Mrs. Buchanan's 7th Grade, Creighton School, 1964

January 2002 Mini-Reunion

Several of us from Mrs. Buchanan's 1964 seventh grade class got together in Phoenix on January 26th, 2002 to have a mini-reunion. We had found each other again through the Classmates web page and had been exchanging e-mails, but most of us had not seen each other in over 35 years. Here is how we looked then, along with our favorite teacher, Mrs. Buchanan.

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*** Back Row (left to right): Cinda Larsen, Lucinda Turner, Donna Harmon, Marina Rice, Phyllis Jones, Pam Hershey, Peggy Ollerton, Marilyn Razee, Jackie Cottington, Sheri Fatout, Lois Vincent. Standing: Mrs. Buchanan, David Koistenan, Bill Bandhauer, Gary Carpenter, Daryl Smith, Steve Vannasdale, David Brookins, Colleen Kinsley, Cheryl Stucky. Seated: David Fanning, Tom Large, Neil Larson, Jerry Winter, Paul Bunch, Steven Roberts, Pat Costilow, Carolyn Simmons, Debbie Hough. Front Row: Steven Valdez, David Bufe, Larry Crimmons, Micky Leone, Bob Adams, Denny Logan.

The reunion started out with the usual bang when Tom Large showed up at my mother's house in Sun City at 8:00 AM and started causing his usual ruckus. He was in the midst of a bear hug of my mother, when Peggy Ollerton drove up.

"Oh, my gosh! I'd recognize Peggy anywhere!", both of us shouted as we trooped out to meet her husband, Ben. Goodness, do people really not change all that much in 35 years? Apparently not. We climbed in my mother's car--one of those big, Sun City cars--for the ... what? five hour? ... drive across Phoenix to meet Lois Vincent and Pam Hershey in Scottsdale. (Where do all these people get the water, I kept wondering. The consequences of lack of snow back home in Colorado began to seem even more ominous to me now.)

Right away, Peggy put a damper on things. She said she was feeling nervous about meeting us again after such a long time, but that we seemed pretty "normal" to her. "Normal"!? Tom and I looked at each other. You can call us a lot of things, but "normal" is not one we especially want to hear. And just to set the record straight, Tom is not normal now, nor has he ever been normal (see the picture, above), at least in any ordinary sense of the word. I think she probably meant that we didn't appear to be in some advanced stage of Alzheimer's, even though we had obviously aged a little over the years. She is a nurse, after all, and can probably spot these things.

Peggy and I had strategically placed Tom in the back seat of the car, but this turned out to be a mistake, since his "good ear" (the one not completely damaged by rock and roll in the 70's) was not optimally located. We quickly got used to the "Huh's", craning our necks around and saying everything twice, the second time much louder than the first. We somehow managed to avoid an accident on the new 101 over towards Scottsdale, as we became reacquainted with one another.

Lois and Pam were waiting at the McDonald's in Scottsdale. My gosh! They looked the same, too. We all piled back into the car, careful to put Tom's ear in the front seat and in a better position to hear what was going on, and everyone immediately forgot my warning to please remind me to get gas before we got on the road to Payson, where Mrs. Buchanan lived. So, of course, with all the "How are you?", and "Where do you live?, and "You look great!" exclamations going on in the car, we were nearly on the Beeline Highway before anyone noticed that the car was breathing fumes.

We stopped at the last available gas station, where a huge argument ensued about what side of the car the gas tank was likely to be on. No matter, we would find it. I jumped out to pump gas, Tom jumped out to wash windows, and someone--no one will admit to this (I'd guess Peggy, who'd had additional time to consider her "normal" remark)--pushed the panic button on the car's alarm system. "HONK, HONK, HONK." What the hell!? This was shaping up to be one heck of a day!

Here is how the people who attended this little reunion looked when they were still speaking to one another. (Well, more or less. We are all much thinner normally, but I can't seem to get the kinks worked out of this new digital camera. The "zoom" button seems to cause some sort of distortion. But, you get the idea.)

*** Left to Right: David Fanning, Mrs. Buchanan, Tom Large, Peggy (Ollerton) Archuleta, Lois (Vincent) Morgan, and Pam Hershey.

Finding Mrs. Buchanan

The search for Mrs. Buchanan began (unbeknownst to us) several years earlier at the 30th year North High School reunion. (The reunion was actually held 31 years after graduation for reasons it does no good to go into here.) Suffice it to say, a number of us from the neighborhood, who had all attended Creighton grade school, were there. And for some reason we were dumb enough to take a photograph commemorating the event. You see it below. We fondly refer to it as the "Old Farts Picture." (I will say this in Steve's defense, he lost about 50 pounds after this picture was taken. Really.)

