I called Pat Bader early in the day and arranged to pick him up at four-thirty, in Kent which was, more or less, on my way to the Reunion at the Chateau Saint Michelle Winery in Woodinville. I hadn’t been in the valley since college, and nothing looked familiar. I was detoured, and lost three times before I found his home. Pat’s wife, Dee, whom I met in Midland Michigan in about 1968, hugged me and we visited for a few minutes before heading out. She warned us, “They are expecting lots of detours and a massive backup starting tonight around Kent, because of highway construction You guys need to be prepared for some major delays.”
As we drove down the hill, I told Pat, “You are my navigator. Your number one job is to get us to the Reunion, back to your house and then plot a course on my iPhone that will skirt the Kent detours and heavy traffic on my journey back to Burien.
I had my doubts regarding the wisdom of that assignment after we missed the Woodinville turnoff, then missed the entrance to the winery and circled around several residential neighborhoods before landing in the winery parking lot.
Jerry Dinndorf, the guy who tirelessly put this thing together, greeted us when we entered the cavernous wine tasting room, nearly an hour late. I scanned the room looking for a familiar face or two without finding one. There were nearly one-hundred guests there, mostly gathered in groups of three or four, sipping wine and chatting.
As Jerry nudged us over to the signup table, we spoke briefly about the construction business in the Northwest and how Roche Harbor was a lot nicer back in the day when it wasn’t so popular. Jerry’s wife and another pleasant lady, neither of whom I remembered, said hello, then happily registered and name tagged us.
Pat, Mr. Social Butterfly, pasted his name tag to his shirt and disappeared into the crowd. I wasn’t expecting that. I guess I unconsciously expected him to point out and identify these characters surrounding me whom I had little recollection of. As I backed away from the signup table, I suddenly felt totally out-of-place among this noisy crowd of silver-haired Prepsters. I knew they were my high school classmates, but I suspected they weren’t sure who I was, or why I was there. I felt like an interloper at a stranger’s wake.
My survival instincts kicked in, and my eyes darted around the room until I found a safe haven. I quickly made my way over to a quiet corner and sat down with my back to the room. I’m a pretty tough old bird, a hard-nosed industrial contractor, and an Alaska commercial fisherman when time allows. So, I didn’t understand my girly, sophomoric reaction to the threat of possibly being rejected by those from my past, whom I respected.
I suspected my fear of being rebuffed flowed from my becoming an author late in life. I, like most authors, are paranoid about being rejected by our readers. It comes with the job.
I took a couple of deep breaths and allowed my Seattle Prep philosophy training to rise to the challenge. I recalled my Jesuit mentors drilling into us: Never give up the pursuit of a worthwhile goal. Question what you see and hear, determine for yourself what’s real and what’s not. Get into your adversary’s head, discover what he’s thinking and why; then act upon that knowledge.
I realized that my brothers here, had spent four years at prep, and had been hanging out off and on for the last sixty years. They were just continuing their comfortable, long term friendships. I, on the other hand, spent less than a year at Prep, and then disappeared from their lives. Now, sixty years later, I want to be a part of their inner circles? I thought, What’s the matter with me? Get over it, I haven’t earned my stripes. They’re not ignoring me, they just have no idea of who I am. If I want to make the evening a success, I need to take the lead, and re-introduce myself to my classmates, start a few conversations, and have some fun.
As I got up to join the party, a big guy approached me saying, “Hey Joe, it’s me, Charlie Ralls. I loved your book, JAKE THE PRODIGAL SON. Your story grabbed me, and I couldn’t put it down. The book paralleled my life in so many ways, I had to read it twice, and I’m about to read it for the third time. Good job, Man.”
Boy, was I glad to see him. I was completely taken back and didn’t know what to say. We were in a couple of classes together at Prep. We weren’t close, but I admired his prowess as a Prep Panther football star. I couldn’t believe he remembered and approached me. I wondered, How in the blazes did he find out about my book and what motivated him to buy it?
He asked me lots of questions about my life and we talked about his challenges growing up. We discussed the book for about twenty minutes. Charlies loved the opening sea story, my seminary antics, the chapters dealing with Seattle Prep, and the drama between my father and I over the years. He said, “I had no idea you were such a scoundrel when you were in the seminary.”
