Class Reunions: A Tonic for the Soul.

It’s summertime, and the season for vacations and reunions, class or family is upon us.

It is the time of the year when the North Dakota Tourism Department doesn’t have to advertise to bring people back to their home towns, or schools for get togethers, and it does provide a boost to hotels, restaurants, and bars, not to mention the spirits of those attending these.

Over the years I have gone to both family reunions, and class reunions. In the summer of 1998, I had spent a couple of days in Carrington for a class reunion, and came away with the thoughts that follow.

I wrote what follows for broadcast while working for a radio station in Bismarck, and was called upon at a later reunion to read this at a banquet of our classmates.

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.” He was right of course, but what you can do is go back for a class reunion.

I recently attended the class reunion of the class of 1958 in Carrington.
It was the 40th for our class, and I found it to be a wonderful tonic for the soul.

I’ve been to others over the years that we’ve had, but the further out you go the better they get.

First, let’s take a quick look at the five and ten year reunions. Everyone comes to those just five or ten years out of high school wearing their achievements on their sleeves, trying to impress all with how well they’ve done in such a short time out in the adult world, and it’s true, some have done very well in that short time. So, you drink, you eat, have a picnic, dance, tell each other lies into the wee hours, announce your plans, and leave town not to think about such things for another ten or fifteen years.

Time passes. Life takes its toll, and comes now the 25 year reunion. Now they begin to be real fun. The pretensions of youth are sloughing off. The reality of middle age is setting in, and instead of wearing achievements on their sleeves, they are more than likely to have pictures of their children to show and to tell tales of how well their children are doing.

There is less pressure. Things are more relaxed, and I get the feeling that people really enjoyed spending time with each other under those circumstances. So, as before, you drink, you eat, you dance and talk to the wee hours, and the time for needing to impress is past. Come Sunday you hug your friends, say your good byes and leave town actually looking forward to doing it again in the future.

Now it’s time for the 40th. H.G. Wells could not have invented a better time machine as this one as I found out a couple of weeks ago in Carrington.

One minute I’m this fifty-something guy driving into town, not really knowing what to expect since I had seen a lot of my class mates in a long time. The next thing I know, we’re all 17 and 18 again.

The skin is smoother, The hair is all their and it’s not grey. The pounds have melted away, and all of the hope, enthusiasm, optimism and excitement of those halcyon days are back for a magical moment.

No matter that it’s not reality. This is a time to forget reality for a few hours and revel in the feeling that you haven’t aged, and neither has anyone else.

It was a special event. It was different than earlier ones in that now there are no pretensions. What you are, or were is no longer important. You are just who you are, and that is more than enough. Now you are more likely to see pictures of grandchildren as well.

As before, you drink, you eat, you dance, you talk to the wee hours and before you know it’s time for Sunday brunch.

Reunions like this one have a bittersweet flavor to them. It makes the emotions of the event a little more intense. It is bittersweet because you don’t want it to end to soon, but by noon on Sunday reality sets back in. There are bags to pack, places to go, things to do, obligations to be met. So you say goodbye to everyone, and everyone says we’ll do it all again in five years, and you know it may or may not happen. You do know this however, that if it does, it too, will be different, again.

Writer’s Note
I wrote the above essay in the summer of 1998. Ten years later in the summer of 2008, I went back to Carrington for the 50th. It was different, again, as I suspected it would be. Joanie had died that spring, and that had an affect on me, but I still enjoyed the time there.

We had a good attendance and, though as before, we drank, we ate and talked, but we didn’t make it to the wee hours as we once had. That was okay, it was still a grand time.

Sunday still had that melancholy associated with leaving, knowing that your might never see some these friends again, but you say goodbyes and drive off, with only memories as your passenger for the trip back to Bismarck.

The class of ’58 did get together one time since the summer of 2008, but I wasn’t able to make it. Maybe the next time.

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They Called Him Wes

Tomorrow would have been his 99th birthday.

He was born June 11, 1918 in Carrington, ND.

