The Wentzville High School Class of 1973 held their 50th class reunion recently. The third or fourth get-together was held since everyone graduated so many years ago. Very possibly the last one that will be held. Fifty years is a nice round milestone number to celebrate, plus a good number of us were still around to attend this one. Sadly our numbers have diminished over the years, time takes its toll.
Wentzville, with a population of roughly four thousand people in 1973 was your typical mid-western small town when we attended school there. You could change the name and the location and Wentzville would be pretty much the same wherever you placed it. Though Wentzville was special to us right where it was. Right where we all lived it.
On Friday and Saturday nights Pearce Boulevard, the main street traversing through town was the scene of squealing tires, ‘Chinese Fire Drills’ at the lone flashing red light controlling the four-way stop in the middle of town, and ‘eggings’ during Homecoming week, when cars full of opposing classmates passed each other as they each drove back and forth on Pearce Boulevard from the Dog & Suds on the west side of town, to the A & W on the east side.
Obviously all done after carefully surveying the area all around to make sure that the town cop on duty wasn’t hidden in an alleyway somewhere nearby just waiting for the chance to pounce. Back in those days justice was swift, and it could be painful if you gave the officer any lip. The only ‘plea bargain’ arrangement you might be able to make with the City Marshall after getting caught under age with a bottle of Ripple wine or a six pack of beer, was to spend a few weekends working your tail off sprucing up the city. That was also a way to keep your parents from finding out. It was a win-win for both the town Marshall, and for the ones who got caught. It was also sort of a right-of-passage growing up in Wentzville.
Wentzville was probably not much different from many other small towns all across America. It was a simpler time back then. No Internet, no MTV, only four or five channels on the television set. Our ‘social media’ consisted of scrawling graffiti on the water tower in the middle of town, if someone actually had the guts to climb it.
The Vietnam War was technically still officially going on, though by 1973 American combat troops were being withdrawn and the ‘Vietnamization’ of the war was in full swing. That didn’t mean that Americans were not still being engaged by the enemy, or that Vietnam wasn’t still an active war zone. Americans indeed were still dying.
Many of us in the Class of 73 had older siblings who had served in Vietnam, and we all knew someone who had graduated a year or two before us who had been drafted and gone off to war. Many of us knew someone who came back home in a flag-draped casket.
The era we grew up in was a time of change in America. The upheaval of the Sixties had carried over into our time. America was changing. For better or worse the Stars and Stripes was no longer the only flag that many people pledged allegiance to. We had come to learn through the release of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate that our government was not always up front and honest with the American people.
The CIA, the organization I later went to work for, was revealed during the Church and Pike Committees to have committed a number of outrageous acts that were concealed from the American people. The FBI also had their own problems they had to confront, having engaged in illegal activities against Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. All supposedly done in the name of fighting communism. Americans came to mistrust our own government, something that has intensified in the years since, carrying over into today. Much of that mistrust is well-justified.
When we gathered recently for our 50th class reunion most of us were a little grayer, a little heavier, and when we posed for the class photograph those of us kneeling had a little more trouble getting back up than we did fifty years ago. My guess is there might have been a few hip and knee replacements that made kneeling down difficult in the first place, much less the getting up.
Many of the stories from our youth were relived, with embellishments encouraged. The stories always get better with age. Like the time we threw six touchdown passes in a game, pumped in a dozen three-point shots and collected fifteen rebounds, or hit for the cycle in the championship game. At least that’s how we remembered it anyway. Photographs of children and grandchildren were proudly shared, along with their own accomplishments.
After we graduated many of us went off to college, joined the military, pursued other careers, or just bummed around for a while taking a well-earned break. My life took me overseas to quite a few countries where I spent a great deal of my adult life. Many of us, myself included, lost touch with the friends we had in high school, only to reconnect years later through social media, or class reunions.
After all of these years though there is one constant that we all seemed to still share. The appreciation for growing up in small town America. I think America was just a little bit better place back then. Certainly there were things that needed to be fixed. Small town America just like our country as a whole is a work in progress. Racial bigotry did exist and had to be overcome. Though in Wentzville we all seemed to get along pretty well, considering the times in which we were living.
Certainly there were deep-seated, hidden prejudices then as there are now. But addressing those issues I think is easier in small town America. Much less yelling, and a lot more talking and resolving problems than in the big cities. The federal government could learn a lot by listening to the people from small towns. We can actually find solutions to the problems that bedevil the state houses or Washington. Differences can be put aside and solutions found. It’s easier to resolve problems when you’re not screaming at each other. Small town people might disagree, conversations might even become heated at times. But when you live in a small town you still view your opponent on issues as friends and neighbors, even if you disagree. It’s a whole lot easier working out a solution and putting anger aside when you don’t view your opponents as ‘the enemy’.
Those of us who gathered recently to celebrate our fiftieth high school reunion came together in friendship. Any differences or hard feelings from a decades old slight were long forgotten.
Together we’ll always be the Wentzville Indians, at least political correctness hasn’t ruined that just yet. And for all of us Wentzville will always be our hometown, no matter how many miles or years may separate us.