I always loved talking to Harry Whittaker. He made you feel better than you had the right to feel about yourself. We played the same position on the football team, wide receiver and cornerback, and during scrimmages, we blocked and pass covered one another. On one particular play from scrimmage, Harry was getting pretty vocal which he was good at, getting in my grill. On the next play I busted him pretty good and split his lip. I felt bad about busting him in the chops. But in typical Whittaker fashion, through the blood streaming from his mouth, he slapped me on the butt, a peculiar habit we boys had which thankfully didn’t carry over to the office, and he said, “Way to hit tata bud…that’s the way we play!”
I remember the last time I saw Harry. We were standing in a pasture in the gathering dusk of a late May evening in 1977, just hours removed from walking across a stage at the Adams Gymnasium in a flat hat while shaking the hand of Dennis Pannel. We talked that night and reminisced and in parting, he wished me well in life and we shook hands. Harry slipped a five-dollar bill into my hand during the handshake, the settling of a bet we had made about some game I can’t even remember now. It was a friendly, spurious bet we had made, maybe the Super Bowl, and I remember refusing payment, saying it was all in good fun. Harry never forgot and his parting handshake was his way of saying you are a good friend and I didn’t forget you.
I also remember the last time I saw Carol Lynn. I don’t remember ever speaking to Carol Lynn Creel before I became her “little brother” in Mrs. Smith’s class. She was beautiful and a pom girl and I was the golfer with unkempt hair and Sansa-belt slacks. But somehow we became friends inside the refuge of Sue Smith’s class. And during the summer of 1977, we were both together somehow on a paddle boat in the middle of Sunset lake paddling around aimlessly and talking about things that people talk about when their entire life lies before them. During our golf game this past weekend, someone said Sunset lake is dried up, but that summer, on that paddle boat with Carol Lynn, it seemed like an endless ocean.
Each of us can write a similar story about these classmates from the College High School Class of 1977 who have left us.
- Carolyn Adams
- Kathy Axsom
- Lonnie Barnhart
- George Beazer
- Vicky Bernard
- Melissa Carver
- James Cottle
- Carol Lynn Creel
- Veronica Cueller
- Marla Cunningham Wood
- Lee Hardt
- Monty Hays
- John Hernandez
- Rhonda Ishem
- Becky Jones
- Carolyn Landrum
- Geneva Marshal
- Cindy Ramsey
- David Shaw
- Lynn Sutherland
- Egynn Thomas
- Ethie Weaver Radanovich
- Harry Whittaker
- Mark Williams
This past weekend our stories were unpacked from dusty attic boxes in our memory and yet, surprisingly, once the dust is blown away, they are fresh again, renewed by the remarkable magic of human interaction, as conversation and hugs sprout scenes from our salad days like suddenly appearing mushrooms on a misty lawn.
Seven of us played golf Friday and as I watched left-handed Tom Vogt swing, one memory jumped out at me like a grinning leprechaun. One day Tom and I played nine holes and we swapped golf clubs. I played lefty and he played righty, and I felt like a beginner once again. That memory would have stayed locked away without seeing Tom this weekend. That and the memory of three good friends from Limestone Grade School, who all lived on Whipporwill ct, David Staats, Tom, and Tony Hayes.
Memory becomes who we are. We are College High Wildcats, but that is pretty meaningless if it sits in a box in an attic gathering dust. We affirm who we have become by looking back at the experiences that have framed our identity, and the people who have busted our lips and loved us with passion and sometimes with a glorious awkwardness.
We are after all, collectors, dealers in memory. Keepers of time and space. It’s really all we have. Our money doesn’t travel well, our houses need painting, our cars break down, our clothes wind up at Goodwill. But moments in time, that’s the stuff we keep.
Here are the stories and quotes I’m stuffing into my memory box from our 40th reunion.
- I remember Thomas Benson well, the hard-tackling linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners in the early 1980’s who later played in the National Football League for nine seasons. He was not at my high school reunion, but I did sit next to his brother at dinner, Allen Benson, (Regina’s husband) a genuinely nice guy, who did play college football for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Allen introduced himself to my wife Karen, and Steve Osborn’s wife, Susan. “Hi, my name is Walter.” Apparently someone had approached Allen and said, “Walter, glad to see you here. Thought you couldn’t make it.” This joke was lost on the two ladies as they didn’t know Walter Reece who once busted my front tooth in 9th grade as we shadow boxed and he forgot his power and cracked my tooth. (Allen looks nothing like Walter by the way) Steve chimed in, “You all look the same anyway.” Can he say that?
- “You OK?” Allen Benson to his wife, Regina Benson, who had a heart attack unbeknownst to them both, and as a result, Regina got no sleep, while Allen would occasionally roll over and ask, “You ok?”, then go back to sleep. The next morning…Allen says, “We had a tough night last night didn’t we?” After the heart attack diagnosis, “I’m gonna take out three of them and then the other two will back down!” Regina Benson to the five health care attendants in the emergency room after they prepped her for a treatment.
- “Please, get up, coach Switzer will kill us.” Tom Vogt telling about the terror of taking out a Heisman running back playing pick-up basketball at OU as Steve Osborn undercuts a 5’11’ guy with cornrows who had taken off from the free throw line to slam dunk. They didn’t recognize Billy Sims who usually had a huge afro, as he sprang back to his feet without using his hands like a Ninja warrior. (Steve seems to struggle with facial recognition)
- “That’s what he just said to me as we were walking into the reception.” Shawna Thill, after they had walked into the Friday reception and I told her what Howard said to me during commencement at the Adams Gym May 1977 while Lt. Governor George Nigh spoke about Pink Floyd and something or other about education and youth of today… “Hey, tata bud, I gotta pee like a racehorse.”
- “He was a good man.” Mike Seals after I told him how much my Dad used to love watching Mike play basketball.
- The Hillcrest Men’s Grill after the golf game Friday, “………………………..” I’ve taken a vow of secrecy, but it reminded me of driving home on the bus after a basketball or football game.
- “I watched 40 years flash before my eyes!” what many people thought when seeing someone they hadn’t seen since May 1977. Actually, several people said this to me.
- “You look exactly the same.” all the people who were lying or talking to Regina or Kathy or Adele
- “Steve, where did you go to college?” Kathy Garrison Hadden to her life-long designated chauffeur, friend, and confidant. Steve’s answer… “OU, just like you…I was in the dorm right next to you.”