Had he not died this past spring, my brother Gary might have attended his 50-year Bingham High School reunion this coming Saturday night. I barely remember his high school years other than watching him play the sports he so excelled at, like baseball, football and wrestling. Not long after his graduation, he moved from our Oquirrh mountain home to Salt Lake City where he attended the University of Utah on a football scholarship. In the fall of 1958, I remember well watching him play his first football game at the old Ute stadium, despite the fact I was only 4 years old.
After his freshman year, Gary traded his cleats for livelier things like whiskey, women and song (the guy was a dancing machine), so he isn’t remembered in the same manner as his teammates Larry Wilson, George Seifert and Don MacGivney. The first, Wilson, you might recognize as a Pro Football Hall of Fame safety for the St. Louis Cardinals, and the second, Seifert, became a Super Bowl-winning coach of the San Francisco 49ers via a coaching stint at our own Westminster College.
In the annals of local fame, though, MacGivney has equal status. In the 1970s, he operated Club Stanyon Street (now home to Charlie Chow on 400 South). Just over 30 years ago, MacGivney, with a few merry followers, marched out the club door one St. Patrick’s day tooting kazoos and walked around the block—to the dismay of local authorities who noted their lack of a parade permit. Undeterred, he did it again the next year and the next, spawning the tradition that is now Salt Lake City’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. MacGivney deserves a statue.
Like my brother, MacGivney is lost to time. Some of Gary’s Bingham classmates are as well. Since their graduating class had fewer than 80 students to begin with, Saturday’s reunion is open to classes prior to and following that of the 1958 class. Gotta fill the room. Last week, I got a call from one of Gary’s Bingham buddies, Norbert Martinez, who asked that I mention it in this column. I promised him I would—so to all of you Bingham Miners of that era, try to attend this weekend at Bingham High School in South Jordan. Our alma mater—originally opened in Bingham Canyon in 1908—is celebrating its centennial year this year, too.
The Bingham High School class of 1958 marks the “midpoint” student body for a school with an incredible and rich history. I’ll be forever grateful to have been a Bingham boy. I’m often asked how it is that I—a natural-born liberal, blue-collar heathen—survived living in Utah. That’s simple—I’m not from Utah, I’m from Bingham Canyon. Our Utah was not one of single-minded ideas, uniform culture and fear of our neighbors. We were more like Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Chicago—a mixed bag of children mostly born of British Isle, European and Asian immigrants. Among those joining Norbert Martinez this weekend are Isabelle Mena, Martha Miya, Ann Marie Sybrowsky and my cousin, Harry Pappasideris. Last names like those are hard to find en masse at area high schools today.
Though markedly different in terms of peace and prosperity, in some ways, 1958 and 2008 are not terribly different. In 1958, America was winding down the Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential administration. Our country was on the cusp of a new era of American politics and our definition of national self was up for interpretation. Two years after their graduation, those 1958 Bingham grads ushered in the idealistic Democratic presidency of John F. Kennedy. That class and their brothers and sisters fought in Vietnam (where Norbert lost a younger brother), went to the moon, marched in the streets, saw Nixon’s presidency collapse, were held hostage in Beirut and Iran, witnessed the Soviet Union disintegrate and the Berlin Wall fall, sent their kids and grandkids to two Gulf wars, prospered under and then ultimately were betrayed by President Clinton, and now, at retirement age, wonder how Bush the Younger squandered their children’s inheritance while bleeding our country’s very soul.
Today, as I write, it’s Election Day. Americans are voting not just for health and energy policies they don’t understand, but for an opportunity to again define the type of cultural America we will leave to our children. Whether Obama or McCain wins, one thing is certain: Both are tasked with uniting a nation sick and tired of partisan politics, of fear mongering, and of watching our right and prideful national esteem suffer at the hands of reckless leaders who care about themselves and their ideology first and the citizenry second. Which is why I voted for Obama today.
John McCain has certainly earned his bona fides. I’m sure my brother Gary (an Army veteran who perhaps left his left-leaning tendencies in his 1960s San Francisco apartment) would have voted for him, given the chance. Not me, though, despite the fact that I dang near donated to him last spring. I gave to Obama, instead. I’m glad I did. McCain lost me for good these past couple of months when his core support group turned out to be Fox News, Hank Williams Jr. (see if I ever drink with you on your tour bus again, Bocephus!), Sarah Palin (who took to scaring Americans, not embracing them) and Joe the Plumber (who cries about taxes he would certainly learn to avoid and shelter should he ever become honestly self-employed).
Fifty years of waiting for America’s white picket fences to return have been 50 too many for the class of 1958. A fantasy, sure. But those fences need mending, and I believe Obama will do it. Here’s hoping.