(Wareham, Mass.) It seems only yesterday. Surely it can’t be sixty years. But it is. Gazing at those impossibly young faces in our yearbook, memory drifts easily back to that late spring of 1959 when we passed through the portals of our high school for the last time and entered the seemingly endless summer that beckoned us forward into the future.
We were a little short on experience, but long on possibilities. One thing we knew for sure: We were ready to go! Before we scattered for jobs, the armed services, or further education, we enjoyed a last magical summer. Gathering around crackling fires along our many beaches, caressed by balmy night breezes, we shared laughter, memories, and dreams.
We listened and danced to the great music of our day which gave voice to our teenage yearnings and such concerns as “Will I see you in September or lose you to a summer love?” For many, the one song you wanted for that last slow dance with that someone special was the Platters’ hymn to youthful love and loss, “Smoke gets in your eyes.”
The world we bravely entered seemed ripe for change. Embodying that spirit was the junior Senator from our own state of Massachusetts, who actually aspired to become America’s first Catholic president. He did—and his stirring inaugural address told us that “the torch had been passed to a new generation.”
Thus encouraged, we dared to think of putting right some things too long left undone, and perhaps uncovering some truths that had somehow eluded our elders. And the change came, but it took forms few anticipated in 1959.
The Sixties decade that followed our graduation proved one of the most tumultuous in our history. War, protest, assassinations, and political upheaval shook our country to its foundations and those passions and quarrels haunt our society even today.
Despite these calamities, our lives, like those of most Americans, unfolded in time-honored and traditional ways. Marriage, children, and work were central themes as the days and years passed.
As always, sports was a unifying factor for our class and community. Rooting for friends, younger siblings, and later our own children affirmed our attachment to the town and made every game an informal school reunion. Over time there were many successful teams, but never again—as any impartial observer would surely agree—were there the concentrated glory years of our era. Never.
As even a casual stroll down Main Street reveals, the town itself has changed dramatically. More building, more people, and the attendant stresses and strains of growth have created a town very different from the mid-twentieth century.
Objectively, it’s true, some things are better now and some things are worse. Human nature being what it is, however, as time goes by we do tend to love the things we remember a little more than the things we see. Anyone would.
Now, as we look at our children or grandchildren we smile, knowing how impossible it is for them to believe that once we were just like them, or that one day they shall be just like us—with better judgment compensating for less energy, wisdom tempering passion, and love undiminished but having grown deeper and more understanding.
One of the reasons we still like the music of our youth is that the songs back then actually had words you could understand, words that spoke to us in special ways. Now we can listen to the lyrics of another Platters hit, “Heavenly shades of night are falling, it’s twilight time,” and enjoy them as we did in our youth, yet finding they have even deeper meaning today.
At reunions it is common to talk of all that has changed. But perhaps it is equally important to think of the things that haven’t changed, such as the enduring values of faith, family, and country.
So here’s to our classmates, one and all, as we gather yet again, six decades on, to share memories of “the way we were” and to give thanks for the undying friendships that were forged in that very special place and time—our high school, Class of 1959.
And no, that’s not a tear you see in my eye. It’s just so smoky in here. Damn old fireplace never did draw properly.
Bill Moloney covers world politics and the antediluvian beat for the America Blog. He wrote this as historian for his graduating class from little Wareham High School on Cape Cod. Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post.