Day 3 The fallen, Age of Aquarius, ADHD, Buried history NOTE – I will not be editing this rough draft anytime soon or maybe anytime
This four part (five counting the prologue) was meant to be a reverie of sorts about a glorious public school experience. It should have been continued immediately but already the events are over a week old and I’ve gone on to other things in my campaign for the school board and more agonizing over the malevolent squirrel we have let into the people’s house.
So…pick up some pieces of your diary Harry.
I had agreed to patrol our old high school’s parking lot for three hours of Saturday’s morning directing alums to two classic cars which would drive them around the old haunts of their youth. It was rainy and I hunkered down in my traverse. The seven foot long sign I stuck between through my back door’s window. “Classic car rides” it said, or words to that effect. The temps were hovering just above freezing so I had no plans to walk around. Instead I invited people into my front and back seat to chat while they waited for other’s travels to come to an end.
In no particular order our old Biology teacher Mr. Banwort showed up to do some of the driving. While he waited for some people to squire around I asked him about days past. Later it was John my old classmate who I shared a short contest with over a young and very date-able lady. He asked if I remembered our telephone call. I did and I probably stole his story to tell his fiftieth reunion date.
We were both sweet on the Basketball coaches’ daughter. I must have taken her out on a date at some point because I had her phone number memorized. But like a typical guy I had dithered away the time before Homecoming to ask her to go out on another date. That’s when John called me to ask if she was going with me. I told John I hadn’t asked her yet and we fenced a bit in good humor about who would be going. John suggested that we race for the call after we hung up. I agreed, knowing I didn’t have to look up the young lady’s number. I won. I was smitten. The young lady was the first girl I’d ever kissed after a date. It was a beginners kiss but it was lingering as I tarried on her home’s doorstep. When the kiss came to and end and we said out goodbyes I hopped in my Dad’s car and drove home singing the pop folk-song. Kisses Sweeter than Wine.
I’m not sure if that was the date I had been left seething as we departed the dance in our school’s gym. As we left and headed for the back parking lot of Mankato High a couple unfamiliar guys were holding the door to the lot open. As they apparently let us out one of the fellows with a smirk let the door go so that it hit my date’s shoulder on the way out. I was in a state of shock. Without looking back I realized a gauntlet had been thrown at me to defend my date’s honor. At least that was the emotion surging through me.
“I’m going back to have a talk with that guy.” I told my date as I walked her to my car. She hung on to my arm and said, “Don’t.” Every fiber of my body disagreed with her command and I could barely hear the voice in the back of my head telling me my date was right. A fight would only make her date more miserable however it developed or ended. I didn’t turn back to challenge the beasts and knew I was doing the right thing……It was a right thing I couldn’t get out of my head for the next ten years as I imagined how I would have dealt with the curs. God, am I ever glad I’m no longer seventeen!
But I was a feckless youth. I’d had several dates over a couple months and she still seemed to be a little infatuated with me and that made me uncomfortable. As gallant as I had wanted to be with the door incident I was callow in the “how do I end this” phase of our dating. In my case rather than give some embarrassing declaration I simply stopped calling her. It wasn’t the last time I simply tried to evaporate myself out of a relationship. She was crushed and I when John inquired about our status I told him he was free to move in. God, am I ever glad I’m no longer seventeen!
After the morning car rides the Reunion planners had set up a “Magical Mystery” bus tour of Mankato. One of the features of the ride was a trip past every elementary or junior high school building that any of us might have attended. Not having gone to elementary school in Mankato this didn’t mean much to me but we were encouraged to shout out memories when we passed significant places. I obliged when we traveled past the County Seat. I shouted that when Claudia and I signed up for a wedding license in the building we both had to swear an oath that neither of us were “feebleminded.” Actually, I told the crowd that we “had” to get a license which has a somewhat different meaning than I had intended. That wasn’t true unless my wife’s gestation was arrested for seven years when we finally gave our parents grand-parenthood.
One of our “guides” on the bus gave us bits and pieces of history as we meandered through the town. He had been a drudge in the City Manager’s office assigned the task of drafting the documents that put a “mall” in the middle of our town’s main street. At the time it was intended to spare the City from suburbanizing and expanding its commercial sites out beyond the old town’s boundaries. This failed, of course, while it also put an end to high school kid’s “cruising” the main drag.
Among the other stories he told us was of the hushed removal and hiding of Mankato’s infamous boasting about America’s largest mass hanging when 38 mostly innocent Sioux Indians were hung for their part in the Sioux uprising that distracted Minnesota from the Civil War.
The granite sign was one of the first things I remember passing on the way to our new house in 1963. In the next decade it became a magnet for Red Paint. Not long afterwards an official in the Mankato bureaucracy had the tablet buried in Mankato’s Sibley Park. Later, fearing that it might be dug up and restored, he had it unearthed and driven to a secret spot along the Minnesota River where he dumped it.
I agreed with my fellow Scarlet and our guide that hiding this was not good history. As to the monument’s recovery he told us the official had told him in later years that the location had already been buried with three of the four witnesses. A fourth was being overcome with senility leaving the officer secure in the hope that the location would die with him.
It had been my intention to drive back to Duluth after having dinner with my classmates. Claudia, who remained in Duluth, did not think this was a good idea. So when the reunion organizer told me that I was invited to an after the reunion gathering I found another hotel for Saturday night and extended my stay. That meant I could be leisurely at the Saturday dinner and not hurry home.
More grads made it to the dinner and I got snippets of conversation with many but not all of the ones I would have liked to talk with. One of them was Leenie. I hadn’t seen her since High School to my recollection but I remembered my last summer after high school when a gang of us got together to swim in a local lake and generally pal around in a last burst of camaraderie before we were all cast to the four winds and college.