We laughed, and the conversation turned to some funny antics we both got into trouble for, back at Prep. He reminded me that I had saved his butt more than once in Latin class by slipping him some crib notes minutes before Mr. Brandt, the Jesuit Latin teacher, asked him to recite a passage from Caesar’s speech at the Forum. My unexpected encounter with Charlie Ralls, who we just called, “Ralls”, broke the ice. We often addressed each other by our last names.
As we headed towards the bar together, my old buddy, Mike Fischer, appeared out of nowhere with a shit-eating grin upon his face and slapped me on the back. We joked for a few minutes until his girlfriend, Linda Lowe, distracted him. He moved on saying, “Let’s talk when things settle down.”
That did it. Jake Winston was back and ready to live large tonight.
This reunion dinner was more than a social event to me. It was a lot more. It was a celebration of the accomplishments of an extraordinary group of Prepsters who had used their God-given talents to make a difference in the world. The class of ’58 delivered to the world: Judges, lawyers, doctors, engineers, filmmakers, authors, teachers, merchants, law enforcement and fire department leaders, financial gurus, Mafia Dons, military leaders, missionaries, builders, and even a high-level IRS auditor. We had traveled the world, sailed our yachts, fished the seven seas, climbed mountains and tended to the ill and homeless. Tonight, was a time for celebrating, laughing, hoisting our glasses and maybe even shedding a private tear for our brothers who were no longer with us.
As Ralls and I entered the dining room and found our separate pre-assigned tables, he poked me, “Let’s continue our conversation after dinner”. I agreed, and when I spotted Pat Bader three tables away, I grinned and gave him thumbs up. The happy-go-lucky Joe Douglas, AKA Jake Winston, was back.
I took my place at table #2, an embarrassing, eight-top table with only two couples and myself in attendance. The rest of the places were for no-shows, I guessed. Dave McCauley, Joe James, and their wives joined me there. These two guys, along with Pickering, Ralls, and Riggs, were the Prep Panther football heroes. Joe James remembered me, and said, “We had a hell of a good time together at Prep together, I’m glad I met you.”
I asked him, “What did you do for a living, and what do you do for kicks, Joe James?”
“I taught high school English for nearly fifty years. We’ve had a vacation place up in Kingston where we go out in the boat, fish, and go crabbing. We have even been to Barkley Sound a time or two. What have you been up to all these years?’
I replied, “We had a place on Eagle Harbor which we sold when we moved to Hawaii nineteen years ago. I miss the Northwest, and Barkley Sound, but I continue to fish and crab in Hawaii. We have a large species of crab know as Samoan crab or mud crab. It’s may be even better eating than Dungeness.
I don’t think Dave McCauley remembered me, but the five of us chatted amicably before dinner and listened attentively to the master of ceremonies, Steve Windell.
Just before dinner, Jim Bradley approached the Diaz and solemnly acknowledged those Prepsters, who had left this world since the last reunion five years ago. I said a prayer for Tom Coughlin, my good friend from St. Margaret’s grade school and Prep.
We were now down to fifty-some alive and kicking classmates. I hadn’t seen Jim since college, and I wouldn’t have recognized him if he hadn’t been on the program. Like many of us, he was heavier and having a little trouble getting around.
Kelly Pickering took the podium and gave the dinner blessing. He was a tough S.O.B in high school, and the last guy I would expect to be giving the invocation. However, he did a great job and made the point that we were spiritual beings on a human experience, not the other way around. I thought, Good job Kelly.
We marched off to load up our plates at the thirty-foot long buffet table. I cruised the table to see what my choices were, circled back, and selected a Filet Minion, sautéed asparagus and a green salad. I was more than a little disappointed for paying seventy-five bucks for a serve-yourself, limited-selection buffet. I guess I have been spoiled by the many Hawaiian luaus, pig roasts and first birthday parties I have attended. However, it did include complimentary wine.
