple of my buddies, and somehow we gain access to the hallways of the offices that occupy the stories above the bank.
We explore and when we get to the top floor, we open a door and, behold — inside is a Masonic Temple, with its colorful and elaborate falderal. A exotic stage set for a play with curtains and colorful, elaborate props. A sense of mystery and danger.
We don’t stay long.
Sadly, sometime after I departed my hometown for college, the bank was torn down to make way for a more modern, low-slung and efficient building. I’m sure that was the fashionable thing for banks to do in that era.
I always hated what that demolition did to the look of the square. The old bank building had been a solid landmark one could count on. Solid. Now it was gone.
Most bank buildings I walk into these days (and only when I must), seem more like low-rent office buildings. Nothing impressive or awe-inspiring about them. Designed with the corporate stock price firmly in mind. Designed to encourage you to skip coming inside and avail yourself of the ATM outside instead.
Old streets remind me
I did not know compassion
when I walked them then.
NOTES: I have come into possession of a treasure trove of photos from the late 1960s taken by an old schoolmate, Susumu. He was our Japanese foreign exchange student when I was a junior in high school in 1968 and 1969.
Across the years and across the internet, we reconnected and he sent me the photos he collected during his year in my hometown.
Susumu saw things through his camera lens that I had long forgotten. These are shots I would never have thought to take. Simple street scenes. Iconic buildings long since torn down. Teachers and friends long forgotten.
The gift of these photos is almost indescribable. It is as though I am seeing my hometown again, for the first time. I’m transported back nearly half a century to the place of my childhood, to the places where I lived my formative years.
No fancy Instagram filters are required. These photos already have the faded Kodachrome quality you cannot fake. They come with authentic poignancy.
These photos take me back to my youth. And my heart is filled with questions. What if? If only? Didn’t I realize?
Relax noisy crows,
I mean your babies no harm.
The cat, however …