Version 2

His name was Wesley L. Kallberg, He went by Wes, but us five kids called him “Dad.”

He was the last of the breed of over the road salesmen, before the age of computers brought an end to there honored profession. He held on longer than most, and it was that day in October, 1986, when he was on his way to see a customer who ran a small store in another small town.

He was driving on Highway 2, and it hit. He pulled over to the side of the road by Lakota, and he died. He died where he spent most of his working life, on the road to see another customer.

I wrote this a while back, but I decided to post it again.

Words Unsaid

He died alone.
On a highway, in his car.

He pulled over,
And his heart gave out.
That’s all there was.

The news,
Slammed into my mother’s soul
Like a hammer on crystal.

She never got to say goodbye,
Or, that she loved him,
Again.

Neither did we, his children.
Children who learned about
Unconditional love from him,
And the woman who,
Never got to say goodbye,

Or, that she loved him,
Again.

 

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The Graduation That Never Was

Gather round children, it is once again time to dip into Uncle Bob’s Story Time Vault.

It’s graduation time across the country, and several millions of young men and women are getting their high school diplomas, and much to the joy of their parents are getting ready to head off into the unknown future, filled with the promise that comes with this important milestone in their lives.

Thinking about this the other day put me in mind of another such graduation day that took place a long time ago, in a small town in central North Dakota, a day that was something completely different. At least for one student.

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So, you adults in the room, grab yourself a glass of your favorite Cabernet, have a plate of a nice Brie, find your favorite easy chair and sit down to here the story of the Graduation That Never Was.

The year was 1958, the place was Carrington, North Dakota, a small town in the central part of the state located at the junction of US Highway 281 and US Highway 52.

It was there the senior class of Carrington High School was looking forward to graduation that spring 59 years ago.

I was a member of that class of 50 plus who was thinking about what happens next, and not having any solid answers as we approached graduation.

1958 was early in the second term of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. The fifties, often referred to as the “benign” fifties had been a period of modest prosperity. The cold war was heating up, the Interstate Highway System was just getting started, and the seeds of what would lead the United States into an increasing involvement in Indo-China were being sown. Bill Haley and the Comets scored with “Rock Around The Clock” and “Shake Rattle and Roll.”

All of those events with the exception of Bill Haley and the Comets went relatively unnoticed in our small town on the prairie.

As I said, I was a member of that class. In fact, I was elected vice-president, on what was to be my second attempt at an elected office, and my last.

Dick Swarthout was elected president, and he had all of the credentials. Football star, basketball star, dating cheerleaders, etc., were all part of his bona fides. I had none of those, but that’s another story. I was elected vice-president, in what I suspect was a pity vote.

Reader note, a digression, or in cinematic terms, a flashback is coming.

My first foray into elective politics came during our freshman year, 1954-55, Swarthout and I had cooked up a scheme whereby he would nominate me for presidency of the freshman class, and I would rise and give this campaign speech, which I had stolen from Stan Freberg, a comedian and advertising guy prominent back then.

After Dick had put my name in nomination, I stood up and delivered the first and only campaign speech of my life.

“Students arise, to long have we cringed under the whip of teacher totalitarianism. Elect me, and we’ll overthrow the principal, turn his office into an automatic car wash, and put picture windows in the girl’s gym.”

As I uttered that last sentence, Bert Skakoon, our class advisor said, in a rather loud voice, “Kallberg sit down.” I did, and my political life was over. I think I may have been ahead of my time. Come to think of it I was all of 14 at the time.

Anyway, back to 1958.

So you understand, while I may have been vice-president of the senior class, I was not their best student.

In fact, my academic credentials were rather anemic. That is not to say I did nothing during my four years of high school, but as my English teacher Edna Fylken, who believed in me more than was justified, told me one time I “needed to apply myself more.” Translated, to use a more modern term, I was the classic underachiever. I had no problem with that.