After dinner, I scooted over to Jim Bradley’s table and pulled up a chair. He seemed happy that I had made the trip. He introduced me to Larry and Bobbie McHugh, and the four of us had fun exchanging Prep experiences. Bradley told me, “I retired, after a long career of running my business, Saxton Bradley. Marian and I recently sold our Magnolia home on 42nd street, which was down the street from your brother, Father Gordie’s house, and moved to Bellingham. I’m going to miss running into Father Gordie. He was someone special, nothing like his big brother.
Larry was a financial guy, and Jim pointed out he was also an accomplished piano player. When there was a lull in the conversation, Larry said, “I’m reading your book, Jake The Prodigal Son. I’m half-way through it. and enjoying it. I love the photographs. That’s as far as I got. Is your pal in the book, called Parker, actually Pat Bader?”
“I thought so,”
Larry played for us as the event came to a close. “He’s good, darn good.”
I asked Bradley, “What became of my buddy, Jerry Firnstahl? I’ve been trying to track him down.”
“I heard Firnstahl was in a Jesuit seminary for a year or two sometime after prep. He dropped out of sight for years, re-appeared, and bought a farm somewhere around Arlington. I heard that Jerry died in a horrible farm accident a couple of years ago.”
I responded, “Holy crap. Firnstahl, Brian Egan and I were best friends back in the Prep and SU days.”
“I didn’t know that you knew Brian, but I grew up with Firnstahl, Egan and his weird older brother, Ray. We hung out all through grade school and high school.”
“What are Brian and Ray up to these days?”
“Brian is living in Eastern Washington. He was a teacher, like his Mom, and Ray died young.”
“I always thought Ray was a little odd, but when he traded in his cherry ‘56 Chevy, Belair for a piece of crap, French Renault. I realized there was something seriously wrong with the guy. How did he die?”
“A serious case of orneriness.”
“Do you remember Firnstahl’s ‘39 Plymouth coupe?”
“Of course, it was a baby blue hot rod and a chick magnet.”
“I wanted a car like that so bad, and I did find another ’39 Plymouth coupe. It was a junkyard beater with a blown engine. I bought it for twenty-five dollars, rebuilt it with a Dodge truck engine, and equipped it with moon hubcaps, a pair of glass packs, a set of snap-on white walls, and a thirty-nine dollar, ‘Earl Scheib’ paint job.”
Jim asked, “Is that the one you sold to Paul Maffeo?”
“Yes it was.”
“Wait a minute, Jake. I remember your daddy gave you a brand-new ’58 Ford when you were at Prep. What happened to that?”
I blew the automatic transmission drag racing on Magnolia Boulevard one night, and Daddy took the Fairlane away.”
We all laughed, I got up and announced I was going to mingle with my Prep brothers.
The first table I hit had eight folks enjoying desert and coffee. I recognized Jerry Riggs sitting next to his wife Maureen, and introduced myself. He seemed to recognize my name, and then he grinned and said, “Joe, long time, no see. You live in Hawaii, right? You lucky dog. My sales territory years ago was the West Coast and Hawaii. I sold fasteners and other construction products over there out of my store in Mapunapuna.” Later that evening, I believe Jerry Dinndorf awarded Maureen a bottle of wine for something.
I introduced myself to Sean Malone, Bill Evans and their wives. We had a strange conversation about our hot rods back in the day. I think he said he had something to do with either Firnstahl’s ’39 coup or Maffeo’s hot rod.
He asked, “Do you remembered selling your ’50 Ford convertible, stick shift to our Seattle U classmate, Allen, who lost his right hand in an accident as a kid?”
“I do, but I felt bad about it. I tried to talk him out of it, but he just kept after me until I relented and sold it to him.
I tapped Kelly Pickering on his shoulder. When he turned around, I told him who I was and complimented him on saying grace before dinner, “I was impressed by your spiritual side. I just always thought of you as a tough football player.” He told me that grew up in a religious family and he had recently attended a three day ‘Spanish inspired retreat,’ and it changed his life. The wives around the table seemed to be delighted that I, and a few others, were making the effort to circulate and share a few words with the tables. They mostly wanted to know who I was, and where did I live.
A classmate at one of the tables, I’m not sure who, asked, “Were you with Pat Bader at St. Edward Seminary before you transferred into Prep?”
