High schools in the 50's were always some combination of the movie, Grease, and the old TV series, Happy Days. Grease was typical of most city schools, while Happy Days was the model for the upscale "burbs." Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS) was definitely in the latter category.
In 1958, the last of the "small classes" (182+) was to become the first graduating class of the "new" SPFHS on Westfield Road. It was a time when the predominant uniform for the guys consisted of black slacks, buttoned down collars and white bucks. Hairstyles were what is called a "buzz" today, although at the time, it was probably more likely to be a "flattop." That is not to say that we didn't have our "Fonzies," too. There were always some that preferred pulled up collars and the "DA" hairstyles slicked down with grease. That was our idea of diversity.
Since cars were at a premium, social activities usually centered on get-togethers and parties at different houses. You could be sure mom would be home, and the thought of "booze" was unthinkable. Drugs did not exist to our knowledge, and the parties usually meant listening to music and talking, with a few "make-out" sessions thrown in if the karma was right. Bad language was also taboo in mixed company; the girls just wouldn't tolerate it, and we would be disappointed if they did.
Dick Clark's American Bandstand was an afternoon must-see for the girls. In fact, some of the Class of '58 were on the show. Everyone looked somewhat "dorky" by today's standards, but we thought we looked pretty cool at the time.
When the guys got together the pastimes usually revolved around figuring out a way to connect with some chick. Sometimes we would play cards and, if we could work things out, we might sneak a smoke and maybe a small sip of vodka or gin that was borrowed from someone's liquor cabinet. Of course, the clear color allowed us to top it off with water to avoid detection and the wrath of our parents. That was about as wild as it got.
Organized sports didn't really exist, so we would have a pick-up game at a park or empty lot. Yes, we had empty lots then, although there were sheep on some of them. Basketball, touch football, tennis, and ping-pong, were all popular. Hiking, camping in the Watchung Reservation and long bike rides were also favored activities for some of us.
A few of my cronies knew the Watchung Reservation and its many trails as well as the streets around town. The "blue barn" (since torn down), old copper mine, the many springs and the Deserted Village (it was pretty much deserted then) were our domain. I still think that we heard a mountain lion there one night while we were camping under the stars in front of the blue barn. Or, maybe it was the barn owl that always watched over us, out on a hunt.
SPFHS had excellent basketball, baseball and track teams in those days, but the football team ran hot and cold. That didn't stop most of the class from attending the games, and you could count on a great turnout for all basketball and football games -- home or away. Admittedly, it wasn't always the game that was the draw; often it was the prospect, or fantasy, of finding a date for after the game.
Dates after games usually meant a crowd going off together for pizza at Tito's, if we could find "wheels." Tito's was all the way out in Clark, near the White Diamond and is now an Asian Bistro. Part of our 40th reunion was held there for old-time's sake -- it was still an Italian restaurant then. This was our "Arnold's," and SPFHS would take it over after a game. The authority figure there was Marge, and she knew all of us and would not stand for too much rowdiness. You didn't want to get on the bad side of Marge, as she was also a good matchmaker.
Formal dates were sometimes a problem because of the wheels shortage. If we couldn't double date with someone who had a car, we would sometimes get parents or siblings to drive us, or even take a bus. Taking a date by bus to Plainfield was not unheard of in the 50s. There were four or five movie theaters there and the skating rink was a possibility if you really got bored.
As we approached graduation, more of the class could drive the family cars, and a few had their own, so our options increased. Sometimes we would go out to Bowcraft to play miniature golf and afterward to some place like Snuffy's. They used to have a rustic little place on the corner, where the big one is now. Usually, there would be an organ playing and they had great clam chowder. It was a cozy place to go even though they tried to discourage teenagers.
While graffiti and other vandalism were rare, pranks were a favorite pastime when the guys got together. One of my favorites happened a few weeks before graduation when about 15 of the guys camped out in the form of "58" within the quadrangle at SPFHS (it was shaped somewhat like a "C" then). We were still there in our sleeping bags feigning sleep, when classes assembled in the morning. Not knowing what the reaction would be, the tension was broken when the legendary English teacher, Miss Higgins, held her clock out the window and set off the alarm. At that point we pretended to awake and went to the principal's office to get a late pass to class. Naturally, Mr. Adams sent us home for the day to clean up—not sure if we got detention, but you can be sure we needed a note from our parents to be let back into class.
The class had its cliques like all classes, and I am sure it was a miserable time for a few but, in general, most of us had fun and we got along pretty well. Today, with all those shared experiences behind us, it remains a pretty close bunch of folks, even though we are scattered around the country. While there are still quite a few in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood area, early retirement displaced many to Florida and the Carolinas. There is also a surprisingly large number in California, some in the Midwest and a few in the Southwest.
But the path to adulthood was not without its travails. We lost a third of our class in the 60 years since graduation and we had the Vietnam War to contend with. We lost Stu Burns to that war and that affected us all. I played touch football with Stu alongside his house on Martine Ave. He was a great guy, an excellent musician and member of the Moonglowers. It is amazing that more were not lost to this war, as many of us were in the military then.
The class has had reunions every 10 years since graduation and an odd one thrown in on the 55th in Tucson, AZ. At the age of 78 or so, about 65 folks (including spouses) recently came together for our 60th reunion. Our 60th was a two day affair that included a tour of SPFHS, miniature golf, pizza party at the Stage House, and the main event at the Shackamaxon Country Club. Shack is where some of the class caddied in the 50's, and where our Senior Prom was held so long ago.
So, for those of you who can reflect on those days, we can toast our good fortunes together over coffee again someday. "Go Raiders!"
Oro Valley, AZ
Spotch Plains-Fanwood HS Class of 1958