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The Glass of ’80
By: Bill Colley
I was thinking tonight about the summer of 1980 and old friends I no longer see or hear from or know the whereabouts. I graduated high school on a chilly June weekend in 1980 and just as the summer was beginning. The winter had been bitterly cold but not nearly as snowy as most of the immediate winters. Christmas Day 1979 I worked at my part time job and it was 8 below zero when I drove past the bank thermometer. I was driving my first roadworthy car and to describe it as a beater is an insult to winter rats everywhere. Winter seems to have just blown by and then suddenly we had a lovely spring, until May. A volcano erupted across the continent that month and the ash in the sky was followed by a very cool summer.
We graduated on a Sunday and the Friday before graduation we had a rehearsal, followed by a party at the home of Rob Weller’s sister. Rob wasn’t the most sociable fellow but his sister, like her mom, was very pleasant. Rob’s sister lived in an apartment and we all crowded inside, nearly all 70 of us from the rehearsal. We were indoors because outside it was cold and raining and temperatures were in the middle 40s. For those of us who look for omens I’ve often wondered if that Friday portended the Class of ‘80’s future. We were living in the final year of the Jimmy Carter economy and we were living in a small town in Western New York already being ravaged by globalism. We knew most of us would be leaving town to find work. Growing up in a small American town in the 1960s and 1970s was the stuff novels often miss. It was mostly idyllic. When the snow was deep we went sledding on the hill at Willowbank Park. In summer we went swimming at Cuba Lake. Small mom and pop shops around town sold soft drinks and candy and on really hot summer days, Dad would take us to Vivian’s Drive-In for burgers and fries. The big doors would be opened and the warm breeze would flow over you as you drank root beer dispensed from a big wooden keg and poured into frosty mugs. Then we’d go back to the lake and after the obligatory hour after eating get back into the water.
Vivian’s would close before I entered high school and later open again as a roadhouse where farmers spent their lunch hours and locals shot pool. I didn’t know this until I turned 18 and could legally enter the place. It was pleasant but there was none of Vivian’s warmth.
This didn’t stop the parties the cool summer of 1980.
The weather was fitting for our gang of just less than six dozen graduating that June from old Cuba High. Our predecessors from the late ‘70s were classes filled with scholars, sports stars and “Type A” personalities. We as a group were unique in rejecting convention and culture. We rebelled against the disco era and probably as well as what came before that period of excess. We wore blue jeans, work shoes and pocket T-shirts or at least the guys did. The girls wore blue jeans and sweaters over polo shirts. Drugs and hard liquor were considered over the top but beer consumption, and this is no endorsement, was at a premium. And nothing at all fancy just as long as it was cold.
Parties happened at places called “The Tree” or at the “Pennsies” (near the old Erie Railroad) or that summer at “Bump’s Trailer,” a tiny and secluded place. I was at all three and then some and I know my history. My name is Bump.
The trailer is a fair description. It was an old mobile home accompanied by a horse and pig barn and it sat on a massive lot across the road from the lake and at the Bottom of Mt. Monroe. Dad bought the place in the spring of 1980 and the day after graduation we started building a house next to the trailer. I was already living at the place in order to keep guard over the tools and lumber. It was the same summer I woke one early morning in darkness and chased away thieves. “Hey,” I shouted from the steps of the trailer’s porch while leveling a rifle at the bargain hunters. There wasn’t any need to fire. They hauled ass.
There was a party almost every night the summer of 1980 at the trailer. It was furnished and had no TV but an ancient stereo. We’d build a fire outside and crank the music inside and open the doors. Several friends left for the service the morning after a send off at the trailer. Looking back it seems that summer 32 years ago was airing in slow motion but surely it passed and then we all scattered for college or the Army or the Navy. Some of the guys were already working through the summer. My best friend, Ron, was a farmer. I don’t know how he survived those 10 or so weeks without sleep. He often went to morning milking after a party. Ron was already an outlier. He’d been grown up since junior high, having worked on his grandfather’s farm since the fourth grade. Ron loved farming as a kid. Just as much later as a young man and he still loves the independence today.
There were no fancy beers some 30 odd years ago. Choices were pretty much the same: Cold. For some strange reason one block of my friends drank Miller while I was partial to Budweiser. My buddy, Denny, drank Genesee as his dad drove a truck for the regional brewery. Ron drank Stroh’s. I always figured Stroh’s; Iron City and Utica Club were brewed with rusty car fenders. Yes, there may have been iron in Iron City.
Meanwhile our buddy, Mark, went to visit a sister in Oregon for one week after graduation. He came back on the flight; I kid you not, with suitcases stuffed with West Coast beers we couldn’t then get on this side of the country. We had a night where we drank Mt. Rainier, Olympia, Coors and Mickey’s. Our second connection to the volcanic west! We started collecting the cans and bottles from exotic locations and placing them on a shelf just below the roof line of the trailer’s living room. One night Ron decided the display was missing something and he got up on a stool and started autographing the bottles. I’m not at all sure he would remember. He rags on me for remembering things we did in the first grade and I just smile. Even for me some of the memories are fading but not the memories from the summer of ’80.
Sunday morning my sister telephoned and told me three of our old school friends last week had parents die. They really weren’t much older than we were 32 years ago. Many of those folks at the time were in their late thirties and early forties. They had children in an America where they could marry young, find all the work they wanted and buy a home at a bargain price.
Historians now say America’s freewheeling economic days ended nearly a decade before the Class of ’80 entered the adult world and, yet. For a few cool months after Mount St. Helens the world stood still and my friends and I lived in unfettered liberty.