Looking back at those years, in my defense, I was in Luther League, sang bass in the church choir at Trinity Lutheran. I wrote for the school newspaper, “The Cardinal,” in fact my last year was as the sports editor for the paper, something my friend Willie at the Elbow Room would find funny today.

I was in band, playing at one time or another clarinet, alto sax or drums, choir where I sang baritone and bass, sang in the mixed quartet, with the help of librarian Carol Moreland formed a drama club, went to the State speech contest two years running and got highly superior for interpretive reading, played drums in a group made up of my brother Jerry on bass, John Cousins on piano, and sometimes Denny Marcussen on tenor saxophone.

Miss Fylken was responsible for my success at the State speech contests. She worked with me my junior year when I did James Weldon Johnson’s “Creation” from memory, something I performed several times after that. What I did the next year was not as memorable.

So, one can see that I wasn’t totally absent during my high school years, even though unlike my brother, Jerry, I played no sports at all. Music and speech was where it was at for me.

In other ways, I was sort of an outlier. I smoked from an early age, drank beer from an early age, and had a general distrust of authority at an early age. That meant I was out of the mainstream even in such a small town as Carrington. I was okay with that

Another thing that set me apart, in some ways, was that spent a lot of time around people older than me. That meant guys in my brothers class two years ahead of me, and the class in front of me as well.

There was also the gang at the Rexall Drug, owned by Mayo Meadows. It had a great soda fountain, and I used to go there at noon for a chocolate coke, or cherry coke, and visit with folks like Doc. Duntley, the local optometrist, Merle Bauer, who worked at the Foster County Independent, and Ken Kaupaun, the druggist. They all became my friends, even though I was just this 16 year old kid, and they were to be important later on.

So now, if you have hung with me this far, we come to the reason for this story. In the spring of 1958, I was a couple of months from my 18th birthday. Our class was getting ready for Baccalaureate, which was held the week before graduation. Prom was behind us, and in a few weeks, we’d be down the road.

Speaking of Prom, I did go my senior year. I had not gone my junior year because I couldn’t find a date. That didn’t bother me so much, for I went to the prom banquet and then later on headed for Hawk’s Nest, SW of Carrington with some friends for a night of partying.

My senior year, Steve Tracy, in the class behind me, and I both had dates with girls from New Rockford, about 10 miles up the road from Carrington. Steve had a car, and I had a date with a girl named Janelle, and it was all in all a good night. The fact that I even went to the prom was evidence that I had fully expected to graduate that year.

Graduation announcements had gone out to family and friends, along with photos of the newly about to be minted graduate.

Then, (Cue the ominous music) I got the news. I would not be getting a diploma on graduation day because I was short a credit, or was it two, I can’t remember.

I was stunned.

I asked the powers that be why they had waited almost 4 years to tell me I needed another English credit. Evidently I had dropped that in the 8th grade, but not one person had told me I could have made it up in the last 4 years, and then I would have been able to get my diploma on graduation day.

I was pissed.

Shortly after having this dropped on me I went to mixed quartet practice, and was told by our music teacher, Leonard Borlaug, we would be performing at Baccalaureate the coming Sunday evening. I told him I wouldn’t be there, and he insisted I had to be there, a notion I disabused him of when I walked off the stage. I felt bad in a way, because I liked him. After all, he was a music instructor and I learned a lot from him.

I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I thought I had let my parents down, and that only fueled the anger I felt at having spent four years on extra-curricular activity when I could have picked up the credit.

My parents, like me were disappointed, and I think more worried about me than anything else. They were supportive, as they always were, and made me feel okay in spite of the public disappointment I found myself in. That’s not to mention there would be no photographs of the new graduate with his parents for the scrapbooks. That wore on me. I couldn’t give them that.

Baccalaureate came on Sunday, and I spent the night working at the Rainbow Gardens where we ran roller skating on the weekends.

Comes now graduation night. It was hard. I had already received responses to the announcements we had sent out, and I decided I would go to the ceremony at the high school gym.

I donned my suit and tie, and told my folks I would be okay, and went to the gym. There I went up to the balcony and found a place by myself and watched as my classmates paraded across the stage and got their diplomas.

