High school dreams, 50 years later
June 22, 2003
I was in Seattle a couple of weekends ago to attend my 50th high school reunion and to answer a burning question: What does a 67-year-old cheerleader look like? And the answer is: Not like she did at 17.
If that’s a sexist remark, I apologize profusely and hereby declare my belief that cheerleaders are people too, with all of the constitutional rights pertaining to their special status in life. I’m not too sure about their mothers, but that’s another column.
All in all, the 50th reunion of the West Seattle High School Class of 1953 was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. More than 100 of the 430 members of our class attended the event and it turned out that that many of us were older people. The good news is that most of us negotiated the steps under our own power with walkers and oxygen bottles at a minimum. Stories of recent operations were plentiful, however, as we caught up on the latest health news.
We told lots of other stories too — the kind that just get better and more exciting with the passage of time. One of them involves my pitching prowess (as in baseball). In high school I was a batting practice pitcher with a nice, straight, not-very-fast fastball and good control. As a result, I gave up some of the longest home runs ever seen at Hiawatha Playground right across the street from our high school.
On one such occasion, a light-hitting catcher smacked one of my pitches more than 400 feet into center field and over the fence onto the school’s tennis courts as members of the tennis team ran for cover. As it happens, I found a baseball in the grass when I returned to Hiawatha Field two weeks ago. When I announced that “find” to my old baseball buddy, Dave Davies (who actually pitched for the varsity), he asked if I had found it on the tennis court. Because if so, it was obviously the ball that was hit off me 50 years ago. So it’s nice to know that my athletic accomplishments live on in West Seattle, where I grew up.
Other classmates remembered their own dubious achievements. Dave himself recalled the home run he allowed on a change-up in the bottom of the ninth of a “big” game (they were all big in those days). And another pitcher, Joe Knighton, re-lived the happy moment when he struck out a batter to win the game and earn his high school letter all at once. Our popular baseball coach, 87-year-old Bud Pripp, was on hand to share the sports memories. He told us that he had escaped from “the home,” but we didn’t believe him.
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In the non-sports category, several classmates revealed secret crushes and good old Keenan Cheadle reminded us of the time that he chained the study hall doors shut — an achievement that lives on to this day. And perky Peggy Olson announced that she had danced with Dean Martin and dated Clint Eastwood while working for an ad agency in Hollywood. Way to go, Peggy! But she can’t top Diane “Frosty” Friesen of the Class of ’54, who transformed herself into perennial starlet Dyan Cannon before marrying actor Cary Grant. Frosty, who wasn’t all that frosty in high school, is frequently seen at Los Angeles Lakers games these days. I wonder when, if ever, she’ll turn 50. Maybe never.
There were plenty of success stories at our reunion. Feisty little Eddie Bangsund (that’s how I remember him) was selected for West Seattle’s Hall of Fame because of his work with Boeing on NASA’s manned space programs. My lifelong friend Doug Pascoe co-founded a consulting firm that designed electrical systems for several of downtown Seattle’s most impressive buildings; he has a beautiful home on Lake Washington to show for his efforts. Classmate Alaire Carlson became the major of Ketchikan, Alaska, and class “brain” Jack Jasperse is still doing research on quantum mechanics (whatever that is) in Massachusetts.
Late last year Dave Davies, who went on to become a prominent Russian historian at the University of Waterloo in Canada, wrote an “episodic memoir” of our neighborhood sports exploits. In the literary style of Roger Angell, who authored the poignant baseball memoir, “The Summer Game,” Dave reminisced about our shared childhood experiences. “I am quite sure (that) Guy and I . . . could close our eyes and each separately imagine the woods, the bluff, the walk along Sunset and on up 45th (street) to Atlantic, where we played football in the street,” he wrote. “‘Where are you now?’ I might ask. ‘Standing at the alley by the upper goal line,’ he replies. ‘I’m part way down field,’ I answer back. ‘Throw me a pass.'”
So we went back to the old neighborhood two weeks ago and threw the ball around — two old guys recalling their Beaver Cleaver childhood in West Seattle, and re-living their boyhood dreams. Although Dave became a distinguished university professor and I earned a living as a diplomat and a journalist, we really wanted to be Seattle Rainiers while we were growing up. Who knows? Perhaps life is just an exercise in keeping your priorities straight, remembering who you really are and where you came from. I know that simple approach helped me to cope with the artificial life I lived for nearly 30 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.
Guy W. Farmer, a former batting practice pitcher for the West Seattle Indians and Seattle Rainier wannabe, still resides in Carson City.