Tuesday, December 23, 2008
It's funny how John Lennon's anti-war song "Happy Christmas/War is Over" shows up all the time now on stations playing Christmas carols. Maybe it's because there aren't that many carols being written anymore -- the last great one was "Silver Bells" nearly 60 years ago.
I do like the Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling" from the early '70s, but I think whoever it was who wrote "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" should definitely get a big lump of coal in his stocking.
Do they still do that?
This Christmas is an interesting one for our family. It will be our first without my Dad, who died in March, and it is our first with little Madison, our granddaughter who was born in September. I actually have a picture of her -- it isn't on the computer yet -- of her with Santa Claus at the Glendale Galleria at the age of about 10 weeks. She's so tiny that she looks like a little doll in his arm.
But this is a nice Christmas for me in other ways. There are so many of you I never knew in high school who have become my friends in the year since our 40th reunion, either on this site, in our work together on "When I'm 64" or through Facebook.
Merry Christmas to all of you -- and a very Happy New Year from Southern California.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I'm not posting all the chapters -- y'all need some reason to actually buy the book.
Currently working on two others -- the friendship between Dale Morgan and Judy Hart Byers, and the one classmate of ours who seems to have best lived the spirit of the '60s -- Lauren Koskella Farley.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
We're on track right now for 29 chapters -- an introduction, a conclusion and 27 chapters about people. I've been promised questionnaires from Dale Abrahamson, Barbara Lanzer, Carla Rieker Cloninger and Nancy Abt White that are included in that total, and I still have to touch base with Bill Thomas, Scottie Gibson about his sister Paula and Susan Morales.
Here's another first look at a chapter, about Ellen Baeshore McFarland of varsity basketball and "Eight Dates a Week" fame.
Hope you enjoy it.
If there was one thing Ellen Baeshore McFarland really loved in high school, it was playing basketball. She excelled on Woodson’s junior varsity team as a sophomore and was an outstanding player for the varsity as a junior.
But when the 1966-67 girls basketball team won all 12 of its games and was the first unbeaten team in school history, McFarland wasn’t there. It wasn’t that her interests had changed, and it wasn’t an injury or academic problems. It was far worse than any of that.
She had lost her No. 1 fan, and with it her enjoyment of the game.
"Sports were always a part of my life from the time I was very little," she said. "My father encouraged that in me. He would go outside with me and teach me how to play baseball and kickball, and whatever I was involved with, he was always behind me 100 percent. Having a wonderful father who loved me unconditionally set the stage for me having self-respect. Knowing my father loved me deeply made me feel solid in life no matter what transpired."
In fact, when McFarland won the award as the most outstanding player on the junior varsity as a sophomore, Charlie Baeshore was the first person she wanted to share it with.
"When my name was announced, I burst into tears," she said. "It wasn’t only for feeling honored to receive the award, and for feeling totally shocked, but also knowing that my father could share in my glory."
It made a huge difference to her. The security of her father’s love meant she wasn’t constantly looking for something to make up for a lack of love at home. She liked boys and she wanted to be popular, but she didn’t have to cross the lines she didn’t want to cross, the lines that some girls found themselves ignoring.
Her parents attended every game she played, and she could always single out her dad’s voice in the background, cheering her on. She hadn’t really played much basketball before high school, but she found that her physical skills – quickness, agility and aggressiveness – were well suited to the game.
Girls’ basketball was different then. Most players saw action only in half the court, with offensive players at one end and defenders at the other. McFarland and Gail Schultz MacLeod were guards, which meant they played only at the defensive end.
"I was good at stealing the ball," McFarland said. "I used to say I had a 'winning mentality and a winning streak.' I was always a little nervous when the game began, but then I would lose myself in the activity and the challenge. The real high for me on the court was letting go, living up to the challenge and knowing I was pleasing my father by doing my best."
She and her friends were close off the court as well. Eight of them started a sort of informal club they jokingly called "Eight Dates a Week." The Beatles song with a similar name (“Eight Days a Week”) was popular around that time, and Ellen and her friends were spoofing the fact that they weren’t being asked out all that often.
Their lack of dates probably says more about the shyness of teenage boys than anything else. A look at the pictures of the eight girls – McFarland, MacLeod, Whalen, Carol Pallesen, Marguerite Adams, Nancy Haberstroh, Deborah Donlon and Sandra Donlon -- in the Woodson 1967 yearbook would make it obvious to any observer that every one of the eight was at least pretty and at least half of them beautiful.
"Our group was very eclectic," MacLeod recalls. "It was a great and beautiful group of women who were much more comfortable hanging out together than dating. We all dated some, just not as continuously as the popular folks seemed to do."
McFarland herself probably gives part of the reason for it when she describes one of the members, Adams, as a “very pretty, outgoing, feminine girl” who actually did get asked on dates. In high schools then and now, it’s all about confidence. The extroverts who seem to have it all together may not be any better looking or more inwardly secure than the other kids, but their ability to appear so gives them almost the status of demigods.
The others take what they can get, and often what they have winds up being more lasting. More than forty years after high school, McFarland still has close friendships with some of her fellow "Eight Dates" members.
"The best part of being in the group was just our ability to share our hearts and know that we were loved and accepted as we were," she said. "A snotty air never penetrated this group, and even though we didn’t have many dates, we had among ourselves our own connection group. In recent years, whenever Cathy, Gail, Carol and I get together, we still laugh, accept, encourage and enjoy each other.
"We have all taken different directions in our lives, but the one constant is our concern for one another."
Early in her junior year, everything changed for Ellen McFarland. One Sunday morning, her father told her he wanted the family to go to church. That seemed odd to her, since they hadn’t been to church in years. She was in a bad mood that day and told him in no uncertain terms she didn’t want to go.
She went downstairs to listen to music and to dance, and a few minutes later her mother came downstairs and said something was wrong. Ellen ran upstairs and outside the house to see her father hunched over in pain and climbing into the Pallesen family car to go to the hospital.
She knew something was horribly wrong and she tried to bargain with God.
"I told God that if he let my father live, I would go to church every Sunday," she said. "But I knew in my heart he was gone."
Charlie Baeshore was 38 years old when he died of a massive heart attack, and as quickly as all that, everything had changed in his daughter’s life. She was 15, almost 16, and all the joy in everything she had enjoyed so much was gone.
"I was still part of the basketball team, but my desire to win had died with my cheering section," she said. "I lost interest in playing and didn’t want to be part of the team anymore. I don’t even remember if I finished the season my junior year."
A good father-daughter relationship is so crucial to a teenage girl. It has been said that young women tend to marry men who remind them of their fathers, and the approval they get from them has so much to do with the way they transition to adulthood.
For Ellen, the death of her dad – her "greatest fan" – just as she was coming into her own both as a person and as an athlete threw her entire life off track. She still had her female friends, but she shut down emotionally and drifted through her last two years of high school. When MacLeod and the rest of the basketball team reached the ultimate goal of an undefeated season as seniors, she was as far from being a part of it as she could possibly be.
"Playing, competing, winning had all lost their luster for me," she said. "So many things died for me when my father died. I don’t think it was as much about quitting as it was about me not wanting to be part of a bigger picture when the new picture seemed like a shadow of the former one."
MacLeod remembers her friend changing after her father’s death.
"Ellen had been really fun and energetic," she said. "She would dance for hours by herself in the basement of her house. But after her dad died during her junior year, I didn’t see her much. She didn’t continue with the activities like basketball where I saw her most."
McFarland refers to that point in her life and the decade or so that followed as "warming the bench in life," a time when she never really got much of a handle on who she wanted to be and what she wanted to do.
She went to college for one semester and dropped out. She was pregnant and married before her 19th birthday, a marriage she describes as a disaster from the beginning. She says her husband wasn’t loving and she wasn’t always kind. They had a baby, a son, but shortly after that her husband was off to Vietnam and she moved in with her mother.
Her husband wanted her to have her own place, so Ellen and her son Tim moved into a small apartment. She recalls actually enjoying that time, having her baby son to herself and spending a lot of time cooking and baking. She took modeling classes and was encouraged by the instructor to take it further, but confidence – and money issues – kept her from following that advice.
The happiness didn’t last. When her husband returned from the war, they moved with him to Massachusetts. They went north and the marriage went south; she left out of what she calls "sheer frustration," taking her son and returning to Virginia to live with her mother.
She admits now that was a mistake. The two of them weren’t particularly close, and her relatively young mother was more than happy to take charge of raising the son she had never had. Rather than fight her on it, rather than assert herself as a mother, McFarland took advantage of the situation to spend a lot of time going out.
