Research trip journal, day 6

2014.05.19 Monday

2014.05.20 Tuesday

2014.05.21 Wednesday

2014.05.22 Thursday

2014.05.23 Friday

2014.05.24 Saturday

Down Mill Street

Some of the class mates—Charlotte, Mary, Bear, and Dee.
Click on the photo to see more shots from the parade.
Today had little focus on research. Instead the focus was on Memorial Day and reunion activities. Our small class—bolstered with friends and spouses—was to ride a trailer in the Memorial Day parade. We met at 5th Street, set up chairs on the trailer, and jabbered with each other until we saw the parade start down Mill Street, jalopies and vintage cars in front. It didn't take long. After all, the parade route was seven blocks down Mill Street and a yo-yo back up seven blocks on Hersey Street.

After the parade, we headed to the high school to decorate our table for the evening banquet. Hardly anything more fancy than a framed class slogan Here you see us mighty fine; We're the class of Sixty-Nine. 

Decoration Day Memories

While most class members headed to a city-provided lunch at Chautauqua Park, I visited my parents' graves at St. John Cemetery and planted a group of four perennials—a white and pink peony, blue cone flowers, a hardy yellow geranium, and coreopsis. To avoid the plantings being mowed over, I planted the group between the Kohn headstone and the neighboring headstone for the Byrd family. I had bought the plants in the spirit of a continuing memorial from their three sons—Jim, Chuck as a son-in-law, and me.

My brother Jim as often expressed a wish to be buried here, reminding me that dad had bought a plot with four burial places. I want to support Jim's wishes, and will do so if he dies before me. I believe Chuck would also follow his wishes. But for Chuck and me, I'm more inclined toward other arrangements. First, because I feel a much stronger bond to him and want to arrange my burial to fit with his plans; Second, because I feel no spiritual connection to the Catholic religion and wish not to place my executor in the position of being prevented from burial in their "consecrated ground;" Third, because I wish my body to provide as many organs as possible for others' use and that the remains be cremated. I doubt that I may visit this cemetery again until Jim's interment, although I think now that I may return to celebrate the 50th class reunion.

Before I could feel complete about visiting the cemetery, I went up the road to Elmwood Cemetery and looked for the grave of a buddy from Boy Scouts and high school years. Bruce Houghton was my first crush. He was a year younger than I and a hard-partying boy. Both his parents were alcoholic, too caught up in their own problems to raise their three children well. Bruce was on his way to follow their example until one night in his seventeenth year, when he crashed his car on a country road, likely under the influence of both drugs and drink.

Trip to Glen Elder and Ionia

Barbara (Heeler) and Frank Bulthaup
at the Wakonda Marina's retail counter, 2014
The next reunion events weren't scheduled until the evening, so I stopped by to see Greg Wagner, another buddy from Boy Scouts and high school years. After a short visit, I headed to Waconda Lake and visited some with Frank Bulthaup. Frank also was in Boy Scouts with us, but he's also a second cousin to me through my father's mother. Frank was at work, owner of the only marina at the lake. I had luck in the timing of my visit on a holiday weekend, since the weather was threatening thunderstorms all day.

Afterward, already half the way there, I drove to Ionia and then to the farmland that was home for my first ten years. The house had been moved to Ionia in 1960. I had seen there it about a dozen years ago. I had gone through the two-story frame house, although it was thoroughly infested with termites. Now it is even gone from its momentary rest in Ionia.

Reunion Banquet

After a nap, I was ready for a reunion evening. I had skipped going to Mass at St. John the Baptist church. No longer a believer, no longer interested in following along with the crossings, the mumblings, the standing and kneeling and standing and sitting and kneeling and standing again. More interested, finally, in honestly facing and stating a comfortable atheist system.

For the years I went to St. John's grade school and high school, every school day was begun with a quick Mass. Going to communion was encouraged, and with few exceptions, I was a daily communicant. —I was encouraged in this devotion by my mother, two aunts who were nuns, and most other aunts too, who were proud to see in me a potential vocation to the priesthood. Beyond their comprehension, and beyond mine too through about age 14, was another reason I expressed little interest in dating girls and a certain joy in dressing well, even sometimes "dressing up."— Every morning, kids brought a lunch pail for eating breakfast after Mass, and the first thirty minutes in the classroom were given over to eating breakfast and settling down for the day's instruction. My favorite breakfast included a thermos of either cream of tomato soup or a hearty tomato juice.

