Wednesday, October 10, 2012

About Old Friends

The Cameron High School Class of 1969 - as Third Graders in 1960

My family moved to Cameron Wisconsin in June 1959.  We bought a house at the end of a street that in those days didn't have a name or a number.  Rather than give an address visitors were told to "turn north at the fire house and drive to the end of the road."  In a little town in northern Wisconsin with a population of 982 people in 1960 it was difficult to get lost. And with so few residents if you did get lost all you needed to do was ask where my family (or any other family for that matter) lived and everyone knew.  

I started school in Cameron in the third grade with Mrs. Switzenberg as my teacher.  I remember her placing me in a chair along the row of windows on the edge of the room.   We used to regularly practice diving under our desks if the Russians ever launched a nuclear attack.  Why they would want to attack our town remained a mystery but we dutifully dove under our desks whenever told to.  Seated across from me was a pretty brown haired girl named Julie Schultz.  Julie, her little sister Nancy, and their parents moved back to Cameron from New Jersey late the last school year.  For all intents and purposes Julie was almost as new as me.  Julie was the prettiest girl in my class, at least in my opinion, and she would stay that way for a very long time.

We all survived the third grade and were promoted to Mrs. Moe's fourth grade class the next year. The thing I remember the most about the fourth grade was listening to a live broadcast of Alan Shepherd's flight into outer space.  

In the fifth grade we were subjected to cranky old Mrs. Hubbard.  That year all of the boys in our class had our collective noses out of joint because a girl, Julie Schultz, was 5 feet tall and the tallest kid in the class.  It would have been ok if it was a boy who was five feet tall but having a girl be the tallest was almost scandalous.  It was in the fifth grade, after seeing a similar stunt on a television show called "The Little Rascals" that I put a sharpened pencil pointed skyward on Tracy Youngberg's chair just before she sat down on it. The pencil broke off inside Tracy's left buttock and I was in more trouble than I could count.  My defense that "I saw them do it on the Little Rascals and nobody got hurt" carried no weight.  It was a massively stupid thing to do.

In the sixth grade we had buxom Mrs. Bronson as our teacher. Now that testosterone was starting to course through our veins all the boys in my class had it bad for Mrs.Bronson. We didn't know what sex appeal was but Mrs. Bronson sure had a lot of it.  Sixth grade was when Billy Zahn moved away.  For his going away party all the girls in the class lined up in the hall outside Mrs. Bronson's room and gave Billy a goodbye kiss..  Julie Schultz was now 5'1" tall and still the prettiest girl in our class.  

Seventh grade brought us several changes, both physiologically and culturally.  Mrs. Nelson was our teacher.  She obviously never attended a single class in how to interact with students. Seventh grade was when President Kennedy was shot and it was the year that Jane Bonney wore nylons to school that had seams up the back. It was also the year that Steve Erickson and I were in charge of putting the communion wine in little glasses for our minister to give to people at the altar.  Only one day as Steve poured he asked out loud "I wonder what this stuff tastes like?"  Between us we drank half a bottle of communion wine that morning and promptly knocked over the candelabra on the altar when trying to extinguish the candles at the end of the service.  Pastor Vocke never again allowed us to pour communion wine.

Eighth grade was the year of Mrs. Hoople.  It was the year that Dan Halverson won the spelling bee and it was the year that I saw a real, live, erect nipple on a girl for the first time.  It happened one day in April just moments before I had to stand in front of the class and recite something.  I was drowning in testosterone at that age and all of it had concentrated very obviously in the crotch of my blue jeans. The girl who was the cause of this testosterone concentration noticed what she had created and simply smiled a smile that said "first one I've caused today."  It was also the year that for an assignment on demonstrating to the class how to do something I brought to class one of my dad's  30.06 rifles.  I carried it into the school and up to our class room where I demonstrated the proper way to clean a gun after it had been fired.  Nobody freaked out and no SWAT team was called.  It seemed natural doing something like that in a town where almost everyone hunts and the nearest crime was in Minneapolis 100 miles away.

Ninth grade was when we started to become even more cool than we thought we were already.  We were able to participate in sports and the girls were able to try out for cheerleader.  It was when our social skills started to develop and it was when we started to differentiate ourselves from our parents and become our own person.  It was also the year that Mrs. Robel told me that I sucked as an art student.  I made the varsity baseball team that year and also went out for wrestling.  I started every baseball game we played that year and I pinned my first opponent in wrestling.

Tenth grade was my last year in Cameron.  It was also the year that Lynn Brunette moved to Dell Rapids, South Dakota.  My mother was convinced that by staying in Cameron I was going to become a "Cameron Kid" like one person in particular in my class who, in my mom's view, demonstrated great potential for being a trouble maker.  Rather than deal with the issue rationally she decided that we were going to move from Cameron to get me away from those allegedly bad influences.  That summer, after the school year ended, we moved to an 80 acre farm east of Rice Lake.  I resented the hell out of my mother for doing that to me.  I was "somebody" in Cameron. I was going to be a number in Rice Lake.  The last time I saw Julie's little sister Nancy was that summer when we moved away.