"I was becoming something I didn’t like, but I felt powerless to do anything about it," she said. "I felt so alone and unequipped for the task before me. Having a small child and not being married is not being single, yet not being really married. It was something I hadn’t planned on."
She worked various jobs, mostly secretarial, but none of them gave her the satisfaction of accomplishing anything or working toward a career. She found herself caught in somewhat of a vicious cycle. She wasn’t making good choices in her life, causing more confusion and deeper depression, feelings that only resulted in her making more bad choices.
She kept hoping things would change, but they didn’t. She says she never considered herself attractive, and she hadn’t felt loved since her father died. Her feelings of aimlessness and unworthiness mounted through most of the ‘70s.
She started having a recurring dream, one in which she was standing in the middle of a field and watching airplanes come at her from all directions. Each time she had the dream, she was convinced that when they got close enough, they would hit her and kill her.
The fear started closing in on her in other areas. She was becoming more and more unhappy with her life, but she couldn’t see any solutions to her problem. She said at one point she actually saw a psychiatrist, only to come away feeling bad about the greater understanding she had of herself.
It all came to a head when he was 28. An old friend invited her to come to Reno, Nevada, for a visit. McFarland had the dream again before she left, and she was terrified at the thought of flying. When she got to Reno, the visit quickly turned into something of a disaster.
"She got really angry at me over something I said, and it deepened my sense of fear," McFarland said. "She had always been very compassionate, but this time she unkindly told me I was 'boy crazy,' and she was right. I wanted to leave early, but she talked me into staying."
Over the next few days, she realized that she was coming to loathe herself for the bad choices she had made in life. She felt trapped within herself, someone she didn’t like or even know.
On the flight back, she panicked. She tried to talk to people she didn’t know about her problem, getting nowhere. She finally prayed to "a God I didn’t know anymore if he existed" to help her make it through the rest of the flight.
More than 12 years after her father had died, years in which she had desperately been trying to hold her life together, everything was falling apart. Just as alcoholics or drug addicts often can’t address their problems until they sink as low as they possibly can, McFarland had reached the absolute depths of her despair.
"When I got home to my son, I grabbed him in my arms and burst into tears," she said. "I told him how much I loved him and how sorry I was that I hadn’t been a better mother to him. My mother looked on with total disdain and I knew we had to get out of her home."
That night, she had the dream again. It was a little different this time, though. The many planes that had looked so menacing merged into one plane that landed gently on peaceful farmland.
The very next day, she put her hand on a Bible and prayed. "God, if you exist, help me, because I’m going crazy."
Her situation was anything but uncommon. After the excesses of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s resulted in too many young men and women overindulging in sex, drugs or other aspects of a wild time, the movement toward religion served as a reaction to the counterculture. Whether they were hippies becoming "Jesus freaks" or suburban kids who just found themselves in too deep, it was very natural for them to ask if there wasn’t something more to life than the latest high or the most recent loveless encounter.
Some became "more Catholic than the Pope," as the saying goes. They turned into fundamentalists who in the ‘80s became part of what we now know as the Religious Right. Others just found peace and happiness.
Some found it faster than others. McFarland doesn’t recall that first prayer bringing her any great sense of satisfaction; her moment came two days later when she attended a PTA meeting at her son’s school.
"I sat in the only empty seat beside a very loving, caring woman whose face shone with joy and tranquility," she said. "She actually listened to what I had to say. I remembered my earlier prayer and I asked her if she was a Christian."
She was, and all of a sudden McFarland could literally feel everything falling into place.
"I knew then that God had sent me a human angel," she said. "Shortly thereafter, I was given the gift of inviting God into my heart – to be born again – and I knew that something marvelous had happened."
If this were a movie, we would have reached the climax. All her hurts and pains would have melted away, and she would have spent the last thirty years being happier and happier as she readied herself to climb a stairway to heaven.
Life isn’t like that, though. While she was filled with inner peace and joy at being a "child of the King," and able to push away her sorrow whenever she read the Bible and witnessed to others, McFarland still had problems in her life.
She hated her job, her relationship with her son wasn’t great and she still felt a desperate need for a relationship with someone who would really love her for who she was.
"The one issue that just wouldn’t go away was wanting to be close to someone else," she said. "Years passed and I still had a few bad relationships. I began to realize how codependent I had been and I knew I had to learn to set boundaries in my heart. I longed to be whole and I believed it would eventually happen, but there were still more trials and challenges ahead of me."
One of those challenges was another bad marriage. At age 36, McFarland married a man from her church, even though she had friends warning her that it was a bad idea and that he only wanted to marry her to strengthen his custody case from an earlier marriage.
It turned out to be true. Once her husband’s two children moved in with them, things got ugly. He picked fights with Tim, now 17, and got nasty with Ellen as well. She realized her son would be better off living with his grandmother, which hurt a lot since the two of them had been getting closer as she matured emotionally.
After three years, her second husband said he wanted a divorce.
"I felt instant relief," she said. "I knew the relationship wasn’t working, but being divorced twice really cut deeper. One mistake like that was bad enough, but two seemed inexcusable to me. Whatever self-righteousness I may have felt in my lifetime, that second divorce showed me that even Christians make bad choices for the wrong reasons."
After that, McFarland decided she needed to examine why this kept happening to her. Other people made good choices and wound up in loving relationships, so why couldn’t she? A few years later, after one more long dating relationship that didn’t work out, she figured it out.
"The men I was choosing didn’t really love me, or didn’t know how, and I was trying to make it happen," she said. "Such a simple revelation, but I finally woke up to the reality that love is a give and take, and a gift. I needed to learn that I didn’t have to do all the giving and the hard work, and that it’s not selfish to want to be on the receiving end."
There is a happy ending to the story, although perhaps not the expected one. Forty-plus years after high school, Ellen Baeshore McFarland is at peace with herself. She lives in Clearwater, Fla., and runs her own business cooking and baking, cleaning, caring for the elderly and whatever else she can think of.
Her life isn’t without problems. She is involved in a very unpleasant court battle with her son over her late mother’s estate, and the two of them have no relationship at this point. She says the problems go back to his youth.
"I may not have been the best parent, but I am an honest person," she said. "I have asked him countless times to forgive me and he has refused."
McFarland's finances are also shaky. She lost her main source of income when the economy turned down and she has been scrambling to replace it. She recognizes that she probably will never be either well-off financially or in a position to retire, that she will "probably have to work until I am underground."
"Did I plan my life?" she asked. "Probably not the way I should have, but I didn’t have someone guiding me along during the crucial years. I made wrong choices out of need, confusion and ignorance. I guess I can also throw in stubbornness."
She chooses to see many of her problems as designed to test her faith, to prove to her that the Lord is in control and watching over her and to make her submit to His will.
"It may seem to some people that I am viewing my life through rose-colored glasses, but all this is very real to me," Ellen said. "The problems, while they may be true, don’t steal from my joy or my desire to continue on to finish the course of my life through the power of God.
"I think right now I am being tested more than ever, for I am getting down to the wire, and what I hear from my Lord and Savior is, 'Now you must totally depend on Me, and I’m going to see if your faith is as real as you claim.’"
Faith like that often makes it difficult to live in this world, and McFarland believes her reward will be in heaven. At least, she says, she finally understands who she is and what she has to offer the world. Right choices have replaced wrong ones; joy and tenderness have replaced bitterness and anger.
She dotes on her six grandchildren – three boys and three girls, living with her son’s ex-wife – and just thinking about them brings delight to her heart.
"It was a long, hard road, but I can honestly say that I have a deep sense of who I am and what I have to offer," she said. "For years I felt lost and alone, emotionally confused and depleted. But since becoming a Christian and receiving the gift of eternal life, I now have the strong sense of security I lost when my earthly father died."
She certainly hasn’t forgotten Charlie Baeshore.
He was her greatest fan at a time when life stretched out ahead of her as a marvelous journey with new joys around every bend.
He was the first person to make her feel really special, truly unique.
All that disappeared when he died and it took so many years before his daughter could look at the world in anything resembling the same way.
"I sometimes still cry and get frustrated when things don’t move fast enough," she said. "But in the depths of my heart I know my Heavenly Father loves me and is leading me and cheering me on every step of the way. His Word says He has a plan for my life, but it’s His timing and His way. I eagerly await His unveiling."
He’s her No. 1 fan – now and forever.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
All I can say is, you might be surprised.
What we need for this book isn't James Bond or even Julian Bond; what we need is archetypal stories that other people of our generation will read and say, "That's my story," or "I know someone like that."
One of our late arrivals -- but better late than ... you know -- is that of a woman from our class who lost a parent while in school and saw it derail her life and her plans. Then years later she became "born again" and it changed her life for the better.
