A Quarter Century Out of “The Yard”

Remarks to alumni of the Rudyard High School Class of 1961, August 9, 1986

I don’t know about you, but thinking of our graduation in terms of 25 years is a lot easier than thinking of it as a quarter of a century.

This is my first class reunion. Before tonight I was in the He’s-Lost-and-Let’s-Not-Look-For-Him-Category.

As an Air Force Brat I was accustomed to moving around, but the “Yard” turned out to be extremely important to me. I was here only three years, departing when I was 17 going on 18, but those three years were the longest I had lived in once place in my entire life. It was here that I developed my first sense of a connection between self and place — community. I had the opportunity for successes and failures here and when I left I departed with tremendous confidence.

A month or so ago I passed through town and the first place I went to was the school, but it and the old log community center were both gone. I was stunned. It was as if pieces of me had been buried.

I did, however, notice that our old football field is now a pasture. It always was, but now it’s doing what’it was meant to do.

Lets’s look backward to 1961.

TV was till black and white in our world. In 1962 ABC began broadcasting in color for 3.5 hours a week, but for most of us the world remained black and white.

1961 was before Johnny Carson started hosting The Tonight Show. Jack Nicklaus was a baby-faced 21. This was before the Dodgers moved to LA and the Giants to SF, and a whole year before the Mets or Astros were born. Floyd Patterson was the heavyweight champion.

The first diet pop was a year in the future.

We had the Bay of Pigs fiasco in spring of that year and Castro is still running the show in Cuba.

The Berlin Wall was hastily constructed and that too is still there, though one suspects that may not be tehe case much longer.

Ernest Hemingway shot himself in Idaho.

Ty Cobb died; I wish he could see Kirk Gibson play for the Tigers because Cobb is likely the only player in baseball history who could truly understand the Gibson warrior type.

We all had the “good parts” of Peyton Place marked, but in 1961 Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer finally was allowed to be published in the U.S. and it made PP look like a children’s book. If you bought a copy of Miller’s book for $5 in 1961, it would be worth $6,000 today: I read this in the Free Press last week. Catch 22 was published and the title of Joe Heller’s book became a common phrase in our daily lives.

Rock and roll was in its formative years, but we were already believers and adherents. Our folks said the same things we say about our kids’ music: “You actually like that crap?” Dick Clark was doing American Bandstand and he’s still doing it and doesn’t look much different. The Supremes signed their first recording contract with an outfit called Motown, which none of us had heard of. They rose to fame, split, earned famed as individual performers and a month or so ago I saw they reunitied on HBO. What goes around comes around.

The Beachboys wewre organized and honking away in garages and bars, but we had not yet heard them in the Midwest.

A buy named Ray Kroc from San Diego bought out the McDonald Brothers. Between us and our kids we helped make Mr. Kroc a billionaire.

The first birth control clinic in the U.S. was opened and a court order immediately closed it. Four years later the court decision was overruled and the way opened to the widespread availability of contraceptives, which have had a dramatic effect on our lives, and especially the lives of women.

The IBM Selectric ws introduced the year we graduated from high school, but I didn’t see one in use for 10 years after that.

Yuri Gagarin orbited the eartgh and this event, coupled with the earlier Soviet Sputnik launch stimulated an American effort to dominate space. Now, in the aftermath of the shuttle crash the I-Told-You-So’ser and Naysayers are loose and causing us doubt not only about the monetary and human costs of space, but the reasons and premises for it.Not doubt such people questioned the early explorers of earth. One thin our generation knows is that nothing of value can be accomplished without risk.

Watson and Crick broke the code of DNA, which some argue to be on par with the discoveries of fire, the wheel and written language. Nowadays you can’t pick up a newspaper without some reference to genetic engineering and today the average high school science laboratory possessed the chemicals necessary to cut and splice genes. In our day all we did in Chem Lab was trigger flash fires.

A 20-year-old arrived in Greenwich Village and began singing in coffee  houses. His name is Boy Dylan and his whole life, as was ours, was ahead of him.

That then was the world at large, the one we looked out on on occasion, but most of the time we had our own world, language, and landmarks to guide us in Bulldog Country.

Remember the Chicken Coop?

The Great White Father ws Harris Kahl. As our superintendant he was a quiet, authoratative and omnipresent figure. I  once watched him help push a bus out of a snowbank. Years after I left the U.P. I met a fellow from Escanaba who asked me how Ike Kahl was. Ike? Turns out they had been baseball teammates at Michigan State in the Dark Ages. This man regaled me with stories of Ike the Man and sometime Wild Man, but in our day, Mr. Kahl was our esteemed leader and that’s pretty much all we knew.

Mr. Wouk arrived in the Yard inour senion year and I remember his first class: “I to teach you language mat-eh-mat-iks, you to teach me language Ing-lich.” We both had some success.

I remember beggin Miss Jenkins for a C- in plane geometry. If I hadz brought home any brand of D, my basketball career would have abruptly ended in my sop0homor year. Most likely my life my have ended as well. My dad had strong feelings about grades.

In our senior year we dropped baseball and added track — due primarily to trying to play baseball during th spring thaw and break-up. Dick Beaudon and I used to practice the high hump in a sawdust pit southeast of the school, just above a small creek. I still have sawdust scars on my elbows.

Does anyone remember Donkey Basketball? When I try to explain this to my children they look at me as if I am from Mars. Hell, they’ve never seen a donkey! This was an annual event we all looked forward to.

