The year was 1940.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the Depression was ending and World War II had just begun in Europe. “When You Wish Upon a Star” was at the top of the charts, the first McDonald's opened in San Bernardino, gas was 11 cents a gallon, bread 5 cents a loaf and in the spring of that year Livingston High School graduated 83 seniors.
Twenty-four of those graduates traveled from near and far last Saturday to share their memories at their 70th high school reunion at Latif's restaurant in Turlock.
Robert Disney remembered that he was "very shy in high school.” His daughter remembered otherwise: "Wait a minute Dad, I've been hearing that all my life. but all the women I talked to today said you weren't shy!"
Disney blushed a little and said, "Well, I didn't learn to dance until my senior year so I was shy about that."
Adeline Jelmini Bucholtz remembers that she couldn't get enough of dancing. Lake Yosemite was the site of open air dances and community barbecues in 1940, and she remembers jitterbugging into the night. A movie ticket cost 10 cents and was a Saturday night standard followed by a hamburger and a milkshake. "That was big stuff back then and the whole thing for just a dollar!" Bucholtz recalled.
Most teenagers worked picking fruit or other farm jobs through the hot summer months. Refuge was found by swimming in local watering holes. "We all swam in the canals back then. That's where you learned to swim," said Marion McDonald Gustavsen.
Edward Light remembers other action in the canals. "Oh yeah, we'd surfboard in the canals by holding onto a rope while one of our friends drove along the banks and pulled us," said Light.
Gustavsen laughed, "That's right, we'd take turns doing that because we all learned to drive at a young age. My brothers taught me when I was 12."
"We were all poor farmers back then" explained Bucholtz. "People don't realize how tough times were. But you know, I don't ever remember worrying about it because we were all in the same boat. So as tough as they were, they were also wonderful."
Gustavsen recounts that about one-third of the class was Japanese-American. "We grew up with them and never thought of them as different," she said as her classmates nodded in agreement.
Bulchotz noted, "It was a very sad time when they were sent to the internment camps. We just couldn't understand all the fear and suspicion this country had."
Many of the graduates stayed in the area, marrying classmates and continuing in farming. Others went to universities around the country, pursuing careers in science and medicine. Many enlisted and became part of the war effort. A number of the Japanese-American young men from their class also enlisted and were part of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the mostly highly decorated military unit of the war.
In a letter to her classmates Gustavsen wrote: "In their 86-90 years they have seen so much, so many changes in the world, and done so many things. They have been a mobile group."
For as far as this class has traveled, many have returned to the area, if not permanently, then at least every five years, since their 25th reunion.
Or as the No. 1 tune put it their senior year in Livingston:
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do