Believe me, this is a great story.
Your story might be great too. If you're wondering, do this for me. Don't fill out the questionnaire, just send me a few paragraphs describing your life and I'll let you know whether we can go ahead with more. Odds are the answer will be yes.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Some of you were wonderful about sending in your questionnaires months ago, and I haven't started writing your chapters yet. So please, Mike Scott, Randy Thurman, Mike Willis, Darla Garber, Mike McCuddin, Dale Morgan, Katie Dyer, Diane Dunkley, Judy Hart Byers, Bob Douthitt and Jim Hermes, don't fret. You're going to be in the book, and I will get to each of you as soon as possible.
Susan Morales, I'm going to e-mail questions to you in the next couple of days and I hope we can set up an interview time soon. Ditto for Bill Thomas, for Julie Conrad True and for Paula Gibson's brother Scotty.
Some of you have promised me questionnaires and haven't gotten around to sending them. Dale Abrahamson (and Susi Spell), Barbara Lanzer, Nancy Abt White and Stacy Delano, please, I do need all of you for the book.
There's one more category too. When I looked back at the initial reaction, Gene Bacon, Jennifer Addington and Carol Costantino all said they wanted to participate. I hope the three of you will send me questionnaires soon.
As I hope you all have seen from the drafts of chapters that I've posted here, this has the potential to be a really great book.
I hope all of you will be part of it.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Today is Veterans Day, and I'm sure most of us have been thinking about our friends and classmates who served in Vietnam.
I've been immersed in the two Vietnam chapters of our book, "When I'm 64." You can see Jon Rumble's chapter, "Forever Young," on this site. The other chapter, about Mike Sullivan and the others, has the working title "The End of the Innocence."
But this is a pretty good time to think about our fathers, too. I'm sure almost all of us had dads who served in World War II. My own father, who died earlier this year at age 82, was fighting in France when he was only 18. He was one of the lucky ones; he made it back and led a pretty great life. He didn't choose the military as a career, but he worked in the Pentagon for nearly 30 years.
I'm sure more of us didn't serve than did. Most of us had college deferments, and by the time we were done, the Vietnam War was all but over.
But on this Veterans Day, I want to salute all of you in our class -- and those in your families -- who served. You've seen the picture before, but I thought this was a good day to show it again.
God bless you.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
That, as they say, would be counterproductive.
But since I'm still hoping desperately to get a little more participation from some of you, I do plan to keep giving you tantalizing glimpses of it to whet your interest.
The following chapter has been the most difficult one in the book for me to write, and I hope you can understand why. I always included to include myself, but it was important to me to be honest. That's why I was really glad when a friend of mine who spent three years as part of our class and then moved away gave me a story of what had to be one of the three most embarrassing moments of my life.
Amazingly, I didn't even remember it.
When you laugh at me, be kind.
Here it is:
I would never call myself an unselfish person.
It took me long enough even to be able to think of myself as a good man, to find a way to define myself as someone other than a person who still wanted to accomplish something.
But these days if you were to ask me to describe myself, to tell you what matters most to me, the answer would be easy. I am a family man, the grandfather of Madison Kastner, the father of Pauline Kastner and Virgile Borderies and the man who loves Nicole Rappaport.
In fact, the woman I will love until my final breath and beyond is the person who taught me the true meaning of love, that sometimes love hurts so much you feel you can’t breathe, that sometimes it’s the only thing in the world that matters and most of all, that love is much more important to give than to receive.
If I had known that earlier, my life might have been very different.
Let me repeat that I would never call myself unselfish. It was always about what I wanted to accomplish, the world I wanted to gain for myself. I don’t know that I ever spent one day in my four years at Woodson satisfied with who I was or what I had. I was a perfect example of that old Groucho Marx saying about not wanting to belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member.
I was a smart kid who wanted desperately to be a jock, and when my 10th grade gym teacher, Fred Shepherd, saw me throwing perfect 50- and 60-yard spiral passes in class and said I should be playing football, it might have been a dream come true. But when I took the permission slip home and my parents refused to sign it, my heart was broken.
It didn’t matter to me that I was only 5-7 and 135 pounds. I was only 14, and I figured I’d grow. They figured I’d get killed, and they were a lot more willing to deal with my unhappiness. At least I’d know they cared.
I didn’t see it that way. We had moved to Virginia a year and a half earlier, when I was halfway through eighth grade. I had gone from the Dayton, Ohio, suburbs to a place where people actually cared on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line I had been born.
I didn’t make friends easily at that age. It didn’t help that I had skipped a grade in elementary school and was a year younger than most of the kids in my class. Being what Dave Barry called “puberty impaired” was hardly a plus either; when I look at my ninth grade picture, I see a kid who looked like he was 10 years old.
I had three good friends in ninth grade – Gary Oleson from my own neighborhood and Tracy Antley and Alan Singer from English class. All three of them were bright kids who were comfortable in their own skins. Alan’s family moved away early in our Woodson years, and Tracy’s father was transferred down to Quantico before our senior year.
Gary was the only one who graduated with us, and he was everything I should have been. He got wonderful grades – I think he was fourth in our class – and went to Princeton. He didn’t try to be anything he wasn’t, and he was outstanding at everything he did. I don’t think I ever told him how much I admired him for that.
Tracy was the first girl I ever really wanted for a girlfriend, and of course it eventually got in the way of our friendship. Tracy Antley-Olander, now a Seattle attorney, remembers those days.
“I met Mike in ninth grade,” she said. “He, Alan and I quickly formed a bond. We were all outsiders in that sea of suburban teenagers. I was short and looked 11 years old.”
Tracy had just moved to Virginia from California. She was smart and knew it, in an age before intelligent young women were really appreciated. More girls wanted to be cheerleaders than honor students, and plenty of them were still going to college to find husbands.
“I recall one day some jerk in English class told me encyclopedias didn’t get taken out,” Tracy said. “Alan and Mike were smart, too, and they were not offended by a smart girl. It was my first realization about the kind of guys I wanted as my friends.”
Eventually she realized I wanted more and she started avoiding me. She didn’t know about the problems I was having, or my struggles with the kind of person I was. She just knew I wasn’t happy, and she thought it was her fault.
If there’s one thing about old friends, it’s that sometimes they remember things you had managed to suppress. Tracy recalls that one day in the spring of our junior year – I think it was right around the time I lost the election for Student Government president – we had our final showdown.
“Mike cornered me in the Earth Sciences room over lunch and told me his feelings,” she said. “He even sang a few lines of a song – ‘What Kind of Fool Am I.’ I fled.”
It must have been the singing. I’ve never been able to carry a tune, and the thought that there was a time in my life when I actually tried to sing my feelings to someone – in a show tune, nonetheless – makes me cringe. My only salvation is that even after having the moment described to me, I still don’t remember it.
People who didn’t know me as well didn’t run into such embarrassing moments. I managed to fool some of them into thinking I was well adjusted.
“I remember you as a clear-eyed, bright student,” Georgeanne Fletcher said. “You let your hair grow long in the front and I remember how you shook it when you had a point to make. You were also quite funny.”
Funny? Maybe. Actually, I was what Kris Kristofferson would one day call “a walking contradiction.” I don’t think I got an “A” for the year in a single class other than band or physical education in four years, although I was a National Merit Finalist and got nearly 1,400 on my SATs. In one of the few classes I enjoyed, American History, I got B’s on my report card all four quarters and then got a perfect score on the final exam.
“I hate you,” my teacher, Janet Martin, said with a smile on her face.
She was kidding, but there was probably some truth in her words. If there’s one thing I’ve seen over the years, it’s that teachers love kids who work hard and overachieve and they aren’t all that fond of kids who don’t use their talents.
My problem was that I couldn’t allow myself to do well. I was at war with my parents, although it was a war only I was fighting. They wanted me to excel in school, so I did poorly. They wanted me to read great books and love great music, so I read trashy popular novels and listened to rock and roll.
It all sounds incredibly stupid to me now. When I look back on the wasteland of my teens and twenties, at flunking out of college three times and at a first marriage that was destined to fail before we even got engaged, I marvel at the fact that I could have been so self-destructive. It’s almost impossible for me to accept that the younger, crazier version of me stopped going to classes and skipped taking my exams in three different semesters at two different schools.
I don’t know when it was that I finally began to mature. I suppose if I were to divide my life to date into three parts, it would be somewhere near the end of the second third that I started feeling good about myself. I was working for a major newspaper covering college basketball and I was in the best shape of my life physically. When my employer went out of business, I landed a job as sports editor of a small daily newspaper in Greeley, Colorado, and for the first time in my adult life, I was living somewhere I really wanted to be.
