Chuck Draves was a poet... and below is one of his poems wherein he reminisces about the early days back in our hometown of Rensselaer, Indiana.
School is really out:
All three buildings of the little campus
nothing more than rubble somewhere
in a brickyard heap. Here, a parking lot;
there, a mini-park, and right here, where
the high school used to be,
a library, nearly new, where only
a tuned-in few, closing their eyes and standing
stock-still, hear the hub-bub
of their long-gone selves.
Goodbyes here are beside the point.
There, in that grade-school lot, I feel
Gus Critser jumping me, me,
one nine-year-old cussing machine
with a sour temper,
provoking Mrs. Giovanini’s wrath,
but holding my own
like a new pox on the whole fourth grade.
Yet, that year
my brain and I circled round
like angry schoolyard thugs
and found out we could still be friends,
along with Gus, who later learned
to kick a football to the moon
and tried out for the Bears.
Only the Christian Church, unchanged and
catycorner, where Don Wheat once preached
and somehow later led my marriage vows
in Oak Park, Illinois, anchors
the site for this odd parade.
There goes Bob Nesius
in his baby-blue ’53 Chevie with the
sweetest duals around,
and here’s Gordon Dean,
around fifth grade, telling me
his Johnnie Doitfaster joke, which
at least one of us only barely got.
Gordon’s mom taught us both
that year, and I told him he got
more ‘A’s because of that, and he
told me to study harder. And
here’s Ron Paulus, sixth grade, betting me
real dollars that an 8 oz. coke
has eight times more caffeine
than a cup of coffee. Gordon
still knows more and studies harder.
Ron worked as a NASA engineer
in its glory days. And Bob
built his love of “Indian” cultures
into expert know-how about
prehistoric Native Americans. Yet,
we’re all here, now, waiting
~growing in this little town~
for the recess bell to ring,
waiting for some new class to begin,
waiting for the future to go past, why not?
My first love was Jeannie Foster, though
I never told her so or even held her hand,
and I lusted from an even greater distance
for her awesome older sisters.
She arrived in the midst of Mr. Harry Smith’s
sixth-grade world history class and helped
me understand the uproar over Helen of Troy.
Now, here she is in Mrs. Hershman’s
sophomore English class,
sitting in front of me and stretching cat-like,
her long hair tumbling over my studious head, and
me murmuring to myself about needing
to concentrate on something other than her
gloriously emerging sweater. Pity the scholar.
Even Mrs. Hershman paused; Jean shook her head.
I saw her last with her professor husband
and couldn’t say hello. Hello.
Where do we go before we’ve gone away?
Does it even matter that Judy and I hit
Sarge and the chief of police in a
snowstorm on a one way bridge in a ’39
Chevie that Barney Hawkey sold to me
for $150 and a handshake in 1953? Sure.
We were going downhill and they were not.
Why say goodbye to any delicious moment?
It’s night. We’re right around the corner
from the high school, and we’re headed
to her home. Again. Sixteen has its moments.
You do the hokie pokie, and…
That’s what it’s all about.
The college looks about the same
Except for open space where the administration
building squatted, low and reddish,
back behind the fountain
near the two lane highway
out of town. My Aunt Elsie
took me to wade there
in the Middle Ages, back
when I was maybe seven
but already ancient
in the ways I look at life.
As for the building, it burned
and the flames reflected in the pool
like old recollections of despair.
The Bears held camp there
out of Chicago in those forties days
and the likes of Sid Luckman and Bulldog Turner
hulked along the sidewalks
of our little downtown
every August as long as
I could recall until after I returned
from Serving My Country,
mostly from an apartment
near the ocean in Virginia Beach,
but what the hell.
I pumped gas
and peddled cigars
to all-pro tackles in yellow Dodge
and later spent one summer
downing beers with Chuck Tilton
and two prize quarterbacks.
That same summer,
I studied logic in a class with two-dozen
and learned about classical music
from a young professor
finishing his dissertation and
adding to his grant money as a lark.
He went on to teach at Yale
and allowed that his students there
might never have seen a real field of
corn like the one across the highway
from the campus. Deprived, no doubt.
I watched Ike, the former Pres,
heading toward here on a
State Street near Purdue –
in the early sixties that would be –
to honor Charlie Halleck
whose growing-up house was
down the street from me.
The house is still there
I see. Tilton’s dad drove
Ike and Charlie around town
in a new Buick convertible
from Felder’s Buick Chevrolet
on a corner by the courthouse.
Tilton now garages a convertible
as much like that one
as he could find; he drove that
prized old relic in from Kansas,
fueling it with prayer and pride.
These days, Halleck Center
on that shady campus
plays host to high school re-unions,
and every spring
embellished stories emerge fresh
like rows of corn and beans
sprouting from the same old seed.
Even what is ordinary
Dances in a jitterbug
of cherished notes.