Gretchen's Memories and Insights

Written So Beautifully by Classmate

Gretchen Verboon Miertschin


Read at Reunion 2012 by Classmate


Lucille Miller Armintor



I’ve been asked to take us on a walk down memory lane tonight—back to 1962. Wow. No small feat to get back in that mindset considering all we’ve been through during the past half century. Fifty years is a lo-ong time.

Just look at what’s happened since the new millennium: 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, the stock market crash. . . Katrina, Rita, Ike.

Looking back to the 90’s. . . again, lots happened. Some of the big changes: the internet, email, cell phones. Our world shrunk and our connections grew in ways we never could have imagined back in high school.

Further back. . . the 1980s. We’d lived with the Cold War for our entire lives. Then we turned on the news one night and saw kids having a rock concert on the ruins of the Berlin Wall. No more Iron Curtain.

The 70s—Deep Throat, hippies, at long last, an end to the Viet Nam War.

In the 1960s: freedom marches all across the South, that tragic November day in Dallas, and Neil Armstrong’s giant step for mankind.

Since high school we’ve watched mini-skirts and platform shoes and bell bottom jeans come and go several times over. We’ve seen women get liberated and men get in touch with their feelings. We don’t even blink any more when we see guys with earrings or girls with tattoos. We saw Janis Joplin become an icon, Jimmy Johnson win back-to-back Super Bowls, and G.W. Bailey morph from Captain Harris of the Police Academy into Lieutenant Provenzo of the LAPD.

Iran hostages, Darth Vader, AIDS, Yuppies, Mary Lou Retton and those great big shoulder pads she inspired, the Gulf War, corporate buy-outs, O.J. Simpson, Google, Monica Lewinsky, Facebook. Swamp People of Louisiana? Fifty years is a lo-ong time.

Of course, in the midst of all this, each of us has traveled a personal journey. There have been marriages, children, divorces, deaths, and that best of all possible moments: the birth of a grandchild or grand niece or nephew. By this point in our lives I suspect that there’s not a single person in this whole room who hasn’t learned more than they ever wanted to know about joint replacements or by-passes or chemotherapy or. . . you fill-in-the-blank.

So we finally get back to 1962 and it’s no wonder we have a rosy view of that life. Compared to what we’ve seen and what we still see today, life back then looks so simple. Yet we know that the same kind of problems existed then as now. We certainly know there was corruption then. We all watched the James Commission on Channel 4. We saw Savannah and some of the other madams right up there on the stand. Addiction, abuse, bullying, cheating—those were all around fifty years ago. Teens got into trouble then too. I myself can personally attest to incidents of underage drinking and teens driving under the influence.  

So why does TJ in the 60s look so picture perfect? We all know the answer: Those were the days of our youth. We were fresh. Our minds were sharp. Our hormones raged. Achy joints and sciatic nerves? What are those? At the bon fires we proudly chanted that oh-so-original and hauntingly melodic refrain, (Come on, you remember it.) “We are better, better than you! The Senior Class of ’62!” And, because we said those words all together and we said them often and we said them really, really loud, that made them true for us. We were the best. We could do anything.

We may have been clipping current events from the Port Arthur News every week for Miss Vickers or Miss Goldman, but pretty much we were living in our own universe. The most important decisions in our lives could be settled by a Ouija board or a flip of the coin or a vote at the lunch table. We could go anywhere—as long as we could scrape together a couple of quarters from everyone in the car to pay for gas.

And to what exotic destinations did we go—once we’d collected the requisite number of quarters? Where else? Up and down the drag. You remember the route. Proctor to Woodworth, up to Tex-Lou’s, loop around and back down Woodworth to Proctor. Drive on Proctor till you pass the Strand Theater, make the block, repeat—or not. You could go straight on across the bridge to the Pier and watch the submarine races. Since we all drove in tandem, everyone knew who went to the Pier and how long they stayed before they  

re-entered the mainstream. Small towns have few secrets. But so what? Who cared?

Compared to a lot of kids today, we were so unsophisticated. Take the prom ritual. Who knew about limos in Port Arthur in 1962? Who’d ever even heard of designer shoes? There was the occasional dance at the Country Club, but we were just as happy dancing our hearts out in the school cafeteria or Knights of Columbus Hall. We could always get live music. We had amazingly talented bands—Jivin’ Gene, Glen Stillwell, Dale Gothia. We heard lyrics like “Will you love me tomorrow?” “Only the lonely know how I feel tonight,” “Oh, yes, I’m the great pretender,” and we thought, “Omigosh! They’re talking about me! That’s exactly how I feel.” And we promptly memorized the words and, no matter how we laugh about our senior moments, we can probably still repeat those words today.

You could go out for a fancy evening in 1962. Port Arthur had some good restaurants—Leo and Willie’s, Al’s Seafood. But why spend $2.50 for dinner when you could get the best burger in town at Mr. Smith’s Nu-Zest for twenty-five cents? Fried up just for you by chef extraordinaire, Tim Clarkson. And, if you ate inside, you could enjoy the fine art of Regan Gennusa and Ronnie Thompson hanging right up there on the wall.

In the summer some of us went to camps in the Hill Country; more of us went for a $16 week at Camp Waluta or Camp Bill Stark. All of us came back scratching chigger bites and singing the same dorky camp songs. We swam at the Pleasure Pier and later at the new pool in Port Neches, ruthlessly exposing our skin to the brutal Texan sun. We had picnics at Village Creek and Honey Island and McFadden Beach. No school till after Labor Day in our carefree 1960 times.

But in the fall? Friday night lights. Oh, yeah. Big time. Even if you weren’t on the team or in the band or Hussars or one of the cheerleaders, chances are you were still in the stands most Friday nights, screaming yourself hoarse along with just about everyone else in town. Coach Underwood was king. Basketball season was just as bad. Coach Pense was legendary.

Our grandkids’ eyes may glaze over in disbelief when we talk about the hallmark events of our high school years. Posture Queen. Really? Slide rule competition. What’s a slide rule? Pep rallies, Go Texan Day, Sadie Hawkins Week, Check Day. But for us, those were the framework of our world. And in that world we forged the friendships that have brought us back here today. It was a good time and a good place to grow up. And it’s a good place to come home to, home to see people who are still some of the best friends we’ll ever have.