A social gathering attended by members of a certain group of people who have not seen each other for some time.
High school reunion: n.
(hī skOol rē-yOon yən)
No way in hell I’m going. Because I look nothing like I used to and there’s nothing more depressing than the passage of time. And I’ve accomplished virtually nothing since then.
Two very distinct definitions are offered above. The second one, of course, may not apply to everyone, but we know more than a few alumni feel that way every time a reunion notice arrives in the mail or, worse yet, finds its way into their personal email.
For some, the mere thought of attending is too hard to fathom, because high school years are supposed to be the glory years, lending even more credibility to that famous phrase, "Youth is wasted on the young."
You never realize how good you had it until, say, 45 years later, when you look back on it. Which is what roughly 70 students from the Santa Fe High School's Class of 1970 did inside the Elks Lodge a few weeks ago.
It would seem like a small crowd, considering the class graduated just under 700 students. But even that turnout is subject to debate, for there's no real gauge to compare the numbers against.
True, more than 200 showed up for the 20th reunion, but that was 25 years ago, and in the words of Patricia "Patsy" Sanchez, one of the reunion's organizers, "Everybody back then was still a little bit full of themselves."
Or maybe what she meant to say was that everybody was much younger back then, relatively speaking, and all had something to say or show. But the raft has drifted farther out to sea, and childhood is just a speck on the horizon, hard to reclaim except in Polaroids or throwback Thursday postings on Facebook, or in this case, a reunion.
For argument's sake, let's just assume then that this latest showing is a representative sample of the spirit of Santa Fe High. The students who filled the rented hall were mostly hard-working, middle-class folks who are still getting on in life, proudly pointing to their children and their grandchildren on their smartphones.
They're now in their early 60s and are homing in on retirement, drawing early from Social Security or working part-time gigs. They have been empty nesters now for what seems like eons, a far cry from the flower-power era they came of age in.
They are accountants, contractors, pipe fitters, engineers, musicians-turned-Realtors, artists, ministers, teachers, housewives, employees with Los Alamos National Laboratory or at the state's Roundhouse, Anaya Building or penitentiary.
A few of the more notables are Debbie (Pino) Jaramillo, the city's mayor during the early 1990s; Phil Moore, an Albuquerque disc jockey who just recently retired from the air; and Marcella (Armijo) Martinez, a prison guard who was one of the first to witness the aftermath of Santa Fe's deadly 1980 penitentiary riots.
She died this month, bringing to 67 the total number of graduates of the Class of 1970 who organizers say didn't live to see the gathering.
Dozens of photographs of those now gone were posted on a board at the lodge, a memorial that became a common ground throughout the night as the alumni traced their fingers over the images, remembering the good times inside what was then a brand-new high school—the only one in Santa Fe.
Nearly all of them, when asked what their high school years were like, recall the strict regime, an administration that kept them in check during a chaotic period in American history.
Loathed at the time, perhaps, but now loved in retrospect were Joseph Casados, the principal, and Robert Cooper, who served as vice principal along with John Sena, who was known to students as "the Bouncer" or "the Enforcer." He knew them all by their first names, so the story goes.
Sena also seemed to arrive in the nick of time to break up the occasional dust-ups between the "greasers, the surfers and the cowboys," the three distinct cliques in the student body that often tussled over turf.
The real fight, of course, was happening thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia, and the growing chant in the name of self-preservation was, "Hell no, we won't go!"
But some ended up going to Vietnam anyway. Uncle Sam's draft made the Enforcer look like a pushover; the schoolyard brawls would pale in comparison to the swamps and paddy fields.
Among the hundreds drafted from Santa Fe was George Jimenez, the co-organizer of the reunion and a musician who played the bass in a pair of rock bands.
Just before graduation, a draft notice arrived in the mail at his family home in Tesuque, easy hitch-hiking distance to the high school—his normal mode of transportation. As instructed, he appeared at the inductee hall inside the federal building that's connected to the downtown post office. He was off to basic training in San Antonio by September.
Jimenez served in the Air Force for three and a half years, winding his stint up in Taiwan as a tech sergeant who'd inspect the newer aircraft and its parts. He would return home to Santa Fe in 1973.
But some never came home. Like Richard Griego and Leroy Howland, local guys who died in 'Nam and who were a few years older than Jimenez. It was a fact of life that made Jimenez, who ended up marrying classmate Celina Ortiz, all the more grateful for his newfound civilian freedom.
To this day, he has a hard time making sense of the war, noting, "Nobody called it a war at the time. It was called 'a police action,' and a lot of young guys lost their lives over there."
Lucky to still have his, Jimenez wasted no time getting back to work at Music Villa and earning an income to support his family.
It was the very store he'd worked at in high school, in fact. And eventually he would open up his own, Music Allegro, where he sold musical instruments for two decades while renting out a studio where both local and high school bands could practice.
