The last hour of my drive up from Tucson, from Flagstaff to Winslow, was the best.
Leaving the magnificent mountain country with its fragrant pines and cool, misty air, I smiled in anticipation of the changes I knew I’d see in the next sixty minutes. I was taking my leave from a part of the state that virtually everyone agrees is beautiful, with its San Francisco Peaks and its golden leafed Aspens.
I was captivated by Flagstaff’s charm, too, in l949, when I was embraced by its small, intimate college, ASC, whose enrollment was not yet a thousand. For years “Flag” was Arizona’s most important city to me, gently teaching me to be an adult. I’d left home for the first time, fallen in love a few times, earned my teaching degree, and met my husband, Larry, there.
A few years later we’d move back as head residents of Peterson Hall, a men’s dorm, in which our two small daughters had, as their friends, 168 strapping young men.
In those years we made frequent trips back to Winslow to visit my parents in my childhood home. I always felt my excitement rise as the scenery changed from cool mountain green to high desert terra cotta.
So that now, 55 years after graduation, we do our darndest to get back there for every reunion we can attend, and we regret any we’ve had to miss.
Registration took place in the back room of The Falcon, a little restaurant that’s been there since the 1950s.
It was a delight to witness all the hugging and grinning and exclaiming as old friends come together, sincere as they told each other they looked great.
By now we’re all in our 70s, but suddenly we felt like teens again, only we had the good sense to appreciate each other as we weren’t able to do all those years ago. We weren’t wise enough. If we’d thought about it at all, we’d probably have assumed that we’d always have one another around.
Now we know that such was not the case. We’ve scattered ourselves all over the country, and we’re not great communicators, so there’s little interaction between reunions.
Fifteen graduates from the class of ‘49, proudly known as “The Forty-niners,” showed up, most bringing spouses. We were happy to include a few others who wanted to join us, a handful from the classes of ‘48, ‘47, ‘46, ‘45 and even a ‘52. There was nothing planned; no entertainment needed. We just nibbled finger foods while we talked for hours and hours, and that sufficed, filling the need to be brought up to date about each others’ lives.
Eventually some of us moved downtown, where the Standing On The Corner Celebration was in full swing. Second and Kinsley were closed to traffic, and the townspeople were out in full force to listen to the bands and eat from the vendors selling Navajo fry bread, Mexican food, hamburgers, hot dogs, Kettle Corn and soda, still called “pop” to many of our generation. It was really a festive evening, and when finally we went to our motels we had trouble winding down to sleep.
In the morning there was a tour of the new high school, built behind the old one. Most of us had mixed feelings about it. We’re happy for the burgeoning student body (a third Anglo, a third Hispanic, and a third Native American) to have this fine new facility, which is most impressive, almost like a college campus.
But a part of us looked at the old high school with so many fond memories that we wished it were still in business. It sits almost empty, a few broken venetian blinds in the upstairs windows. It’s almost symbolic of old age, something of which we’re all keenly aware, and it’s sad to see it discarded for some brand new buildings.
A classmate told us that he met the teacher who took the place of Verla Oare, our history and government teacher. The man is still using Miss Oare’s desk, though he donated her chair to the town’s museum. We reacted in awe. Think of sitting at Miss Oare’s desk! She’s the icon all Winslow students remember most strongly. The person who taught us how to write term papers, for one thing, and, though we may have complained about her high standards when we were in her class, we knew she was fair and determined to have us learn.
At 1 o’clock we met at the grand old La Posada, the landmark hotel and Harvey House held in high esteem by those of us who grew up with it. Some of our classmates worked as Harvey Girls after high school and talked about those days with pride.
After we moseyed through the halls of the hotel and admire its refurbishment, we looked at the antique cars on display outside. Then we were free to go to places we just had to see again, like Clear Creek and Bushman Acres. Just riding around town was fun, and reminiscent of how we spent much of our time in the 40s and 50s. Some checked out the airport’s new restaurant or shopped for Indian jewelry at the famous old Hubbell Trading Post.
At six, we met at the Falcon for dinner. We were a bit more dressed up for the “big” occasion of the weekend. We ate enchiladas and rice and beans, and Annette Cesar McCormick gave us all souvenirs — CDs of Elvis Presley, only the disc itself is made of chocolate. Two lucky people won door prizes (boxes of chocolates), which she and Jack donated.
After dinner we all spoke briefly about our lives. Some weren’t so brief, but all are interesting. A few become emotional as they spoke and a little choked up as they shared their affection and appreciation. It was an expression of warmth and one of the highlights of the weekend.
There were 62 graduates in l949. The are only 32 of us left, but some of them can’t be located, unfortunately. Still, it’s nice to know that about half of us are still around.
When it’s almost over, we posed for pictures, each class separately. Barbara Anderson Cetinski passed around her collection of group shots from all our reunions, and we’d studied them eagerly.
We commented on how dressed up everyone was at our 20th reunion, with all the men in suits and ties and the women in our dressiest outfits. But times have changed, and now we’re all pretty casual even when we dress up.
We told one another we’d send pictures. There were warm hugs all around, promises to keep in touch, invitations, and finally, good-byes.
Happy 55th, good friends. See you next time.