Drivers Ed: We used to go to the Soo in the snow. I remember Fogey lost it on a hill and we slid backwards all the way down into oncoming traffic, righted the car and continued as if this was normal.

My dad had  1959 Buick Electra with a 345 hp engine — a plane without wings. When the AF built the new SAC ramp at he base, I used to take the Buick up there in the fresh snow, run her at 80 mph and spin her until she finally stopped and we were all ready to puke. We used to laugh about the funny tracks we left in the snow.  Later someone named them “doughnuts.”

I remember Fred Kobera driving to Pickford and continually cutting off Ed Jarvie so that he couldn’t pass us.

I used to drive around winter country roads with Ross Pechta and Thom Blanck, just so we could spin their old cars.

I remember Jim Rupp revving his new Olds so high that when he put it in gear he dropped the transmission right there on the road.

My youngest children helped me find my old high school yearbooks. One of them asked, “How come you kept changing the name every year?’

In our junior year we put on a play called The Lake Christopher Bean. I don’t remember one thing about the performance. I do remember painting sets, but have no memory of what they looked like and I’ve never heard of this play since. There was no photo of the Thespian Club in our senior year. Did your junior venture kill the whole thing?

How many of you know where your class ring is? I know where mine is: On the bottom of Duke’s Lake, in the deepest part. Whoops.

Basketball memories abound.

Jarvie inisisting we use white polish on our yellowing shoes

A drill called Jam Pile

Picnics, meaning practice after school, a break for lunch at a local restaurant and back to practice.

Shooting a free throw from the 10-sdcond line in St. Ignace after Jarvie spent a week telling us aboutg some boob in the past who had done the sme thing. I made both shots. Boy was he mad!

Taking a hook shot from the corner in Houghton and Jarvie screamin for a timeout, his face the color of a ripe strawberry, grabbing me;:”What the hell was that?”

“Hook shot, Coach.”

“Have you got it out of your system?”

“Yes, Coach.”

“Okay, let’s play  ball.”

Or wating for the jayvee game to end in Engadine and watching adults bring in Don Karl, blood pouring from a head wound. Someone had hit him with a bottle, thrown from the balcony, just as he got ready to take a free throw.

I remember Dan Riordan with a blinding headache in the Escanaba Holy Name game.  He couldn’t see and kept asking me where the basket was and he scored the winning shot as time expired. A true warrior and friend.

Jarvie chewing his towel, drawing chal kX’s and O’s on the varnished gym floor.

Kobera wandering around in a daze during timeouts, staring into the crowd.

Games against Jarvie’s renegades, who got 10 points for a basket and 5 points per free throw.

Friday nights at the base gymnasium,  just Bucky Roebuck and me and twenty airmen.

I used to ride my bike east several miles over to Little Munoscong Creek to fishifor trout. After I discovered Rose Elliot, I rode west instead of peace and left the trout in peace.

I remembe pep rallies, but I don’t remember any details, only noise in the old community center. My kids don’t have regular pep rallies for their teams. I think this is their loss.

How about Sadie Hawkins dances, sock hops aft home games, corsagees for the prom and wearing ties that threatened to strangle me\?

FFA: Those guys had neat blue corfuroy jackets, but I never had a clue what they actually did.

I still have my letter sweater and a dusty orange leather jacket, whose leather sleeves have petrified in the basement.

Football memories:

The hated Pickford pair of Sylvester and Stevenson. I still have a scar on my shin from and learned what footsteps meant.

The Watch-Jay-Tagerson-Game -Strategy against Brimley. Which worked,sort of. GTagerson didn’t gain a yard, but one of his teammates scored five touchdowns.

The freshly stipped pine goalposts at Detour. You could smell them from the 40 yard line.

The problem with naming plays. Riordan calls, “end around right.” I hear: “end run right, “wipe out my end, turn around to find Dan bleeding at the bottom of a pile. He’s screaming, “End around, end around,’ and all i could say was, “Whoops.”

It was an art learning how to spit through a clear fiberglass facemask.

Two guards named Armstrong and Kelly from Soo Loretto and learning How-GoodCatholic-Boys-Ain’t -So-Damn- Nice-When -the-Game-Begins.

Crab crawls in the mud and snow to end every practice.

Tank Mayer’s T-shirt, the one not washed once in four years on the varsity.

It was a different time, a sense thqt there was something slightly mysterious and secret in being from Trout Lake. I never could figure out where Ozark was.

Band practice with the Moody Brothers [Jimmy and Eddie,from Georgia], Dick Mysleswski , The Great Bodine. I played drum with one stick. I believe we were the world’s first air band, but we’ll never get credit.

I wore white socks only, and always. Had 10 pairs and my folks hated them.

Karen Hakola always got an A.

Bill Wallen of Loretto, sworn enemy in high school, became a close friend in college. I introduced him to his wife Sandy.

A sense among us Brats that because we were from the base we were somehow different, and had to be careful.

Henry Ploegstra telling me, “You can do it. Use you talent.” Encouragement works.

Jarvie’s world history class, memorizing terms and words. By rote: Fish Hatchet. Hammurabi’s Code. I still wake up rembembering such things, all the answers firmly in place and no clue what the damn questions were.

Rudyard was a little school in a tough place. We were all naive and lived a simple life. We had fun and learned from and cared for each other. Whatever I am today I owe a great part to lessons learn here int he Yard a quarter of a century ago.

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