Dear PEOPLE editors:
Next week I’m going to my 30th high school reunion, and last night it occurred to me what a unique class we were. We were the last class of the ’50s. We graduated before the Beatles, the Kennedy years, Vietnam, protests and drugs. Ike was President and Elvis was young. Most of us lived in tract homes or GI housing projects and drove VW bugs to school. It was a happy, carefree time. Now most of us are loving parents trying to survive and raise our kids in more troubled times we weren’t prepared for. We are truly the class from Happy Days. I think we might make a human interest story for you.
Again, yet again, the old familiar opening line—”One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock!”—is pounding out over the speakers as Maggie Maki, 47, steps fetchingly into the cocktail lounge of the Colorado Belle Hotel in Laughlin, Nev.—and back into time. Inside the room, swirling dizzyingly in red velveteen, with blue and gold pom-poms for nostalgia, it’s still 1959, and Maggie Maki, ex-song leader, is surrounded by lots of guys ‘n’ gals wearing letter sweaters, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and ponytails. Her friends are a bit more wrinkled and rounded than she remembers, true, but they know the old moves. And of 477 originals, 67 have zoomed back from as far off as Georgia and Connecticut for a weekend celebration—how can this be?—of the 30th reunion of the Class of ’59 of Birmingham High School, Van Nuys, Calif.
Look, there is Pat Brown, who has known both good and bad in life. She has successfully developed game shows for Allen Ludden; she has also survived two brain tumor operations. And there’s Jacqueline Maiouf Nassir, who co-starred in a 1963 John Wayne movie and became a schoolteacher. And Bob Harvey, the dragster, who has been disabled since breaking his neck in the line of duty as an L.A. cop. But where’s Student Body President Dwight Chapin? He became Nixon’s appointments secretary, served eight months for perjury after Watergate and is somewhere else, observing his wedding anniversary.
“When we left school, we thought we could do anything,” remembers Pam Brown, whose letter appears above. She is a divorced mother of three and owns a beauty supply shop in Tehachapi. “We were told we could. Nobody told us there would be peaks and valleys. In those days sex was saved for marriage—my husband-to-be moved our wedding up 10 months just so we could have sex. The first time we had it, I thought, ‘This is beautiful? It’s so animalistic I can’t stand it.’ It wasn’t exciting to me until after my divorce….”
“The vice of the time was figuring out how to get a six-pack or going to Mulholland Drive to neck,” says Fred Zabarsky, 48, the varsity fullback who flew a chopper in ‘Nam. “And the term activist meant wearing an I LIKE IKE button.”
Maggie Maki’s eyes search for Paul Lewis, halfback on the Birmingham Braves and now a sheep rancher in Upper Lake, Calif. “I made a date three months in advance with Paul for the prom,” says Maggie, whose circle skirt shows her still willowy figure. “He was the catch. By the time we went, we hated each other. I haven’t seen Paul in 30 years. I married at 19, had three kids. My husband went to law school the second half of our marriage. When he finished, we didn’t know each other anymore.” Now she and Paul swing the night away. “It’s almost,” Maggie sighs, “as if we were dancing together all those years.”
On Saturday, Bob Harvey, the ex-cop from Lompoc, Calif., is hanging out in the hospitality suite, which has posters of Marilyn, Elvis and James Dean. “I was the class hot-rodder, with the fastest car in school, a ’55 Chevy,” he says. “Of course I raced on the streets. It was illegal but fun.” At the dance on Saturday night, Pam Brown is reading her diary entry of graduation night. “This is supposed to be the happiest day of my 18 years, so why am I so sad?” Pam reads, unsteadily. “Why can’t this go on forever?…Today is the end of wild slumber parties…. We are the leaders of tomorrow? But I don’t want to be a leader! I want to be a matador. Eat nothing but pizza and hot fudge sundaes…. But this day must end so tomorrow can begin. The beginning of being grown-up.” Some are crying.
And now come the promises to stay in touch. Charlotte Picor, a marketing director from Huntington Beach, Calif., has spent a lot of this sweet weekend in the company of Bill Forney, who now works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and who recently became a born-again Christian. “I never really knew Bill, but he gave me a kiss goodbye that was very interesting,” muses Picor. “So let’s see what happens in five years by the next reunion.” She’s laughing like a teenager.