Fifty years ago in June, many of my childhood friends and I graduated from Cubberley High School. When we gathered in Mitchell Park for our 25th reunion, I remember several classmates wondering where all the time had gone.
As I was preparing to attend our Golden Anniversary reunion, I couldn't help but wonder if the old phrase was true: "You can take the boy (or girl) out of Palo Alto, but you can't take Palo Alto out of the girl (or boy)."
Those weren't the only things that happened that particular month. The House of Representatives unanimously approved the Freedom of Information Act, Stokely Carmichael first invoked "Black Power" in one of his speeches, and the American Football League and the National Football League announced they were merging. If that wasn't enough, Mike Tyson (a future boxing champ) and Julianna Margulies (of "The Good Wife" fame) were born that month. Who knew?
Because we were teenagers at the time, music meant a lot to us. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Lovin' Spoonful were among our favorite groups. Clearly, it was a heady time to say the least.
Some of my classmates wanted to become architects, doctors, lawyers, real estate investors or teachers. A few others dreamed of owning their own restaurant or sailing around the world. As near as I can tell, whether they still live in town or 3,000 miles away, most of my friends' dreams came true.
Not surprisingly, a few Cubberley grads didn't live long enough to see theirs materialize. One died months after graduation. Another was killed in Vietnam. Many have passed away due to medical complications. Every time I hear that another classmate has died, I wonder why I am still here and he or she is not?
When I think about the Palo Alto I knew as a boy, I remember swimming at the Greenmeadow Pool, taking dance lessons in 5th grade, playing football on Thanksgiving morning or riding my bike to Stanford. Most importantly, I think about the self-reliance my friends and I gained from those early "Leave it to Beaver" days. If there were helicopter parents back then, we kids were oblivious. Today, I know too many of them.
One of the most powerful lessons my friends and I learned was how to share. Whether it was splitting our money at the Peninsula Creamery, cutting a Kirk's Burger in half or passing around a comic book from Kepler's Bookstore, we knew what was expected of us. I guess you could say we grew up in a village long before the topic became a political issue 20 years ago between then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and the 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole.
Case in point: Even when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California (USC) in the late 1960s, I always managed to buy something every summer at Smith's on the Circle. When the cashier would tell me how much I owed, my response typically was, "Put this on my mom's account." It didn't matter that her account had expired, the people at Smith's knew my family. Anyone who tries that today probably will get arrested.
Life certainly was a lot simpler half a century ago. A typical Eichler home most likely sold for $30,000 back then, compared with the more than $2 million some fetch today. Gas cost approximately 30 cents a gallon 50 years ago. During the summer of 2012, it was nearing $5 a gallon at some local stations. When my kids ask me for $20 now, I sometimes hesitate. I realize that's not much by today's standards, but it was a lot when I was growing up in Palo Alto. How so? When I sold shoes at Rapp's on University Avenue, I got paid $6 for an eight-hour shift.
Several of my Cubberley classmates never left town. They either inherited their parents' home, or bought it from them, and then raised their children in the same neighborhood they grew up in during the 1950s and 60s. For them, the question about "taking Palo Alto out of the boy or girl" is moot.
But for the majority of us who moved away, only to visit every few years, the question is real. When I ask my friends Dr. Bob in Santa Cruz, Jeff in Nevada City, Dick in Michigan, Kathy in Connecticut or Ron in Oregon, they all acknowledge the impact growing up in Palo Alto had on their lives. Ditto for yours truly. Every time I sit down to write a column, I hear the voices of my friends and family loud and clear. This includes my two older brothers, both of whom graduated from Paly High in the 1950s.
People say Palo Alto doesn't look the way it did when we graduated from Cubberley in 1966; still, everyone I grew up with agrees it's great to come back "home" -- especially when it means reconnecting with so many childhood friends.