NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published June 16, 2014
If you've ever attended a high school class reunion, you will appreciate this little tale.
As usual in my life, nothing is ever "normal". My experiences in passing through the various stages of education are no different. I attended public school for the first 7 grades, then in the eighth grade I was shipped off unceremoniously to a military school a thousand miles away from my home, where I spent the last 5 years of high school wearing a highly-starched uniform and standing very still for long periods of time, or marching back and forth on the "grinder" carrying a 9-pound Springfield rifle.
But I digress……
This past weekend just happened to be the 50th Year Reunion of Mountain Home High School. The Class of 1964 "party committee" staged a weekend of memories that will last for the rest of a lifetime.
But "Why", you wonder, "would Bob attend a school reunion for which he did not graduate ?"
Well, I'll tell you. The childhood friendships I made while attending grade school in a rural town in Arkansas in the 50's were pretty special. While I DID attend military school in my later years, I was always home each summer and spent many hours with my old school chums on the lake and at summer parties.
Also, after graduating HS I joined a local rock and roll band in 1964, made up of some of my childhood pals. In a couple of years were had established a fan base consisting of the entire youth of Mountain Home, because back then there wasn't anything else to do. It was just what you did back then, and during football season we would put signs on every car in the stadium parking lot, "Dance Tonight at Armory - The Vipers". That's all it took. The gigs we played at the armory or at the legion hut were legendary to those who lived it. It carried over after I moved back home in the mid 70's and started my recording studio. People remembered me from grade school… from the band…. And just from growing up here, so that my showing up at any reunion didn't seem out of the ordinary.
More importantly, since I am somewhat in the entertainment business there are things I can do for the class (my friends) in lieu of $$$ donations, like furnish some sixties music or create some DVD's of the old days and of times when we were all kids. The videos of our town in 1955 are so priceless that people would stop eating just to watch some long ago forgotten scene. I was so proud to have been lucky enough to come across that old film, given to me by one of our very own Class of 1964 Alumni several years ago. I painstakingly restored it, edited it, and we created a soundtrack for it. It is a 1-hour look back into time professionally shot on 16mm black & white film. It IS quite a cultural shock to look back and see how much had changed in our world since the mid 50's, when we were all still children.
And now to be sitting right across the table from someone you haven't seen or heard from in FIFTY years……. Well, let me tell you I did a lot of head scratching. I eventually started peering closely into their eyes, looking for that kid I knew so long ago. Oddly enough, the trick worked a lot of the time. I think the eyes ARE the window to the soul, and if "that kid" is still anywhere in there I think I spotted it, and then remember who that kid was. I won't mention any names here (to protect the guilty) but on the first day this perky little gal ran up to me screaming "Bobby Ketchum, the very guy whose mother wanted me to marry him!!" and gave me a big hug. She looked so familiar! I looked at her name tag and it hit me! WOW! Then she told me how much she missed mom and we drifted off into "what are you doing now" and spent many minutes just enjoying the company of the other. That happened SO many times to me over the weekend.
Considering how many folks still live around here, the number of out of town (and state) classmates was impressive. . . . . . . Which I guess one would expect for a fiftieth. This is the BIG ONE! We will see friends we haven't seen for fifty years and perhaps we may never see them again. I've attended 15th, 25th, 30th, 40th & 45th reunions, but trust me…. The fiftieth is really a milestone, and for so many reasons. Of course I knew all of the "locals" but it was a challenge in some cases to identify people. My biggest hazard was that anyone who started at MHHS after the 8th grade would basically be a stranger to me. In some cases people might remember the name but had no fond school memories of "us". I got asked a lot, "So, why don't I remember what classes we had together?" and I'd have to remind them that I spent grades 8-12 at a military school. But then, they might just turn around and say "Yeah, but I remember the summer when you raced against "(Insert Name Here") in your red Barracuda at Slade's Meat Market (a ¼-mile strip of highway just out of town), or some other story.
One of my personal highlights was when an old childhood pal I hadn't seen in fifty years that popped in at the big dinner on the second night. He came up and I recognized him, but the passage of time prevented me from discovering his identity so I tried the old eye-gaze trick and I caught a glimpse of a memory….….. And he said "Remember the day you took your dad's 35 HP Johnson off his fishing boat and you put it on that little aluminum Hydrofoil hull?" And it all came rushing back. I intimately remembered the incident (although I HAD completely forgotten it) but did not remember WHO was with me in that debacle. He brought up so many stories that I was completely mesmerized for fifteen minutes. I've forgotten some of them already. But I won't soon forget the "Hydrofoil Incident", so thanks for remembering, you-know-who.
Lots of people fondly remembered my mother. Many of the guys recalled dad's drinking reputation. And of course many were amused that I had married the daughter of the school's Head of Maintenance and also my bus driver when I was a kid. Some people simply had not changed. Others were hard to adjust to for various reasons. Talking with them for a few minutes helped to zero in the personality I remember. To some, life had been kind. To others life was a hardship. But all in all, it was a happy and thankful group.
And it IS a special group.
When we graduated High School in 1964, think of what was going on: JFK and MLK murdered. The Vietnam War & the Military/Industrial Complex. The Beatles. The Sexual Revolution. Drugs! The boys came right out of high school, eligible for the draft. The girls were discovering Women's Lib and a cultural upheaval. After 1964, the world itself changed dramatically, and at an alarming and escalating rate. Add all that to the fact that we were living in a very rural small town atmosphere, and you can understand the culture shock. I think in a way those changes made our ties to our past even more important.
It was an exhausting weekend, but worth every minute and muscle-ache of it. Besides, I've got a hot tub, but when will be the next time I have such a good time with old friends?
Oh, and by the way…. In case you wondered: YES….. I WILL be attending the 50th reunion of the Class of 1964 at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida this October. And it'll start all over again.
I can't wait.
Incidently, I have posted a photo scrapbook about the weekend on my Facebook page. For anyone wanting to see how people can age over fifty years, go here.
And for those of you without Facebook accounts, HERE is the location of the Picassa Web Album.