Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Weekend of 50,000 Memories

Summer usually marks the start of the reunion season.  I attended High School in a small southeastern Colorado farming community of about 3000 people.  Our graduating class was about 75.  Today's graduating classes are about half that.  Many years back the tradition was established that Memorial Day Weekend would be an “all-class” reunion at which the 50th Reunion Class would be recognized at a big pot luck dinner on Saturday night.  On Friday nights or Saturday mornings other individual classes might hold smaller gatherings; but everyone would attend the Saturday night event.  It is held at the largest gathering place in town—the high school gym, because there aren’t any other places in town that would accommodate approximately 250 attendees.  The alumni who live in the local area have to go to almost every church, school and social organization in town borrowing tables and chairs to accommodate all the attendees.   Participants are encouraged to bring salads, desserts, vegetables, casseroles, etc. or to donate money.  The main dish, usually beef, is either donated or paid for from the cash donations.  Every time I attend the pot luck, I am reminded of the story of Jesus at the edge of the Sea of Galilee feeding 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish and then having 12 baskets left over.  It always appears to me that when all attendees have finished going through the long buffet line there is still enough food left to feed them all again.  This is good old "Middle America."

 I don’t have any facts to back up the assumptions I am going to make; but it might be an interesting study.  Assuming there are about 250 people wandering around Las Animas for a couple days during the Memorial Day reunion and that each person driving through the streets and interacting with others has about 200 nostalgic moments, flashbacks or memories—50,000 memories have been generated.  Were there some way to magically capture all of them and put them into print, the book would probably rival “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” (1245 pages) in size (and probably a more interesting story).  These include such thought while driving West from Bent Avenue along 6th Street as: I remember working at Safeway for John Wilburn for 35 cents an hour and feeling fortunate to have the job, what a great time we used to have at the City Pharmacy following football practice in late August using Tom’s peanut butter crackers as a scoop for the thick malt.   Trying to remember which girls were the “soda jerks” who made the great malts, milk shakes, banana splits and cherry cokes.  Cliff’s Market used to be on that corner.  One of my first jobs was working for Cliff at the age of 14 or 15.  Child labor laws were not a concern then, employers were doing us a favor by giving us a job and the community was so strong that concern over an employer taking advantage of a child was not an issue.

There is where that great little bakery café used to be—next door to Tinker Tim’s.  Mrs. Onoretti (sp), I think, ran it with help from her girls.  My grandma and grandma used to live there next door and just a block down was the Post Office.  Looks the same today as it did 50 years ago.  Two houses down that street is where my mom, my brother, sister and I lived with my grandparents from the 8th through the 12th grade.

I remember those “folks” who used to live in that big house; but can’t recall their names.  There is the Presbyterian Church.  It was very popular with the city’s youth because of Reverend Wintermuth (sp).  Not sure how the town supported all the churches we had—must have been at least 10.  Even if 50% (which is high) of the population supported a church, that was only about 150 people (40 families) per church.  Today, many of those churches have had to combine in order to support a pastor.  There is the big house Richard Richards lived in.  His dad ran the biggest car dealership in town—Plymouth-Chrysler (or was it just GM?).  Who would name their child Richard Richards?  Don’t believe I have seen him since I graduated.  There is where the old Columbian School used to be.  I went to 6th through 8th grades there.  Our Junior High Football team played on the ball field, which was hard packed dirt.  Getting tackled and hitting the ground was almost like playing on concrete!  We loved to scrimmage the High School Freshmen because we played on grass.  Even though they were bigger than we were and hit a little harder, it was more than compensated for by the grass!  

There is the old Bent County High School, lots of great memories there, including multiple trophies in the trophy case that had my mother, her sister and her brother’s names on them.

I recall once having the opening of school delayed in the morning while the janitors scraped the hard putty out of a door lock so they could unlock the door.  One of our more enterprising students had filled all the outside door locks with putty the night before.  When it hardened it provided a bit of a challenge for the janitors (I should probably be politically correct and identify them as  some sort of engineer). 

Well, those thoughts are just a small percentage of those I experienced in a short six block ride that took about 3 minutes. Multiply that by several more hours and my estimate of 200 for the weekend is probably very low.   Maybe my title should be “Weekend of a Million Memories”.

Most of the townspeople and reunion attendees will probably go out to the cemetery on either Sunday or Monday to take flowers and spend some time in thought about their family and ancestors interred there.  My mother, sister, paternal grandmother and grandfather and my grandfather’s parents are there.  Additionally, buried there are two aunts, two uncles, a niece and several more distant relatives.

My Maternal Grandparents

In the cemetery of the town just 18 miles up the road are my father, his parents and several others from the Ritchhart and Bush families.  Not only does viewing of those grave sites bring back a lot of memories about family, but as one sees the names of the parents of classmates and other people from the community, additional memories are evoked.  

As we gather together at individual class functions or at the Saturday night dinner, we will reminisce with many classmates—perhaps embellishing a little on some of those past memories!  We will glance across the room at classmates and say to ourselves “I can’t believe I look that old—life hasn’t been very good to them!”  Meanwhile, they are looking back at you thinking the same thing.  You will spot a couple classmates across the room you haven't seen in many years and would like to talk with.  However, you are currently being engaged by someone three classes behind you whom you hardly know; but you don’t want to be impolite and leave them standing alone.  Some of the conversations at these events will probably mention the state basketball championships in 1955, 1958 and another year I can’t recall.  

State Champs--Years Ago!

Others will mention that the town seem to have lost a lot of the vitality that it had in the 50s and 60s; however, local alumni, as they well should, will be quick to point out the many recent positive developments.

This blog is supposed to be about genealogy and some of you may be saying (if you even make it this far) “What does all of this have to do with genealogy?”  It has everything in the world to do with genealogy.  Genealogy isn’t just dates of birth, marriage, and death; lists of occupations and residences and other facts; it is about stories of our past, memories of our family and ancestors, and recollections of growing up in your home town.  Reunions such as my classmates are experiencing this weekend epitomize all of this.  I am sorry I can’t make it this year—hopefully next year.

As the weekend comes to a close and you head out of town, you will invariably have regrets about a few classmates you saw; but didn’t get a chance to talk with, about not getting over to the Courthouse to explore some land records or not having gotten out to Boggsville to see what has been accomplished there.  Well, one will always have the opportunity next reunion—hopefully!