After the reunion, Tom gave me a book, Filaree, by Marguerite Noble, and said "Here. This is a book by Mrs. Buchanan. I think you will like it. She lives in Payson now." I put it in my bag, and then onto my bookshelf when I got home, and promptly forgot about it. (This may actually have happened several years earlier than this, but I needed a plot device to stick the Old Farts picture in, and this is the best I could come up with on the moment.)

So, around New Year's this year, I was poking around for a book to read when my family and I went up to the mountains for a week's vacation. I stumbled upon Filaree. "Humm", I thought to myself, "This would be an interesting book to read." I had no idea.

Not only was it a good read about the lives of women in Arizona around the turn of the century, it was suppose to be a more or less factual account of Mrs. Buchanan's mother. I worked out from the book that if this were true, Mrs. Buchanan must be about 92 years old. Humm. I have a great aunt who is 94 years old. It was possible that Mrs. Buchanan was still alive.

*** Old Farts: Jim Bandhauer (a year younger than us, can you tell?), Tom Large, Gary Carpenter, Steve Vannasdale, David Fanning, and Bill Bandhauer.

So, when I finished the book I just popped the name "Marguerite Noble" in the US West search directory on my computer, and up comes the name and address of Mrs. Noble in Payson! (Note the use of an exclamation mark in the previous sentence. It will figure prominently later in the story, and I wish to prepare my defense in advance. I will say this: I was really surprised!) Goodness. I thought I would just write the old girl a letter and tell her how much I enjoyed the book. I also wanted her to know how much she had meant to me all these years. She was the best teacher I ever had.

I wrote the letter while I was up at the cabin, then dropped it into my briefcase and forgot about it. (Does this sound like early-onset Alzheimer's to you?)

The next week I was exchanging e-mails with Lois, setting up the reunion, when I happened to mention I had read Filaree and written Mrs. Noble a letter in Payson. "Payson?", she said, "My ex-husband lives in Payson. I wonder if he knows her." About 10 minutes later, the ex-husband calls Lois out of the blue, and she has a chance to ask him. "Know her!? She is a long-time family friend! Do you want her phone number?" Wow. Small world.

So, Lois calls. "Letter!? No, I haven't received any letter." Whoops! :-(

"Well, anyway, several of us are getting together in a couple of weeks. Can we come up to see you?" "Yes, of course you can, I'd be delighted", etc., etc. So, after several weeks of growing excitement from all hands, we are now on the Beeline headed in her direction.


Let me be clear about this. This is not meant as criticism. This is simply an observation of fact. Tom talks a lot! Well, Tom has always talked a lot (see the Creighton picture above), but you might think that as you grew older there would be less of interest in the world to comment on, but no such luck. So this was a very lively ride up the beautiful, new Beeline Highway to Payson, with one or the other of us trying to shout Tom down long enough to get a word in edge-wise. It was, in a word, a lot of fun.

I'm always amazed at how time just doesn't even seem to exist for old friends. Here are people I haven't seen in over 35 years, and I immediately feel comfortable and at ease in their presence. We are still old friends after a very long time. This was, indeed, a pleasant ride on a beautiful morning.

We find the house in Payson with no problems, and pull into the driveway of a low-lying, log-cabin sort of a house befitting the author of a Western novel, except for the ...well, unusual... sculptures hanging from the trees. Here is an example of what I mean.

Cowboy sculpture One of the hundreds of unusual sculptures adorning the trees around Mrs. Buchanan's house. Created by, Western artist, Roger Buchanan, son of the author.

Casting nervous glances between us, we approach the front door and knock ... And knock ... And knock louder. Do we have the day right!?

Whoa! Finally, Mrs. Buchanan is right in front of us, and we are all of us pitched back to the 7th grade, ready to resume our roles for our favorite teacher. Much talk and hugging and excitement, all at once! She, too, hasn't changed as much as you'd expect, although she seems much, much smaller to me now than she did before. But still alert, and still with those same penetrating eyes and sharp nose that can see or smell their way right through to your soul. Even Tom (or maybe especially Tom) felt his heart beating a little faster. Don't play any tricks on this woman!

We all sit down. Mrs. Buchanan is overwhelmed. She doesn't remember us, of course (although Tom will stick in her memory before we leave), but you can tell she is thrilled to see us. She gets up to get name tags for us to wear, so she can remember our names. Lois writes them out in her best 7th grade penmanship. She gazes at the 7th grade picture I've blown up for her, and at the faculty picture on the cover of the picture. Old friends appear there. Her eyes mist with memory.

