It wasn't getting this booklet that shocked me, but what was listed on the first page inside -- In Remembrance. The last booklet I received there weren't many to be remembered, now I see almost 22% of my classmates have died.
It doesn't seem possible, if I was 83 maybe, but not 73. Even more shocking were those on the list who'd been my closest friends in those years. You see the picture on the left? Everyone in it is deceased.
I always thought I should have been in this photo, the Class Clowns. This was my group. Perhaps given the circumstance that each clown has died it is good I wasn't included.
It is as if my high school years have been swept away, at least my companions. The people in the photo from bottom to top, are Nancy Bright, Betsy Fillman, Ray Ayres and Richard Miller. Richard and Ray were my best friends in OJR High.
Here are my companeros lost.
"Hey," he said, "wanna have a catch." He became one of my best friends from that day until I got married and moved away.
He served as an usher at my wedding (pictured left).
Life sent us in different directions as adults. I thought of getting in touch with him at times, but you know how that goes, we intend, but never quite get around to doing it.
Too late now, of course, Rich died around 1993-94 about 53 years old. He had a heart attack. This is
the last photo I have of him taken in 1993 by my parents. He left behind a two or three year old daughter. He was the inspiration for characters in several of my stories: "In Snow and Sand", "Moon Was Cloudy", "Ya-Ha-Whoey!" (a play) and "Come Monday" (a novel) among them.
I also wrote a novel called "Forty-Dollar Car", which was relatively autobiographical and told the adventures we had with a broken down 1949 Plymouth he bought and got working again. Cars were his passion and he dreamed of building hot rods and of designing cars in Detroit. His desires never came to be and I think he spent most of his life driving a truck, just like his father before him.
Richard Ray was one of those I spend most my time with at high school. He was in the same academic section as I in those years and one of those I ate lunch with and hung with sometimes outside of school.
He also was part of The Trio, him, me and Ray Ayres. Yeah, it can get confusing. My three best friends in high school were Richard, Richard Ray and Ray. We wrote and performed together as well. For instance a short comic play called, "Barber and the Boy" that we wrote and starred in. I played the Barber and Ray Ayres was the Boy, and Richard Ray was a weird customer in the shop.
The last time I spent any time with Richard Ray was in September 1959. He called and asked me to ride the train to Philadelphia with him. He was going to a job interview with AT&T, but he had never been to the "big city" alone. He knew I had attended classes at IBM school that summer and felt I was the expert on the city. He and I rode the rails from Royersford to Reading Terminal in Philly and walked to the AT&T office.
He was taking tests to apply as a Linesman, something he was very excited about becoming. When we arrived at the reception desk I said I was an applicant. I had no desire to be a Linesman, given I was afraid of heights, but figured it looked better for Ray to tell them that than to look like his babysitter for the trip.
I did very well on the electrical aptitude, but not so hot on the mechanical. It didn't matter to me, but Ray failed both tests and he was despondent on the ride home. Perhaps that is how his life after high school went. I don't know his circumstances beyond what I heard here and there from others. I heard at the end he was living along and was alcoholic. Whether this was totally the case I can't swear, but I think it was the case. He died in his thirties.
Ray Ayres probably saved me a lot of grief in my new school. I was this geeky, weird guy just moved from Downingtown. I didn't have great social skills and I had reasons to be cautious around others. We had a gym class and I didn't do so well in whatever we did that day. Ray came over to me in the locker room and began giving me some advice on how to do better at whatever it was. For some reason we became fast friends the rest of my high school career.
Bullies and such didn't fool around with Ray and as his friend, they left me alone too.
It didn't make sense, because big men on campus don't usually attach themselves to skinny, awkward nerds like I was then. He was everything I wasn't, I guess, except tall. He was short, about five foot six, but tall in every other way. He was that rarity, a good scholar and excellent athlete. He was also considered cute and so popular with the girls. Despite these gifts he was humble, had a strong moral compass and a great sense of humor. We had a great bond between us.
Besides writing those little plays, we also became a DJ duo hosting some school dances as "Gravely & Hearse". Ray talked me into joining the YMCA and working out with him in the weight room and later joining the OJR Track Team. We also snuck off to a room behind the school auditorium and listened to Tom Lehrer records when we should have been in study hall.
In our senior year he wanted to stop cursing. He asked me to smack him upside the head any time I heard him cuss, which I obliged, even when it drew some questioning looks from our teachers.
