Webb School Campus at Night
(Our surf band practiced after dinner each night on the second floor of the first building at the right in 67)
I was getting to be a problem kid in school back in Ohio. My friends were on both sides of the cultural, social spectrum at the time. I played football and was elected Class President for three years in a row. I don’t say this to brag but rather to suggest that it was simply one of those events in life that my mother could not understand. She couldn’t believe the person at school was the same person at home.
My father was born in Mississippi and grew up in the south and attended a school called Webb School of Bellbuckle. It was in Tennessee.
During that debate my mother had my tenth-grade year in my Ohio high school. It was rated one of the best in the state. But there was something needed in my life it seemed to them. My mother had been sent away to a school in Washington DC before going to Smith College. My father had been sent to Webb School in Bullbuckle before attending LSU and eventually MIT. There were expectation on their part and the feeling of going away to a prep school was a good thing. They both had experienced it and knew the benefits it could offer. But besides, my father always wanted to return to California where he and my mother first lived and I was born. This on top of his love for a school called Webb and knowing that there was a Webb School of California.
* * *
Dad and I flew out to California in 1964 after my tenth-grade year in the Ohio high school. We lived in such a perfect little community of this time. Yellow electric buses always ran on time and everyone went downtown on the weekends. There was such a vibrancy to Dayton, Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s. But my father always wanted to return to California where my mother and him lived in Laguna right after they were married. Then, they moved to the hills of Hollywood right above Sunset Boulevard and where the Whiskey-A-G0-G0 is today. Where Morrison and The Doors played.
I remember our trip out there very well. We went around the state looking at various boarding schools in California. In northern California and southern California. We saw a few prep schools around Los Angeles and then one day stopped at USC where I bought a white USC jacket which I wore almost every day for months. The last school we were looking at in California was Webb School of California. It was started by the son of the Webb School in Bell Buckley Tennessee. My father remembered this son from his early years at Webb in Tennessee.
He was excited as we drove east from Los Angeles to the Pomona Valley and the little town of Claremont, nestled up against the hills of the San Bernadino Mountains. He talked about his years at Webb in Tennessee. Stuff I had heard before over the years. Yet new and fresh, somehow. Maybe I heard what he said in a new way? For the first time?
* * *
Those following hours we were at the Webb School of California in 1964 will always remain close to the center of my memory. I have replayed it over and and over in my mind through the years. For reasons I’m not sure of. I see our arrival on the little campus nestled in the hills of the mountains that ran behind the school. Orange groves surrounded the school and a little two lane road led to the entrance. The sign was small at the entrance to Webb. It wasn’t something that shouted out to you to come in. It was a simple announcement of a place and no more.
The events of those few hours mix together over and over. I see us walking around the campus with Thompson Webb, the son of the founder of Webb at Bell Buckle and the founder of the Webb School of California. Dr. Webb and his wife had a home on the campus and still took part in the life of the school although he was getting up there in age at the time. Years later, I knew that he told his stories to the graduating seniors of Webb. It was a tradition that went back many years.
My father and Thompson were both from the same area of the country. Tennessee and the south. Both seemed to know each other like long lost brothers. I followed around as Dr. Webb explained the various places on the campus and then traded stores about the old Webb in Tennessee with my father.
I half listened. But more than this, took in the campus that we walked around. Somehow it said something to me at this time. And, for the first time, after visiting all the California boarding schools, for the first time I felt peaceful and at home. It was more than the fear of leaving friends and going to a new place. Here it was going two thousand miles from my home. Rather it was the fear that I could no longer grow as a person in my Ohio environment. Looking back on this whole experience 50 years later, I know it was by far the best experience for me. I didn’t know this at the time but my parents knew.
The Vivian Webb Chapel at Webb School – Containing the Soul of Webb?
That autumn, I entered the Webb School of California as a tenth-grader. Repeating a year due to some mis-match between math standards in California and Ohio.
It was at Webb that I met the group I refer to as “The Boys of 67.” Giving preference to the time seems more important than giving preference to the place we were at called Webb School of California. A bias on my part that fellow class members might (rightly) disagree with.
The Class of 67 is returning to Webb this weekend for our 50th reunion.
* * *
Everyone arrived at Webb that autumn day in 1964.
Friends of my parents in Los Angeles drove me out to the school. After going through the entrance, we were directed to the a new construction in the hills of the campus called E Dorm. It was made of cinder bricks and had polished stone floors in the rooms. My bed was pushed against the cinder block wall and my record player next to this little desk with a single lamp on it.
Outside our rooms, was a wide hallway where everyone in E Dorm began getting to know each other that first night at school.
I actually wrote about this special time in my life in a novel called The Shadow Line (after the famous Conrad story). It’s 250 pages in manuscript form. Never published. Even online. I have it in the basement and can’t bring myself to reread it. Even before my 50th reunion. Perhaps some member of the class might want to take a look at it. I’m really not sure what it is. I know it starts out with my best friend and me returning for football practice our senior at Webb. It is about my senior year at Webb. But much more.
It seems that a true history of the Webb Class of 67 needs to be written not by just one biographer/member of the class. But rather, by all members of the class. All acting as reporters or biographers for a particular time and those that peopled the time and had some influence on it.
* * *
Interesting what my Webb Class of 67 thinks of all of this.
The Boys of 67. Rather than the Webb School Class of 67.
Almost like a famous baseball team somehow. It’s just that 67 was such an important year.
And, what effect it had on Webb.
Some day, perhaps, an alumni of Webb will write the story about this time. Get people into what was really happening at Webb in this period. Relate one’s experiences at one of the most amazing boarding schools in America. Maybe a particular alumni will be a great author and be able to tell the whole story. Perhaps the story needs to be told within the words of many members of our 67 Webb School class?
* * *
Some day, the real story of Webb needs to be told. There are a few good books now attempting this goal. Some are biographies of personalities connected with Webb. Excellent books. I’ve read them all. But it has always seemed that the true story of Webb is still waiting to be told.
Such an important story for me. And, I’m pretty sure, many other people out there right now.
All of us have gone through an amazing experience in life and want to share it at this time.
The 50th Reunion of a Webb School Class.
The story of this magic place the Class of 67 traveled on has never been told.
Inhabited by people like Les Perry, Ray Alf, Larry McMillin and Ramsay Harris.
I’m working on a biography about Ray Alf with Don Lofgren.
The bio on Ray is very important. It is unclear that Don and I can write the definitive story on Ray. Can anyone really?
At the same time, as Ray’s story and my collaboration with Don is in the background, it simply seems important to return to my time at Webb as something worthy of study in itself.
A return in some ways to Joyce’s return to Dublin for Ulysseus.
The artistic, encapsulation within a particular environment similar to that great novel of Joyce.
Perhaps the best way to approach a true biography of Webb School of California.
A few more random thoughts.
Feeling one is like reporter on the ground, dropped into a war zone of biographical controversy.
A combination of Hunter Thompson, Thomas Wolfe and Raymond Chandler.
The Webb School Class of 67.
Who holds the key to decoding this class?
Will anyone really ever hold the key to the Class of 67?
Should anyone hold this key in the first place?
(To be continued)