After the graduation ceremonies were over, I went home, changed clothes and joined friends for a trip out to Hawk’s Nest for a night of bonfires, singing, drinking and carrying on till the sun came up.

As we were driving back to Carrington early that morning, I couldn’t help but think that while I missed this graduation, some day soon, I would have my own. I could live with that.

AFTERWORD

While my plans for the future were put on hold with the event of The Graduation That Never Was, I got a job at the Foster County Independent, working with my church choir and Rexall Drug friend, Merle, and went to work on a correspondence course from NDSU to pick up the English credit. When I finished that course, the woman who was handling my work gave me an “A” and she wrote that she thought I had some promise as a creative writer.

After I got my delayed diploma in 1959, I found that they had typed over the word eight and added the word nine. The interesting thing was that they, like me, at one time assumed I was going to get a diploma. I laughed, and thought that’s okay. I can live with that.

Version 2

After surveying my options that winter, I found that joining the Army was my best bet. My family had no money, and that was before anything resembling student loans was available. And god knows, I wasn’t going to get an academic scholarship.

So in June that year, my mother drove me down to Jamestown where the Army recruiter put me on a bus that would eventually take me to Fargo and from there to Fort Carson, Colorado for basic training.

I was was just 18, but I knew someday there would be another graduation day in my future, but that is another story.

EPILOGUE

Just a note to let you know that over the intervening years, I have attended many of the reunions of the class of 1958, and have enjoyed them all, and still consider them my friends.

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Memorial Day 2017

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Back when I “was a tender and callow fellow” in a small town in Central North Dakota, I was called upon three years in a row to render my reading of “In Flanders Field” on Memorial Day observances.

For some reason, the indoor portion of the observance was held at the Federated Church, and there I read the brief poem written by a Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

I did not know the history of the poem, back then. What I knew then was that they were solemn words written during WWI. What I would find out later was the words were written after the Second Battle of Ypres, Belgium by McCrae who had presided over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier.

I still remember the words, every year Memorial Day comes around, and with the passing years they come to mean more and more.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

—-John McCrae

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It Was The Summer of 1976.

Gather around children, it’s time to open Uncle Bob’s Story Time Vault.

For you adults, you might want to pour a glass of wine, and sit back to take in this story. I started out shorter than it ended up, but that often happens with stories. This one is true, and no names have been changed. So if you have the patience, I hope you will not be bored.

Sit back now, and let me take you back to the year of 1976. It was the summer to be precise, and the place was New York City. That’s right kids, the Big Apple, and it was the year of our country’s Bicentennial Celebration.

It was also the year that the Democrat Party had their national convention in New York, and that was the reason I was there.

You see, ole Uncle Bob was a reporter back then, and he specialized in covering government and politics as he had done for many years.

At that time, I was working as a free-lance reporter. I had lost my job at KXJB-TV in Fargo in April of 1974, and was working as a stringer for United Press International (UPI), Newsweek Magazine out of their Chicago Bureau, and for the convention, I had contracted with a couple of radio and TV stations to report on the North Dakota delegation to the national convention. I was also writing for some weekly newspapers in ND, and had published an ill-fated monthly newsletter on ND government and politics.

So, now here I am, flying to New York City, with my TV gear furnished by one of the TV stations I was stringing for, heading for the Taft Hotel in Manhattan, where the North Dakota delegates and alternates to the convention were staying, and so was I.

The Taft Hotel by 1976 had seen better days. The hotel was located at 152 West 51st Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan, and when it opened in 1926 it was the largest hotel in Times Square.

(Cue the Flashback: That’s a cinematic term for cutting back to scenes that have little to do with the main story, but are connected somehow. )

This wasn’t the first time I had stayed at the Taft. When I got off the boat at Fort Hamilton in New York on May 16th, and got discharged, there were several of the guys I had served with in Germany for over 2 years decided to spend a couple of nights in Manhattan. The year was 1962, and they didn’t even refer to New York City as “The Big Apple,” yet.

