Back in the day, they would have shared straws over a 10-cent chocolate malt and jitterbugged to a snappy Glenn Miller tune. Nowadays, they're just glad to be together, sharing a healthful buffet and sitting out a lively accordion solo.
Saturday, the Modesto High School class of 1940 celebrated 70 years of shared history. Bethel Retirement Community, where two former classmates and a teacher live, decked out in red and black for what organizers said probably would be the last reunion.
The march of time has slimmed the ranks and mellowed the memories of the 1940 class members. From a class of 386, there were fewer than 100 known to be alive and 25 willing and able to make the reunion.
A couple were on vacation in sunny climates. One had hip surgery. Another was planning to come but that morning woke up "havin' the oldies." Around the room, 87- to 88-year-olds murmured sympathetically, no explanation needed.
"We made it," chuckled the class man about town Stanley Wilson, who admitted he'd "majored in activities" in school. Editor of the yearbook, Wilson worked in newspapers for years, including a stint at the Los Angeles Times. In high school "Moose," as he was nicknamed, was in debate and played the coronet and the flugelhorn in the band.
The Mo High band was led by Frank Mancini at the time. The man called "Prof" (pronounced "proof") led many in the group to national acclaim and lives filled with music.
"He was hell on wheels," Don Wolfe recalled fondly. Wolfe, an MHS Black Panthers basketball standout, went on to be a teacher in the Bay Area. "He was a wonderful, wonderful man. He did a lot for Modesto."
Mancini shaped the future of Jane Pope Roberts, who played violin in the band and later professionally. In the 1930s, Roberts said, "Things were tough and music was something we all could do. He put Modesto on the map with music."
Reunion co-organizer Wally Morrow retired in 1989 as Stanislaus County auditor-controller. In high school, though, he was just a bashful guy on the track team.
"A lot of the memories (from high school) have faded," Morrow said " ... thankfully," he added under his breath. Morrow graduated at 16, just in time to learn to drive his first car, a Model T.
The car had three pedals, Morrow recalled. The left pedal was for driving forward; the middle pedal was reverse; and the pedal on the right was the brake. There was no fuel pump, so cars had to go backward up a hill to keep gas flowing.
Gas cost 13 cents a gallon; a first-class stamp was 3 cents.
Bob Kriese was a Model A man. He bought a used 1930 "A" when he graduated for $100 -- and sold it last year for $20,000, he said with a grin.
"Anybody who had a Model A -- now that was a good date," winked Helen Pope Wallace, a Class of '33 grad who tagged along with younger sister Jane.
Pat Clark's dates were mostly to dances put on by social clubs.
"That was the big thing," Clark said. "We always wore skirts and sweaters, saddle shoes and huaraches. ... We never wore pants -- ever," she said with finality.
Gals in those sweater sets were "neat-o pepito" to Bill Wiegman, "That's what we used to say." Wiegman's wardrobe was one pair of cords, bought for $3.
"You bought one pair of cords for the year, and you wore them till June," Thomas Kewin said. "You never washed them. They'd stand by themselves in the corner -- that's what we all did."
What color were they? "Well, they got a lot darker," he said as laughter erupted around the table.
"What I remember most about summers in Modesto was everybody worked," Kewin said. Most worked at the Tri-Valley canneries. He also bought Modesto Bee editions for 3 cents and sold them on street corners for a nickel.
Others remembered summers learning to swim in irrigation canals. Betty Gailfus swam her way to a spot on the synchronized swimming team.
Ruth Lawrence didn't date much in high school. She met her future husband as a freshman and was married two years later. She worked at the Montgomery Ward catalog center -- how folks ordered things before there was an Internet -- across from Woolworth's, where Tenth Street Place sits now.
"I remember we wore silk hose and a dress" every day to school or work, Lawrence said. That's silk hose with seams up the back. Silk went out, however, when the war started, she said.
In June 1940, Paris had just fallen to the Nazis, but Pearl would be a safe harbor for 18 more months. War seemed so far away as the grads walked, but two years later, "virtually everybody signed up," Wolfe said.
That included Doris Wanty, who joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots and was honored this year with a Congressional Gold Medal. She brought the medal to the reunion, hoisting the heavy circle to a round of applause.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.