All that was missing was somebody to love. I had been living alone for nearly eight years, and if there was one thing I still wanted in my life, it was a wife and children.
I think I was 34 the first time I dated a woman who had children. It was the first time I started to realize that maybe the quickest way to a family might not involve my sperm and someone else’s egg, and that I might not have to go through nine months of “we’re pregnant” and then a couple of years of raising an infant.
After what I had been through, I wasn’t sure that my genes should be passed along anyway. And if I couldn’t pick the father, maybe I could at least pick the mother.
There were some interesting ones, including the one in Colorado who wanted to call me “Daddy” and the one in Reno with three sons by three different fathers who had never been married.
I might actually have gotten married in Colorado – to a different woman – in 1988, but I couldn’t let go of a promise I had made to someone who no longer even mattered to me. My first wife was a California girl, and when we got engaged in 1974 I had promised her that someday we would live in the Golden State.
It made perfect sense to me. She was from California and loved it, and I had been born in California and had always been obsessed with getting back. All through high school I had dreamed of sand and surf, and every time I heard the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean singing about cars, waves and the girls who were so tanned, I knew that was where I belonged.
But when my marriage fell apart in the late ‘70s, the one thing that went almost unspoken between us was that she thought I would never accomplish any of my goals. Even though I never saw her or spoke with her after 1982, a part of me wanted to prove that I could do that. Every career move I made, from Virginia to North Carolina to South Carolina to St. Louis to Colorado, had been with California in mind.
In the fall of 1988, two weeks after I met a very special woman, I was offered a job in Reno, Nevada – the next state over from the Promised Land.
I suppose I looked at California as a fresh start, a chance to live in a place where I had never screwed up or had anything bad happen to me. Along with all the songs and the movies, the beauty of the beaches and mountains, it meant achieving a goal I had been working toward for 10 years.
I knew I couldn’t have both the woman and the job, and she made it even more difficult for me by saying I shouldn’t turn a job down for her after we had known each other only a few weeks. That, she said, would put way too much pressure on her.
So I left, and although I still miss Colorado, I spent 18 months in Reno and then got a job offer in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles actually hadn’t been my preferred destination. I was much more enamored of the Bay Area, and I fully intended to live in San Francisco instead of in the Southland. But the job I was offered was in the L.A. suburbs and it was there in 1992 that I finally realized what the purpose of my life was going to be.
Two years earlier, in December 1990, I had been through a shattering experience. I was driving south through Los Angeles on Interstate 5 when a truck decided to occupy the same space I was using. The driver sideswiped me and sent me spinning toward another truck, and all I could do was wonder how many times I was going to be hit. By the time I hit the guardrail and stopped spinning, the passenger side of my car and been crushed almost as flat as if it had been in a compactor.
I walked away from it, although I had a dislocated pelvis and a bruise that covered half of my left leg. The CHP officer who wrote up the accident report said it was a miracle that I had survived the collision. That got me thinking. I was 41 years old and hadn’t accomplished very much; I needed to make a decision as to what I wanted the rest of my life to be.
A few months later I went home and finally made peace with my father. We sat up and talked till 4 a.m. one night and cleared the air of almost everything between us, everything that mattered at least. He expressed his long-time frustration that for all the things I had done in rebellion, I was my own worst victim. I had been sort of like the firing squad that lined up in a circle.
“You always hurt yourself more than you hurt anyone else,” he said.
I had moved to Southern California for a job covering professional sports for a suburban newspaper. In the summer I wrote about Dodger games, in the fall it was the Rams and Raiders and in the winter I covered UCLA basketball and the Clippers. It was pretty much a dream job, and it kept me busy.
I nearly got married in 1991, even though I wasn’t really in love. It would have been a mistake, and it helped me realize that even if I was getting older, I didn’t want to settle for less than real love. Linda was from Wales, with a 12-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, and to be fair to her, I was more excited about being a dad than about being a husband.
I think she saw that, and she broke up with me by leaving a message on my answering machine. After that, I thought about moving back east to be closer to my family. My parents were retired, and two of my four siblings were living in the D.C. area. I started looking for jobs in the mid-Atlantic region, but nothing came up – and then everything changed.
I hit the gym in the summer of ’92 and worked really hard to get into shape. I was coming to terms with the fact that I might be alone for the rest of my life, and I didn’t feel all that bad about it. I’d come home from work, watch a movie or two on the cable and then fall asleep. I don’t know if I was happy or simply numb, but I’m not sure it matters. I had my routine and I was comfortable with it. I was writing a lot – four unpublished novels – and enjoying the fact that I could do it on a computer instead of just a typewriter.
Late that summer, I decided to dive into the dating pool again. I took out an ad in a singles magazine, and I met a woman I really liked. Then things got strange. In an effort to keep things from moving too quickly, she and I both decided to date some of the other people who had answered our ads.
I had two that interested me a little, a teacher in Pomona and a rocket scientist named Nicole in a town called La Canada Flintridge. The teacher was nice, but there was absolutely no chemistry between us at all. I met the scientist for lunch on a very busy Saturday – work in the afternoon and another date in the evening – and my whole world changed.
It was strange. We had almost nothing in common. She was an overachiever, and I … wasn’t. She had two doctorates, and I had gone through college on the 14-year plan. She owned a home and had two children – strangely, a 12-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son – and I lived alone in an apartment. She was from France, here on a work visa, and I was an All-American guy.
She was lovely, though, and even though I had no idea why, she seemed to like me. We went out a couple more times – we both enjoyed movies – and after our third date, she said something I had never heard before. I had told her up front that I was dating someone else at the same time, and that I liked this other woman too.
We were sitting in her car in the driveway after a wonderful date. We had gone downtown to the Wilshire district to see “Gas Food Lodging,” and at one point when we were crossing the street, she seemed so happy that she skipped. This woman was definitely growing on me.
But in the driveway, all of a sudden things got serious. “I know you’re dating someone else too,” Nicole said. “And I don’t think you’re going to choose me. But I want to keep trying, because I think you’re worth it.”
A month later, we were married and all of a sudden, I was a husband and a father.
I don’t know if anything was ever stranger – or more wonderful – than being a parent. After all, we were the generation that had gone to war with our own parents. When our folks told us to jump, we didn’t ask how high.
Instead we fought battle after battle over the most trivial of issues. Why on earth did the length of our hair ever matter so much? I tried to explain it to my own son, but he takes so much for granted that I never did. He and I have fought about one-tenth as many battles as I did with my own father, but that’s more about him being comfortable in his own skin as it is about my parenting skills.
I have been so damn lucky. I have friends who absolutely worked their asses off trying to do the right thing for their kids, only to have things turn out badly. I know I have had a good effect on both of my children, but I know that they were almost parent-proof and were going to turn out to be pretty special anyway. All I had to do was point them in the right direction.
Both kids made it through college with all sorts of honors, and Pauline is already a tenured officer in the U.S. Foreign Service. Virgile is taking a little time off after college and is training for an Ironman Triathlon next summer. A two-mile swim, a 115-mile bike race and a marathon run. Good lord, I pulled a hamstring just listening to him tell me about it.
Nicole and I are getting near an early retirement, probably sometime in the next couple of years. We’ve reached the point where we’re talking about where we might live, and Colorado is high on my list. I will always love California, but it costs so much to live here and the state has gotten so crowded.
It doesn’t really matter where we live, though, as long as we are together. I knew a long time ago that this woman and these two children had transformed my life into something more wonderful than I ever expected.
Love really has been about giving for me. My wife is bipolar, and life is often challenging. Don’t cry for me, though. Whatever I have given, I have gotten back tenfold from my beloved wife and my amazing children.
True, I never became president or cured cancer.
I never played quarterback for the Redskins or center field for the Dodgers.
I have yet to write the Great American Novel.
But in the only way that really mattered, all my dreams came true.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
In fact, I wound up with so much good material on Jon Rumble that I decided to split Vietnam into two chapters. The Rumble chapter will be titled "Forever Young," and the other is yet to be decided.
In a book like this, telling someone's story without their voice to be added isn't easy, but I had wonderful contributions from three classmates -- Georgeanne Fletcher, Joe Perszyk and Mike Scott -- and one man who served with Jon in Vietnam, Don Dark.
Here's Jon's story:
Georgeanne Fletcher says Jon Rumble was never her friend in high school.
“I didn’t know who his friends were, where he lived or anything about his family,” she said. “We never shared a class or had lunch together.”