To me, he was a guy who had it made, had it together, but somehow he seemed to struggle after high school. He disappeared from view for a number of years. A few years ago I heard he was back and living in Reading. I considered looking him up, but just like with Richard Wilson I never found the time. Yesterday I found out he died two years ago in Tremont, Pennsylvania in a Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He died about one week after my mother passed away. He left behind his companion, two daughters, three sisters and a grandson, and a lot of memories.
I beat Phil in a wrestling tournament we had my senior year, giving me a perfect record. He had weight on his side, but I had stubbornness.
At some point in the match, during flipping and floppy about, he caught me square in the nose with his elbow. After I pinned him and bounded up for the gym teacher, Mr. Buckhalter, to declare my win all I heard from him was, "Who got blood all over my clean mats."
Phil was one of my old OJR classmates that I had some social contact with years after high school. On the left is Phil and his wife visiting us at our apartment at Ski Mountain, New Jersey in 1974.
Phil passed away a couple years ago and I had known that before yesterday.
In high school, I had put him in our acts. On the right he is performing in a play I wrote for an assembly called, "Wild Bill Shakespeare and the Theatre." The girl (The Poetess was her role) he is pulling off stage is Margaret Whitely, known as Peggy.
Peggy was the first girl I went steady with. I began dating her in Eleventh Grade, asking her to go to the Junior Prom with me. We ended up going together through the next summer right into our senior year. I pinned her, in fact, meaning nothing more than I gave her my senior pin, a little do-dad she wore around her neck on a chain.
I guess it jumped the shark at Exton Drive-in when she bit my thumb. We had double-dated with Richard Wilson and his girl of the moment. Rich and his girl had disappeared from view in the back seat. I put my arm around Peggy and she bit my thumb. I had no intensions beyond holding her against me and after all the time we had been dating it did not seem an out of line maneuver. Shaking away the pain in my thumb made me wonder if this relationship was worth continuing.
It ended rather badly some weeks after that on another double-date, this time with my Downingtown friend Ronald Tipton and a beautiful brunette name Carmella, who thought she was my date. It was a breakup I always carried some guilt about. My short story, "A Goodbye For Maggie" is based on that instance in my life.
Still it came as a real shock when I discovered yesterday that Peggy too had died.
As if seeing a former girlfriend had died wasn't bad enough, it was doubled up when I saw a girl I dated after Peggy was also dead.
I dated Susan Cannell during my senior year. She had been a steady of another classmate, Jon Harris, but something must have gone a rye between them and for a while I was taking her out. She was very adventurous and even though a teenager already had a pilot license. We used to go flying on the weekend. On one of those excursions she stalled the plane, a Cessna I believe, making too tight a turn. We were quickly heading down into a forest, but the co-pilot got the engine started again and we survived.
I liked Suzy a lot, she was cute and funny, but I was dating another girl at the same time, Pamela Wilson. There was a crisis of decision when the Senior Prom came around. Both girls wanted to go with me. I officially took Pamela, but in reality I talked my friend
Ronald into taking Suzy. I did not know in those days that Ronald was gay, of course, that had no part in this. I simply wanted my friend along and I wanted to take both my girls.
It was humorous to watch Ronald and Suzy dance together, she being five foot eleven and he being six foot three. As he put it, we were dancing cheek to belly button. (Ronald and Susan are on the left and Pamela and I on the right.)
Suzy and Jon went back together sometimes after the Prom and were voted Cutest Couple in the Yearbook. Pamela and I dated off and on for a couple more years, although I had other girlfriends during that time. I do not know where Pamela is today. She was Richard Wilson's cousin, by the way.
Suzy continued to be adventurous and some years after high school was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. (I used a number of these events of our dating period in a story, "Pour Out Your Life at the Old German Tavern".) She and Jon did not marry. She married Gary Mahr and she survived him and her two sons. She died in August 2014 at the Pottstown Memorial Medical Center. Her obituary states: "Susan was a member of Berean Bible Church, Christian Motorcycle Association, and was a notary and pilot."
Hey, probably adventurous to the end and would have fitted right in at my church.
It is eerie to think so many have gone, especially all those who were my closest friends in high school. As I said at the beginning, if I was 83…
Oddly, my two best friends from Downingtown where I went to elementary school and junior high all still remain, are in touch and still best friends. As I look back on the memories of those who have left me, I am grateful to still be in the living group of Stuart and Ronald. Long life to us all!