I survived my last two years of high school in Rice Lake.  I remember my mother telling me I didn't have to worry about being sent to Viet Nam because "You wont live long enough to get there."  There were 209 kids in my graduating class in Rice Lake.  It was my goal to rank 209th out of 209 at the end of my senior year.  I almost made it.  My mom thought I was going to be a handful if we stayed in Cameron so she moved me from Cameron.  I just gave her what she feared in our new home.

In those days if you graduated from an accredited high school in Wisconsin you were guaranteed admission to one of the Universities in the State University system.  It was there at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls in 1970 that I last saw Julie Schultz.  She was a woman now, still the prettiest girl in our class and we were in a Freshman English class together. When the class ended we went our separate ways and despite she and I being on that campus several more years we never saw each other again.

As years went by I often thought of Julie and her sassy little sister Nancy.  They were two of the nicest people I ever knew.  Always kind. Always forgiving. Always a friend no matter what.

About a year ago I reconnected with Nancy on Facebook.  We had many great conversations in there and I learned about her and her life from posts on that page.  Not long ago she told me that she and Julie were coming to Florida for a few days to hang out in a condo on the Redneck Riviera.  They invited me to come up and have dinner with them.

Julie and Nancy Schultz (now each with different last names) at the Margaritaville Cafe in Panama City Beach Florida on October 4 2012

We met for dinner last Thursday night at the Margaritaville Cafe in Panama City Beach, Florida.  It was the first time in 42 years that I had seen Julie and the first time in 45 years that I had seen Nancy.  I had a little trepidation when traveling there to meet them because of a fear that we would have nothing to talk about after all those years. Luckily it was the exact opposite.  We didn't have enough time to cram lost years into four or five hours.  We talked and drank and told stories about each other and classmates until nearly 11:00 p.m. when we were about the only people left in the bar.  Julie is still the prettiest girl in our class and Nancy is still as cute and sassy as ever.  She was still a riot to be around telling stories just like when we were kids.

Although my plans were to be somewhere else further east the next night, Nancy suggested that I meet them at their condo for dinner instead.  We just had too many things to talk about. I adjusted my schedule accordingly.

We told more stories and solidified more impressions and jarred loose old memories that had become frozen in our minds.  We recalled every kid in the Cameron High School class of 1969 and told a story about them.

"David Kruger? Who in hell was David Kruger?"

"Remember in the tenth grade when Rod Hensel did........"

"One time after wrestling practice we all sneaked into the girls locker room and fantasized about what we would have seen had we been there three hours earlier."

"Remember when Kenny Burns used to gouge hunks of hair out of people's heads when he was giving them a hair cut?"

"Remember when Mr.Voskuil had us all read the story 'The Big Blonde' and all of our parents went ballistic?"

"Didn't he marry one of the Ajewski girls?"

"Is Zych's Town Pump still there?"

It went on like that for five more hours and when it ended I realized something.

I have met a lot of people in my travels around the world.  I've met the President of two different countries and once sat on a plane with Arnold Schwartznegger.  I sat in the Amsterdam airport and talked with Cameron Diaz for 30 of the best minutes of my life one day and I have been back stage drinking a beer with my hero Jimmy Buffett.  Despite all of that and more I'm still a "Cameron Kid" and probably always will be.

I knew almost everyone in my high school graduating class in Rice Lake, all 209 of them, but I didn't grow up with them. I was an interloper who felt out of place.  My heart was six miles down the road in Cameron.  I had shared my innocence with those kids in Cameron.  I got in my first fight in Cameron and had my first crush on a girl in Cameron, and saw my first erect nipple in Cameron, and earned my first letter on an athletic team in Cameron.  Along with Bimbo Gifford I had my first run in with a game warden in Cameron and I learned how to swim in Cameron and Jerry Fitzgerald and I used to catch fish in Bum's Slough by Cameron. I learned how to trap muskrats in Cameron and I learned how to track animals in the snow in Cameron.  I even made the Honor Roll in Cameron.  I did none of that in Rice Lake.

As the evening wound down we each realized that we don't want to wait another 42 years to hang out together again (as if we have 42 more years to bicker about!).  Instead we are going to do a better job of staying in touch.  Julie and Nancy have never experienced a Jimmy Buffett concert and we are going to remedy that short coming next spring when his tour opens in Tampa.  We also decided to hold an impromptu class reunion at Zych's Town Pump (it has a different name now but it will always be Zych's) next May.  "We can just sit around and drink beer all day" Julie said. We will have the reunion on May 15th next year. That happens to be Keith Popko's birthday so we'll celebrate that as well.

The sunset view from Julie and Nancy's condo last Friday night.  Note Julie (ever the Wisconsin girl) with a drink in her hand.

We will defy Father Time as long as possible.

As I have aged I have felt the need to reconnect with my roots.  Facebook has facilitated that where now 70 percent of my Facebook friends are from grade school, high school, or college.  Its fun to be able to keep track of old friends through social media. However nothing beats sitting with someone you've known for almost your entire life, looking in her pretty brown eyes. and being carried back to days when you could do or say really stupid things and people just laughed and went on about their lives with out judging you and your character.  

That's what old friends are all about and that is why they are still your friends despite all the years and all the miles between you.