August 2015 Archives

...And It Was,Was,Was!

            Five years ago, the Ol' Bloviator crammed this little cranny of cyberspace with a semi-weepy, self-indulgently sentimental account of the forty-fifth reunion of the Hart County (Ga.) Class of 1965. Guess what? He's back to do the same for our fiftieth reunion gathering. (Pause here for hardened cynics and assorted misanthropes to just click themselves somewhere else, for the about to step way out of character here and go into full Sunshine Pumper mode. The 2010 entry proclaimed "It's Hard to Be Humble When You're A Member of the Class of 1965,"  and you may rest assured that the report on this weekend's proceedings stands merely to reaffirm that already indisputable truth.

Let's start with a few numbers. The post-World War II "baby boom" was just hitting its stride when the birth rate reached a new high of 3.7 million in 1947, and the 204 of those who got their diplomas from Hart County High on May 28, 1965, comprised by far the largest class in the school's history. An interesting and perhaps not totally irrelevant side note here is that our class boasted six sets of twins, which, by the O.B.'s tortured and frequently suspect figuring, means that the incidence of twin births in our bunch was more than three times the national average for 1947. At the very least, this would imply that although the war might have been over, our Poppas didn't come home shootin' no blanks, and our sweet, angelic Mommas were, well... ...let's just say, very happy to see them.   Of our original 204, to the best of anyone's knowledge, 160 of us are still alive--if not necessarily always kicking. Now get this! Fifty years after we graduated, 107 of the surviving 160--that would be two-thirds of those of us blessed to still show a pulse--showed up for a weekend when, for a few hours at least, a half-century's worth of divergent experiences, lifestyles, and geographic locations simply melted away. Suddenly, we were back cuttin' the town of Hartwell, which sure seemed a lot bigger back then,  in a long oval sweep anchored by the Dairy Queen at one end and the "Chick 'n Burger" at the other, resurrecting images of Dwight and Joe's muscle cars and Kathy's T-bird (not much said about the O.B.'s 1949 Ford coupe, however) recalling once red-hot romances and wondering if they were completely cooled even now. The best test of true friendships may well be the capacity, after years of being apart, to pick up with each other just where you left off  five, ten or twenty, even fifty years ago. Such caring and enduring friendships may be rare out there among you pitiable souls in the general population, but  the O.B.'s observations of this and all reunions past suggests they are by no means exceptional among his beloved class of '65ers. By way of illustration, let him resurrect this little edited snippet from his 2010 exaltation of his classmates:

The most recently deceased of our thirty classmates lost his leg in Vietnam and sometimes lost his way thereafter. When he suddenly fell terribly ill a few months ago, his country offered him no recompense for his sacrifice. Even as he lay ravaged and dying with cancer, the VA hospital would not accept him as a patient, and the Veterans Administration accepted no responsibility even for providing him with a decent place to die. At that point, two of his former classmates, both also fellow vets, stepped forward with the kind of compassion and character that made me doubly proud to be a member of the HCHS Class of 1965 and made arrangements to get our stricken comrade into hospice care.

He lasted only a few days there, but when the VA declined to reimburse them, the hospice folks were out some $5,100 in expenses. Determined not to see the matter end this way, one of the 1965ers who had gotten him into the hospice unit called on the rest of us via the listserv for the upcoming reunion to see to it that one of our own who had been so ill-served by the country he had defended so courageously should not have his passing recorded in red ink. Within a few weeks, contributions to the hospice in honor of our classmate exceeded the expenses for his care by roughly $2,000.

I'm sure some weighed in more heavily than others on this, but I know for a fact that a chunk of it came from folks who ain't exactly lighting cigars with $20 bills. I wouldn't argue if you told me  that members of other groups would step up like this to honor the memory of someone they knew forty-five years ago and hadn't seen much, if at all, since, but that doesn't mean I believed you.

