Thanks for the Memories

Written by Jill Chapin. Posted in Arts/Entertainment, Opinion

Published on July 16, 2009 with 1 Comment

By Jill Chapin

July 16, 2009

Every so often I come across a book that merits exposure to a larger audience. Hail Hail to U City High, by Alan Spector, is about my 1964 University City High School class in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

If you think it’s merely a provincial account of our classmates’ school days, you will be quite surprised at the universality of what is on those pages. True, many classmates’ individual stories are told, but inasmuch as there were nearly 600 students in our class, even I didn’t know many of them.

But that’s the point; I didn’t need to. These mini biographical descriptions of seemingly ordinary or shy or mixed up kids transcend not only locale, but time. All baby boomers, even those born during World War II, share a commonality that we have almost forgotten until Spector vividly brings it all back with charm and wit.

Reliving the early sixties brings forth an homogenous memory bank. We all listened to the same songs, watched the same TV shows. Back then there were only a few television stations, and both they and radio actually went off the air in the early morning hours. There was no internet or email. Phoning someone long distance was an expensive and guardedly used luxury.

As kids, we would leave our house without adult supervision to find our own entertainment with neighborhood friends, and somehow get home for dinner without even a watch to keep track of the time.

If you’re old enough to remember this, you’ll love time-tripping through this enjoyable read. And if you’re too young to remember, you will surely get a kick out of our technology-challenged youth. But I bet you’ll also wistfully wonder what it was like to live life in the slower lane.

Even allowing for my actually having been a part of this class, I was surprised how much I learned, even though I supposedly had the same recollections as all of them.

I was humbled to become acquainted with seemingly shy classmates who were heretofore invisible to me, and discover how wildly accomplished they have become since graduating high school. (Which might explain why I didn’t know them.)

There is a story about one of our classmates who passionately hated high school. Like any kid who was teased and felt left out of the whole experience, he had dreadful memories. But his story didn’t end with his diploma. He rose from the ashes of his high school experience to what he is today, and his story transcends all schools, all classes. This heretofore self-described loser put it upon himself to set up a web site for our class several years ago that enabled us to become reacquainted with each other, and to form friendships that we wish we had done decades ago. He proved that troubled kids can actually fulfil their fantasy of being accepted (and so endearingly too) by one’s high school peers, even if some are now bald and wrinkled. Every high school has their share of lost souls who would be captivated by this happily-ever-after of a story.

The book follows classmates as they build their lives. I was surprised at my newfound clarity regarding the difference between the boys and the girls. Boys back then were more sports-driven, had the opportunity to play varsity, which inevitably led them to become team players in every sense of the word. This in turn gave them more confidence than we girls developed. Also, with the accolades of winning came the agony of inevitable defeats, and that too built character. Like so many girls at that time, I never lost at anything because I never competed.

Luckily, though, the women’s movement was taking hold soon after we graduated, allowing our female alumni to avoid the June Cleaver track and take advantage of greater opportunities in sports and the work place. But in the sixties era, it was primarily the boys who had to worry about their careers. For the most part, there was no option not to have one if they wanted a family; we girls, however, had a choice. And we never stressed over having to support a family, having had the luxury of knowing we could quit at any time and still be able to eat.

Most daunting, with all of that on their shoulders, boys in the sixties had a very real fear of being snatched away from their education, career and family, and shipped off halfway across the world to kill people they didn’t know or hate, while enduring the nightmare of knowing they may be killed or maimed themselves.

Although I have many close male friends now who I can relate to with comfort and ease in this new century, I better understand why I had nothing in common with the boys at U City High.

Well, I had one thing in common, which really surprised me. Spector revealed that the sex lives of his buddies were not much better than mine – and mine was non-existent. Go figure.

You don’t need to be a member of our class to fully appreciate the delightful buffet of charming recollections in a midwestern high school in the middle of the last century. Order Hail Hail to U City High at and treat yourself to a feel-good tonic for the soul.

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin has been a guest writer and columnist in several Los Angeles area papers for over fifteen years. She has written a bilingual parenting book titled, "If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!" and a children's book entitled, "My Magic Bubble."

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1 Comment

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  1. Hey Jill,

    I was McKinley class of ’62 (east of Grander) and they have reunions (brunches) every 3 months and literally hundreds show up. I caught my first while visiting in April and it was a real hoot. All these 60-90 year-olds tailgating behind big South County restaurant hours before it opened. One good friend has early stage Alzeimers and no short term memory but we talked for an hour about 1958 and he remembered it all.