by Jim Bulls
Old Moral Cemetery, Pottawattamie County, Oklahoma, 1946. I had just turned five and this was my first reunion. The family all gathered around Great-Grandma Eliza Jane’s grave. Her dying wish was never to have rain fall on her grave, so when she was buried the men-folk built a rock box about three feet high with a slightly domed top to shed water. Now, it was covered with picnic baskets filled with fried chicken, corn on the cob, potato salad, deviled eggs and biscuits. For dessert, Uncle Glen churned up some homemade ice cream to be served with your choice of apple, cherry, pecan or pumpkin pie. After lunch, the relatives walked among the graves, reminiscing and telling stories about family members who have gone before, while the kids played tag around the tombstones.
Fast forward 30 years and I’m back in Pottawattamie County introducing my extended family to Diana, Becki and Amanda. My mother had organized this family reunion in order to share her family history research. She had spent hours writing letters, poring over old books and papers, reading microfilm, visiting genealogical libraries and record offices. She would have loved having a computer with access to Ancestry.com (and DNA testing) to help with her research. I am proud to say that information about my family on Ancestry.com has verified that her research was accurate. Today my family reunions are by e-mail since we are scattered all over the United States. Some of us have never met in person, but we share the ups and downs of our lives via electronic messages.
And then there is the class reunion. Usually the first one is ten years after graduation from high school. Generally those that attend are trying to impress everyone with lifestyle or job. I remember that, because of a few rowdy classmates at my tenth reunion, we were invited to hold our 20th reunion somewhere else. At my 20th class reunion, the majority of the group was more mature, with the exception of those who didn’t make it to the tenth and had to make fools of themselves to catch up. After 20, we decided to have reunions every five years, as did most other classes.
The Big, Super-Mega Class Reunion of 2014
The Reedley High School Class of 1959 celebrated its 55th reunion in October. During the planning stages, they decided to invite the upper and lower classmen who attended Reedley High at the same time: classes of 1957, 1958, 1960 and 1961. As you can imagine, this effort took a lot of preplanning and preparation before the big event. At first, the combined class reunion committees were freaking out because there were barely enough early tickets sold to cover the cost of the venue, let alone anything else. We shouldn’t have worried though, the numbers quickly jumped from 57 to 270, pushing the limits of the National Guard Armory’s fire code.
The reunion was a great success, and it got me reminiscing about the people in those classes and how we share a common bond based on our experiences in that by-gone era. Our classes were caught between the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts, and at the time of the birth of rock and roll. Life was simpler then—at least it seems so now.
I was working on the first draft of this article on Halloween, as the neighborhood kids rang the doorbell looking for treats. Since my daughter Amanda and son-in-law Sean were handing out the goodies, I don’t know how many zombies showed up at the door but I started thinking about those classmates that were celebrating their reunion in eternity. In those five classes, there were close to 160 classmates that had passed away. It was interesting to note that the Class of 1957 had the fewest deaths. Memories of Mary Alice Walker, Rich Peterson, Sharon Penner and Stan Bailey came to mind. However, the memory of Dennis Olson stands out. He was a member of the championship football team, and a charter member of the Nomads Car Club—he also designed the club plaque. He was a joy to be around. Dennis and Adron Scroggins built the Elkins Sport Coupe.
In 1958, I was a freshman at Reedley High. The buildings and the size of the campus were imposing. I was always worried that I wouldn’t be able to get to my next class on time. The seniors had the answer—you needed an elevator pass! Charlie Celya stands out in my memory since he was the one who clued me in about the elevator. A few years later, Richard Goertzen took me to boot camp at Fort Ord. Joanne Hyder lived across the street. Junior Zamora drove his Volkswagen onstage to deliver Charlie to the podium for his student body candidate’s speech. Charlie promised pool tables in West Hall if he was elected president.
From the class of 1959, I have fond memories of Bill Conrad, Allen Everett, Ralph Eymann, Rusty Graham, Dale Hunter, Joe Montes and Joyce Olson. Joyce was Dennis’ sister and the only girl in the Nomads. She had a white Model A coupe. She would remove the seat cushion and sit on a piece of plywood–she was probably Reedley’s first low-rider. Lynn Remy and Richard Zavala were also good friends.
In the class of 1960 memories of Bill Chance, Donna Fagrey, Cecelia George, Nancy Kenley, and Jessie Moreno pass through my mind, as does Gary Nickel who sold me my 1940 Ford. John Shamoon and I became good friends after I received an ultimatum from Lyn Potter . John liked to beat up on me after P.E. Lyn said the next time I let Shamoon hit me, I had better hit him back or I would have to fight him. Potter was twice as big as Shamoon. The next day when Shamoon socked me on the arm, I grabbed him by the coat and slammed him up against the wall as hard as I could. His head hit the plaster wall and he saw stars. He didn’t pass out, but after that we were the best of friends. Memories of Terry Zech and Vern Zweigle round out the list.
In 1961 I was a senior. Our class has the most classmate deaths out of all five classes. I can’t go through the whole list of 37. I have wonderful memories of all of them, especially Glenn Albrecht, Elaine Buxman, Francois Coigny, and Judy Zavala (my first playmate when I moved to Reedley). I have picked just one story to share. it took place soon after I got my driver’s license. For some reason, a particular student and I had a lack of communication, which led to him trying to be another John Shamoon, but this time I didn’t have Potter around. This guy went to Immanuel High after Grant, so I forgot about him until I got my license and started dragging main. He and his friends started bad-doggin’ me. Maybe he had a bad run in with my Dad, who was a teacher. Who knows? Now he just wanted to run me and my friends out of town. To avoid a fight we went into the Optimo Club to shoot pool.
Bill Cisco was in the pool hall and wanted to know why we were there since we usually didn’t frequent the place. After hearing our story, he said we should go back to dragging main. This time though, Bill was lying down in the back seat of the car. Bill Cisco was a very large and imposing individual, and he could look very scary to someone who didn’t know him. Once again we headed down G Street and it wasn’t long before there was a car in front of us, one in back of us, and one pulling up beside us with the guy inside yelling at us to pull over. My nemesis strutted over and yanked open the car door itching for a fight, but then he caught a glimpse of Bill rising from the backseat. It was like turning on the kitchen light and watching the cockroaches scatter—where did all the tough guys go? They practically vanished into thin air. I never had any trouble from this guy again. Today, I am the only one left; both Bill and the tough guy are deceased.
Which brings me to why I have been reminiscing about the dead, from Great-Grandma Eliza Jane to people from my high school memories. Every one of them should be recognized (and I wish I had the space to do more), especially at this time of year. As I finish up this article it is now Sunday—All Saint’s Day or Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)—a time when we think about and honor those who have gone before us. I guess I haven’t ever taken this seriously before now, but that is what I am doing here: celebrating and remembering family and friends who are no longer with us.
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Great story, Jim! I can relate to a lot of it.