Saturday, June 19, 2010

Clairton High School 50th High School reunion

I was recently honored to be the keynote speaker at the 50th reunion of Clairton High School class of 1960. It was a splendid affair. Several classmates asked if my remarks could be shared on this post so please find them below. Read and enjoy:

Fellow classmates, spouses, significant others, honored guests, and friends… Good Evening and welcome to our ninth class reunion celebrating 50 years of life as adults. I was honored to have been asked to speak at our 25th - Silver Anniversary reunion and now at our 50th Golden Anniversary reunion. Déjà vu all over again. I’ve already begun working on my speech for the Centennial reunion.

Well, here we are. We made it – one-half century since we walked across the dais to receive our high school diplomas. Now we’re grandparents and great grandparents. Aren’t grandkids great? If I’d have known they were this much fun I’d have had them first!

Each reunion for the past couple of decades an ad hoc committee has gotten together in secret to select a classmate for special recognition. The classmate is then presented an award called “Bearly Committed.” It is meant to recognize one who has worked often quietly and behind the scenes. The actual award has been something different each time. Tonight’s award, a wood carrving of a Clairton Bear, is even more special because it was created by classmate and artist Steve Pavlick and painted by another artist and CHS alum, Phyllis Miller Pastore. Anna Marie Bochter will make the presentation to recipient and classmate, Bob White. (award presentation made)

Anna Marie Ward has faithfully maintained the CHS web site and been the liaison for other classes. Anna Marie told me hubby Harry proposed with an engagement ring. She told him it that reminded her of a famous capital – Little Rock .

Special recognition also goes to those classmates who have had the tenacity to attend every reunion. We've done a little research and interviewed each such classmate: Carl Abrasheff told me that a truckload of Viagra was stolen right out of his station parking lot. Clairton police are looking for a couple of hardened criminals.

Arlene Barella Fortunato, we've discovered, has a computer that can beat her at chess – but she wins at kickboxing.

Rosetta Carcaise Tobia told me that people in glass houses shouldn’t take baths.

I asked Don Chiapetta if he was indecisive and he said, “Let Me get back to you on that.”

Linda Goodboy Hart reminded me that as long as there is testing in school there will be prayer in school.

Adele Henning Kunz told me that having a retired husband is a full time job.

Ron Kunz and I planned got to college and become professionals - he a proctologist and me a psychologist. Afterward we planned to return to Clairton to open a clinic. We even planned how our shingle might read; "Psychologist and Proctologist, serving Nuts and Butts." If that did not work we might try, "Psychologist and Proctologist, serving Queers and Rears." The third possibility was, "Psychologist and Proctologist serving Odds and Ends."

Joe Landon, came to Vegas in a $60,000 Cadillac and left in a $300,000 Greyhound bus.

Mary Lou Miller Scheiber had a sense of humor as a nurse manager… on the maternity room door she painted, “Push, Push, Push.

Jack Pierosh insists that the Clairton Radiator Shop is the best place to take a leak.

Tom Sharkey became a noted basketball coach at Thomas Jefferson High School. He received academic progress reports on his players and discovered that his star player was ineligible due to failing Math. Tom phoned the Math teacher who agreed to give the player an oral exam as a retest so he took the kid to the teacher. The teacher agreed and asked the player to add 5+3. The kid said “Eight.” Tom said, “Give him another chance.”

Jim Smith registered at the hotel as Mr. Jones.”

Retired minister Lee Weber’s mantra has been “Kneeling will put you in good standing.”

Janet Zoltun Ecola was the computer programmer who coined the phrase, “Hit any user to continue.”

Also, Jeanette D’Emidio Sgro , who passed away 18 months ago had perfect reunion attendance. We know you’re up thee somewhere enjoying this reunion!

Finally, thanks again to Ron and Adele Kunz; Ron for making the CD of our generation's music, and Adele who called me to ask if I’d serve as the Keynote speaker… after which the Reunion Committee said in unison, “ADELE! WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING???”

Next I would like to recognize the more than 50 classmates who will be forever in our hearts. Mickey Hrvacic took a swim. The Monongahela claimed him. He was the first classmate tragedy in our young lives. Violent deaths would claim Connie Bindrum, auto accident, and Lloyd Roberts, domestic homicide. The ravages of cancer, accidents and other diseases would claim nearly 1/5 of our classmates in five decades.