But thanks to a request from the drama teacher, Joan Bedinger, Georgeanne got to know Jon in the spring of 1967, and more than 40 years later, she still remembers him.
“Jon had been picked for the male lead in the senior class play, ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown,’” she said. “Miss Bedinger asked me to help him learn his music. He had a good voice, but he didn’t read music and had been selected for his dramatic rather than his musical ability.”
So the two met, the serious piano player and the flamboyant young actor. At first, Georgeanne said, Rumble was quite irritating. He wanted to interpret the songs his own way, while she forced him to sing them the way they had been written.
“He wanted to direct the rehearsals, but I was having none of that,” she said. “He would stare out the window as if awaiting an admiring audience. When he saw someone he knew, he would race out in the middle of a phrase as if to impress upon me how much he was in demand.”
Eventually, it all started working. After Jon had his first rehearsals with female lead Penny Viglione, he came to appreciate what he didn’t know. Georgeanne said she learned to use his ego to her advantage.
“I started to praise his efforts, to encourage him to breathe deeper and produce a bigger sound,” she said. “Gradually his gruff manner melted and he turned a bit of his charm on me. He even startled me by calling me by my name and acknowledging my existence as a person.
“I was wary but he persisted and I actually regretted when the rehearsals ended.”
She remembers him as being so full of life. She asked her parents if they remembered Jon, and her mother said he reminded her of Paul Bunyan.
“He was a charmer,” Georgeanne said. “And with the lead in the senior musical, he was Master of the Universe.”
He was a master, but for such a short time. When he took his curtain calls that spring, Jon Mac Gillivray Rumble had less than two years to live.
There are no complete records of how many members of the Woodson Class of 1967 went to Vietnam. Some, like Mike Scott and Mike Willis, served and returned at the end of their tours to go on with their lives. Another classmate, Mike Beale, was drafted and was scheduled to go to Vietnam but died at age 18 in a training accident before he ever left the country.
Jon Rumble was one of two who went and never made it back.
Along with Mike Sullivan and Beale, Jon died before he was even old enough to vote. And as the rest of us grew older, raised children and had careers, the three of them live in our memories only as we knew them in high school.
Jon Rumble was nearly at the end of his tour when he was killed on December 26, 1968, by small arms fire in Quang Nam. He was one of the final casualties of 1968, the bloodiest year of the war, when 14,584 Americans died in a 12-month period that began with the Tet Offensive.
If there’s an irony in his death, it’s for all the people who fought to avoid having to go to Vietnam, Jon wasn’t even supposed to be there. In fact, he had to sign a waiver in order to be assigned there.
“Two members of the same family were not allowed to serve in country at the same time,” said Don Dark, Jon’s best friend in the Marine Corps and a ’67 graduate himself from Portales High in New Mexico. “I gave Jon hell about that, as I know his brother did.”
Jon’s older brother Jed was already serving in Saigon in the Army 101st Airborne Division, so there was no way he would have been sent there unless he insisted.
“There was no swaying his opinion,” Dark said. “He felt that he was there for a reason. I used every angle I could think of, including mentioning the fact we were being used as cannon fodder and patsies, but he was firm in his belief. I came to admire him for that very much. Jon was a warrior and a person of high principles.
“I became a better human being because of him.”
“I attribute a number of good things in my life to Jon,” Perszyk said. “He brought me out of a shell I had been in and made me look at the world and life in a whole new manner.”
Just as Georgeanne Fletcher remembers him working hard to get what he wanted, Perszyk recalls how focused his friend could become when he set his mind on achieving a goal.
“Jon used the same motivation that won him the leading role in the class play to prepare himself for the U.S. Marines,” he said. “He wanted so much to be in top shape before he went to boot camp and he worked out incessantly every day. Using free weights, doing sit-ups and push-ups and running, he was determined to be in better shape than any other recruit in his basic training group.”
He came from a military family. His father was a Navy Seabee, his grandfather had been an admiral and his older brother Jed was in the Army. Jon joined the Marines in the late summer of 1967 and came home for Christmas that year.
“It was the last time any of us saw him alive,” Perszyk said.
Jon had only been in Vietnam a short time when he volunteered for the Combined Action Program, an experimental unit designed to live and fight with local militias in villages throughout the northern areas of South Vietnam.
“The experiment was as brilliant as it was asinine,” Dark said. “The theory was that if you placed small units of seasoned combat Marines in or near hostile villages, through integration you would eventually win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. It was sort of like a highly armed Peace Corps with an attitude.
“First and foremost, we were to eliminate the Viet Cong living in said villages. Next we were to keep the VC from raiding the villages of rice, money and more importantly of new and forced volunteers. We were also to train the local militia, provide medical attention, and encourage a lifestyle of peace and harmony. In other words we were to create a utopian society in a foreign country that wouldn’t work in Bakersfield, California.”
There was one basic problem with the concept. Anyone who met the requirements of Vietnam combat duty was already jaded in his perception of the Vietnamese people, both the civilian and military. Who were the friends, who were the enemies?
“Trained to hate the enemy in a country where friend and foe were indistinguishable, the easy choice was to hate them all,” Dark said. “CAP Marines carried this baggage with them to their new assignment.”
But despite that, they did a remarkable job. Woodson classmate Mike Scott points out that they enjoyed a perfect record of never allowing a village to fall back into enemy hands. Eighty percent of the CAP Marines were wounded, 50 percent more than once. One in five of them were killed, but even so, the CAP had the highest percentage of people volunteering to return to their units in all of Vietnam.
“It was a very small and personal fight for them,” Scott said. “Jon spent his nights making sure the local Viet Cong political officer didn’t come to take the teenage sons and daughters away to be inducted in the local platoon.”
Rumble sat for hours every night in an ambush site, refusing to sleep until he was certain nothing would happen. He averaged about four hours sleep and then spent his days working with the people of the village, helping with their rice harvest and helping them build schools.
“One fact that the news never covered even once,” Scott said. “When a CAP Marine was killed in the village he was defending, the tears rolled down the faces of the villagers too. As we do, they will always hold those Marines in their hearts.”
Don Dark, who lives all these years later in Dana Point, California, has no doubt that if Jon had survived the war, the two of them would have been close friends for life.
“It is hard to describe how strong the bond that develops between people who have been in war together is,” Dark said. “In the environment of war even people that you wouldn’t give the time of day to during normal circumstances ends up being tighter than any friend that you had prior to that. So imagine how close you would be to a person that under any circumstance you would consider him to be a best friend. That was the nature of the friendship that Jon and I had.”
They patrolled together, they hung out together and they got high together while talking about how ridiculous the war was.
“We were hippies with an M-16 who shared a similar background,” Dark said. “We were both military brats and as such we were destined to be where we were. We joined the Marine Corps with the belief that it was our responsibility to do so even though we had misgivings.
“By the time we met, we both had the same view of the war. We knew that all the lives lost were in vain that, given the politics of the time, we were not there to win a war.”
Just before Christmas 1968, Dark was offered the opportunity to take some time off for R&R – rest and recreation. He had been in Vietnam for 11 months and he was given a week out of the field to have some fun in Sydney, Australia.
He almost hadn’t gone. He said that by that point, both he and Jon were short-timers and they were looking out for each other. He had less than three months left in his tour, and Jon was also down to fewer than 100 days.
“On my way back to the unit, I remembered Jon’s brother Jed was coming up to visit him for Christmas,” Dark said. “It was December 23rd, and by the time I got back, I was in pretty good spirits. I knew Jon would be jazzed to see his brother and I was happy I would be there to meet him.”
Only he wasn’t. He never saw his friend again. Jon had been transferred from Namo, a village north of Da Nang, down closer to the giant U.S. air base in Da Nang, a move Dark later learned was intended to keep him safe for his final month in country.
He found out later that Jon and Jed’s father, Captain Rumble, was being transferred to Vietnam in January 1969 and that both of his sons would be leaving the country.
“I learned many years later that Jed had come to Da Nang to tell him that and that he wanted to make sure Jon didn’t resist,” Dark said.
The very next day, Jon was killed by sniper fire in Quang Nam.
“The first thought that came to my mind was, ‘Jesus, it’s Christmas in the states, his poor mother,’” Dark said. “The next was to find out if Jed was OK and we were assured he was. I was numb for the next several hours. The truth is, I was numb for the next 38 years.”
The following day, the company’s gunnery sergeant came out to the field to see Dark. He had the wooden box in which Jon kept his personal belongings, and he said Jon had requested that it be given to Dark if something were to happen to him.
That was the point at which it really sunk in that Rumble was gone. Dark looked through the box and found mostly letters from family, friends and a girlfriend, as well as a pipe the two men had carved out of wood.