And as much as Jimenez was successful, he says 9/11 and the advent of the Internet eventually did him in. Allegro may start with the first letter in the phone book, but once Google came around, all bets were off.
But his property, the Allegro Center, still stands on St. Michael's Drive, now rented as office space.
"It was time to let go of the dream," says Jimenez, who played with the Archers in high school, one of the few who managed to extend his passion for music into the 21st century. "But it was a fun run while it lasted, and I have no regrets."
Now, he's working for Commercial Properties Inc., no more than a couple miles away from his old music store. But it's what he's done in his spare time that could be construed as amazingly dedicated to his alma mater: He placed nearly 200 calls to Santa Fe High graduates to invite them to the reunion. He quickly found, however, that many classmates were living out of state, were simply too busy or just weren't up to, it health-wise.
Quite a few, he said, had to watch their grandchildren, always a solid excuse.
He knows the excuses. He's made similar calls for past reunions. He and Sanchez have been putting them together, ever since the 10th one failed miserably—after its organizer absconded with the class funds.
With no cash, the 1980 gathering turned into a jaunt up Hyde Park Road, with fried chicken and beer in tow, not too far off from the sorts of shenanigans they were getting into when they were actually attending high school.
But most at the reunion say they don't hold a grudge against the student, an indicator that this is a forgiving class and not some Demon mascot, whose controversial name has withstood calls for change among the die-hard Catholics, all a metaphor for the entire class—one of survival.
It protects its own, regardless of the sin, a character trait, perhaps, of the period they grew up in, where judgment was levied at the government but not so much among peers.
"We always had each other's backs back then, and we still have each other's backs today," says Chris Vigil, a Santa Fe Realtor with his own firm who says he owes a lot of who he is today to the high school administration.
"But we also toed the line," he says. "They taught us discipline, respect and great values."
Of course, not everyone was busy obeying. Vangie Chavez, now an Albuquerque minister who serves the LGBT community, says she remembers experimenting with quite a few drugs, from hallucinogens to marijuana to beer.
"It was the '70s," Chavez says at the reunion. "Everybody was doing it at the time, and if they say they weren't, don't let them fool you."
While some students recall sit-outs at the high school to protest the war in Vietnam, Chavez jokingly rejects that notion about 25 minutes later near the cheese and crackers, saying, "Yeah, more like a 'sit-in' inside some room and getting high. That was the only sit-in I seem to recall."
Whatever the case, Chavez eventually straightened herself out, with help from J Burke, the psychology teacher, and Bertha Mefford, the gym teacher, a pair of very influential people in her life.
"They both kept after me," she says. "They called me in and sat me down and talked to me like a person, not just a student. I could tell they cared, and they had a profound impact on my life."
In later years, Chavez would open up about her sexuality, and this once-tough chick found love like everybody else, marrying Traci Chavez, 50, well over a decade ago.
A child of the 1980s who retains a hint of that high hair, Traci says she was happy to see her wife's classmates up close in the Elks Lodge, putting faces now to names instead of imagining the era where bell bottom jeans were big and where plaid, paisley and polyester held court.
Garage bands were also big. So were drive-ins. Not drive-throughs, drive-ins; whether it was for a burger or a malt or a movie, you drove your car in. You did it at Pueblo Drive-In, which used to sit in the parking lot of where the "old" Walmart is now, on Cerrillos Road at Camino Consuelo, and the Yucca Drive-In a mile away. Or there was Ingram's Drive-In for a burger about a food fight north of the Pantry, where girls would wait on you and take your order from the driver-side window. The cars ran the gamut: Pintos, Gremlins, Comet Cavaliers, Volkswagen Beetles and Chevy Supersports.
Thanks to Hollywood and TV, for better or worse, Santa Fe back in that day was one big "Happy Days," students say. For many, it was the year of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." But 1970 was also, after all, the same year in which members of the National Guard shot and killed four students at Kent State University. It was the year in which astronauts on the doomed flight of Apollo 13 saved themselves as America watched from their couches, and in the fall, Monday Night Football would debut, changing the course of hot-wing and beer consumption forever.
Into this mix, the Class of 1970 strutted its stuff during a May commencement ceremony at Sweeny Hall, just the third class to do so at the school whose construction was finished in 1967, paving the way for its first class in 1968.
Prior to that, Santa Fe's teenagers attended high school in a building near where City Hall is today, at Marcy and Lincoln streets. Even in 1970, the campus was still so new that it was nothing but a dirt landscape. No grass to speak of.
"I was the grass queen, but it was really just a joke because marijuana was becoming popular back then," notes Glynis Doles, 63, who says her Latin teacher, Peter Ortega, came up with the idea of forming the the Grass Club, whose sole duty was to find, buy and plant the turf that still grows there.