Who were we? So young, so naïve, so full of hope and the thrill of conquest, we were sons and daughters of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” WW-II was our parent’s war. Korea was the war of our uncles, and Viet Nam would become ours. Our parents and grandparents migrated from Europe and other parts of the world. We were ethnically German, Italian, Slavic, African American, English, Irish, and everything else that goes into a tossed salad of humanity. Churches we attended included St. Clare, Presbyterian, Methodist, God-in-Christ, First AME, St. Paulinus, Serbian and Greek Orthodox, LDS, and others. We even had a synagogue in our town. Many of us were bilingual and conversed with grandparents who spoke limited English. Others were sons and daughters of the American Revolution.

We came to CHS from Shaw, Miller, St. Clare, Fifth Street, Walnut, and other Clairton and Wilson elementary schools; from Finleyville and Elrama, and from Jefferson Borough, West Mifflin and Pleasant Hills. We were the largest sophomore class to ever hit CHS. The auditorium was converted to a study hall with creative scheduling and feisty boys would often sit in the back rows and roll marbles down the wooden floor that slanted toward the stage. We learned about the four Shops (auto electric, machine and wood), learned how to use a slide rule, how to dissect frogs, how to drive, that pi are square, and studied languages as diverse as Latin and Russian, French and Spanish in the spiffy new Language Lab.

Boys swam in the nude (still haven’t figured the logic for that one) – with most showing off our shortcomings, and in gym class learned to march, bounce on the trampoline and climb ropes. Girls wore those puffy white gym uniforms that had all the sex appeal of a box of rocks... We kept the best and sent the rest Thomas Jefferson High School. And we dated. The popular kids tried to set me up with dates. I had so many blind dates in high school, upon graduation I was awarded a dog and a white cane.

Most of us were born during WW-II. I’m sure that many of our parents wanted to nickname us “Furlough.” Our parents were in the iron and steel business – mother would iron and father would steal. Once our parents saw how well we turned out they proceeded to have a Baby Boom. None of us were rich. Few of us lived in abject poverty. Most of us would begin adulthood after first spending a summer at Clairton Park, playing baseball, swimming, and enjoying picnics in the shelters. After the summer of 1960 we set out to change the world.

Some went off to college to demonstrate how successful the teachers of CHS had been pounding knowledge into often unwilling heads, situated above raging hormones. Our teachers had been well prepared for their endeavor with our group. Principal Bruce Birch earned his Masters from Columbia; John Bracken had a Masters in Literature from the University of Pittsburgh. In fact more than 30 of our teachers were Pitt grads and 10 boasted degrees from Carnegie-Mellon University, nee Carnegie Tech. We mocked them and made fun of Pappy Chrestensen, Scratchy Critchfield, Lips Furno, Shaky Pete Patton and English teachers who taught us “It’s not WHO you know, its WHOM you know.” They were able to mold us into laborers, professionals, housewives, businessmen and women, in spite of ourselves. We learned the two rules for success: #1; Don’t tell everything you know…

Some of us went into military service, directly into the work force, or started families. As we moved farther from graduation day we became housewives, athletes, doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, steelworkers, hippies, war protesters, advocates of free love (which turned out was not so free), business owners, politicians, authors, artists, government workers… but we all became something. Ours was the group that needed to be more productive than creative. We were a few years ahead of the Baby Boomers and the drug scene.

We revered our movie stars and smoked because it was glamorous. We danced to 45s and occasionally 33s but had no clue what 8-tracks or cassettes were, let alone CDs or iPods. The boys either wore crew cuts or combed their hair in DAs and the girls used lots of curlers. Dixie Peach was the favorite hair treatment for some kids. We used Clearfield pencil tablets and #2 Ticonderoga pencils. If they were so good how come they were #2? We parked in Keenan Field to uhh, look at the stars and the moon, and did not really believe that within the decade a man would land there and discover it was NOT made of green cheese. But Bridges to the Moon is exactly what we built. And every half decade or so we get together to celebrate, reminisce, and try to remember who the person is that you’ve been talking to for half an hour.

One thing about the “Good Old Days” is that they were more old than good. Joe Landon sent me some facts about our graduation era. Reflect on this: The unemployment rate was 5%, Minimum wage was $ 1 per hour, a first class stamp was $ .04, and as I drove across the country so many times during college, gasoline ranged from about $ 0.18 to $ 0.31. And while we sure didn’t have much sense, we could spend 20 of them for a movie admission, another 20 for popcorn and a dime for a soda – which of course we called pop. If we had an extra nickel we might buy caramel creams, but beware, as they could pull out the fillings in your teeth and ruin a planned romantic afternoon.