“Yes, that would be me.”
Did you know David Doyle? He was a good friend who left St. Martin’s Academy and entered the seminary about the same time you and Pat were there?”
“I didn’t know David when we were at the seminary. However, three years ago he contacted me though an internet site called “Classmates”. He was living on the Big Island and working at the Volcano National Park as a photographer. Elizabeth and I were living on Oahu.
He confided in me that he had been a heavy smoker, and developed a series of serious cancers, one of which was about to take him out. David wanted to spend some time with me, a fellow seminarian, before he left this world. We were both looking forward to getting together, but he passed away before we had a chance to do that.”
I felt a sense of brotherhood among those of us there. I realized that the bond we shared was indeed something extraordinary. For some of us, our minds and bodies were fading, but we were still Prepsters, and damn proud of it.
I returned to Bradley’s table when I saw the wait staff serving dessert and coffee. For seventy-six dollars, I was damn sure I wasn’t going to miss out on the desert and coffee. Wait, there was coffee, but no decadent chocolate cake at my place. I looked around the room for a caring waiter to correct this unforgivable blunder, but they had all disappeared into that place where waiters go to avoid the beckoning of their charges. I guess it is a power thing. I sipped my coffee and glanced jealously at my table mates, who were enjoying their deserts and smiling about something I wasn’t privy to.
Bradley couldn’t stand it any longer. He grinned a conspiratorial grin to Larry and Bobbie, reached under the table and presented me with my dessert. We all got a laugh at that.
Before I could dig in, Sid Flor, whom I believe was there with Caryl, stopped by our table to catch up on our news, and talk about his recent trip to Northern Italy. We had all been there at one time or another, and shared notes about our take on the best restaurants and places to stay. We often joked about Sid being the Godfather, but I was never sure if it was a joke or not. His mustache, frequent trips to the old country, his references to his suspicious friend Guido, caused, me to wonder about who he really was.
A few minutes later, Dan Regis, who was there with his wife, pulled up a chair. He regaled the table with a tale about Pat Bader, myself and him being shipwrecked in the San Juan Islands the summer of our freshman year at Seattle U.
Sid asked, “Do you remembered Jake’s houseboat party, the night of 1962 Columbus day storm? The wind tore the houseboat loose from its flimsy moorage. Only a few of the guests managed to escape, before the wind blew the houseboat with the rest of us aboard, out into Lake Union. Thank God the Harbor Patrol rescued us and towed us back to shore before we capsized.”
I spoke briefly to Mick Flynn and Joni. Mick said, “We will be on Oahu in January for a golf outing. Could we get together for lunch or dinner?”
“Of course, that would be fun. You have my number, call me.”
I hadn’t seen Mick since our Freshman year at Seattle U. I remember one afternoon when I was over at his parent’s house with Bradley, John Howell, his brother Jerry, and a couple of other guys. I don’t remember why we were there, or even why I remembered that event.
On my return from the men’s room I ran into Paul Maffeo, who was helping himself to a second cup of coffee. “I got to tell you, he looked like he was homeless, standing there in rumpled khakis, an open blue sweater and his shirt tail hanging out. I didn’t know what that look was all about.”
My kid sister, Terry, who is a senior stockbroker at UBS, told me over lunch at the Metropolitan Grill earlier today, “Paul Maffeo was, and still is one of the movers and shakers in Seattle’s financial world. I knew of him when he was a senior VP of both Piper Jaffe and UBS before he moved on.”
I remembered that he and his Seattle U girlfriend, were occasional guests at our houseboat parties. We laughed about the ‘39 Coup, and the houseboat. We reminisced for a few minutes and returned to our tables.
Bryan Saario and I talked briefly about his adventures in Alaska as a boy, and his long-forgotten encounter with a brown bear. I told him, “Alaska is like a powerful drug, It can hook you, and never let go. I too had spent time in Alaska and been chased by a bear or two.”
I was involved in building three of the North Slope refineries in the eighties, including Arco’s massive facility at Prudhoe Bay. More recently I have been in and out of Dutch Harbor several times on construction projects.
