looked out the window of our motel and saw a small satellite dish and, of course, a large corn
field. Although I left Indiana more than 40 years ago, I always feel a tug when we go back. I’m
still a Hoosier and wouldn’t trade where I grew up for anything.
On the day of the reunion, Irene and I went to lunch with two of my high school buddies
and their wives. We three men talked about our lives, our health, our families, but, most of all,
about the great times we had at Frankfort High School. I discovered that one of the guys drank
during school. He and one or two other guys had a supply stashed on the school grounds, along
with soft drinks to deaden the wicked taste, and occasionally, between classes, they ran off for a
This was new and exciting information to me. I didn’t drink in high school. Ever. My folks
thought it was a sin. They were probably right. How else to explain in 2010 how damn good my
one bourbon a day tastes?
While I was never part of that boozing circle in high school, the three aging kids at the table
did combine our talents for various acts of stupidity that we somehow still find amusing more
than half a century later. We reminded each other of the times we got away with things, the
times we got caught, and the punishments decreed by teachers or parents.
The consensus was that our lives were immensely enriched by two major incidents of
misbehavior, incidents we remain intensely proud of despite the head shaking of our wives. One
of these landmark events took place around Halloween when a couple of carloads of boys drove
around Frankfort, stealing carved pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns left in front of houses. We
immediately turned over our loot to our teachers. More accurately, we drove to their houses
and smashed the pumpkins on their porches.
One of the wives reminded her former pumpkin-stealing partner that he was always very
agitated when kids messed with the jack-o’-lanterns outside their house. She thought there was a
contradiction. None of the men at the table followed her logic.
After a long spell of laughing over the pumpkin caper - old guys are nothing but boys at
heart - we moved on to warm memories of our first Thanksgiving after graduation from high
school. Returning to Frankfort from various colleges, we were so glad to see each other again
that we devised a simple plan: Get some firewater and see what happens. We are in our 70s now,
and all these years later there isn’t the slightest doubt in any of our minds that that was one
wonderful evening. We knew better, but we got drunk. We threw up. We smelled terrible, we felt
terrible. We were ashamed afterwards. Someone, that would be me, threw an empty liquor bottle
from a moving car with perfect timing - as we whizzed by the police station. Stupid? Very.
Dangerous? Yes. But what could possibly be more exhilarating and binding? I remember
drinking sloe gin that night. I had never had it before. Or since. That was one of the evening’s
many valuable lessons.
Shortly after our reunion lunch, I went to the park to play basketball. (Hey, I told you I’m a
Hoosier.) I was shooting around when three teenaged boys approached, one of them cradling a
black ball in his arm. At first it appeared to be a soccer ball, but I’ve seen basketballs in lots of
colors and thought maybe they were coming to shoot hoops. When they got a little closer, I
could see it wasn’t a soccer ball or a basketball. It was a bowling ball. The PTA park in Frankfort
has many facilities, but a bowling alley isn’t one of them.
The three boys walked over to the court next to the one I was on and began trying to heave
the bowling ball into the basket. The first effort was a strained toss, shot put style. The bowling
ball fell well short of the rim. Several other attempts were made, including one from the free
throw line, an underhand effort that banged off the rim. It was the only contact made - or at
least that I heard made - with the basket or the backboard. Most of their endeavors produced
loud thuds when the bowling ball landed on the court. Being unsuccessful at sinking a shot at
a target ten feet high, the boys lowered their sights and made a couple of throws at a plastic
garbage can by the side of the court. There they scored once, or so it seemed when they left the
can on its side with the bowling ball visible inside. As they sauntered by my court, one kid put
his arm briefly around another.
What they had just done with the bowling ball, they shouldn’t have, I suppose. They could
have mangled the basketball rim or backboard, and they may have left a dent or two on the
court. But they weren’t malicious. They didn’t throw the bowling ball at other people in the park,
or at each other, or roll it at an oncoming car, or try to smash a car window. And they didn’t
shatter the bowling ball. I wonder where they got it. Stealing a bowling ball on a sunny
afternoon strikes me as a lot tougher than sneaking up on a porch on a dark night and running
off with a pumpkin.
At the class reunion that night I told my two buddies and others about the boys. I kept
saying we should be proud of them. Although what they did could be classified as the work of
numbskulls, they showed spunk, imagination and potential. Had anyone in our class ever gone
bowling on a basketball court?
My guess is that the boys enjoyed their “bowling for baskets” fling and will fondly
reminisce about it years from now. Kids are kids, and they frequently act like it. Adults aren’t
always comfortable with that.
These three boys are growing up in a town that certainly doesn’t look like the one I knew as
a teenager. While the courthouse on the square is still impressive and there’s a stirring new war
memorial honoring those who died serving their country from the Mexican War to the present,
the rest of the downtown has an empty, desperate look. It lacks a big name store to attract
shoppers. There are vacant commercial buildings, and many of the big, once attractive houses
near the square badly need repairs.
Despite the demise of a once-thriving downtown area along with genuine pessimism about
where our economy is headed and where some political figures want to take us, let’s hope the
people of Frankfort and in thousands of other small places haven’t lost their spirit and given up
on the future. The three bowling ball boys probably still have many dumb deeds to work out of
their systems, but it would be very sad if they can’t look back when they are my age and
appreciate where they came from, the values they absorbed from the folks around them and
how much fun it was being young.
After all, the three old boys eating breaded tenderloin sandwiches while remembering what
genuine knuckleheads they were much of the time as teenagers didn’t end up doing all that
badly. One of them became the executive news editor at a major radio network, another a top
salesman and quality control supervisor in the steel industry, and the third a general in the
United States Air Force.
(Posted October 12, 2010)