This year the class cause was not so urgent or tragic but there was the matter of paying for a huge dinner and soiree done up properly for nearly 200 people, plus a magnificent four-color directory complete not only with individual bios, but  "then" and "now" photos of classmates, their children, etc. Even with hard-bargaining and realistic expectations for what proved to be a truly excellent repast, the bottom-line cost per classmate including the dinner and directory raised concerns that some folks on fixed and not particularly large incomes might be discouraged from taking part. Need a little extra cash to try to prevent that? No problem. Just let fifteen or so folks know, and as the French like to say, "VIOLA!"--the treasury is suddenly nearly $7,000 to the good, and not only are cost overruns on the meal covered, but regardless of whether they made it to the reunion or not, every classmate is getting a class directory free of charge.

Surely, one of the as yet least explored generational demarcations in recent American history is the end of the military draft in January 1973. That much is obvious in constructing a collective biography of our 1965ers whose lives and those of their loved ones were affected so profoundly and in so many ways, either by actual military service or by the looming uncertainty about it. Of our number, some 34 served in Vietnam, where two of them, Bobby and Sammy, lost their lives. Both were quiet country boys all through high school, and while information about Sammy's death is sketchy, we know a little more about Bobby's story, thanks to Charlie, who had been wounded in Vietnam himself.  Bobby arrived in Vietnam in October 1967 and his tour was scheduled to end the following September. Hence, he and his sweetheart, who had decided to hold off on marriage until he came home, settled on "See You in September" as their song. Though he was often in the thick of the fighting, Bobby had survived for seven months, only to lose his life on May 13, 1968, after exposing himself to NVA fire by rising to defend his crewmates with an M-16 after the turret gun on his Armored Personnel Carrier jammed. Bobby, Sammy and Charlie were but three of thirty-four class members who served in Vietnam, accounting among them for a Bronze Star and nine Purple Hearts. As he has reported elsewhere, the closest the O.B. ever came to the latter was a "Purple Buttock" resulting from a spider bite suffered one night in the woods when his National Guard unit was called up during a flood, and he salutes his gallant classmates for their immense courage and great sacrifices.

To be sure, these men are bona fide heroes every one, but they were by no means the only courageous people in this remarkable group whose members have withstood the deaths of spouses and children, beaten back cancer (more than once in several cases) and other life-threatening diseases and conditions, and refused to yield self-pity or despair despite all manner of additional adversities. Yet there was Mary, sprung from the assisted living facility where she has been for several years, in her wheel chair but bright-eyed and perky and clearly thrilled to see her old friends. There was also Brenda, who got out of bed just a few days after major surgery for a critical, extremely painful condition to make the reunion scene with her husband/classmate, Tony.  Not the least of the class stalwarts is the O.B.'s old and dear friend Bill, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in childhood, and by his own account, as one of the less than 1/10 of 1 percent of those who contract this disease in childhood and live with it more than fifty years, he now ranks as a certified "a freak of nature." Just to make it interesting, by the way, Bill also survived a devastating heart attack along the way. His diabetes guaranteed a "4-F" Selective Service classification, but he claims that it also left him fending off a crowd of friends looking to score a cup of his pee for their own draft physicals. A very successful financial adviser, Bill has now bought a bike and vows to join a motorcycle gang. All the O.B. can say to that is "Heads Up, Hell's Angels! Here comes Bill!"

Those of you who have had about all the gushing you can handle by now might ask if the O.B. is asking you to believe that his high school class was something akin to God's special little project, a peculiar assemblage of talent, virtue, strength, and compassion, designed to show skeptics what he could do if he really tried. Much as he'd like to affirm this with a simple "you're durn tootin'!'" and be done with it, he has to concede that his 204 best buds were also a product of their time and place. The members of the largest class in the history of our high school had also been members of the largest classes ever in their respective grammar schools, meaning that they probably heard throughout grade school about being a "special" group, of whom much would be expected. Beyond that, as part of the initial surge of "boomers," our ranks boasted an uncommonly high percentage of first-borns who generally manifest higher expectations and a greater fixation on achievement than their younger siblings. Some of this may be a reflection of the additional time they spend with their parents before those siblings come along, which probably means closer parenting of first-borns, but one thing's for sure, our Moms and Dads focused on keeping us from doing bad things, not hovering overhead in their private choppers ready to swoop down and make excuses for us when we did. Our folks were, by and large, the mainstays of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" who had not only won the war but lived through the Great Depression.  Although they strove to keep us safe from want, they also  understood that nothing was guaranteed in life, and for all our quasi-rebellious dalliances with the likes of Elvis, and later the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, most of us still absorbed enough of that wisdom to know that getting the best education and jobs we could was the greatest hedge against uncertainty available to us. Fortunately, we came of age at a time when post-secondary educational opportunities were expanding as were new and better jobs.

