If there are tasks that breed procrastination more than cleaning closets, I can’t think of any. When one views this process as a form of exploration, however, there is a plus side. Our long neglected linen closet recently yielded a source of entertainment that had not seen the light of day for at least twenty five years: four volumes of the Marquette Senior High Tatler dating from my high school years of 1967 to 1971. Flipping through them and finding long forgotten gems of that golden period reminded me why these things are printed to begin with: pictures and comments don’t fade with time like our memories. What follows are just some highlights that popped up reviewing this mother lode of history. Please do not think of this as any kind of organized or scientific analysis of what was found in these yearbooks. Just to keep things in focus a bit, I will summarize them by year instead of jumping back and forth like a time traveler stuck in a temporal vortex. I can’t imagine doing this four consecutive weeks, so I will break it up lest readers get tired of hearing another aria in four acts about “Me Me Me.”
Freshman Year (1967-68). The first thing that popped out (okay, fell out) of this volume was an 8 X 10 black and white glossy of my confirmation class from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. It is sad to think that of the ten of us included in the photo, three are no longer alive. St. Mark’s has also been retired as a church and the beautiful building on the corner of Fair and Presque Isle has been repurposed as a business of some kind. Even the intersection of Presques Isle and Fair has been transformed into one of those roundabouts that have suddenly become vogue. My first thought was, “We were so young and we all had so much hair!”
Paging through the photo galleries was interesting because as a freshman, one doesn’t rub elbows with the upperclassmen all that much except for those who were also in band. At that time, Marquette Senior High had a population close to 2000 students and because my class entered ninth grade with over 500, I can’t even lay claim to knowing everyone in my own class. I recognize many of the older girls who grew up in my neighborhood but even those only a year or two older than us seemed so much more mature. They were the homecoming queens, cheerleaders, yearbook staff, majorettes, and so on, but we didn’t spend any time actually talking with them unless for some reason they talked to us first. As for the older boys from our ‘hood, they may have acknowledged us but we weren’t buddies even if we had spent time playing ball with them outside of school. They knew who we were but if they recognized us at all, we were more in the category of ‘nodding acquaintances’.
Seeing pictures of the marching band brought me back to the very beginning of high school. When I showed up for “summer band”, there were two senior boys in the drum section. Mike was a converted clarinet player and Steve was a Star Trek loving nerd who declared that he would “only play bass drum and tympani so the rest of us better learn the snare drum parts.” As the snare drum playing senior, Mike was the section leader and told the five freshman drummers what to do but pretty much left Steve alone. In the picture of the whole band, we don’t look like two seniors and five freshman, yet Mike and Steve seemed so much older than the rest of us. Still, we were the wet-behind-the-ears freshman (even though Steve’s brother Tim and I were already taller than Mike). Sue Anderson and I had been in band together since fifth grade music lessons. Wayne Maki had joined us in junior high, but Maggie and Tim were the new ‘new’ kids in the section to me. We spent the first week of summer band marching up and down the parking lot in the mid-August heat learning the drum cadences and how to march in a straight line. By the end of the week we had bruises on our left thighs from the constant banging of the curved snare drum leg brace but we also formed a tighter bond than those other sections who didn’t report until the second week of the program. As band director Joe Patterson reminded the rest when we began marching with the whole band, “Listen and watch the drum line. The band will only march well if you follow their lead. They know what they are doing and only they will have to play the whole time we are marching.” Just like I thought the first time I saw the marching band go by when I was in fourth grade: the drummers are the key to the band!
When I began reading the end of the year notes that were scribbled in the yearbooks, they seemed to increase in length and depth of content each year. Of course, the number of comments from fellow band members outnumber the rest, but there are some interesting threads that give some glimpses of freshman life. Carol, who sat next to me all year in General Science wrote, “To a real nice kid most of the time, why didn’t you let me copy your science exam? Best of luck in your future years.” Kathy added, “To a good kid in my science class. Even though you talk to (sic) much. Good luck in your future years.” Greg weighed in with, “To a friend in science class who always gets A’s. Have fun this summer and watch those girls. P.S. ….. YEAH!” I am getting a picture of me as an ‘A’ science student who talked too much. Guilty as charged.
