In the newly published "Old Bears," Dave Newhouse, columnist for the Oakland Tribune and longtime sportswriter, reveals that beneath the faÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â§ade of smiles, sock hops, hot rods and poodle skirts, the class of '56 at Menlo-Atherton High School held painful realities.
Menlo-Atherton's 50th reunion was nearing when Newhouse decided to get in touch with old classmates to see how they were and what was going on in their lives. The result of his curiosity led to a 30-chapter book, which shares 28 classmates' journeys through life - who they were in high school and how they are 50 years later.
"So, then, how did the '50s stack up? Clearly, it was the decade of comfort and conformity," Newhouse wrote in the book.
But the stories expose that the supposedly "Happy Days" also were dark and difficult for many classmates. The class clown was abused as a child, the class president struggled with alcoholism and the pompom girl faced mental illness. In its raw truth, the book also reveals that life for the "old bears" could turn out well, and for the most part they recall happiness as they look back.
"The theme in this book is we all survived and those of us who are left are pretty happy with the way it turned out," said Gerrie Miller from Los Altos Hills, whose chapter tells the story of accomplishing her goal of becoming a lawyer at age 63.
Six of the interviews were with former or current Los Altos residents: Marilyn Hareid Powell, Diane Sullivan Reynolds, Merry Davenport Montaudon, Bill Brodie, Wayne Chan and Gerrie Keely Miller.
Chan and Brodie died between the time Newhouse interviewed them and the publication of the book.
Newhouse showed each bear, now senior citizens, his or her senior class picture and asked, "What would that person think of you now?"
He spent hours interviewing classmates and recording their conversations. He edited the interviews into chapters, then consulted with each person to make sure the chapters still flowed in their voice.
"The book brought us together. When we see each other again, some of us in the book will feel closer," Miller said.
The book includes an interview with a 2006 graduate who shares that things at Menlo-Atherton High have changed, for better and worse. There are more cliques and drugs, but they have AP classes and girls sports. Teens typically don't marry their high school sweethearts, but go separate ways. Many more of them head off to college with their career goals and lives already planned out.
Undoubtedly the book immortalizes the class of '56 and will remain special to them. But, it also gives pause to younger generations, reminding them that life can be uncertain and unpredictable - and there is so much more yet to come.
"Old Bears: The Class of 1956 Reaches its fiftieth reunion, reflecting on the Happy Days and the unhappy days" (North Atlantic Books, 2007) is available at Borders and Kepler's bookstores and at amazon.com and northatlanticbooks.com.