Her eyesight is still good, in fact she can still read without her glasses if she wants to. But her hearing suffers. A new hearing aid is on its way, should have been here by now, to replace the one the dog ate. We look at each other. Is this a joke? No, the truth, apparently. This really is shaping up to be a good day.

We ask about her book. How did she come to write it? Was it really about her mother? Yes, indeed, as factual as she could make it. But it was hard getting it published. The--pardon the cowboy expression--damn copy editor at the big publishing house back East didn't have the faintest notion of how to write English. Kept wanting exclamation marks thrown in where they didn't belong! Didn't know how to compose a sentence, etc., etc. Those fierce eyes seem to linger on me.

Oh, oh. "Uh ... could I have that letter I sent you back for a moment? I just want to make a few changes before I turn it in for the final grade." :-(

After an hour or so, we decide to go to lunch. The locals (and Mrs. Buchanan is certainly a local, having lived in this part of the country most of her life) eat at the Beeline Cafe. My goodness, is that still in business after all these years? Yes, of course. We all pile into the car again, Pam drawing the short straw (Tom had rigged it) so she has to sit between Tom and me in the front seat. Imagine! Pam Hershey curling up next to you in the front seat of a car!

They see us coming at the cafe and toss the tourists in the corner booth out on their ears so we can be seated comfortably. They believe in big portions at the Beeline Cafe, so we eat slowly. Lois downs several portions, I believe, explaining that they don't feed her at the printing place where she works. Whatever. We cast glances at her out of the corners of our eyes. The rest of us are just glad our diets have ended, too.

After lunch, Mrs. Buchanan wants to show us around Payson. We head off towards the new library that the Volunteer Ladies have built with the money they raised. Where is it? No one seems to know. Mrs. Buchanan doesn't get around much anymore, and can't see well sunk down as she is into the cushions in the back seat of the car. No one else is familiar with Payson. I don't care. I'd be content to drive around all day with Pam by my side. Although that little hoochy-coochy move she is making apparently has more to do with the seat belt thing poking into the back of her leg than it does with affection for me, since she is now glaring at me and complaining about her lot in life. Oh, well, I drive distractedly and dream on.

We end up, eventually, at the Payson Museum that Mrs. Buchanan was instrumental in organizing when she first moved to Payson from Phoenix. The ladies at the front desk know her well. This museum is in some sense about her life in this part of the country. She explains to the ladies that we are her 7th grade students. They eye us dubiously. Right. ("I didn't know she was that old!") But they comp us through anyway. No one is going to argue with Mrs. Buchanan.

As we leave, the museum ladies have retrieved copies of Mrs. Buchanan's book. ("Maybe some of them can still see well enough to want to buy it.") We all purchase one for Mrs. Buchanan to sign when we get back to her house. Although, when we get there, Mrs. Buchanan wants to give us another one. She signs all of them. We will leave happy, with plenty of reading material for the trip home.

Outside the museum we walk around to the Marguerite Noble Research Library, named in honor of our beloved teacher for her contributions to the Museum and to the local community. We press one of the locals, riding through on his bike, to be our photographer and take a picture with the Library's namesake.

Picture at Marguerite Noble Reseach Library Back Row: David Fanning, Pam Hershey (sigh...), Peggy (Ollerton) Archuleta. Front Row: Lois (Vincent) Morgan, Mrs. Buchanan (aka Marguerite Noble), Tom Large.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur for me. After giving Mrs. Buchanan our addresses and promising we would write to her, we drove back to Phoenix leisurely. Even Tom was somewhat subdued, which allowed each of us to talk about our families and give a brief outline of what we had done and where we had been in the past 30 years. Tom and I were dismayed to find Pam happily married.

We dropped Tom off to go home to his wife, who was suspicious (unnecessarily, as it turned out) of his hanging out all day with a bunch of women. The rest of us went off to dinner together, where I got into some long, foolish story about something or other and forgot to eat my chicken, and Peggy enjoyed one of the two margaritas she allows herself each year. Everyone but Lois (what!?) enjoyed a dessert with the meal, to extend it even longer into the night, to keep on talking, to keep remembering.

All in all, I'd say this was about as good a day as any I have ever spent, rivaling those glorious summer days of long ago, hanging out with friends, shooting the bull, thinking we would never grow old. I'm already looking forward to next year, when we can do it all over again, these dear old friends and me.  

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