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Victor Lang Remembers 

Only Yesterday -- Or, Perhaps The Day Before
 October 18, 2004 
  


Listen to Victor and his Classmates

Actually, it happened on 27 May 1954.  I suppose one has to admit that was a bit further back than yesterday.

The event was the first graduating class from the “new” Ball High School on Avenue O.  We who were part of that class wanted very much to stay put at the old school and be the last class to graduate from there.  I suppose we did achieve a sort of “double distinction” by being the last Senior class to attend the old school and the first to graduate from the new.

This weekend we have been celebrating our Fiftieth Reunion at the Galveston Yacht Club.  A very hard working committee put on a first rate party for us.  Friday night we had cocktails and a buffet dinner at the club.  When we walked in the door we were greeted by the wonderful sounds of four fine musicians.  Two of them are from our graduating class---Eugene “Nippy” Aubrey on guitar and Robert “Dale” Olsen on horn.  Working with them were Galveston’s Nina Kay Greenberg and Ronnie Ginsberg.  Nina Kay has a wonderful voice and those old favorites from the Fifties were rolling right out over the crowd.  Nina Kay and Ronnie are younger than our class.  There is, however, a wonderful memory for us connected to the name Ginsberg.  Ronnie’s father, Joe, had an orchestra to which we danced in the Fifties and Nippy Aubrey played in that group.  It was wonderful to hear that music.  Vocals that could be understood, a volume level over which you could actually make yourself heard in talking to old friends and no lyrics of which to be ashamed.

There were 295 graduates in Ball High’s Class of 1954.  We know for certain that 63 are dead and 23 could not be located so we are unsure of their fates.  I hope they are well and happy wherever they may be.  We miss the 63 who were not there.  Their photographs were arranged in the lobby with albums providing details about them.  God rest their souls until we meet again.

We loved the old school.  There was no auditorium and minimal cafeteria facilities.  “Temporary” buildings on the grounds had become “permanent” by the time our class got to Ball High.  There was no air-conditioning and the heat was nothing to get excited about although since this is Galveston heat was rarely needed.  The windows were tall and wide and when they were fully opened, we could sit on the bottoms of the windows and get the best breezes in town.  We didn’t think we had it so bad since private houses didn’t have air-conditioning in those days.  We went to movies and into the stores downtown to enjoy air-conditioning. 

We (the boys) were permitted to leave the campus for lunch since the cafeteria could not have accommodated all the students.  Three of our favorite hangouts for lunch (and we could smoke in these places, too) were Darnell’s Café, the Star Drug Store and the Peacock Café.  Interestingly, the girls were not allowed to leave the building for lunch until they were seniors.

Gym classes for boys were held at the old YMCA and for girls at the YWCA which was just across the street from Ball High.  The ROTC drilled in the area behind the school (which was built to resemble the U. S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.).  When the ROTC held “Retreat Parades” we were arrayed in front of the school on the Avenue H. side of the school (the street was also named Ball).  Once each year there was a Federal Inspection of our ROTC and that had to be held at the football field. 

We did enjoy roaming around town at lunch hour and after school hours.  I don’t know how glad the merchants were to have us so regularly in the area as I don’t think students had as much “disposable” income in the Fifties as they might have today. 

There were all kinds of clubs sponsored by the school---ROTC Rifle Team (boys and girls), Golf, Tennis, Sock and Buskin Drama Club, etc.  There were a couple of clandestine operations not sponsored or sanctioned by the school.  The oldest was called “TR” which stood for “The Readers.”  At its inception, it had been a group of girls who read books and the club was sponsored by the school.  Later on, some meddler classified TR as a “sorority” and noted that such groups were illegal in public high schools.  Another such group were called “The Debs.”  Both these groups were girls only membership and each group gave a dance at some point during the school year.  When the invitations went out, only the girls’ names as “hostesses” appeared in print, never the name of the group.  Finally, the boys decided if the girls could have sororities we could have a fraternity.  We formed a group and called it “TW.”  This stood for Trade Winds but meant really nothing at all.  Some uncharitable soul pointed out we had used those initials so we could steal a large doormat from Mr. Mike Gaido, Sr.’s  place on the Boulevard.  This is now known as the Pelican Club (and is in the rear of Gaido’s at 39th and Boulevard).  In the Fifties, sale of liquor by the drink was illegal in Texas except in “private clubs.”  Mr. Gaido opened the Trade Winds as one of these  membership clubs so his thirstier patrons could get a drink before dinner.  The grass doormat was inscribed Trade Winds or TW or perhaps both.  At any rate, when we had our dance down at the Galveston Country Club, we stole the grass mat from Mr. Gaido.  It was modified thievery since Mickey Gaido was a TW and I feel certain he told his Father we were going to steal the mat for the dance.  I also think we returned it afterwards.

