Friday, October 7, 2011

Reunion

This photo from the web was taken a bit before our time, judging from the parked cars, but the school looked just the same.


I didn't attend the 55th reunion of Oakland's Fremont High School, but classmate Mel McKinney did. He wrote, presented, and has generously shared his reflections on our class. I've added parenthetical comments.

REFLECTIONS ON THE CLASS OF ‘56

We are the children of the Great Generation. Our parents grew up during the
Great Depression and went to war against Hitler and Japan.

Whether actually in uniform, or supporting the war effort at home, our parents were part of a Nation unified in its resolve to win. The enemy was clear and sinister, not ambiguous like the shadow enemies of the wars that followed. The war our parents fought ended in a conclusive victory, but one that paved the way for so much that followed. (My father was an air raid warden, his brother, Bill, a B-27 pilot in the South Pacific.)

Two things that immediately emerged from the victory of WWII were a sense of relief it was over and a very real economic prosperity triggered by the massive industrial retooling and innovations triggered by the urgency of the war. As children growing up in the ‘50s we thrived in that window of relief and prosperity.

Oh, there were some lingering dark clouds, like Atomic Bomb drills, where as elementary school (at Cleveland School) and Jr. High kids (at Bret Harte) we ducked under our desks in the naive belief imposed upon us that somehow a 1/2 inch piece of wood was going to save us from the equivalent of 20,000 lbs of TNT, or more, as A-Bomb technology rapidly developed following the end of WWII.

Somewhere off in the far distance in a little known place called Korea American soldiers were still fighting and dying as we were winding up Jr. High School and about to spend the great summer of 1953 as 16 or 17 yr olds preparing to enter Fremont High (I was 14 in 1953). Most of us knew little of this Korean War and paid little attention to it. We were focused on growing up, enjoying the fresh air, freedom and relative prosperity of the ‘50s.

Eisenhower was President, Stalin died and the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World series, 4 games to 2.

For those of us who were 16, part of that magnificent freedom came from the fact we’d just obtained our driver’s licenses. In my case it came packaged with a Model A Ford I’d talked my Dad into letting me get when I was 15. For a year it sat on blocks in our back yard as I tinkered and toiled to bring it into shape for that big day in the spring of 1953 when I took it and my learner’s permit to the Claremont Ave. DMV and managed to scare the examiner into passing me.

But, for the most part, the magic space of the 50s spared us from what our parents had endured, and from the turbulence of the 60s and 70s that followed. For us East Oaklanders it was:

*The Laurel District,
Binks, (I don't remember Binks), the Laurel and Hopkin’s theatres
The 57 MacArthur Bus
The High street bus (the 79)
35th Avenue, with Rosie’s Hamburgers and Glen’s Hot Dogs (and the 15 bus)
38th Ave with Caeser Ancilotti’s bar and Audrey’s hose wielding grandfather driving off male intruders (must have been a guy thing, I don't remember Audrey or her grandfather)

As we left Bret Harte, Hamilton and Frick Jr. High schools to meet and unify at Fremont, our horizons widened to:
Big down town nights at the Paramount and Fox Oakland theatres (and the Roxie) (3-d movies, Bwana Devil and House of Wax)
The Plaza Drive-in, where we mingled in our scrounged together cars (and always ordered coke and fries)
with the Piedmont kids driving their Dad’s Lincolns and Cads
Groping evenings on Lake Merritt in those convertible top electric boats
Edys Ice Cream on Grand Ave.
Fenton’s on Piedmont Ave.
The Diamond District, with Casper’s Hot Dogs
An occasional lunch up the street on 47th (?) prepared by Nick’s Mom (that would be Nick Nickolas)

Len’s Body shop across from school (and the swimming pool)
Afternoons at Robert’s Recreation Area and pool in the hills (slathering our bodies with a combination of baby oil and iodine, seeking the perfect tan, but getting a perfect burn, no fears about holes in the ozone!)

Cheering Frank (Calcagno), John Hendy, Walt (Fisher), Mike (Moffett), Al Johnson, Jack Forrest, Nick (Nickolas), and the rest of our gladiators who took on Castlemont, Oakland High, San Leandro High, McClymonds, Tech, and the others.

I ran some track with Don Lee, Paul Miller, Sprague Paine and some others. No one ever came out to see us.