We got our rooms, which by the way to be had for the grand sum of $9.25, plus .45 cents tax, and on the advice of one of our number got a couple of bottles so we could have cocktails before we went out to sample the night life of the U.S. for the first time since we had left in February of 1960. Since prices in Manhattan night life were relatively pricey, the thought was we wouldn’t spend as much when we went out.

Sample we did, and one of the spots we headed for was The Peppermint Lounge where Chubby Checker, he of The Twist fame, was performing. The joint was on West 45th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues not far from the Taft.

It took us a while to get past the doorman, but when we did we found a crowded, noisy and expensive place to drink while listening to Chubby Checker. It wasn’t till many years later that we learned that the Peppermint Lounge was reputedly owned by the Genovese crime family, but was still visited by celebrities galore during the heyday of the Twist. I think the club closed in 1965 when they lost their liquor license.

The next day, contrary to our plans, my friends all decided they wanted to get home, and so I was left alone. My plan had been to surprise my parents on their anniversary, May 25th by arriving home on the very day. It was now the 17th of May, and I stayed one more day, then began my homeward journey via stops in Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis before flying into Jamestown to be picked up by my friends Don and Mary Kay Klocke and then onward to my surprise to see the parents I hadn’t seen since Christmas, 1959.

Before I left the Taft that day, I had called for the bellhop to come for my bags so I could check out, but I left a pair of almost new combat boots in the closet. I had no further need for them, and when the bellhop saw them he asked me about them, and I told him if he wanted them he could have them. He took’em, and I left.

End of flashback, and back to the main story.

It was 1976, and Mayor Abe Beame wanted to make a good impression on the thousands of Democrat delegates, alternates and press who would be descending on his city. Times Square was a pretty seedy place in the mid to late 70’s, and since that would be a focal point for all who came for the convention the word went out that as of midnight the day before the convention was to gavel in, all of the hookers, pimps and other seedy denizens of the night would be off the streets in the area of Times Square. I remember getting there, and on the night before, looking south on 7th Avenue towards Times Square, there was evidence they had not yet been moved to some other area of the city, but the next day and the nights to follow, they were gone.

As many reading this may recall, that was the year the Democrats were going to endorse Jimmy Carter for President. That was a foregone conclusion going into the convention. The only question remaining was who he was going to pick for Vice-President. So, this convention was a pretty dull one compared to past conventions.

I realized from the start that it was going to be difficult for me to file stories every day that would be of any interest to my clients, both UPI and the radio and TV stations I was working for. I wasn’t the only one scratching for stories where there was no contest, the networks were having problems as well.

I had for a moment thought about a feature on two of the North Dakota delegation members. Eliot Glassheim of Grand Forks and Lucy Calautti, now the spouse of former Senator Kent Conrad, of Bismarck were both originally from New York City, and I thought that was interesting that two delegates to the convention from North Dakota were native New Yorkers. Their stories on how they had come from New York to settle in North Dakota piqued my interest. I had known both of them for several years and thought it would make a good feature. I never did it, for what reason I can no longer remember.

Now enters the story, Kermit Bye. Kermit wasn’t a delegate, but his wife, Carol Beth was. Kermit, an attorney, had been active in Democratic politics in North Dakota for many years, and he and I had become friends over the years. So Kermit became my assistant for the duration of the convention. Kermit, by the way, is now a retired judge from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, a position he held for 15 years.

Richard Ista was, at the time, the State Chairman of the Democratic-NPL party, and he arranged for Kermit and I to have floor passes every day during the convention. Under normal convention rules, I would have to spend a short time on the floor and then go back and get in line to get another pass. Ista made my life much easier, except that even having unlimited access to the floor did not make it any easier to find stories to file.