And how many of us got a new car for high school graduation? Maybe a couple of Pleasant Hills kids who had moved on to TJ. Credit was a borderline bad word. Nobody at the bank ever asked to see ID when you added money to your Christmas Savings Club account. It never took me long, standing on the corner next to Marracini’s with my thumb extended, to catch a ride to the Terrace or to Forbes Field to see Mazaroski, Groat, Clemente, Skinner, and other Pirates play using my “Knothole Club” card. In fact, in college I rode thousands of miles courtesy of my “educated thumb,” including going from Provo, UT to Seattle WA in 1962 to see the World’s Fair. I learned that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a cash advance.

Three months before our graduation Elvis was released from the Army. We twisted ourselves around Chubby Checker – the first dance in which kids did not touch when dancing – HOW VULGAR! We listened to our sides and sounds and stacks of wax and platter chatter on KQV, WAMO, and other AM stations because that FM stuff was so last generation. We redefined what music was. Dick Clark did Bandstand from Phillie, a Saturday TV staple, but we also watched Gunsmoke, Cisco Kid, I Love Lucy, Dragnet, and on Sunday night, Your Hit Parade. I can’t speak to what the girls did for fun but when two boys got together they shot pool, three boys became a singing group, four boys played 2 on 2 basketball and six boys played touch football in the street. Yes, time flies…but the speed at which time flies depends on which side of the bathroom door you’re standing.

We could burn leaves without getting cited, and the neighborhood busybody listened in on our party-line conversations. In school we had available to us multiple languages, and outstanding teachers of music, chemistry, English literature, and even shop. We learned to diagram sentences, and read Shakespeare. We typed on manual Royal typewriters or the quiet new electric, and sneaked an occasional swig of Fort Pitt (that’s it), Iron City, or Rolling Rock – which we opened with a trusty church key. Brownie Hawkeye cameras, flashbulbs, a transistor radio held to our ear, TV dinners were served on a TV tray and a place few of us had heard of – Viet Nam started. We built our bridges to the moon and those bridges landed a man on the moon in less than a decade after our graduation.

There was no Air Conditioning in most cars unless it was an add-on… ditto an 8-track tape player. Speaking of ditto, remember the smell of the purple colored print on the fresh ditto paper? Air Conditioning units in the house were nearly unheard of in Clairton. As a bagboy at Haines I was able to offer a choice between paper and paper – but no plastic bags.

We did, as every generation does, have our own language. Let me clue you in. Like, if some cat got ticked off he might go ape, but you’re no spaz so if you wanted to make out with a babe you headed to the Passion Pit. Since no ride had power steering you had a necking knob on your steering wheel. Your chick might have had her hair bobbed, and that was cool. You honked the horn to pick her up, even though it bugged Big Daddio, you’d be cruising for a bruising so you’d burn rubber in front of her house to bug the whole neighborhood and let them think you’re a j.d. (juvenile delinquent) with your smokes rolled up in your t-shirt sleeve and a toothpick hanging from your mouth.

Your chick snuggled up to you, ‘cause she had a classy chassis and you didn’t have cooties. No sweat. You were lookin to have a blast so you’d make the scene, eyeball the joint and if it was Nowheresville, raunchy, or you only saw squares at the gig you’d, split, make like a tree and leave, cut out early, dig? You were hoping she was fast so you might take her to a drive-in flick for a little back seat bingo. To get cooking you’d go flat out, but once there you’d flip your lid and get frosted if she said no. In that case you’d take her home and say, See ya later alligator, pop the clutch and lay a patch to agitate the gravel as you boogied out of there. She’d yell “D.D.T!” (Drop Dead Twice) You just got the royal shaft, been shot down in your souped up chariot. Bummer. And that was the word from the bird. That’s what’s buzzin, cuzzin. What’s your tale, nightingale?

Signs of our times:
We went through Viet Nam, presidential assassination, a couple of other attempts, hippies, the drug scene, the first heart transplant, Mai Lai massacre, the Beatles – from introduction to breakup. Hijacks, skyjacks, MASH, Mark Spitz, pocket calculators, Elvis’ death, test tube babies, Jonestown, Three Mile Island.