There is one other little story about the TW dance.  It illustrates how things “got done” in Galveston in those days.  We learned that a group of boys who were not TWs were planning on crashing the party---but not to dance and have a good time----to disrupt the party and ruin the evening.  I told my Father about this and asked what we could do.  My Father and several others called Sheriff Frank L. Biaggne about the event and the threatened disruption.  Not to worry, said the Sheriff.  The night of our dance, there stood Sheriff Frank L. himself, in full regalia, at the door of the Country Club and no one who wasn’t invited showed up, let alone got in the door.  We had spread the word that “the Sheriff” would be there to prevent crashing.  I think the Sheriff had a “toddy” with our parents after the dance.  No alcohol was served to any of us since we were minors.  After the dance, downtown bars were another story. It was quite an “evening” for all of us.

Edward Jamison was quoted in today’s Galveston County Daily News in an article on the reunion as saying “We were very close.  We had time for relationships.  It was a simple life.  We didn’t have the distraction of  television.”  How right he is about this.  The absence of television also caused us to have somewhat better manners both at home and in public places.  People now have grown used to nattering at one another as they watch television at home.  We went to movies and you kept your mouth shut or an usher would appear and warn you to keep quiet.  Second warning you were escorted out of the theater.  I suppose if there were ushers today and the usher tried to maintain order in a movie theater there would be some sort of shooting or stabbing as a result of those efforts.  I liked the scene better in the Fifties.

Such things as High School reunions are made up of many small things.  It would be impossible for me to write in this piece about all the people I saw these past two nights for the first time in fifty years.  What did we talk about?  Well, I don’t think the subjects were “weighty.”  I’ll give you an example from one of my own conversations.  Minette Weiser San Roman came up to me to say “hello.”  We talked for a minute or so and I said to her “I know when your Birthday falls.”  She looked at me as though I were from Mars.  I quickly said “I was rereading my birth announcement in the Galveston Daily News in 1936 and saw that a gentleman named Harry Weiser’s wife gave birth to a daughter, Minette, on 28 June 1936.  Same day I was born.”  We had a good laugh over this though earth-shaking the news was not.

Charles Kobs went to great trouble to tape all the music of the Fifties for us. That way, we had music both evenings and it did make a wonderful difference.  The music would trigger memories for us as we were chatting and made the “Do you remember…” lines really flow.

One very nice touch was a visit from the Mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Quinn Thomas.  I got to introduce her and that was fun.  She read a Proclamation about our reunion written by the City Secretary.  Lyda Ann was also made an “honorary” member of Ball High Class of 1954.  Had she not been sent away to school by her parents she would have been with us at Ball High and a member of our graduating class.  Since she did attend Sacred Heart and Stephen F. Austin we decided we should make her a “legal” member of the class of 1954.

I think I probably did have “reunion vision.”  I thought the women looked just the same as they did in the Fifties and the men very much the same.  Personally, I know I look the same.  Except, of course, in the mornings when I must look into the mirror to shave.  Then I wonder who that old fool staring at me is and why in hell is he in my bathroom!

As I did none of the hard work for this enjoyable occasion I want to be sure and mention those who made the event successful.  Henry “Hank” Flagg, Jimmy Fredericksen, Jimmy McGlathery, Anne Davis Forester, Ethel Lou Graves MacBeth, Dorothy McDonald Karilanovic, Edgar Jones, Nancy Rainey Beaman, Jesse Dunn, Diane Dolfi Olsen, Charles Kobs, George Helmond, Marilyn Short Chalmers, Edward Jamison, Joe Blieden and Curtis “Pete” Arnold.  If I have failed to mention anyone, I ask to be excused.  The good food, strong drink and happy memories may have disrupted my mental recording facilities just a tad.

Such things as high school reunions are “rites of passage” and, I suppose, must take place.  I’ve been to a few that made me wish I had stayed home and watched a rerun on the Sci-Fi channel.  This weekend has been genuine fun.  Perhaps I was simply in an unusually good mood and found no flaws about the event.  If so, then everyone else was in the same good mood and isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?  I think so.  Well, here’s counting down to the 75th Reunion which I certainly plan on attending.

 

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