“That night I held my own funeral service for Jon,” Dark said. “I burned the box and its contents and smoked some weed with the pipe and then threw the pipe into the fire.”
He burned the box because he figured Jon wanted to insure that the letters were not sent home to his parents with the rest of his belongings. Dark decided that if something happened to him, someone going through his belongings might find Jon’s letters and his parents might still get them.
He didn’t want to take that chance.
Joe Perszyk remembers that time from a different perspective. It was December 27th when Jon’s mother called him and asked him to come over to their house. His first thought was that one of the boys, either Jon or Jed, must have been wounded.
It’s funny sometimes how our minds reject the possibility that the worst might have happened.
“When I walked into the house through the side door that led into the kitchen, Jon’s mother was in tears,” Perszyk said. “She told me Jon had been killed. The whole world stopped for me and I was hoping it was a big mistake.”
Jed had been sent home immediately, and Perszyk went with Rumble’s parents the next day to pick up their surviving son at Dulles Airport. When Jed got into the car, he told them something they hadn’t known at that point.
He had been with Jon when he was killed.
Jed Rumble had been on leave from the 101st Airborne when a firefight broke out near where he and Jon were located. They went with a couple of Vietnamese to check it out. When they came to a hut, Jed went inside while Jon went around the back to see if there was anyone there.
“After a short period of time, one of the Vietnamese men came into the hut and told Jed that the Marine had been shot,” Perszyk said. “A sniper had shot Jon in the head, through his helmet. He was dead when his brother got to him.”
He was 19 years old.
“I don’t remember when I first heard that he had been killed,” Georgeanne Fletcher said. “I had been skeptical of the war from the beginning and I wondered what he was doing over there. Did he think that war would be another great adventure? Another stage to perform on? I had been irritated with Jon in high school and I felt furious with him because he died.”
Perszyk says that isn’t the case, that Vietnam had been anything but a great adventure for his friend. Rumble had been enthusiastic when he enlisted, but in his letters it was apparent that the enthusiasm had faded badly and he was very much in doubt about what it all meant.
In fact, Joe Perszyk still has a picture of his friend, sitting cross-legged on the ground with his right hand in the air.
“He was forming a peace sign with his fingers,” he said.
It says a lot for Jon Rumble’s personal magnetism that people – both close friends and some who barely knew him – still think of him 40 years later.
The first time Georgeanne visited the Wall in Washington, D.C., she found his name and touched the letters.
Then she cried.
“Not the usual silent tears,” she said. “I sobbed. I think of Jon when I listen to the music of the Doors. He’s the image in “The End,” he’s the “actor all alone” in “Riders on the Storm.” I thought of him in “Les Miserables,” the young man killed in the revolution. ‘There are storms we cannot weather.’”
Joe Perszyk couldn’t even bring himself to visit the Wall and look for Rumble’s name until 2002.
He hasn’t been back.
“There was a group of us who hung out together that included Jon,” he said. “We remain friends to this day. The memories are still very real and the pain of Jon’s death comes back from time to time.”
Mike Scott says he believed Jon loved what he was doing and that his death meant something.
“Most of us will die quietly in our beds,” he said. “He died upstaging us all.”
A few years ago, Don Dark got an e-mail from Maggie Rumble, Jon’s younger sister. He still isn’t sure how she found him, but the letter started a correspondence between the two of them that resulted in a meeting between Dark and the Rumbles over the Thanksgiving 2006 holiday in Las Vegas.
“As the day drew closer, I became more and more apprehensive to the point that I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off,” Dark said. “I don’t know why I reacted the way I did, I guess that the guilt I felt for so many years was coming full circle and in some ways that guilt was comforting and familiar and defined my war.”
They had dinner together at the Flamingo -- Don, his wife and son, and Maggie, her mother and brother Jed, his wife and son, were there. Captain Rumble had died in a plane crash not long after Jon’s death.
“With tears running down my cheeks I raised my glass for a toast to Jon and unsurprisingly, everyone at the table had the same reaction,” Dark said.
After the dinner, Dark and Jed Rumble had a private conversation.
“Although we hadn’t met before that evening, Jed was Jon’s older brother, and since I thought of Jon as my brother, that made his brother my older brother,” Dark said. “I immediately blurted out my sense of guilt about not being there to protect him. Jed told me that there was nothing that I could have done to change the inevitable.”
Jed told Dark that his brother had told him on Christmas day that he was not going to make it home. It wasn’t the first time Dark had heard this; he and Jon discussed the same thing many times.
“I guess I didn’t take it seriously because countless times I had said the same thing and at the time truly believed it,” Dark said. “Jed told me with sincerity that I could read in his eyes, so I believe it to have been something that Jon knew all along.”
He still misses him, more than 40 years later.
“Jon was a great person,” he said. “The world is not a better place without him.”
In the end, Jon Rumble was a showman, and the last memory of him that most of the Class of ’67 has is a good one. Georgeanne Fletcher, now Georgeanne Honeycutt, still remembers the last time she saw him, on the stage picking up his diploma on June 5, 1967.
“Jon’s antics at graduation are one of the most vivid of my memories of that event,” she said. “He had boasted and made a big deal that he might not graduate. When he received his diploma, I was seated and had a full view of him as he crossed the stage. He made a grand gesture of relief.
“A few weeks earlier, it might have irritated me, but I joined the laughter and applause as he exited.”
Exit – stage right.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
But this one is different It isn't an introductory chapter, a conclusion or even a story about one class member. Yes, there is one story that dominates this chapter, but this is about more than just Jon Rumble.
This chapter is about what Vietnam meant to us. It's only half-written, because I still need more participation from you folks. Mostly I need people who knew Mike Sullivan, but that isn't all.
I want to hear from some of you -- even those who never went -- what Vietnam meant in your life.
So here is nothing more than the introduction to our chapter on Vietnam.
Here is "Forever Young."
Mike Scott thought he was aware of what was going on in the world.
His father took the first load of the Bell helicopters known as Hueys to Vietnam on his ship, the Iwo Jima. His brother walked ashore in Da Nang with the 9th Marine Expeditionary Force in 1965 and his neighbor, Bob Downing, came home severely wounded from a Claymore mine.
Mike himself was beginning to write and perform folk music, mostly about the civil rights movement. He figured he was a pretty talented artist and that he would someday work for General Motors designing cars.
He was 17, so of course "I knew the score about everything. I knew we were not sheltered at Woodson. We were so on top of everything. We could sit in the bars in Georgetown and look so cool drinking beer."
Then he went to Vietnam.
"And I knew," he said. "I had never known anything."
There are no complete records of how many members of the Woodson Class of 1967 went to Vietnam between 1967 and 1973. Some, like Mike Scott and Mike Willis, served and returned at the end of their tours to go on with their lives.
Two never made it back.
Jon Rumble was nearly at the end of his tour when he was killed on December 26, 1968, by small arms fire in Quang Nam. Mike Sullivan didn’t even arrive in Vietnam until almost a year later, and he had only been in country for four months when an explosive device on the ground killed him on March 11, 1970, in Quang Ngai.
Jon was 19 when he died, Mike 20.
They didn’t even live long enough to vote for or against the people who made the decisions that kept our country in Vietnam for so many years and cost us so many lives. As the rest of us moved on to middle age and past, as we lived through the final 30 years of the 20th century, they remain in our memories as they were in high school.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
We're starting to work on the chapter about Vietnam.
As most of you know, we lost two members of our class -- Jon Rumble and Mike Sullivan -- in Vietnam, both in 1968. There were other members of our class who served there and then returned home.
The chapter will mostly be about Jon and Mike, who are "Forever Young" in our memories, and I need reminiscences about them. Mostly I need help with Mike; I knew Jon a little and am in touch with someone who served with him in Vietnam and was very close to him.
Some of the memories people have of Jon almost make him seem larger than life. Georgeanne Fletcher Honeycutt wrote me earlier with her memories of him.
"I vividly remember Jon Rumble accepting his diploma. He was such a presence. I hadn't known him well, but I was asked to help him with the music for the Unsinkable Molly Brown. He was a bit annoying with a great ego.
"I could translate the notes on the page into the song which he was to sing. He resisted, often wishing to make his own interpretations of the score. He finally trusted that I could read music. And, he won me over. I started to like him. He stopped being an attention-getting popular guy and I relinquished my role as the smart know it all musical girl. It was surprising that a friendship was possible.
"I smiled when he made a great gesture of relief and relished the cheers when he received his diploma. Within a year he was killed in Vietnam. I always find his name when I visit the wall. I've had so many years to receive attention. Jon's time on the stage was brief. But, when he was there he owned it."