There was, on the main floor of the Taft Hotel, just off the lobby, a restaurant/bar called the Cattleman Restaurant. It was there, at the bar, one day, Kermit and I hatched a plan that would result in me having a unique feature on the ND delegation. I was lamenting the lack of substantive stories, when a though struck. The Cattleman, whose main outside door was on West 51st, had a stage coach with horses that would give patrons rides for nothing. There were also two other Cattleman restaurants in Manhattan each having a stage coach. You see where this is going right?

Kermit and I approached the manager of the Cattleman at the Taft, and wondered if it would be possible to get the other stage coaches from the other properties to give the ND delegation which included Governor Art Link and First Lady, Grace, a ride to Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention, for the evening session the next day.

The manager said he’d make some calls, and came back later to tell us we had a deal. The stage coaches would be outside the main door on the 51st Street side of the restaurant ready for loading at 4:30 the next day. Kermit and I ordered another drink, laughed and I said, “I don’t believe we are going to do this.” I also told Kermit that we should keep a lid on what was going on lest some other news outlet get wind of it. I told him I needed to get some exclusive footage for my guys back home, before it became news.

While I never condoned creating news for the sake of a story, in this case I threw that rule to the wind. I was having to much fun creating this one.

We alerted the members of the ND delegates, alternates and others connected with the delegation, and told them to assemble at the designated time, and the deal was on.

The next day, 4:30 came, and the members of the delegation began to gather, and we got some bad news. My hear sank at first, when the manager told me they could only get one of the other stage coaches for this event. That meant two instead of three. Kermit and I said, we’ll make do with two, and proceeded to cram as many of the delegation as we could on the two coaches. The close quarters on the coaches did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm of the North Dakotans about to embark on their run down 7th Avenue.

Governor Art Link and Grace got the prime spots on the first coach, and everyone else fit in where they could. The manager of the Cattleman then gave out straw cowboy hats to everyone, hats that were emblazoned with the Cattleman logo on them. Mine never really fit, but I didn’t care. Neither did anyone else.

At 5:00 P.M., the coaches and their handlers made a left turn on to 7th Avenue for the trip to Madison Square Garden. I had a spot on the first coach, and I, your intrepid reporter, would jump off and run down a block ahead so I could get good film of these two stage coaches with the ND delegation riding down 7th Avenue during rush hour in Manhattan through the heart of Times Square, the 17 blocks or so to the Garden.

The delegates were hooting and hollering and waving the Cattleman straw cowboy hats much to the amusement and bemusement of all of those who witnessed this very strange scene. I did notice one car that must have run around the block to see if it was real, for I saw him twice on the trip down. To see these two horse drawn stage coaches with cowboy hat waving conventioneers in the sea of motor traffic, in and out of the shadows and sunlight, through the concrete canyons that are Manhattan at rush hour must have been a strange sight indeed, even for New York.

About a block from the Garden, the word must have reached the other news media who were hungry for a feature, and we could see cameramen running to meet these stage coaches lumbering down 7th Avenue.

When we got to the Garden, and disembarked, I saw a beaming, Gov. Link, still with the Cattleman straw cowboy had on, and his wife, Grace talking to some network TV guy, or he could have been some local New York TV guy, and I knew the story had worked.

I ran into the Garden to get my film to the folks who would overnight it back to ND for me, where it would be aired on KFYR-TV, the following day, and spent the rest of the evening basking in the afterglow of the fact that the idea Kermit and I had hatched had taken wings.

It would me months later, when I would run into Gov. Link, he would finally call me Bob. I think that event cemented my name in his mind.

The rest of the convention, outside of the question of who the Veep would be, was dull. I have another story about me and Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson, but I’ll leave that for another time.

The last night I was in New York, after the convention was over, I joined Kermit and his wife, Carol Beth, Richard Ista and his wife and we went to the Rainbow Grill in Rockefeller Center to see the famous jazz singer, Nancy Wilson.

That night, as we got back to the Taft, I looked down 7th Avenue towards Times Square, and they were all back, and it was business as usual. The Democrats had gone home, and they had reclaimed their streets.

I flew back to Fargo the next day, satisfied that I had provided my clients with enough “news” about the convention, even if I had to create some of it myself.

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