Let Good Times Roll for Grads in Class of 1960

By C.K. WOLFSON

The cheerleaders are now grandmothers.

And they're celebrating. It's a communal 60th birthday party hosted by Island members of the Class of 1960 - the first graduating class of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

On this particular Sunday afternoon in an enormous, heated tent behind Soo Whiting-Harrington's Chilmark house, about 150 friends and classmates with family names such as Luce, Norton, Whiting, Silva, Carroll and Eggers - mostly women, short to tall, blonde to gray, plain to stylish, youthful to matronly - gather and, transformed by exuberance, become the girls who continue to lurk just beneath the surface of who they are.

Recollections that sound more like capers than confessions produce hoots and laughter from the cluster of childhood friends who, along with "wash-ashore" George Hartman, organized the event: Mrs. Whiting-Harrington, Anne Winslow Wall, Valerie Eggers Carroll, Sue Spalding Silva, Jeannie Hagerty Francis, Pam Kurth Zimmer, Sue Kraetzer Parkes and Adellar Norton Greenhill.

After a parade of food-carrying women shriek greetings, Mrs. Whiting-Harrington, whose nickname Soo comes from Quansoo where her house is located, explains that many of her friends who attended Island town schools together ultimately graduated from off-Island, preparatory schools. But they participated in the Island boys' and girls' club and the Rainbow Girls, partied together and celebrated many New Year's Eves at the end of the long, winding, dirt road at the Whiting house, where they are once again assembling.

"The thing is, all of us hung together before high school. And everyone crashed here," she says, recalling the many times she rowed across the Chilmark Great Pond to see Sue Spalding.

Mrs. Greenhill, a New Yorker who grew up on William street in Vineyard Haven, notes, "It's as diverse a group as you got on the Vineyard in those days. We're like a family by affinity, not consanguinity."

"All of us are tighter than tics," Mrs. Whiting-Harrington laughs.

In 1960, when the senior dinner was held in the cafeteria, the regional high school had no official prom, no class play and no overnight class trips. (The women may compensate by going to Washington, D.C., together sometime in the near future.)

"So we decided to do our own reunion," the buoyant hostess says. "And this year we thought, my God, we're turning 60 and we're the Class of 1960. We decided to do this and invite everyone we could find."

And then some.

Isabel West, resplendent in a long, purple coat, comes into the bustling tent and is instantly greeted by friends. Toni and Richard Cohen circulate among the crowd that includes Chris and Barbara Murphy, Judy Cronig, Judy Pachico and Allen and Lynne Whiting, whose son Everett is roasting a lamb on a spit outside the tent. Tom and Monica Danti have come from Florida; Rick Laubey from Maine; Jeff and Nancy Smith from Washington, D.C.; Bill and Cathy Flanders from Michigan.

The long buffet table, filled with the typically spectacular, Vineyard-variety potluck, is heaped with salad and vegetable bowls, steamed mussles, roast ham, turkey and lamb, casseroles and canapes.

Over the rousing sounds of Sh-boom, played by The Merrily Fenner Band, a group of beaming women share escapades that all seem to begin: "Remember when?"

Remember when they "got busted" for throwing chairs over the rail of the ferry during a class trip?

Remember when a classroom teacher told one of the girls in the group he would give her an "A" if she would just promise not to come to class?

Remember when the construction on the regional high school was nearing completion and the varnish was still drying on the floors, and these friends, not yet the community-conscious leaders they were to become, crammed into a Volkswagen for a joy ride through the still unfinished halls?

Mark Mazer and Merrily Fenner (whose brother Larry Benz is a member of the class), are harmonizing on Going to the Chapel. The band, which includes Jeremy Lichter and Peter Knight, turns the tent into a 1950s doo-wop jam - Runaround Sue, directed at the hostesses who share the name, and Let's Twist Again, which brings people to their feet. The entertainment continues into the night with the singing of sea shanties, and 11-year-old Katie Ann Mayhew, daughter of John and Shirley Mayhew, offering a show-stopping rendition of Patsy Cline's Crazy.

Between giggles, a rather glamorous looking classmate from New York explains that she just met with someone whom, despite his coaxing, she didn't recognize. Finally, with a laugh, she realizes he was the boy she'd made out with in the back of a car so many years ago.

Classmate Michael Carroll tells Mrs. Whiting-Harrington he's glad to see she finally fixed the long dirt road to the house.

A glittery Maggie Marx, Mrs. Whiting-Harrington's college friend from New Orleans, describes what it was like when her friend Soo first brought her to the Vineyard, where she then continued to spend summers working as a waitress.

George Hartman, who first came to the Vineyard in 1950 from Belgium, explains that he was "a summer dink," who over the years was adopted into the fold. "It's a hell of a place to wash ashore and grow old," he says, clearly happy to be among this gathering of longtime friends.

And the husband of a classmate is overheard to ask his wife, "Did you warn Mike before you danced with him?"

"Whaddaya mean," she responds. "We used to date."