Those of us who knew Jon have to smile when we hear that. I don't think it was any accident that his senior picture, his yearbook picture, shows him in a Madras jacket. At an age when most kids would do anything not to stand out or look different, he reveled in it.
As I said, I didn't know Mike Sullivan. But I know some of you did, and I need some stories. It would be wrong to make the Vietnam chapter just about Jon. So please help me. You can post them here as comments or you can e-mail them privately to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whichever you prefer.
I really want to do right by these guys in our book.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I have essentially finished five chapters, the introductory one I posted in September and four others about individuals. Chapters about Rande Barker, Dudley Wilson, Lee Millette and your humble author are all but finished, although in some cases I have sent out requests for some personal reminiscences.
There are eight other people who have sent in their complete questionnaires, and I will be working on their chapters forthwith -- Bob Douthitt, Mike McCuddin, Katie Dyer, Dale Morgan, Darla Garber, Judy Hart, Diane Dunkley and Jim Hermes.
I have one person -- Mike Willis -- who has sent me half his questionnaire.
There are three other people still promising to contribute -- Dale Abrahamson, Susi Spell and Susan Morales.
There are numerous people who have offered to contribute to a chapter on Jon Rumble, Mike Sullivan and the Vietnam experience.
Paula Gibson's younger brother has offered to help with a chapter about the drug scene.
That's 16 chapters -- Dale and Judy are sharing a chapter, as are Dale and Susi -- and I'm still looking for 25 or so. I know there are more of you with terrific stories, and I'm hoping to hear from you. I am going to post the original questionnaire here on the Website, and I hope some of you will take the opportunity to fill it out and get into the book.
As for now, thanks for all the help and encouragement.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
We've got a first draft finished of the first of the chapters about people, and I thought I would post it to give you an idea of how things are progressing.
Hope y'all enjoy it. I'd love to see comments.
She was working as a flight attendant for American Airlines and living with her husband Stephen on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton. She had flown into Dallas-Fort Worth on a red-eye flight and was anxious to get to bed. But her dog Wolfgang was missing and her husband didn’t want to get out of bed and look for him.
So Rande went searching around the neighborhood and wandered into a stranger’s backyard directly behind her own house.
"I had no idea who lived there," she said. "But a sleepy-looking hippie guy heard me and came outside."
John Barretto was dressed in the campus uniform of the day – cutoff jeans, a tank top and sandals – and had midnight-black hair pulled back in a ponytail.
"He looked interesting," she said. "But really, I was an American Airlines flight attendant and he was a student. We talked briefly and then I turned to leave. Before I thought it through, I said 'Come over sometime and meet my husband.’"
Barretto did, and Rande was surprised to see that something strange was happening. Her husband and the "hippie guy" were talking together and smoking together, but she and the visitor couldn’t take their eyes off each other.
She didn’t realize then that Barretto would become her best friend and ultimately the love of her life, although it would take a long time and a lot of false starts before she actually learned her love song.
Rande Barker was one of the real beauties of Woodson’s Class of 1967, a majorette and a member of the queen’s court for the Christmas dance in 1966. Everybody noticed the blondes, but her dark-haired, green-eyed loveliness was every bit as special.
She wasn’t happy, though. Her parents were extremely strict, as a lot of military families were, and their over-protective attitude kept her from having much of a social life.
"I'm sure everyone thought of me as part of the popular group because of Baton Corps," she said. "But that wasn’t the way it was at all. I wanted to have a social life and I wanted to be popular."
There was another problem too. Rande was having a difficult time in school and she didn’t know why. Reading was difficult for her, a symptom of a problem she never knew she had until years after graduating.
Rande had dyslexia.
Fortunately, she had one close friend. Joan Ansheles was also a member of the Baton Corps, and she and Rande hit it off quickly. The two girls both lived in the upscale housing development known as Mantua, and Rande began spending a lot of time at her friend’s house after school.
"She lived only a few blocks away," Joan said. "We could walk to each other’s houses where we spent a lot of time together. I thought our bustling house with seven children was a big part of her attraction to my family and the main reason she spent more time at my house than we did at hers.
"I only learned in the last few years that her home life was very difficult and that the love I got from my family was what she desperately wanted most from her own."
To Rande, the Ansheles family looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with children running all over the house laughing and enjoying themselves.
"I longed to be in her family," Rande said. "I would stay there until I was called home to dinner and I would drag my feet all the way home."
Things weren’t happy at home. Her father usually was working late and her mother was compensating by drinking. No one asked about her day, and dinner was either Rande and her sister eating together or Rande taking her plate to her room and eating alone.
"Every day, Rande walked to my house in the morning so we could go to the bus stop together," Joan said. "She came to my house after school just to hang out, for regular dinners with the family, to get dressed for performances at football games, for sleepovers, to play guitar and sing '500 Miles,' especially for my little sisters."
It was the life she didn’t have at home or at school, and it meant everything to her.
"They made me feel I had worth and a reason to be on this earth," Rande said.
But high school ends, and even the best friendships often fade into the background when friends head in different directions. Joan Ansheles went on to college and a future filled with optimism, but Rande Barker was lost.
"I always thought I was stupid," Rande said. "I never had the confidence to apply to any colleges, so right out of high school I was looking for something to do."
Back in the days after the Class of 1967 graduated from high school and made its way into the world, one of the jobs for women that carried some glamour with it was working for an airline. Flight attendants – mostly called stewardesses then – were young and pretty, and the opportunity to see the world compensated somewhat for extremely low pay.
Rande Barker went to work for American Airlines in 1968. She was 19, and she moved to Dallas, corporate headquarters for American. She was enough of a child of the '50s, her parents' child, to think that the next step in her life should be to get married and have children.
"My best friend that I flew with was married and I wanted to be married too," she said. "Swell reason. He was a sports-car driving, woman-chasing, north Dallas snob who liked the fact that I was gone a lot and he could do what he wanted. I never really knew love with him. I was a fool."
Maybe, but she was faithful. Despite the wild image flight attendants had in those days – "Thank you, Hugh Hefner," Rande says wryly – she didn’t seek entertainment outside her marriage.
"Until I went looking for my dog," she said.
Barretto says he didn’t know what to make of it.
"Who was this woman wandering around in the back yard, yelling out her dog’s name at the top of her lungs?" he asked. "I looked out the back door and saw a little girl with a big leash frantically trying to retrieve her pet. My own dog and I watched amused as her dog explored the territory but really never did stray far from his owner."
What else could he do but go outside and talk to her?
"I don’t remember who struck up the conversation but I was impressed immediately," Barretto said. "It's not that Rande was looking particularly fine that morning, actually she was not at her best, but it was her sharp humor and quick wit that struck me. We talked for a while, ignoring the dog and he wandered back, as if his mission was completed and he was ready to go home.
"At that point the conversation ended as quickly and naturally as it started, she turned to go but before leaving she extended a casual invitation to come over and visit with her and her husband. I think it was a dinner invitation."
John Barretto was a photographer working for a modeling agency, and Rande had been interested – if not particularly confident about the idea – in becoming a model.
"John was a wonderful photographer," she said. "I had always thought that I was stupid and ugly, no matter what other people said, but he took me to his studio and took pictures of me. He showed them to me and told me how beautiful I was."
She started crying, and even today it’s still not easy to know if they were tears of happiness or of regret for all the years she hadn’t been aware of the beauty she possessed.
"During our conversations I found myself inadvertently staring at her but it was not until after a visit or two that I fully realized Rande’s potential as a model and asked her to pose," Barretto said. "After putting together an informal portfolio, she was introduced to several agencies in Dallas. She was a hit and began getting invitations for casting calls."
All of a sudden the dream was real.
"We expanded her portfolio and I added some work of this beautiful lady to my own sales book," Barretto said. "In retrospect the best pictures in my own portfolio were of Rande and more jobs came from her samples than any other. Creatively we brought out the best in each other and it was only later that we realized it was the labor of love that was the special ingredient."
She began modeling, and from 1973 until 1980 she appeared in print ads and television commercials in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She and Stephen had a son, Nathan, in 1975 and a daughter, Erin, in 1980, but the marriage was definitely less than ideal.
"Stephen was always too busy or had plans," Rande said. "John was the one who was always there for me. He would baby-sit for Nathan and when the baby was sick, he was the one who drove us to the doctors. He was my very best friend."
Both of them wanted it to be more, and at some point they became what she called "kissing friends."
"We had almost a brother-sister relationship until that point," she said. "We did everything and went everywhere together, whether it was paying bills or spending the afternoon shooting pictures."
