(This is actually a year late. I started work on in the late August of 2021 but then we all started trading Covid and writing slipped a few notches down my list of prioriites.)
Despite the focus my work requires, it often gets a bit lonely in my studio, so I usually have either music or a movie running while ‘making stuff’. My choices in video skew towards old favorites like the epic historical dramas of the 1960s/70s, but every so often I find something of more recent vintage as was the case when I watched The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw last week. Starring Kenny Rogers as professional gambler Brady Hawkes, the film is one of five made-for-TV westerns built on the storyline and success of Kenny’s 1978 hit single The Gambler and tells the story of Hawkes’ efforts to make his way to a high stakes poker game in San Francisco scheduled to be played on the night before the enactment of the Street Betting Act of 1906 that will ban gambling and eliminate Hawkes’ way of life.
Luck of the Draw includes plenty of horses and gunfights, but it also includes newer technology such as internal combustion engines and semi-automatic firearms that highlight changes in the way of life on the frontier as it closes. More interesting to me though were the frequent reunions with old friends Hawkes meets up with during his odyssey, a group made up of actors and characters from the classic television Westerns I’d grown up watching on our little black and white Zenith three decades earlier. Some of the stars like Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp) and Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) had weathered those thirty years in good shape while others like Clint Walker (Cheyanne) had – in the patois of the movie’s time frame – ‘been ridden hard and put away wet’. As the members of that second group came and went on the screen I had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been kinder to avoid replacing our collective mental picture of them from their glory days
It brought to mind a recent reunion of my own, that of my high school graduation. It was the first such reunion I was able to attend. I was a first lieutenant and a company executive officer midway through a field-training exercise when the first one happened and the second came up while I was attending graduate school 4000 miles away. After that I was too caught up with being a dad, teaching college, running a business and in general living life to catch the next three, but somehow everything fell together in August of 2021 to make it possible for me to attend the 50 year reunion of the Kenai Central High School graduating class of 1971.
At first it seemed as though history would repeat itself as a series of unforeseen events and minor disasters prevented my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I from attending in person, but the blessing/curse of technology allowed me to attend via ZOOM hook-up – and even with that miracle of modern technology I came close to missing out, having lost track of days on the calendar. That confusion continued even after making the connection as I watched a parade of what I took to be the parents of my classmates introducing themselves, but when I glimpsed the reflection of my own grizzled features in my laptop’s screen I realized that those equally grizzled figures were not my classmates’ parents, but were in fact my classmates themselves. There were one or two trim individuals who looked like they’d been sleeping in Tupperware for every one of the 18,250 nights since commencement but most of them were packing as many extra pounds as me, and what hair they had left was as white as mine.
I didn’t care – I was just happy to see them all, even if it was via technology. Attending a school on the ass-end of the world comes with a social awareness different than what you pick up in most schools; it seemed like I was sitting in classes next to cousins rather than strangers with all the of fighting, arguing, and bickering you’d expect in an extended family, but upon closer scrutiny it’s obvious the peculiar social cohesion goes beyond that. There’s been discussion that there are actually two parts to the Baby-Boom generation: the stereotypical, student radical Big Chill group born right after World War II and a second smaller wave made up of those of us born in the first half of the fifties. There’s even been a name suggested for that second group – the Jones’s – but the discrepancies between the two wavelets involves much more than names. There are several factors involved in the formation of the Jones’s mini-boom, formative events quite different that those that molded our older siblings:
- Their cultural milepost was Woodstock while ours was Watergate.
- They entered a red-hot war-based economy with decent wages and reasonable mortgages while we dropped into an economy crippled by ‘stagflation’ and the oil-embargos of the Seventies.
- Most tragically, they saw the British invasion transform popular music while we had to endure the musical travesty known as disco.
All of which made the KCHS class of 1971 appear out-of-step with our older and younger class mates starting in the fall of 1967 with our freshman year faculty sponsors throwing their hands up in the air at our first class meeting (“we’ve never seen a class with such an attitude”) to comments by former upperclassmen in the 1980s (“your class was just funny that way – not funny “ha-ha” but funny-“yeesh”). Maybe that “collective individualism” is why I’ve felt a fraternal attachment to my classmates even though I hadn’t attended any of the earlier reunions – the fact that something about being born in 1953 has us all marching to our own drummers.
We still seem to be marching to those drummers though that cadence has taken us over some rough existential terrain:
- We’ve taken a beating – out of 150 that walked across the stage only 120 are still alive.
- We’ve taken a beating – most of us have been married for a LONG time.
- We’ve taken a beating in that we have a higher than average number of veterans.
You could also read the effects of those difficult journeys in the lines and worn expressions of the faces I could see via the ZOOM hook-up. Even though we are relatively young and yet to reach the biblical allotment of ‘three score and ten’ there was a moment when I began to rue the use of the video link that, as was the case with The Luck of the Draw, it would have been kinder for some to be only remembered from their glory days…but in the end I was glad for the link. Despite those lines I could still see that:
- Carey is still gracious and beautiful.
- Jim is still quick on the uptake with a wickedly funny comment.
- Rick still looks like he could bench press an engine block.
…and I was glad to have had the chance to see my cousins one more time.