A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sometime in August 1984 (I remember it was a Friday because of subsequent events) I was reading a book by Jan Morris on Wreck Beach in Vancouver. Jan wrote about a journey across Texas to the Mexican border. I was so hit by nostalgia for Texas that I went home and told Rosemary, "I am going to Texas on Monday. I am going to visit my dentist friend from St Ed's, Stephen Burdick who lives in Houston." I called directory assistance for Houston and remembering Stephen’s middle name, Allan, I asked for Dr Stephen A. Burdick. Within minutes I was talking to my frien and who said he would drive me to our old school in Austin.

While I have always tried to keep in touch with the people of my past, it can be difficult to do so with the stress of living and making a living in the present.

On one extremely hot Houston evening, Stephen Burdick and I met with four or five more of our former classmates (ones that lived in Houston or nearby) poolside at the Holiday Inn. I was shocked by the surprise of seeing boys that were men. These were men whom I had last seen as boys 23 years before. One of them, John Arnold in his white short sleeved button-down shirt (and tie) looked like Gerald Ford. Maurice Badeaux, another of classmates and also with Arnold a former roommate) whispered in my ear, "He's a spook with the CIA." Sixt three of us had graduated from St Ed's High School in Austin, Texas in 1961. Some of us were boarders. Others were day students. We mentioned those who we remembered. Some had not finished with us in 1961but had left some impression. The Anglos had a bit of a problem remembering the Garzas, the Garcias and the Gonzalezes. We almost forgot the Hungarians, the two Katos (Csaba and Nicholas) and Istvan Rozanich. One name we all remembered was John "Bear" Ryals. He was a big guy. He was a quiet, soft spoken big guy who in my memory of him (he attended St Ed's the full four years) never lost his temper or beat up anybody.

"He died in Vietnam," they all said. I remember thinking, "Ryals died in Vietnam." All those articles I had read in Time, all those body counts I had read in the newspapers had meant nothing until now. I knew someone who had died in Vietnam.

Off and on I have found other classmates and I correspond with some, frequently.

If I am going to be really honest I can affirm that in the 48 years that have elapsed I have forgotten many of those 63 classmates. I can also affirm that I may have been shy, rude or a nerd because I made few friends in those four years. The few that I made, like Dr. Stephen Burdick, were that kind of friendship where the communication barriers of the 60s and the physical distance between Texas and Argentina almost guaranteed a fade into oblivion. It took Jan Morris to put that first spark of interest.

As I prepare for he exciting prospect of a first ever all classes (1925 -1972) reunion this June 12 (to 14) I wonder why I am excited. A four year stint as a boarder in a marginally strict Catholic school leaves more impressions, obviously (to me, only now!) than sharing the deck and the captain's table with other old people of my age on a cruise ship. God forbid that I will be ever caught on such a deck!

My earth-shaking revelation is that those four years cemented a bond that I was not aware of. One classmate, Lee Lytton III who hailed from a Sarita, Texas, a hick town (my opinion then) tormented me for a few years by calling me Monk. It seemed that my nose in combination with my jaw line produced a simian profile. Lytton was suave (I should have suspected then that there was more to Sarita than I knew), had a wonderful sophisticated sense of humor and in spite of his glasses seemed to be popular with girls. He could dance. I couldn't. Lytton was a member of the cheerleaders. From my vantage point in the school band I could only lust after Judy Reyes, while Lytton could hold her hand and jump up during our not too frequent touchdowns. We now communicate freely by email. I can sense the bond of those shared four years and I look forward to seeing him in June. Like everybody else, Lytton said, John Ryals Died in Vietnam.

Trying to find a classmate by Google and other methods has been frustrating but also exciting when I find someone. Some of us are technology impaired and "we don't do email." For those I used on-line white pages and Skype. Our school yearbooks, the Edwardians, thankfully noted our middle name initial. That helps. But many of those names lead nowhere quickly. As an example, my search for William B. Schieffer reached a dead end at a disconnected phone number in San Marcos, Texas. Before Schieffer and I became friends (he was a day student so he could drive a car. This was a privilege we all were most jealous of.) he forced me to the floor, sat on top of me and said, "If you tell me one more time that my Nash Metropolitan looks like a bath tub I will beat you up."

I called Charles Rodgers who lives in Tyler, Texas. Rodgers had no recollection of me even though we had both been borders. He was tall, good looking and he liked to smile and sing. I asked him what he did. "I am in the funeral business." I threw some names at him. My ears perked up when he said, "Ryals called from, I believe it was Massachusetts. He told me he was coming my way. But he never showed up."

This was a ray of hope after months of going through all kinds of war dead lists from the US Army, US Navy, Air force and Marines. I never got anywhere even though John Ryals's middle name was the most unusual Shelly.

I tried a site called Classmates.com. Once you sign up you can see a pretty detailed list of classes. I find many for 1958-1962. The deal is that you cannot communicate (or get a confirmation that your message was received) until you pay. Once you pay you become a Gold Member. This sounded like a racket so I did not pay. To my pleasant shock I found John S Ryals in that list. Best of all he was a Gold Member. This would mean that if I emailed him and put my person email in the message, he would be able to answer back without me having to pay. Consider the Kismet of the situation. Of all the St. Ed's classmates of mine in the year 1958-1961 the only Gold Member is Ryals. I sent my email. The reply, amply proves that truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.

First I should tell you this is not John it is his wife Sarah. I usually do the computer stuff. It is good to hear from someone that attended St Edwards. John has been wondering about reunions for many years, but never knew how to find out when they are, or who to contact.

If you read John's write-up you will know that he is living in Massachusetts. He stayed up there after getting out of the Navy. He has 3 kids 1 boy, 2 girls, and 7 grandchildren, 4 boys 3 girls.

Yes John had quite a problem while in the Navy, I did not know him then. I don't know where they were going but off the coast of Naples the destroyer he was on was struck by an aircraft carrier. It took several hours to get him out, 10 cases of toilet paper saved his life. They airlifted him to the aircraft carrier, operated on him, and then he was in the hospital in Naples for 3 months. While the ship was being repaired the crew restored an orphanage in Naples.

We are in Naples, FL for the winter, will start back to MA the first part of April. John lives on. I don't know if we will make the reunion, we have to go to Savannah, GA. One of the grandsons is into gymnastics and has a competition in Savannah in June.

Right now John is out with the guys at the rec hall playing poker. I will make sure he gets your email in the morning. If you want, you can email John back at this address. Talk to you later.

Sarah Ryals

The Collision


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