More fortunately still, we Hart County kids had been blessed to have a truly extraordinary group of teachers, most of them in and of the community and practically all of them truly dedicated to preparing and challenging us. In fact, the O.B. was so dadburned challenged that he barely sneaked in near the bottom of the top 10 percent of his class.  Like the athletic accomplishments that were unprecedented in school history, our class's impressive achievements in state and even national debate and literary competitions against much larger and better-funded schools were every bit as much a testament to the hard work and dedication of our teachers, as to the talent of the students who lugged the trophies home.laurieetcreunion.jpg

The Class of '65 suffered from no shortage of brains or pulchritude.


More evidence of the above with this trio of the O.B's First Grade Crushes

None of all this is to say that every one of us presents the classic Horatio Alger story. Violence, drugs, alcoholism, and other forms of self-destructive behavior are not unknown within our ranks, and gut-wrenching tragedy and abject misfortune have not exactly been strangers either. Yet for all that, what the O.B. saw last weekend was a group of people focused not on their trials and setbacks but on their blessings, not the least of them being all the people who were smothering them with kisses, hugs, and handshakes that often were really wannabe hugs. The O.B. doesn't give a toot whether sociologists, demographers and other assorted know-it-alls would agree that his group seems all that exceptional statistically.  Flesh and blood trumps numbers and theory every time, and he knows for sure that being part of what is actually a very special extended family for him is not simply one of the most precious of his own many blessings but, at its heart, a far more vital source of pride and inspiration than any accolade that has or ever will come his way.

(All Photos by Annette Majeski Rogers)


The Old Bloviator has long held that that southern history holds the keys to unlocking practically any contemporary conundrum, including, in this case, explaining how and why someone so thoroughly dedicated to being utterly repugnant can actually be the front-runner for the Republican nomination. In fact, this one is something of a pushover in that Trump could well have stolen his playbook from no less towering a presence in the storied annals of Georgia politics other than Eugene Talmadge, who ran for governor five times, won four times but expired before taking office for the final term. From the governor's office, he ruled Georgia with an iron, albeit reckless, hand, usurping the prerogatives of the Comptroller General or the Public Service Commission whenever it suited his purpose, prompting one historian to denounce him "as a dictator, a demagogue and a threat to the tranquility of the state." (Sound familiar, DT?) Not for nothing was ol' Gene known as the "Wild Man from Sugar Creek," which actually trickled through his Telfair County estate, for his campaigns featured all manner of histrionics and audacity, such as showing up for a rally driving a set of oxen after strapping on his trademark red suspenders and sometimes drenching himself in corn whiskey. In a typical stump speech carefully choreographed to seem impromptu, he ridiculed his political opponents and critics, among whom he listed both "them lying Atlanta newspapers" and his favorite punching bag, the racially tolerant scalawag Atlanta Constitution columnist "Rastus," [a.k.a.] Ralph, McGill.