My old guitar playing buddy Gene looked into the future and wrote, “To a pretty good drummer with brains. Maybe we can get together this summer and play a few songs” and he signed it as “Machine Gun Betts”. Both Gordon MacDonald and John Spratto from the band The French Church gave me musical advice. Gordon said, “Expose yourself to more music and it will help alot. Some info on Cream – they play June 8, 1968 downstate. I got $200 from my parents with which to get a Hagstrom 8-string bass.” John gave me a little encouragement: “Ken fella – I haven’t heard you play the skins yet, but if I know you, they’re your own. Have a good time this summer and don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do Freshman (ha ha).” In that John was a joker to the Nth degree, I am not sure what the second part was telling me.
As for summer plans, there were several mentions of swimming at Picnic Rocks, playing tennis, snowmobiling (?), and the ever present “take it easy on the girls” (who, me?). “Girls” are a reoccurring theme (or wishful thinking) for the male freshman. Science and band weren’t the only classes I got comments on: “Remember all the fun we had in English class” from Fran, “Remember the Alamo, and remember Algebra, English and band. See ya next year” from Sue and “I don’t think I could ever forget Algebra class. I’ll drive you and Timothy mad yet!” from Lonnie. I wonder what Tim and I did to deserve this?
Music being of prime interest to this wanna be rock drummer, I noted that the bands who played for dances included The Steinsman, The Lost Souls, and The Plague. The Plague were also featured at the annual talent show and I had totally forgotten about them. This was Ron Phillips’ band that I had an audition for at one point. The Plague eventually became Sweat Equity with their original drummer still in the band and later Ted Thomas on the drums and not me. It also explained why I found the word ‘Plague’ printed in my sophomore yearbook but I will have to try and remember if it was Ron who wrote it there. I know it isn’t my handwriting, but that will wait until Volume 2 of this little series.
I will leave the final quotes in the hands of my fellow drummers as these were the people I spent the most time with considering all of the band functions we attended. Sue already chimed in with the stuff about The Alamo. Wayne kept it simple: “To a fellow drummer!” as did Maggie: “See you next year like it or not – Mags.” Tim was a little more cryptic: “ To the only person you could be if you wanted to, but aren’t because you don’t dare – Vandy.” It isn’t hard to connect Tim and his graduating brother Steve considering they were the only two people I knew sporting pointy Star Trek sideburns. They could both do the Vulcan salute (the ‘V’ shape formed with two fingers on each side) and definitely were cut from the same cloth, humor wise: “Ken-Bear; I can remember when the term “drummers” meant traveling salesman, I am of the firm opinion you can’t even sell yourself. Your ob’d’nt servant – S. Vanderburg.” Last of all, there was section leader Mike. Mike was the first “bad boy” I hung around with in high school (well, at band events anyway), but not by any stretch was he a bad guy. Mike used to like to sneak out the back door of the band room and have a smoke before pep band or concerts and for some reason he always dragged me along even though smoking was not one of my hobbies. Mike left me with this: “To my partner in crime who I had a lot of trouble with. Good luck always and don’t be giving people a hard time all of the time – Mike (M.G.).”
The passage of time no doubt smooths out some of the rough spots one encounters during their school days. The negative things that seemed like such a big deal back then don’t resonate with me now as much as the good things that came to mind paging through these yearbooks. If you can still lay hands on your high school annuals, take a little trip down memory lane. It is surprising how many details are embedded deep in one’s mind, even after fifty years in my case.
Top Piece Video; Okay, this is the Vogues lip sync hing on TV – but it was still one of my favorite tunes performed
by Ron Phillips and his high school band The Plague