Goldbug Features

We all have them...somewhere. In closets, in boxes, on bookshelves. Our Nuggets. Those treasured yearbooks that we asked our classmates to sign when we were seniors as we prepared to graduate.

In varying degrees, we look at them. Tom Kiske, who wrote the wonderful article for this site titled, "A McKinley Walk", spent some time looking thru his Nuggets, and with his poignant pen in hand, wrote his thoughts as he browsed those pages of his life at McKinley. Tom, a 1961 graduate of McKinley, is the author of the book, "Time Has Its Own Terms", which includes many interesting reflections on the life and times in the Soulard neighborhood of the fifties and sixties where he grew up.

The Nugget’s Imbedded Gems
They have traveled thousands of miles with me, from the middle of America to two different coasts. They have been packed and unpacked many times. Between moves, they’ve received little attention, gathering dust on neglected bookshelves in my den, shoulder to shoulder with equally important and equally ignored college texts I always meant to re-read.

As we age, we accumulate treasures like these – things we’d never consider discarding, yet so disconnected from our daily lives that they seldom cross our minds. Such was the sorry fate of my three lonesome volumes of The Nugget. The years were 59, 60 and 61. It wasn’t until three years into the Twenty-First Century, prompted by the McKinley web site, that I pulled them out and looked at them – really looked at them – perhaps for the first time.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I went to in these books was not what’s printed in their pages, but what’s written – the annotations and notes scribbled longhand by friends. This was the secret purpose of these yearbooks, to provide a vehicle for your classmates to record their thoughts for posterity. It’s intriguing, after forty years, to scan through these cryptic messages and reconstruct a feeling for the person you once were, as well as gleaning something of the character of your friends. These brief missives bring both recognition and surprise.

There are several categories of entry in the old Nuggets. First, is the simple autograph. These are from the kids who, when asked to sign your yearbook, took you literally and – signed your yearbook. Thanks, but a signature alone is not terribly interesting or valuable, unless you happened to go to school with someone famous, say Chick Young, the creator of Blondie and Dagwood and a former Goldbug.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take much more than a name to make an entry that really grabs your attention. In the 1961 Nugget, Art M. wrote simply, “To Tom, a...”

A what?  Was Art interrupted before he could finish the entry? Did he lose track of the thought he wished to express or did he think better of it? Was it going to be – “To Tom, a fine fellow,” or “To Tom, a real jerk?”

Then you begin to wonder about old Artie. What became of him? I remember him well. He was a good friend. His ambition was a modest one: he wanted to be a highway patrolman. Did he make it? Is he out there somewhere, perhaps cruising I-44 in search of lawbreakers, or did he settle for something less?

Another category of entry is the “Remember Me Always,” often abbreviated “RMA” by those who, although expecting you to eternally revere them, couldn’t be troubled to actually spell out the whole sentiment. Do we remember them? For me, at least, the truth is – some I recall vividly, others I haven’t a clue. It’s kind of sad. Someone who once meant something to you, someone you shared part of your life with, someone you thought you really would “remember always”, has faded in your mind with time.

Next, the ultra-short entry. My favorite, in the ‘61 Nugget, is from someone who wrote, simply, “Good Luck!” Note the exclamation point. What was the thought behind the thought? Think you’re gonna be something special? – Good Luck! Or was it heartfelt, a fatalist acknowledgment that, whatever your goal, things are tough out there, so – good luck!
Then, there are gems that, while laudatory on the surface, nonetheless remind you of specific shortcomings. From 1960: “To Tom, a real swell guy I met in driving – by the way, are you any better?”

L. H. wrote of me, “a pretty good guy, at times,” while another entry, even less sure of my merits, said, “to a real (?) that I met at McKinley.” Fred L, perhaps more perceptive than most, wrote, “To Tom, a kind of oddball sort of guy.” I think Fred had me nailed. Haven’t changed, either. I might consider that one for my tombstone.