            Talmadge's behavior, like that of such counterparts as Jeff Davis in Arkansas and Ellison D. "Colton Ed" Smith, was easily written off to the apparently endemic ignorance and depravity of southern political leaders, not to mention that of those who kept electing them, but there were sound structural incentives that encouraged and reinforced such contrived rascality. Not the least of these was the "white primary," a device implemented as a sort of final filter meant to screen out any blacks who had somehow breached a veritable Siegfried Line of barriers to voting--from the poll tax, to the literacy test, to property requirements--and therefore remained eligible to exercise the franchise on election day. Determined that even this tiny minority of blacks would not have their say at the ballot box, state Democratic parties across the South had simply declared themselves private organizations, which allowed them to forbid black participation in their nominating primaries for state offices. Though this move may have seemed unnecessary, it was actually critical precisely because the aforementioned artifices, all of them keyed in one way or another to disfranchising the economically and educationally disadvantaged, had all but eliminated the prospect of voting by blacks and low-income whites who had a history of supporting Republican, Populist, or any other Independent candidates. With a Democratic triumph in the general election now a foregone conclusion, the Democratic primary was now the only meaningful game in town for statewide political aspirants (and just to make sure it served its purpose, anyone who ran in the white primary was required to foreswear any subsequent candidacy as a Republican or Independent.) Since the only realistic path to state office led straight through the Democratic primary, it frequently attracted aspirants in large numbers. With the overwhelming majority of those likely to really see things differently now on the outside looking in, differences among the candidates on concrete issues were infrequent, to say the least. The challenge of a large, relatively homogeneous group of competitors encouraged efforts to separate one's self apart as vividly, even histrionically, as possible, while lumping all the rivals together. In an especially crowded race for governor in 1932, Gene Talmadge simply dismissed his faceless opponents as "the baseball nine." Likewise, the virtual absence of fundamental differences on issues encouraged both personal attacks on one's rivals and tirades against a variety of sinister, impersonal, and frequently contrived forces. Over in Mississippi, for example, two-term governor Theodore G. Bilbo, who had recently called one of the state's sitting U.S. senators "a vicious, malicious pusillanimous, cold-blooded, premeditated, plain, ordinary liar," soon won a Senate seat himself, vowing to wreak vengeance on "farmer murderers, corrupters of southern womanhood," and "skunks who steal Gideon's' Bibles from hotel rooms."

            Needless to say, incumbents with established bases of support were likely to benefit from a crowded field of candidates, just as fields were more likely to be crowded when, as in 1932 in Georgia, there was no incumbent in the race, and so it is in a 2016 Republican primary line-up, which includes not only the outrageous Mr. T, but sixteen would-be rivals, the closest running a mere fifteen points behind him in current polls. Though he is actually a better showman than P. T. Barnum, Mr. Trump clearly subscribes to the old Barnum dictum that "there's no such thing as bad publicity."

            His most recent ventures into over-the-top audacity appear to have cost him an event or broadcast contract or appearance opportunity here and there, but what the heck does that mean to a guy worth $10 billion? Not only do these intended rebukes simply bounce off his Kevlar-encased ego, but they afford further opportunities to tout himself as the only, red-blooded, non-wuss GOP option, in the much way the disapproval of  the "better element" served as badges of distinction for the Talmadges and Bilboes. Meanwhile,  his tremulous opponents agonize over jeopardizing their conservative creds by venturing out of the far right lane just long enough to chide him for being too forthright and visceral in expressing and defending views on immigration, health care, women's issues, etc. that generally differ little from their own. Thus, the currently trumped non-Trumps sit gaping as he careens all over the road, mocking party icon John McCain, ridiculing Rand Paul, and flat-out dissing both Jeb and his brother. Surely the O.B. has told you enough about Gene Talmadge by now that you could easily see him giving out Ralph McGill's phone number, much as Trump did with poor old Lindsay Graham. Although Trump's refusal to foreswear an independent candidacy would have gotten him booted out of the white primary, neither his individual or cumulative excesses to date have sufficed to send him tumbling down amongst his competitors who, at this point, are left to paddle back and forth in a tepid puddle of "meh" awaiting what they keep telling themselves is Donny's inevitable downfall.

Though Trump hardly qualifies as a much of a "populist," he seems to have tapped, however crudely and tastelessly, into a rich vein of throbbing discontent, not all of it necessarily partisan, with the rigid code of political correctness that frequently seems to govern public action and thought these days. This is to say, that some, perhaps many, of those who disagree with the substance of what Trump actually says nonetheless find it hard not to admire the exuberantly unhesitant manner in which he says it. In fact, as it was with ol' Gene, his most endearing trait to many supporters may well be that "he just don't give a damn!"

            In the practical political sense, however, the trouble with The Donald is that he is not exactly overstocked with such traits. Trustworthiness? Likability? The Common Touch?  "Nope" 3X. Ironically,rather than taking solace in the fact that the very same deficits might be cited in the lurking, looming, inevitable, nine-lived Hillary, Republican leaders must find it more than maddening that, from a field of nearly two "baseball nines," their party has yet to come up with no more viable opponent than someone whose every attempt to capitalize on her negatives is all but certain simply to call further attention to his own.

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