Hard to believe, but it's my 50th high school reunion

A half-century of memories, and a look forward

  • Rich Wandschneider

 

I remember when my parents went to their 30th high school reunion. They rode in old cars and carried class banners in a small-town Minnesota parade with a bunch of old people. That was a year or two before I graduated from high school in Oceanside, Calif., 50 years ago this month. My class reunion is next week. How did that happen?

I don’t feel old. Achy, sometimes. Sometimes, maybe often, the correct word or name won't come to mind when needed. One sunny good snow day at the ski run this winter, I caught an edge and almost bit it. I muscled my skis back in line, and the muscling was hard, and I thought instantly that such a small edge would have been no problem 20 years ago. Then I thought that most people my age aren't on skis at all.

So fortunate is what I feel -- downright lucky. I recall good times and bad: Coretta Scott King mourning her husband in Washington, D.C., in 1968; the big, strapping, rugby-playing college roommate who was struck down by cancer before he got to Social Security; the writers and singers I've known; my own kids and grandkids, whom I've watched grow up and coached in soccer and baseball; the 34-year marriage that didn't make it to 35.

But mostly, when I think about the last 50 years, I think about how wide-eyed and stupid my generation was, jumping into the world in 1960, a time before the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, before the word "Vietnam" mattered to us, before riots in Watts, Detroit and Washington, D.C., before freedom marches, sit-ins and anti-Vietnam War marches, before the Berlin Wall, the Pill, black quarterbacks in Texas and black basketball players at Kentucky; before acid and crack and Janis Joplin's death from an overdose.

We didn't experience the Great Depression, but our parents and grandparents did and wanted to make sure we didn't. We didn't know war, though some of us had parents who knew it well and wanted to make sure we didn't. We'd watched POWs come home from Korea, and waited for a neighbor dad who didn't return. But that story didn't live in the hearts of most families.

Some of us knew other hard things about fathers who quietly carried their own war stories, about alcohol at home, abuse, infidelities; frustrated moms who'd wanted to become doctors or lawyers instead. But we didn’t talk about these things all those years before Oprah.

We knew little about the place we lived: Oceanside, a small town nestled against the Pacific Ocean with wide beaches and idyllic climate. We could see the snow on Palomar Mountain and Catalina Island -- as well as the smog to the north, over Los Angeles -- as we walked to school on Horne Street. Our Minnesota family simply ate fish from cans.

We saw but didn't see the unpaved streets in Posole Town on the north side of Mission Street. Posole was where most of the Mexican kids lived, and where we picked up beer on Friday afternoons after making sure no cops were following.

We white Californians sat in classes and played football with Mexicans, but didn't see them much after school. When Fred Astorga, a year ahead of us, came back from college to teach at Oceanside, he couldn't rent any of the apartments across from the school. At the 40-year reunion, only one of dozens of these classmates showed up.

We lived short miles from Indian reservations but didn't know that some of our Mexican classmates were more Indian than Mexican. Years later, I learned that being Mexican in California in the '40s and '50s was much easier than being Indian, so people "passed," just as light-skinned African Americans passed as whites across the land. We didn't know that Asians, including the parents of classmates, could not marry Caucasians in California until 1948; mixed couples had to go to Tijuana for that. Girls who were athletic got to cheerlead and lead songs, and "do sports" one day a year. There were no protests; that was just the way it was.

Maybe every young group coming up is as naive as we were. And maybe ours has been a half-century of extraordinary change.  We don't choose the time or the place that we come into the world. But we do get to choose where we go and how we live from there.


Rich Wandschneider is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He writes in Joseph, Oregon.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!