To the moon and back…to the future: Cheers to the Class of 1961

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‘Beam me up, Scotty’…We’re going ‘back to the future.’

I loved Michael J. Fox’s movies Back to the Future, because I knew of the time traveled back to.  Yes, those irrepressible 1950s, an amazing era. How to define that place in time:

Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Rock-n-Roll; Saddle shoes and swirly (OK, poodle) skirts; leather jackets and ducktails; crew cuts and grey flannel; Mickey Mouse Club and Annette Funicello; Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe; Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, James Dean; Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev; Fidel Castro,  Charles DeGaulle, Queen Elizabeth; The Cold War and the Space Race.

In the 1985 film, Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) hurtles back in time to 1955 to a wonderful small town — a lot like the wonderful small town where I grew up.  You can see the white dome of our county courthouse – above the trees in the distance — from the highway that now whizzes past.  Back then the highway took you through town, right by this familiar landmark in the center of our rural middle-of-the-Michigan-mitten community of Ithaca.

My contemporaries and I – the Class of 1961 – were born almost midway between millenniums, coming of age in the 1950s.  The 21st Century seemed eons away in 1961.  So did any thoughts of our 50th high school class reunion…to be held in that far off future time of 2011.

Doris Day sang Academy Award winning song Que Sera, Sera in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much (starring Day and James Stewart). The future’s not ours to see…que sera, sera…whatever will be will be.

In junior high, we’d wonder about that future; and, while we couldn’t see into it, on graduation day that future seemed to stretch out forever. All I know is, this summer’s 50th came and went at warp speed; and time truly does seem to be going faster.

Star Trek, the beloved TV series, wouldn’t take off until 1966, but the stage had been set in our minds for the fantastic possibilities of space exploration to occur in our lifetime. It began in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, an artificial satellite in orbit around the earth.  Four years later, 1961 would become a monumental marker year – not just for me, graduating from high school, but for events that took place.

It’s fun to review the time continuum from the 2011 perspective, 50 years later. Ah, 50 years. Who could have imagined it, as we walked off the field in blue caps and gowns on graduation day? Notable, historical events happened during that year.

John F. Kennedy took the oath of office as the 35th President of the United States. A chimpanzee rocketed into the periphery of space in a Mercury Redstone that winter. Cosmonaut Uri Gagarin became the first human in space in April, followed by American Astronaut Alan Shepherd on May 5 in Freedom 7. The Beatles performed for the first time. President Kennedy established the Peace Corps.  On May 25  he declared his vision to land a man on the moon and bring him safely home before the decade was out.

I remember being in class on May 5 when we heard the news of Alan Shepard.  And going to the moon?  What a dream from childhood. I’d gaze at the beautiful light-reflecting orb through my big white telescope that found its way under the Christmas tree one year.  Surely, Mars and beyond wouldn’t be far behind.   Now, 50 years later, maybe time seems to be going at warp speed, but the vision of Star Trek hasn’t moved along as I’d hoped for in this 50-year span of space and time.

Time was on my mind this summer when the Space Shuttle program was closing down and Endeavor made its final mission to the space station. This year’s highlights of 50 years in space felt like another marker year – marking also, a great portion of one’s lifetime.

“What is life? Asks Crowfoot.  It is the flask of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

Why did I feel compelled to attend the 50th high school class reunion? Why did everyone else who came? So many that I couldn’t get to visit with them all. Are we all feeling our mortality? Or is it a matter of a nostalgic look back, at a unique time to come of age.

Since the reunion, a few class members are surfacing on our Facebook IHS Class of 1961 page. It’s fun to see the photos.  It’s a great place to reminisce about those ancient places…amazing to see what someone remembers… and then someone else adds to the flashback collage. It’s getting downright nostalgic on that page. And yet, we share  current events of our hometown, too —  most recently our Ithaca Yellowjackets football team winning the Division 6 title at Detroit’s Ford Field.

Back through the years, our local paper the Gratiot County Herald featured historical notes in segments of decades.  After graduation, I’d watch the notices of classmates getting married, having kids. I’d follow their anniversaries. Then I’d begin to notice the obits of our grandparents, then our parents, now  a classmate here and there. Even to find the familiar now, we have to look back to the 50 or 60 years ago. Who’d have imagined? And yet, once a Yellowjacket, always a Yellowjacket.

Class of ’61: Why does the sound of those words feel like home in my heart, no matter how many years have come and gone? I remember at our 25th, I felt like this must be what heaven’s like when you arrive and everyone knows your name.  Like the popular TV program Cheers. (Even TV came of age in the 1950s).

Everybody knows your name in small town America. If it’s your hometown small town, they know the YOU that you started out with –which is probably closer to the real you, your authentic self. It’s that you, that your old friends, first friends, recognize. It‘s as if they can peer into the soul of you, no matter how many years and life experiences have gone between you.

My friend, Alice, whom I’d barely seen in all that time, that night gave me my senior photo (which she’d kept since graduation) for me to have. That was a sweet moment. Another friend, Linda, who was among the 13 or so kindergarten- to-graduation classmates, gave me my college photo.   And, it was fun to see the gals from our pajama party days (how 50s, right? Sheila, Ruth Ann, Barb, Nancy, Maggie, and Marian – did I leave anyone out?). Judy, my country neighbor, recalls us walking to each other’s house as elementary kids. Marcy (wow, we hadn’t seen each other since graduation) came with her husband and two grown kids for a hometown visit.

Margaret and Bill (among the K-12 group also) also traveled from afar.  We talked about our parents being gone now.  Margaret and I attended the same church and took piano and organ lessons from our church organist. Best friends growing up, we roomed together our first year in college. Maggie married Bill and I lost touch with them – except for her parent’s 50th anniversary and our 40th class reunion.

I regret missing the Saturday morning historical walking tour of the streets we’d roamed — from her house to downtown to all the stores that my Facebook classmates are remembering, past the cemetery to the beautiful  woodland park where we’d ice skate in winter.

Sometimes I’d dream of walking those familiar streets of my hometown, Ithaca – the stores, the courthouse, our church, the two-story brick school that is now torn down.  So many dreams of walking its halls (it was our parents’ school, as well), climbing the stairs, driving around the grounds. Only its bell remains.  I’d dream of my grandmothers’ homes…one on East North and one on East South. I’d dream of living in the country; and I’d dream of living in town.  I experienced both.

It would be in later years that I’d come to realize the value of dreams.  Now I love to study and reflect on them, to see what visions and insights might be revealed. Now, I know that anytime I want, I can transport myself to that enchanted land that time forgot, and remember it as I wish.

Beam me up Scotty! In my dreamtime, I can go to the moon and back… to my hometown… or to the future anytime.


Back to the Future Links:

Honoring NASA’s Pioneering Astronauts

John Glenn becomes first American to orbit earth

Alan Shepard, the first American in space

Star Trek and warp drive

The 1950s

Doris Day’s Que Sera, Sera

Fashion trends of the classic 1950s

NASA celebrates 50 years in space

Apollo missions to the moon and back

Space shuttle program over the years

Fifty years of the Peace Corps

Fifty years later…Ithaca Yellowjackets in the news

Ithaca High School alums encourage Yellowjackets football team

Yellowjackets beat Constantine for Division 6 Title


About Susan Parcheta 102 Articles
Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.