The girls of 1961
Together through thick and thin

By Shelley D'Almada,
Staff Writer

Reprinted with permission from The Alamance News, January 11, 2007

When these ladies were classmates at Graham High School, the most scandalous mischief they or their
classmates got into involved chewing gum in class, smoking cigarettes, dragging Main Street, and (worst of all) drinking beer.

Now, over 45 years after they graduated from the school, the times have definitely changed. What re-mains is a treasure of enduring friendship--the kind that will see a woman through good times and bad.

At a Graham restaurant on a Tuesday night, 12 of the classmates have gathered for a regular monthly get-together, along with two ex-spouses of “boys” they graduated with, ladies who don’t want to give up their buddies because their marriages ended. The welcoming chatter reaches decibel levels which only meetings of girlfriends can generate.

 Someone says that her day has been spent       
Some members of Club '61 are (front row l to r): Vicki Massengill McLamb, Jeanne
 
at the hospital enduring a battery of medical           Swanner Robertson, Gloria Cody Martin, Judy Andrews Ward, Mary Jeffreys Cantu;
 tests. The chatter dies down and expressions        and (second row, l to r):  Linda Sykes Stewart, Sally Compton Horner, Priscilla
 
of sympathy are given and questions are asked     Bradshaw Williamson, Linda Wright Cook, Nancy Harden Scott, Anna Bennett
procedures.  The tired patient is urged to stand       Rainey and Katherine Neal Turner.
The tired patient is urged to stand up to show
how much weight she has lost, and is rewarded
 with exuberant applause.

Three new grandbabies have arrived safely. Their birthdates are announced and congratulations are showered on Nancy Harden Scott and Mary Jeffreys Cantu, beaming grandmothers.

These, as well as the deaths of parents, their own illnesses, holiday celebrations and projects for the needy are some of the trials and joys which have bonded the participating female members of the class of 1961 more closely than ever in the five and a half years since their 40th class reunion.

At that reunion, they say, Gloria Cody Martin decided it was high time to get organized.

“We would not be doing this if we didn’t have a person who would spearhead this,” says Jeanne Swanner Robertson gratefully. “Gloria tried to get us to do this at [prior] reunions but we had little children and jobs.”

“They said it wouldn’t last five years,” Vicki Massengill McLamb contributes, a hint of triumph in her voice.

Fully half of the “girls” in the class have joined the club, Robertson adds. “At first, we talked about high school, but now we’re interested in our lives.”

E-mail, she says, has made communication and organization of meetings possible. Martin sends out a monthly newsletter to classmates both in and out of the immediate area, drawing several women from as far away as Charlotte to “special” meetings and events.

The letter "doesn't ssay every-thing," its author reveals with a
      
The group gets together monthly to eat and           meaningful smile.  To hear "everything," she stresses, one must
                   
  discuss  their lives.                          come to the meetings, and "what happens here stays here."        

The group was christened “Club 61” by classmate Sally Compton Horner, and it has only one rule: no boys allowed. 

“Once in a while,” Robertson says with a grin, “someone says they want the boys to come and we vote them down.”

“Sometimes [though], we bring female guests,” contributes Judy Andrews Ward.

Some of the ladies have been friends, they say, since kindergarten. They were Girl Scouts together and attended the same church. Still, none of the group’s members recalls “cliques” ever being a problem.

“Even though we weren’t all bosom buddies,” says Katherine Neal Turner, “this group has transcended neighborhood groups, church groups, etc. In high school you had your special friends, but we didn’t shun anybody. When women reach a certain age, it doesn’t’ matter how you get together. You cherish the friendship of other women.”

Robertson remembers that, as girls, “We had a slumber party in [someone’s] basement each year. You wouldn’t have left anybody out.”

“Someone put a crawfish in my sleeping bag,” McLamb exclaims with a shudder. The culprit has apparently not yet owned up to her prank.

Reflecting on their high school days, when John F. Kennedy was president and hoop skirts and crinoline petticoats were “in,” the ladies remember trips to the Soda Shop on Court Square and to The Silver Coach, a bus-turned-eatery owned by a classmate’s parents. And there were Saturday night dances at the “Teenage Club” in the Graham Civic Center, chaperoned by their parents.

“Graham High School was the dancing school,” says McLamb. There was a room [in the school] where people danced before school and at lunch.” Those without partners, she says, watched.

Who was making the music they were dancing to? Club members answer by calling out the names of the “idols” of the day: Pat Boone, The Platters, Johnny Mathis, Chubby Checker, The Four Tops.

“We did the jitterbug,” Robertson says, and recalls that the first time any of the classmates saw boys and girls dancing without touching was on a cruise ship on the Potomac during their senior trip to Washington, D.C.

“They were dancing the twist. We came back and started doing it at the Teenage Club.”

When they weren’t dancing, the ladies say, they spent their leisure time at the drive-in theater “on East 70.” “Or the Alcove Theater in Graham,” says Horner. “It cost nine cents.”

If the classmates’ favorite singers back then seemed to be all male, the movie stars they loved were female: Grace Kelly, Esther Williams, Sandra Dee, Debbie Reynolds, and Doris Day.

The names of the blockbuster movies they watched aren’t hard for the friends to remember, either: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Gone with the Wind, A Summer Place, Splendor in the Grass.

In the 5-going-on-six years since Club 61 was formed, the ladies have: taken care of each other with food and other needs when sick, raised and contributed money to charities (they have paid the heating bills of needy families and given to the Cancer Society after a member developed breast cancer), and, this year, bought and wrapped gifts for children at Glen Raven’s Positive Attitude Youth Center to choose for their family members.

Members have also taken trips to Cherokee and to Charlotte, had memorable Christmas parties at Ward’s (“gorgeous”) home, celebrated many birthdays (the restaurants give them free desserts), and visited two of their old teachers--Myrtle Wilson, who taught second grade remembered all of them.

A subject of discussion tonight is to rent or not to rent—a limousine—for a memorable ride to a snazzy restaurant. It’s a bit on the pricey side and they may not all fit. Maybe a hayride instead, someone jokes.

What motivates these old friends to keep coming together month after month? The answers are as individual as the women, yet similar.

“Everybody has to have girl-friends.”

“We love each other.”
“A support system.”
“We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”
“No matter what, this group is there for you. I don’t think we could be any closer [as] sisters.”   JeanneRobertson.com