Greatest Days of our Life

By
Dennis Hollander



Let’s take a trip back through memory lane together.

The years between 1956 and 1961 were full of nostalgic events, parties, challenges and learning that have influenced all of our lives ever since.  So many things occurred during those years that were a direct influence on who we were and what type people we would grow up to be.  Have you ever thought about it like this before?  If not, it is true that those were the most formative years and also some of the best of our lives. 


Let’s start back in 1956 when we were all going from the seventh grade to the eighth grade.  We were all around 13 years old and just starting to feel the strange transition from childhood to becoming an adolescent.  We started actually “God forbid” to take notice of the opposite sex and yet we weren’t quite sure what those feelings meant or what to do about them.  That’s about when the guys started hanging around the girls for the first time in their lives.  Some of us were better at this than others since maturity starts at different times for different people.  Bottom line is that we began the first bonding of guys and girls that was mysterious, awkward and exzelerating at the same time.  None of us knew for sure where we were heading but we knew it great promise for exciting times and lots of fun.


Then came along 1957 and the beginning of what was known as “House parties.”  Remember those gang?  Just about every week-end or so we would all meet over at some classmates house to listen and dance to a stack of 45’s and began our first efforts at moving in unison to the music with our dance partner.  My parents even made me take Arthur Murray dance lessons which I wasn’t real keen on at the time but later in life thanked my parents many times for doing this for me.  At the many house parties we would drink coke and seven-up, giggle a lot, do improptude impressions of rock stars of the time and were even so daring as to play spin the bottle wondering exactly what we were supposed to do if the bottle pointed toward us.  These were the beginning days of the joy of going to football games and trying out for varsity sports.  It was also the first year where people’s character and leadership skills first emerged.  We were all full of energy and expectations of what the next week or the next month would bring our way in the form of unknown experiences.  It was also the year before a big change occurred in the lives of so many of us who had known each other since early grade school.


Here it now 1958 and we are all big “High Niners” and we were, or at least thought we were, the coolest cats at Woodrow Wilson Junior High.  It was in this year where suddenly the girls that we grew up with seemed to mature and leap about 2 years ahead of the thinking and mentality of the guys.  They also, to the bewilderment of us guys began to change into young women and were no longer the little girls we shared our early years with.  It was a confusing year for many of the guys and in many ways overwhelming to many of the girls.  We all knew that something was different from the way it had been in the past but we didn’t know for sure what it was or what was causing it.  That was the year when our old girlfriends starting showing up with letter Jackets on and some with “Senior Rings” on a chair around their necks from upper classmates from that special place known as Thomas Jefferson High.  It must have been a very exciting and maturing time for the gals but it was a very frustrating time for the fellows.  Somehow we all managed to make it through the ninth grade and then the big step to High School was right on the horizon before we even knew it. 


1959 was the beginning of many changes in our lives that would set the course for all of us in the years ahead.  It was also the beginning of the formation of certain groups of classmates who hung out together apart from other groups.  I think the common term we applied to these various assorted groups was –“Clicks.”  These different groups were not formed on purpose or by design.  They were just an extension of who each of us was becoming and naturally those with similar characteristics were drawn together.  There were the “Joiner Clicks” who joined every club imaginable and became involved in every activity that the old TJ had to offer.  There were the “Jock Clicks” where guys with better athletic abilities than other guys had a tendency to hang together.  There were the highly intelligent and “Smart Clicks” where classmates who excelled class naturally gravitated toward one another.  There were the “Hot Rod & Tough Guy Clicks” who found friendship, respect and companionship with people of similar backgrounds and needs.  There were many other type clicks around at this time but can’t go into detail about all of them here.  It was also the beginnings of what we called “Going Steady.”  It was really a big deal because it made us all feel like we were growing up and becoming and independent of controls we had on us since we were born.  I personally didn’t go steady during high school but enjoyed the freedom to date a variety of different type of girls that I knew.  I saved going steady until later in my college years.  Most of those love affairs during high school ended upon graduation but some stayed together – got married and are still together to this day.  Wonderful memories weren’t they?


By the time the eleventh grade rolled around we were all 16 years old and began the thrilling joy of being able to drive which gave all of us the type of independence never experienced before.  Most, but not all of us had some type of automobile.  The ones I remember being the most frequently seen were the 1949 – 1957 Chevrolets and Fords.  A few lucky classmates were fortunate enough to have parents who could afford them 1959 – 1961 Chevrolets, early corvettes, 1955 – 57 Ford T-Birds and an occasional MG roadster.  The big event was to make the “drag” on Sunday afternoons down Procter Street so you could see everyone and everyone could see you.  We usually ended up at one of several drive in hamburger and soda businesses located around town.  The two most frequented were located on Procter Street pass Ninth Avenue and the other was on the Beaumont Highway near the old railroad overpass.  This was a wonderful time for many reasons.  The guys finally started to mature and catch back up with the girls in our class who had left us two years earlier for “older men.”  We had the mobility to go just about any place we wanted to whenever we wanted – within reason.  In the winter time we would pile a group of friends in the car and spend Saturday night at the infamous Don Drive Inn.  It was also a favorite place to take that someone special in your life.  What wonderful memories and fun we all were experiencing.


In September 1960 we all finally reached that goal that had always seemed like an eternity away.  We became the all-knowing, all seeing and all mighty Senior Class of ’61.  To describe all that we experienced in that one year would take me all day to write about.  In one word the most noticeable occurrence of that year was MATURITY.  We began to think seriously about our futures and where we were going & what exactly our goals were for the adult life we were about to embark upon.  It was a wonderful year filled with many parties, socials, athletic events, close friendships, college entrance exams and dreams for the future.  We were leaving our childhood behind us for real at this time and began to think and act like young adults for the first time in our lives.  Learning to take responsibility for our own actions was a big part of this giant step forward.  We all wanted this glorious year to continue forever but before we knew it our Senior Prom was only weeks away.  Our Senior Prom night was something I feel we were all looking forward to with great anticipation and excitement.  It was a crowning moment where we left the person we had been for the past 17 years behind us and became someone new and ready and eager to take on the world’s challenges.  We all had dreams and goals about what we wanted to do and become.  Some of those dreams did come true for many of us and for those dreams that didn’t come true we all gave it our best shot.  The Class of 1961 was without a doubt made up of a very special group of people who I think of and love to this day.  They went on in life to contribute in many different ways to make this world a better place to live and raise a family.  We are fortunate that so many of us have been able to stay in contact with each other even after 46 years of life apart.  We are scattered across the country and even other countries but we will always be one class that set the standard for all classes to come.  I will always hold a dear spot in my heart and mind for all my old classmates.  They were part of my growing into manhood and are still an important part of my life and will be forever.


As we all grow older – never forget that you were part of the greatest class that TJ ever had.  We were young, bold, brave and full of the enthusiasm of life.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this story and like our Motto said, “If We Can’t Do It. . . . It Can’t Be Done!  The Senior Class of Sixty-One”

 

Dennis may be contacted at:
dennisrh1@comcast.net

 

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