By eighth grade, I had been given the nickname "T.J." The name had two origins, though members of my class typically knew only this one: It referred to my breakfast of tomato juice and happened to be an incorrect guess at the initials of my given names, Thomas Gerard. Most boys in my class knew another origin. I tried hard to fit in with the boys in my class, even though we all knew some difference had fostered in me a devotion to music, a religious fervor, an artistic ability, an ability to develop friendships with girls more readily than boys. Once I confided to Bill Wendell, likely not convincingly, that I had gone on some date and had reached what we thought of as Second Base. I told Bill that "Barbara had let me give her a tit job." The boast quickly transformed to my nickname, once Bill had trumpeted the quote to other boys in the locker room.
Click on this image to see additional photos from the banquest.
I was among the first to the social hour and banquet in the school gym. Nine long tables had been set up as emanating spokes from a long table at the hub, where the class members celebrating their 50th reunion would sit. A few people milled about the various tables, setting down personal items as place holders. I place my camera case on a chair opposite Bear Sahlfeld and near Deb Kolarik-Halepeska.

Opposite the hub was a bar, which attracted larger numbers of people. The bar stock had few name brand liquors and wine-in-a-box, your choice of white or red. We had an hour of socializing, where I found the leaden concept of the class reunion banquet. During high school, we studied several subjects in classes that intermixed students from the year before and after ours. We had friends who had escaped the limitations of a small parochial school to attend Beloit High School, which was roughly four times larger than St. John's. (The class of '69 was relatively large at 32 graduates. The class of '14 has only 7 graduates!) We never had seen members of the classes of '64 and '74 in high school, but here they were, celebrating their 50th and 40th reunions along with us celebrating our 45th. I missed classmates from the classes of '68 and '70! I missed, too, the contemporaries I spent free time with, though they attended the public schools.

The bar stock had been predictive of the banquet's menu. The Ladies' Guild had worked yesterday and today to prepare a meal that was served in the same style as we had grown accustomed to in the high school cafeteria. Each diner picks a plate, table ware, and napkin from stacks at the end of a long, long table. Then, passing each member of the Ladies' Guild, the "lady" reaches into an electric roasting pan and serves a component of the meal. Salisbury steak! Scalloped potatoes! Steamed corn! Dinner roll! Margarine patty! Chocolate pan cake! Yum. The only missing items were the cooks' limp, white uniforms and hair nets.

And food fights. Back at our table, we were well-behaved. We conversed well and with interest as people we seldom spoke with in high school told us of the mundane and interesting parts of their lives. Most of us nearing retirement, or already out of the workforce, have the chance to become what we are comfortable with or to find new adventures and challenges.

The evening closed with a strange monologue from John Bergman, class of 1964. He sought to bullet-point the lives of each of his classmates, but often the result was a reminder of early marriage, unpromising work, several kids, and numerous grand-kids. Dee grumbled, Seems they need to get off this great family thing. Bear laughed, Next year we'll say 'And four of us are gay. It's time to look away from the Catholic education (limited) and toward the real world.' Charlotte giggled, And a few of us have three family names—the two husbands' children's names and our freshly independent name. Deb offered, And why this monolog about the Bergmans and their donations to "the Fund"? Is this really just a donations grab? She had recognized the tone shift. The Alumni Director rose to encourage donations to the endowment and then to introduce the winning basketball coach and his team. Every pump of a young athlete's ability was a chance to point at the donation plates.

After the banquet, many alumni filled the Knights of Columbus hall for more conversation. The thumping of a country blues band at Down Under bled through the walls. But I had misunderstood the directions and ended up at Down Under, looking for classmates. When I realized I knew nobody in the crowd, I headed back to Jewell for the night.

2014.05.25 Sunday

2014.05.26 Monday

2014.05.27 Tuesday

2014.05.28 Wednesday

2014.05.29 Thursday

2014.05.30 Friday

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