So why didn’t she leave her husband? At her core, Rande was still her parents’ child. There hadn’t been any divorces in her family, and she knew her folks would view her as a failure.
"I just couldn’t," she said. "John was always there and I thought he always would be, hanging onto me as I toyed with being with him or staying with my husband. But finally the strain was too much."
She couldn’t let go of her marriage, and John needed more than the "pretend life together" that was all Rande could give him. He started dating someone, and she pushed him to take it further. It was more than seven years since they had met, and he stopped by to tell her he was moving back home to the Colorado Springs area.
"I had known that was what he wanted, but I never thought he would go," she said. "I was selfish and I thought he would always be there for me when I needed him. I was so stupid."
He turned to leave and she slammed the door behind him. It was October 1980, and her daughter Erin was three weeks old.
"I started to cry and I held my daughter so tight that she woke up," Rande said. "All I could say to her was, 'There goes my best friend, Erin. I’ve lost my dearest friend and he won’t ever be back.’"
John wrote to her from Colorado, but Rande was hurt and angry and told him she didn’t want to hear from him anymore.
"I told him I had a marriage to save," she said. "What marriage? Save it for what?"
Time passed, year after year after year. Rande and her husband stayed together and their children grew to maturity. She never heard from John, and in 1998 she got an unpleasant surprise when she learned that she had Parkinson’s disease.
Pretty much the only nice thing that happened was that sometime in the early ‘90s – neither woman remembers exactly when – she re-established her friendship with Joan Ansheles.
They had seen each other at the 10-year class reunion in 1977, but had pretty much lost touch after that. But on a layover in Washington, D.C., Rande called Joan and asked her to stop by her hotel room and catch up.
"I was working for the U.S. Senate," Joan said. "But I thought Rande’s job as a flight attendant was so glamorous. I remember catching a cab from Capitol Hill to the Hotel Washington, where she was staying, and wondering what it would be like to see her after all these years. Would we have anything to talk about, or would it be awkward and disappointing?"
It was neither. They went to Rande’s room, flopped down on the beds and talked, just as they had so many afternoons after a day of high school.
"We seemed to pick up right where we had left off," Joan said.
If it surprised Joan, it didn’t surprise Rande at all. "True friends never have trouble picking up where they left off," she said. "They never get bogged down with stuff. Their love for each other takes them to a higher plane."
Then came Parkinson’s. The National Parkinson Foundation defines the disease as a "brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired."
Normally, these cells produce dopamine, which allows smooth function of the body's muscles and movement. When enough of the cells have been damaged, symptoms such as tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity and difficulty with balance occur.
There is as yet no cure, although there are medications and treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms.
"It broke my heart to tell Joani about my disease," Rande said. "I knew she would feel for me as I did about myself. That was scary and I did not want her to know that kind of stress. But my soul needed her to know and it too was in need of a friend like Joani."
Ansheles knew, and she once again became the best friend she had been all through high school. The two women started talking regularly on the phone and visiting each other whenever they could.
Once, when Rande was in Philadelphia for a clinical trial, the two stayed together at a luxury hotel, where they visited the salon together and had dinner at a good Italian restaurant.
"We would eat breakfast together sitting on a bench," Joan said. "Rande would suffer through withdrawal because she had to stop taking her medication before her appointment. Then she would go through her tests, recover and then get on a plane back to Texas as I drove back to Virginia."
On another occasion, after another clinical trial, they got all the way to Dulles Airport outside Washington before Ansheles convinced Rande to stay a little longer.
"I wanted her to ride up to Maine with me to surprise my mom and my four sisters who live up there," Joan said.
Rande remembers the trip fondly. "It was an 11-hour drive, and on the way we learned to lip sync to a country and western song. We even put some dance moves in there so we could show her mom. She loved it."
Ansheles even came down to Texas in 2006 to help Rande get packed and organized for her trip to Atlanta for another clinical trial procedure.
"She flew all the way to Dallas," Rande said. "She spent all night helping me get ready while my husband was sleeping in the next room. He was never there for me – ever. The next morning I drove her to the airport so she could fly back home. How many friends would do something like that for you?"
Rande didn’t realize it then, but she had another good friend who was about to re-enter her life.
In 2006, after 36 years of marriage, two grown children and two grandsons, Rande Probst finally decided that she didn’t want to be married to her husband any longer.
She didn’t realize that in Colorado, John Barretto was also making the same decision to end his marriage.
She also didn’t know that every time he had come to Texas in the last 26 years, he would drive to Denton and cruise past her house, hoping just to catch a glimpse of her.
"It was so high school to do that," he admitted. "It was revisiting the past, and the epitome of the old cliché 'you can never go home again.'"
Of course, Rande had never left.
"All I knew was that I was very unhappy and still married," she said. "I would cry every time I heard music from the ‘70s that reminded me of him."
But if Rande Probst was only hearing sad songs, John Barretto was listening to different music – to a love song.
"Something drew me to those old haunts and Rande," he said. "Road trips by motorcycle would take me all over the country and all over Texas visiting friends and enjoying the ride, so a drive by her house seemed natural. It was not necessary to visit personally; just knowing she was a few yards away for the few moments it took to go by was enough.
"What would have happened had we actually seen each other? Who knows? But it was not the right time to meet again."
Rande was getting ready to undergo a major clinical trial in Atlanta that held out the possibility of not only helping her to "hold her own" while waiting for a cure, but also would improve her quality of life. It was a fairly big deal that involved surgery – a shaved head, two holes drilled in her skull and a titanium plate inserted.
"I looked at it as not having anything to lose," she said. "I had no other options at the time, but I had no idea what would happen since it was a double blind study and half the people would get placebos."
She was sitting with her friend Patricia discussing it, and Patricia – who was also a friend of John’s – handed her a piece of paper with a phone number on it.
"Call John," she said. "Call him and tell him about your surgery. Call him!"
What Rande didn’t know was that Patricia had seen John when he was in town over the years. She had asked her friend not to carry messages between the two of them.
"I had stayed loosely in touch with Patricia," Barretto said. "At some point she informed me of Rande’s condition. The news hit hard and brought to the surface feelings I thought were long gone. But even with that and after all the years that had passed I respected her wishes and kept my distance. It was not the right time then either.
"The staid normalcy of my life would take over when I returned from the road and would continue until that day in July when everything changed for both of us and our lives became intertwined again."
Rande wanted to call, but it had been a long time and she was very nervous.
"I picked up the paper and told Patricia to call him first to see if it was all right," she said. "My heart was racing and my hands were shaking, but it had nothing to do with Parkinson’s."
She and John talked for an hour, long enough to learn that both of them were getting divorced and that even after 26 years, all the old feelings were still there. They started meeting, and in the summer of 2007, Rande moved to Colorado Springs to live in an apartment above Barretto’s business.
Her divorce was final in December 2007, his three months later.
"He lost about $500,000 in cash and another $200,000 in things," Rande said. "He still refers to me as his most expensive date."
Happiness was a long time coming for the beautiful young girl who went through high school thinking she was stupid and not realizing how lovely she was. When Rande Barker Probst looks back on her life to date, it’s strange for her to realize how different it all turned out to be from what she had expected.
"It’s hard even to put into words," she said. "Never in God’s green world did I ever think I would have a disease with no cure. I never thought I would ever divorce, or that I would move far away from my babies and their babies. But even though I’m far from them, I feel closer to them. My life is so full of peace – the peace I looked for back then – and the simple of enjoyment of all that is around me, there are times I think it’s a dream."
Her life is very different from her view of her parents’ life.
"They were content to have the world judge them as they appeared on the outside," she said. "They just let it be as dysfunctional as it could be within the walls of our house. Big house, big car, big troubles. As long as no one asked why or got too close, all was well."
Rande loves living in Colorado, but to be fair, if John Barretto lived in Missouri or Montana or Michigan instead, her heart would easily transfer its geographic allegiance.
"I am really happy for the first time in my life," she said. "When I hear a love song, I get it. When you are meant to be with someone, there are forces that take over and you just hang on for the ride."
God willing, the ride will continue for many years. When Rande thinks of Paul McCartney’s voice singing the ditty from "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band," she no longer thinks of old people.
"... will you still need me, will you still feed me ..."
"No, 64 is not old," she says. "When I’m 64, I plan to be at my love’s side in our new home … happy at last and where I should be with the mountains as a backdrop.
"Somebody sing a love song."
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I went to my account, confirmed it and found myself wondering how many other members of the Class of '67 are on Facebook.
Maybe we could set up something of a network. If anybody wants to list me as a friend, I'll confirm them and see what we can get going.
Give it a try.