Of course, Doles, who was an Eisenbarth at the time, claims she never indulged in the funny stuff. The more that the real grass took root, she says, the more the club grew in popularity. And her husband, David, more than four decades later, says it was among his fondest memories.
Well, next to marrying his high school sweetheart, which, by the way, was a ceremony that was waylaid for 10 years because he'd gone drinking with his buddies.
"I didn't take her to the rodeo dance my junior year, so she ended up marrying another fellow she'd met there," says Doles, who went on to earn an engineering degree at the University of New Mexico, working for Atkinson engineering firm.
But if it weren't for the 10th reunion, he'd never have met up with Glynis, and their relationship would not have rekindled. With divorce well behind her, Glynis says she married her "true love" on April 21, 1981. And you can bet that Mr. Doles now takes Mrs. Doles to the rodeo whenever she asks.
The class romances seem endless.
Dennis Martinez, for example, married Carmen Mora. The two sat within note-passing distance of each other in accounting class, although they were too busy taking notes to write them, and they were just friends, really.
They got hitched on Aug. 4, 1973, but their first date was a year earlier, in the fall, when he invited her to a football game in which the University of New Mexico, his alma mater, was playing her New Mexico State University. "We sat on the Aggie side, her side," recalls Martinez.
While men obeying women may always be the cornerstone in cementing their affection, it may have also been doled out in inordinate amounts at the time due to a little something known as "women's lib."
But even feminist rights took a back seat at the "the Flats," the "Inspiration Point" of Santa Fe.
"It was the Lover's Lane," Martinez says.
Located where the Lodge at Santa Fe is now, a few hundred yards from the Casa Solana subdivision, it was a big dirt hill that overlooked Santa Fe National Cemetery and where everybody would wind up by the end of the night, and not just for necking.
"Guys would bring their cars up there and do broadies," says Martinez.
"Oh, some people call them 'donuts.' Where you drive your cars in circles."
And if they weren't driving in circles for kicks, chasing their mechanical tails, they were eating at Vip's Big Boy Burger joint, or sitting in a malt shop, or hitting "The Pit," a dance club for teenagers out on Cerrillos Road. The lawn outside the state's transportation headquarters was a huge draw, with its expansive turf that has since been consumed by a wider Cerrillos Road.
"Or we could always meander off into the forest," Richard Sena says with a wink, his wife, santera artist Arlene Cisneros Sena, by his side at the reunion.
They'd met at the end of their junior year in high school, and they look at each other more than 40 years later and try to put words to the magic that started on Aug. 19, 1972, their wedding date.
At first, Sena jests that he was "a legend" back in the day.
"I think I just made her laugh a lot," says Sena, who ended up working for decades at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Things have changed, things have remained the same, and nowhere was this more evident perhaps than in the encounter between the Rev. Trawin Malone, a graduate of the Class of '70, and his good friend, Bill McIntosh, Class of '71, a Santa Fe homeboy whose religion is pipefitting and welding, a trade he's perfected over 40 years.
Malone had just said a prayer, asking the crowd to remember the students who'd died since graduation, their lives cut short by the car crashes in the early years, then by the usual suspects later in life: cancer, diabetes, heart disease.
"Forget them not," he prayed, his hands clasped, his head bowed, speaking softly into the microphone.
"Eternal connections," he went on. "It's what lasts. It's what high school is all about. It's what this class is all about. The connections that we've made will last for eternity, even long after we're gone."
Then, no sooner had he left the microphone and walked across the lodge's floor, there came a booming voice, "Trawin!"
It was McIntosh, making his way through the crowd. He gave the reverend a big hug, overjoyed to see him, that somber prayer a distant memory.
"The guy is full of piss and vinegar, just like me and just like everybody else," McIntosh bellowed, the incarnation of good times.
In present-day modern life, the two might not have that much in common. But in Santa Fe, their childhoods merged along with their high school years up on Siringo Road. After school, they'd hang out at each other's houses, and they played in the same high school band together. McIntosh's older brother David graduated with the class but didn't make the reunion.
Out of nowhere, the conversations turns to "goatheads." That Rolling Stones' album, Goat Head's Soup, released in 1973?
"Nah, goatheads, man," McIntosh says, nodding to the sharp, pointy burr, "the stuff that we played on inside Española High School's football stadium. We used to call the field Sticker Stadium."
From real grass to the stuff you smoked, from the rock album to the punishing weed, the times are all very ambiguous but all very real when inside the Elks Lodge for those fleeting hours.
And they are a-changin'. The Big Five-Oh is up next, and the silent auction at this reunion raised $2,300, Jimenez happily reports.
Jimenez, who has the money under lock and key in a special reunion fund, says, "But next time around, I'm sure there's going to be more students. I mean, we're talking about the 50th anniversary now. Maybe we can get a band and rent out a hall, and students will only have to pay a registration fee."
Says Sanchez, his sidekick: "This 45th reunion was just to whet the appetite for the 50th."