Bryan told me about the time he spent in Palestine on a medical mission, and that he believed the Palestinian People were getting a bad rap.He has authored two books, “Holy Land Conversations,” and “SISU,” and he is working on his third book. As he left, he handed me a copy of “The Class of 1958 Directory De Biographies”. I thumbed through it and wondered, Why I wasn’t in it? I had sent in my biography in on time, but I thought, No big deal… At least, not until Steve Windell awarded a bottle of wine to Terry Kearns for having traveled the farthest to attend that night’s festivities. I thought, Terry and his wife came from Austin, Texas which is 1,500 miles from Seattle. I, on the other hand, flew 2,700 miles from Honolulu to be here tonight. But then who’s counting?
A few weeks after the reunion, Bryan e-mailed me saying he was “impressed by my authorship,” and set me a few pages of a draft he was currently writing to look over. I was moved by that gesture.
As the evening was ending, Duke McCauley took the floor and regaled us with Prep Panther Football stories and why you didn’t want to mess with Coach Goodman. He reminded us of the horrors of goofing off and having to accompany Father Weissenberg to the boiler room for a beating. I guess that wouldn’t happen today.
Larry McHugh and I tried to taunt F. Michael Fischer into leading the room in a chorus of “My Wild Irish Rose,” but he wanted nothing to do with it. I told him he was a chicken and Larry pleaded with him, but nothing doing.
I hadn’t seen Pat Bader since we arrived at the reunion, but about 10:30 he found me and said, “This I pretty much over, let’s go.” We passed Ralls on our way out. He told me, “You need to keep writing, and we needed to stay in touch via e-mail. When will your next book be available?”
“My next novel, The Raising of the Ruth Ellen, will be published early next year. When I was young and stupid, I raised this fifty-seven foot fishing vessel off the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A close family friend, Blake Ryker, was lost at sea when the Ruth Ellen went down off of Cape Mendocino. The insurer wouldn’t pay the widow’s insurance claims without evidence of the deceased remains. It’s a sad, but great story.”
As we left the room, I waved and said, “See ya, my brother.”
We walked out to the parking lot with Terry Kearns and his wife. When he told us that he was still working for the state of Texas. I asked if he knew Ann Richards, the spunky Ex-Governor of Texas?
He chuckled and said, “I sure do. Remember the speech Ann gave at the Democratic National Convention in 1988. She became an instant celebrity when she referred to George W. Bush as, ‘Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.’”
We laughed, and I told him about the night I was in the Little Rock airport cocktail lounge, with a couple of associates, waiting for a plane back to Birmingham. A very tipsy, older woman entered the bar with a name tag on her lapel identifying her as “Arkansas Secretary of State”. We thought we would have some fun and asked her to join us for a drink. President Clinton was under fire at the time, for his tryst with Monica Lewinski. I asked, “Was there any truth to the insinuations that President Bubba was a philanderer when he was the governor of Arkansas?”
She giggled, swallowed her martini and said, “Where ya’all from, Mars? Whenever Hillary was out of town, there was a steady stream of State Trooper’s cars delivering young women to the back door of the Governor’s mansion. That’s all I’m going to say about that, until one of you boys buy me another drink.”
On the way home, Pat and I discussed our evening’s adventure. I admitted after my initial apprehension, I had loosened up and had a ball. I visited with most of our brothers, but there were a few whom I didn’t get a chance to talk to; like Phil Perry, Joe Thibodeau, Bill Evans, and Jim Carrol. I would have liked to have caught up with a couple of guys who didn’t show up. Mike Cahan; His brother married my cousin Kitty. I would have liked to visit with Gary Merlino. We were both in the construction business, and he was a distant neighbor of my sister who spoke of his permitting issues with the city that occasionally made the paper.
The ride from Kent back to my sister’s home in Burien, was a nightmare. I should have been home by 11:15, however, I got caught up in the detour traffic, had trouble seeing the directional signs in the driving rain and glaring headlights. I can’t explain how, but I ended up in Tacoma, Federal Way, and God only knows where else before I found my way home at 12:30 am. exhausted from a memorable evening.
*** THE END ***