As we stepped off the Lantern Queen the air was muggy and dark clouds of an impending storm lined up southwest of Havre de Grace. It had been part two of a double-barrel event: dinner at Bruce Bitner’s Cafe & Grill on Saturday night, brunch and a cruise up the Susquehanna on Sunday.
What a wonderful group they are, these survivors of the Aberdeen High School class of 1951; and what a moment of change they represent.
They were the first graduating class to have completed twelve years of education—prior to them, eleven years earned a diploma. They were a close-knit, small-town group but many members came and left, caught into the tides and currents of military assignments. There were 17 boys and 34 girls recognized at the ceremony at Grove Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, June 13 of that year. Their class colors were green and white, their class flower the yellow rose.
They described themselves as “Pioneers” in their yearbook, and they really were. They were too young to belong to the “Great Generation” that fought World War II. They were too old to claim connection to the Baby Boom. They were, the graduates of 1951, the ones who tested the waters of a new era, who came of age in the administrations of Truman and Eisenhower and knew the conflicting forces of a galloping economy, the Civil Rights struggle, the rise of feminism and the erosion of social norms. Their music looked back to the balladeers and dance songs of the 1940s and forward to rhythm and blues and nascent rock’n’roll—but belonged to no era. Titles from the CD-rom assembled from the number one hits from June 1950 through May 1951 suggest a taste both eclectic and unformed:
1. Mule Train, Frankie Laine
2. I Can Dream Can’t I, The Andrews Sisters
3. Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy, Red Foley
4. Frankie Laine, Cry of the Wild Goose
5. If I Knew You Were Coming, Eileen Barton
6. Hoop-Dee-Doo, Perry Como
7. Sentimental Me, The Ames Brothers
8. I Wanna Be Loved, The Andrews Sisters
9. Theme from “The Third Man”, Anton Karas
10. Mona Lisa, Nat “King” Cole
11. The Weavers, Goodnight Irene
12. All My Love, Patti Page
13. Harbor Lights, Sammy Kaye
14. The Thing, Phil Harris and His Orchestra
15. The Tennessee Waltz, Patti Page
16. Be My Love, Mario Lanza
17. If, Perry Como
18. Les Paul and Mary Ford, “How High the Moon”
19. Too Young, Nat “King” Cole
20. Because of You, Tony Bennett
21. Cold, Cold Heart, Tony Bennett
22. Sin (It’s No Sin), Eddie Howard
23. Johnnie Ray, “Cry”
A number of Aberdeen High School’s class of 1951 have passed on, of course; the average age is about 78. Some seemed lost until a scouring of Internet sources turned up a few addresses and telephone numbers and a few obituaries as well.
Sixty years. The last 60th I attended was the reunion at Mount Holyoke College for the class of 1913. I chauffeured my godmother and great-aunt Helen and have wonderful pictures of her in the reunion parade wearing a long dress of peacock blue that she had worn to my 21st birthday earlier that year.
Sixty is a milestone year. Nannie and Pop were wed for just over 67 years and we celebrated their 60th with a bumptious gathering at Old Derby Academy in Hingham, Massachusetts, complete with songs, skits and perfectly awful odes of joy. In a few months I will achieve that age and my Tattooed Boy and I will hold a 60/30 event as our birthdays are only three weeks apart.
I raise a glass to all the classes of 1951 and to my fellow boomers of the 1951-1952 vintage. Sveikas! Prost! L’chaim! Cheers! The 70th is going to be one heck of a party.