Saturday, August 27, 2016

The diaspora of '66

This weekend the diaspora from Cheyenne Central, East, and St. Mary’s classes of 1966 gather to celebrate our 50th reunion. In June 1966, 350 of us graduated from East, 360 from Central, and 63 from St. Mary’s. We grew up in a Cheyenne nobody would recognize today.

There were neighborhood grocers like the Southside Superette, Branens, Millers, and Birge’s. There was Montgomery Ward and Woolworth’s. Lee Rider jeans sold at Gibson’s Discount Center for $2.99. Sam Stark and Sons offered men’s suits for $44.95. Grand Central sold women’s swimsuits for 5.99.

We hung out at King’s Food Host, cruising up Warren Avenue and down Central, flirting with the carhops at the Owl Inn before heading over the South Greeley Highway to the A&W. Some kept driving to a place across the Colorado line called Shamrock where eighteen year-olds could buy 3.2 beer. Most, but not all, made it home okay.

A new home in the fashionable Cole Addition sold for $19,500. You could drive away from Dinneens in a 1966 Mercury for $2788. Bud’s Car Lot on East Lincolnway promised to put you in a fine used car for $10 down.

There was an election to decide whether to build a college in Cheyenne. Newspaper ads said the future of our fellow high school students was at stake. An unimpressed electorate defeated the proposal a week before we graduated.

Local personality Timmy O’Toole appeared at the opening of Playland in Lion’s Park. “The Ten Commandments” showed at the Paramount Theater while “Poor White Trash” played at the Starlite Drive-in Theater. “No children will be allowed in with or without their parents.”

The new owners of the Plains Hotel were remodeling and advertising, “There’s nothing wrong with the Plains Hotel that some of your business won’t fix.” Our Senators were Milward Simpson and Gale McGee, leading someone to say how progressive it was that Wyoming had two women in the Senate, Gayle McGee and Mildred Simpson.

The Class of ’66 watched earlier as JFK was assassinated in 1963. President Lyndon Johnson enlisted some of us to fight his War On Poverty. Others fought his war against Ho Chi Minh. Muhammad Ali received his draft notice but refused to go, saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong.” The Supreme Court created “Miranda Rights.”

Most didn’t grasp the significance of Texas Western’s upset victory over Kentucky when Texas’s coach started five black players for the first time in NCAA Championship history. Martin Luther King said, "We’ve come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved." Two years before we graduated Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two years after we graduated King was murdered. We still have a long way to go.

Classmates listened to Denver’s KIMN and KOMA in Oklahoma City, which I mildly resented since I was a disc jockey at KRAE. Top singles included the Association’s “Cherish,” the Righteous Brothers’ “Soul and Inspiration,” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops. The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” sold at the Record Shop for $2.94.

Music historian Jon Savage says 1966 was  “when almost all the ideas that would define the remaining years of the decade were in place; the love generation, opposition to the Vietnam war, critiques of consumerism, and a new world yet unmade.”

The distance seems shorter now than when we were looking forward from the summer of 1966. Today each of us feels what one poet called the “long breath of accumulated years.” None could have imagined that we’d accumulate so many years so quickly.

During those years we’ve many lost classmates including Wayne Spencer who passed away days before the reunion and Dwight Brockman whose murder a year ago was never solved.

Despite the years we’ve accumulated, life is short and old friendships never die. Among the most important friendships any of us have are those we formed in high school. This weekend, they’re being renewed.

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