We were inspired by Giants like:
Mr. McLaughlin, who wove so much wisdom of life into cutting up a frog and who was putting biology to practical use with I believe Miss Yoshida.
Tudor Jones, our Counselor, (my Counselor was Mrs Griffith who was concerned that her female counselees get into the right sorority at Cal) who finally took me aside and literally shook some sense into me to quit goofing around because if I didn’t I’d end up digging ditches, which didn’t sound so hot.
Mr. Billings, who had the guts to get down and dirty about sex in our Senior Problems class and give us the straight scoop on what went where, what happened after it did and the consequences of putting it there.
And the parents of our friends:
Nancy’s parents: Mel and Anne Indelicato.
Here was a walking, talking (if you can call it that…Mel Indelicato didn’t just talk. He emoted. He broadcast. His joyful explosions got your attention a block away. I worked in the Produce Market during a couple of summers. Mel Indelicato was a Rock Star of the Produce Market.
Oh, and Nick, worked at Angeli Bros, across from where I worked at Levi Zentner. We lobbed cantaloupes at each other.
And Anne, a sweet angel of decorum and great cooking.

Bob Miller’s parents: John and I believe Martha.
Mr. Miller was the only white collar executive I knew.
They lived in a nice home up there on Atlas Ave, in the Redwood Heights neighborhood, which was a step up the ladder from where I grew up over behind Mills College. Mr. Miller’s kind, sage wisdom and humor was one of the influences that helped me see what Tudor Jones was trying to hammer into me. Quit goofing around!
And, Mrs. Miller’s tuna sandwiches got me through those long afternoons between lunch and dinner.
Many years later I cruised the neighborhood and there they were.
“Mother,” he called to her, “Open some tuna.”

I mention these few parents simply to trigger your memories. You all had friends and parents of friends that helped you grow, entertained you, put up with your feet on their furniture, fed you or tolerated you tying up their phone for hours. Remember them now as a wonderful part of your Fremont years.

(The parents I remember are John [Brooks] and Emily Rice, Linda's parents. He was a reserve colonel in the Army and so influential at Greyhound, his workplace, that he was able to get Linda summer jobs. Emily was an excellent seamstress and was always elegantly dressed in dresses she had made from Vogue couturier patterns. And I remember Janet's parents, Roy and Elizabeth Goodman -- so kind, gracious, and sophisticated.)

Came June of 1956 and Fremont cut us loose to find and live our lives.
Eisenhower was still president and the Yankees beat the Dodgers again, this time 4 games to 3. Oh a few small things were starting to wrinkle our perfect world, like:
*The U.S. tested its first aerial Hydrogen Bomb out in the South Pacific
10 million tons of TNT. We’d come a long way since the 20,000
pounds of TNT we dropped on Japan.
But we still had wonderful distractions from what was starting to pile up in China and Indo-China, which came to be known as Viet Nam.
Elvis Presley was gyrating and grinding into stardom with Heart Break Hotel and other hit singles.
Around The World in 80 Days, The King & I and Friendly Persuasion reassured us that all was well, as Woody Guthrie told us that This Land was Your Land and My Land.

I live up in Little River, near Mendocino. I get down to Oakland a few times a year. At least once a year I drive the old neighborhoods and drive by Fremont High. It’s a prison yard. There is no football field. The bleachers and track are gone. It’s hard to imagine that the kids attending school there think of themselves as being in a magic place and living in a magic time. We were very, very lucky kids.

Mrs. Viola Tweedy could have made a movie star out of any of us if we’d followed through. Our Senior Play was You Can’t Take It With You, which we proved wrong. We did Take It With Us. As the song says, “Fremont Stands Forever.” Well, there may be some buildings there with the name Fremont on them, but the Fremont we knew stands forever in our hearts and memories.

The magic of the times combined with a unique bunch of kids and caring teachers. We took Fremont with us. Is there one of us who isn’t influenced each day, or doesn’t in some remote part of our brain think each day of something or someone at Fremont?

Thanks, Mel, for giving me permission to use your words in my blog. Mel is writing more than reflections on our formative years as he says in an email:

Yes, I'm writing. A published novel...3 unpublished ones...
two screen plays (1 now sold and in pre-production) and
a Television law series I'm trying to sell.
Starting a non-fiction and another television series.
When not writing I spend the rest of my time fly fishing,
duck hunting and schlepping my wife around to craft fairs and
flea markets.

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