I’d gathered that her marriage with another classmate had ended poorly and when she showed up I have to say she had a beaten up look to her. I’d find out in the course of our conversation that this had more to do with her having had a double mastectomy three weeks earlier. And she was here.
Her family had been the host of our Australian foreign exchange student, another young woman with whom I’d been smitten. I asked Leenie if my understanding that the two of them didn’t get along had any truth to it. Leenie, told me it was mostly about her mother a very controlling “doctor’s wife.” At one point the Mother had insisted that their guest would have to find other accommodations. Apparently both girls stood together to swat this idea aside. I was aware of just how in-artful American hosts could be. It was a challenge for my family to host an Ethiopian student. The year before that the rich hosts of a Thai student turned him out after the initial excitement wore off and he was taken in by a far more considerate family.
Leenie would have been horrified at such an outcome. She had gone into social work helping at hospital birthing centers and in elder care. It was a far cry from her former husband’s interests. And her former husband was now suffering from senility in a home that bespoke of the good money he earned in Detroit before Americans had to share the automotive pie with the rest of the world. He’d been a car designer.
I asked a couple of folks about one other person who had never come to one of our reunions. It was yet another young woman who had mostly incurred her school mate’s ire but with whom I’d taken up a brief post high school dalliance although that is more than it was.
M was a girl that intimidated the bejesus out of me when we joined the debate team as sophomores. For me it was my Dad’s answer to my fear of ever suffering a panic attack again. I met a lot of my future dates on that team including they young lady would became the reunion host who along with her family moved into my family’s house and then invited me for a Sunday after school reunion gathering.
So many of these stories are tied together by that debate experience and our foreign exchange program. When talking with Mr. Banwort I had mentioned our old coach, a dirty old man if ever there was on, and how he’d told us the ranking of our classmates on the Mankato’s IQ records. My bully was was number two. I suspect M was number 1.
Our coach and the student debaters were pretty quick with their repartee and the coach like to fling insults at M. M always flung another one back quicker and more deadly than any tossed in her direction. I admired her intelligence and fierce self defense. Other’s did not. During our bus tour our guide also commented that M was the first girl to wear a brazier. That is just the sort of thing a junior high boy would notice and not mention until fifty years later. He mother was also a teacher. I expect that this coupled with her brains and the fact that her mother was a teacher all added up to a soup of jealousy and disapproval. I probably didn’t look as cowed by her as I was when we talked and lent a sympathetic ear to the few things she shared with me. When I once rolled my eyes at a comment about having to work hard to get all the easy A’s I saw her earning her response betrayed a little self doubt. She knew who was really smart and it wasn’t her. It was a cousin of her’s that had been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. So just as I stood in awe of her she too stood in awe of others.
I still recall defending M. to another of the graduates at the reunion who told me I was a pretty nice guy to stick up for her. I am pretty sure this discussion took place our senior year after M had been humiliated at a gathering of our International club and a large number of foreign exchange students who visited Mankato over the weekend. Despite hosting our Ethiopian student the previous year I’d never joined the International club. When kids signed up to be a host for a weekend I hadn’t done so. But one student from a nearby small town had invited himself to our celebration simply to escape the provincial home he had lived in for that school year. He was Pierre ____ ______ from Paris. He was nothing like the sweet fille from Grenoble my sophomore year. He was a swashbuckler. Suddenly I was asked if my family would take on an emergency guest and we did.
Over the weekend Pierre regaled me with stories of his sexual conquests in Minnesota. He’d had five of them. Never having considered trying to conquer anyone I listened to this cosmopolitan locker talk with interest and muted disapproval. One of his conquests, a virgin apparently, had been a bloody mess. For me this was better than a talking too from a priest on the subject of abstinence. How these young women would fair after his safe return to France I had no idea but I couldn’t rule out a growing Minnesota population at his departure.
Of course, a young woman estranged from her classmates and sophisticate beyond the rest of us was almost fated to fall under the advanced influence of a dashing and confident young Frenchmen. And so in the evening hours of our gathering with the other foreign exchange students the best and the brightest Mankato students noticed a steamed up car on an evening stroll with M and Pierre warming each other up. My friends formed a circle around the vehicle and serenaded them with the best of Rogers’ and Hammerstein. “Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you………”
My last recollection of M. was introducing her to my “fiancee” at the Italian restaurant M was a waitress at. Because I had shown a brief interest in her not long before it was sort of an embarrassing introduction for me. Like always, I’d melted away when M showed me some evidence of being more interested in me than I was prepared to show to her. I’d grown in confidence in college but even so I recalled how much her intellect had intimidated me back in high school. Melting way seemed safer. Certainly as a waitress she was no match for her Rhode’s riding cousin. I don’t know what became of M but that is an unknown chapter I’d very much like to learn about.
I’ve kept the original ideas I wanted to write about at the top of this post. Sorry, its long and I have no intention, now anyway, of editing it. What I’ve written about are the personal events that everyone experiences even while greater forces swirl around them in the world.
I’ve said nothing about the War in Vietnam but I shouldn’t let it go unmentioned.
Two of our classmates who had been Vietnam Era officers, one in the army the other in the navy got up and talked about our fellows who were scarred by the war or simply lucky not to serve in Vietnam. They mentioned the magic draft card numbers that were pulled at the beginning of our senior year that would doom some to the draft. My number, 41, put me at immediate risk of being called up…..except that I had always planned to go to college. The previous generation of WW II vets had graciously extended a 2-S deferment to young men going to college to become the masters of America. It would last me though almost the end of the war so there was no bloodshed for me. We baby boomers were all Age of Aquarius and ideals that required us to put long stemmed roses in the barrels of the guns wielded by our fellows unable to go to college.
Is it just me, or is the echo of that past still with us in our politics today?