Mother Teresa, Mount St. Helens, Rubik’s Cube, PacMan Royal wedding, AIDS, E.T. call home, Falklands, Thriller, Cabbage Patch dolls, Sally Ride’s ride, DNA mapped, Challenger explosion, Chernobyl, Iran Contra, Berlin Wall falls, Exxon Valdez leaks, Tienanmen Square, Hubble telescope, Desert Storm, Rodney King asks, “Can’t we all get along?” Waco, Internet, World Trade Center, Lorena Bobbitt decides to bobb it,

OJ trial, Oklahoma City bombing, Mad Cow disease, Unabomber arrested, Hong Kong returned to China, Dolly the cloned sheep, Princess Diana killed, Titanic the movie became the biggest grossing ever, and no known connection between the next two, Bill Clinton impeached and Viagra goes on sale. Pundits refer to the Clinton years as “Sex between the Bushes,”

Y2K panic, JFK Jr. dies, Columbine, The Florida election and hanging chads, stock market crash, Steel industry dies, 9/11, Gulf wars, Human Genome project, Google stock introduced – goes from $85 to over $400, You-tube, Michael Jackson acquitted, Hurricane Katrina, First face transplant, Global warming “An Inconvenient Truth,” Pluto is still a Disney character but no longer a planet, Berlin Wall falls, Michael Jackson dies, iphone, Michael Phelps swims into a gold-medal mine, Banks go under - $700 billion bailout, President Obama elected, Andre Agassi retires. Health care reform passes. And in June 2010, CHS 50th reunion held! No wonder we’re tired! We’ve been busier than a one-legged Riverdancer.

By living this long, however, we've all become more valuable in the commodities market; We have silver hair, gold teeth, gemstones in our kidneys, sugar in our blood, lead in our butt, iron in our arteries, and loads of that renewable energy, natural gas.

The next interlude is designed to include a review our class history. And when I am through reflecting on you, there will be no class mystery.

So now I will share a verse or a pair, to get you all in the mood. The names have been changed so I’m not to blame – and hope that I do not get sued (or booed).

Every five years, as summertime nears, an announcement arrives in the mail. A reunion is planned, it'll be really grand - Make plans to attend without fail.

I'll never forget the first time we met; we tried so hard to impress. We drove fancy cars, smoked big cigars, and wore our most elegant dress.

It was quite an affair; Everybody was there. It was held at the Sheraton hotel. We wined, and we dined, and we acted refined, and everyone thought it was swell.

The men all conversed about who had been first to achieve great fortune and fame. Meanwhile, their spouses described their fine houses, and how beautiful their children became.

One sweet young thing, who once had been lean, now weighed in at one-ninety-six. The jocks that were there had all lost their hair, and the Honeybears could no longer do kicks.

At 20 we heard about the class nerd, who could send a man to the moon; and poor little Jane, who's always been plain; married a wealthy oil tycoon.

The boy we'd decreed "most apt to succeed" was serving ten years in the pen, And the bane of the teacher, now was a preacher; just shows that you’re wrong now and then.

They awarded a prize to one of the guys who seemed to have aged the least. Another was given to the grad that had driven the farthest to attend the feast.

That year the class picture, a curious mixture of beehives, long hair and wide ties. Tall, short, or skinny, the style was the mini; you never saw so many thighs.

At the 3-0 get-together, nobody cared whether they impressed their classmates or not. The mood was informal, a whole lot more normal; by this time we'd all gone to pot.

We picnicked outdoors, underneath sycamores; eating hamburgers, coleslaw, and beans. Then most of us laid around in the shade, in our overstuffed T-shirts and jeans.

By the fortieth year, it was abundantly clear. We were definitely over the hill. Those who weren't dead had to crawl out of bed, and be home in time for their pill.

And now I can't wait; today is the date; our fiftieth is here, Behold! It should be a ball, for we've rented the hall, at the Shadyrest Home for the old.

Repairs have been made on my hearing aid; my pace-maker's been turned up on high. My walker is oiled, and my teeth have been boiled; and I've bought a new wig and glass eye.

I'm feeling quite hearty, I'm ready to party I'll dance 'til dawn's early light. It'll be lots of fun; but I hope at least one… other classmate can stay up tonight.

Enjoy the trest of the evening, classmates. See you at the 100th!

A little blogging music Maestro... “It's Clairton High School, It's Clairton High School, the pride of every student here..."

Dr. Forgot

1 comment:

Bob said...

As one of the uninvited, I still enjoyed my time at Clairton, even if i was just there a year. And yes, I was raised in Pleasant Hills, and no, didn't get a car for graduation. What I got at Clairton was a damn good education from, to name just a few ... Miss Mary Stokes, Stan Berkman, Angie Tait, Jane Walker, Sylvan Pinto ...

So lighten up. Your school was good to us and for us. Thanks for both.

And by he way, how's your football program these days?