Born in the shadow of the Great Depression, members of the Red Bank High School class of 1955 remember simpler days.
They are part of the so-called Silent Generation, born from 1928-1945, although this group is anything but silent.
The gregarious group of octogenarians meets once a month to renew friendships over barbecue sandwiches and fried okra, and to recall their high school days during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"We lived in a blessed time," said Sara Jo Malone, one of more than a dozen 1955 classmates gathered for lunch one day last week at the Rib & Loin restaurant on Highway 153.
They came together from a cluster of elementary schools — Red Bank, White Oak, G. Russell Brown — to attend junior high and high school at the former Dayton Boulevard school, which has since been torn down and relocated to Morrison Springs Road. They take pride in the fact they were the first Red Bank High School class to top 100 members — they were 101 strong at graduation, although fewer than 50 are still alive.
"There wasn't drinking back in our day," said Malone. "[And] nobody had heard of drugs."
"If somebody wanted to be really, really bad they might sneak out and smoke a cigarette," said classmate Ryan Mitchell.
"Very few [students] had cars," remembered Barbara McClain.
"We respected our teachers. We liked each other," said Mary Margaret Rohen.
That doesn't mean there weren't moments of mischief. The classmates tell the story of a boy who rode his motorcycle through the halls of the school, a prank that sounds like an episode of "Happy Days."
Oh, and everyone laughs remembering the kid who wore a diaper and carried a baby bottle on dress-up day at high school.
A few of the classmates even gained 10 minutes of fame. One, a nationally recognized beauty queen, appeared on "The Eddie Fisher Show." A couple from Red Bank High School was married on the daytime television series "Bride and Groom," which aired on CBS.
In the decades after high school, as most of the classmates busied themselves with careers and family, they had five- and 10-year reunions at local country clubs. Only in the last few years have they drawn closer for these monthly meals.
"This is an important event for us," said Malone.
"We love it. We like each other," said Rohen.
The classmates trace their loyalty to an admonition by their class sponsor, a Red Bank High School English teacher named Geneva Anderson, who made them promise all those decades ago to stick together through thick and thin.
"When we were in the 10th grade she came to talk to us," remembered Lee Lusk. "She stood up there with her glasses on the end of her nose."
Nobody wanted to disappoint her, he said.
Malone remembers the diplomatic leadership of Red Bank High School principal Sam McConnell, who went on to be Hamilton County Schools superintendent from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s.
She recalled getting into a fight with another girl and having to wait through the weekend for her reckoning with McConnell.
But instead of handing out punishment, he asked the girls, who had cooled off by then, if they thought they could move along and get along.
"Old McConnell knew how to handle people," Malone said.
At points at their lunch, the classmates reminisced about a class trip to Washington, D.C. They laughed about a classmate who caught his finger in a bus seat and another who tried to run up the stairs at the Washington Monument in record time.
Listening to these folks, you can hear echoes of bus banter from 1955.
It is a happy sound, filled with musical laughter and the lilting conversation of forever friends.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.