Then there are entries where the interest lies in the way they describe themselves. Beneath her brief note and signature, Carol M. captured her personality in a parenthetical post-script: “(the Quiet One).”

But you’re seeking more. You want to see if people said good things about you. Some come close. “To a nice guy with a loud mouth.” Well, yes, I did have a tendency to talk in class. Passed notes, too. I was nice, though. Another friend confirms it, with her own twist, “You are really a nice nut!!!” Three exclamation points this time!

Then there are entries by key people. The cheerleader, the cutest girl in our class, who volunteered, “To a real sweet guy with gobs of brains I’ll always remember.” Gobs of brains. Well, I guess that was a compliment. I mean, it would have been better if she’d written something about lusting after my body, but at least she said she’d “always remember.” I wonder if she did. I doubt it. She was one of those who always seemed a rung above the rest of us. A rung above me, anyway. The gap had narrowed a bit by our 35th Class Re-union, but even then, she’d still been able to wear her cheerleader outfit. Pissed off most of our female classmates. Delighted the guys.

There are entries so poignant it is hard to read them. Janet described me as the “sweet guy” she knew in grade school and high school. The truth is that Janet was the sweet one. Maybe the sweetest one. I lost track of her after graduation, but she remained close to a mutual friend, so that towards the end I learned of the ill health that had plagued her most of her life, the pain she experienced on a daily basis, the difficulty in performing the simplest acts of living, a condition from which there could be but one release. A couple of years back, after we’d reconnected, she asked if I knew the whereabouts of her old boyfriend, Bill. The best I could do was send her one of my little stories about the old days. One that featured Bill. It was a story about letting go. A few weeks after I sent it, Janet found her release.

There are lighter entries; ones that make you feel pretty good.. “Tom, a real cute guy who’s always been lots of fun.” Now we’re getting there! It’s not the gobs of brains, the athletics or awards that matter after four decades. It’s that somebody of the opposite sex found you attractive. You may have been an oddball, a nut, but someone saw beyond that. Somebody, by golly, thought you were cute. Or was kind enough to fib.

And then, on the last page of the last volume, a plighting of troth: “Tom, you’ll never know how I used to feel about you, but as it always is, when you like someone they don’t like you.”
Reading that one is hard, too... This is a girl towards whom I behaved in a manner best described as ignoble. Guilt haunts me to this day. Her observation was insightful, though. Most of us learn at one time or another that there is no justice in love or “like.” Wisdom, if we approach it at all, comes slowly, often painfully. Redemption may take a lifetime. Sometimes both come in the form of uncertainty, as in Socrates’ ancient conundrum: which is worse – to suffer a wound, or to inflict one?

The Nugget contains more than notes from classmates, of course. The yearbook staff devoted much time and effort to create these volumes. There are photos and text. The 1959 picture of Mr. Collins, Assistant Principal and disciplinarian, is still enough to make me shudder. The impact is mitigated somewhat by the inset snapshot of him at home in his garden sporting those new-style “Bermuda” shorts and the loudest knee-high Argyle socks ever seen.

On the opposite page a photo and brief bio of another assistant Principal, Herb Hutsell, catches my eye. I don’t remember Mr. Hutsell. Maybe he was a Quiet One, as well. I wonder if he chose the Minot Savage excerpt beside his picture:

In wondrous workings or some bush aflame,
Men look for God, and fancy Him concealed,
But in earth’s common things He stands revealed,
While grass and stars and flowers spell out His name.

I think the poet had the right idea, but he left something out. It’s not just the grass and stars and flowers that spell out God’s name. To me, the handwriting is also pretty clear in the pages of these old Nuggets. I think God’s grace is nowhere more apparent than in the great gift of friendship. Forty years later that message is as constant, as warm and as reassuring as when we walked the halls of McKinley together. And now I know why I’ve kept these books, why 1959, 1960 and 1961 will be with me always.

Details may fade over time.
Feelings never do.

--Tom Kiske