True!- nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? It’s the 50th reunion of Newington High School’s class of 1967. Why should I be nervous? I’d been totally psyched tor this all summer; now the night has arrived and I get nervous? What’s up with that? Well, I guess you start to remember some times in high school when you got frosted by someone. An unkind remark by a classmate? Surely not at Newington HIgh. It can’t be true. I did get nervous, and start to tell myself that we’re all grown ups now. I’m not 16, but could this be why some people don’t come? A little less than eager to open it up again? We have closed the book on high school We’ve moved on in our lives and we’ve done o.k. Why revisit it?
I want to try to to tell you why. I want to try to capture just a little of the absolute electricity that flows through you as you arrive in Newington a little after sunset, colors fading from the sky as you drive around streets you haven’t been on in a long while. there’s a giant glowing orange thing in someone’s front yard on Walsh Avenue. A pumpkin? With legs? Oh, a spider. Right, Halloween is coming. Kids will be terrified of this gigantic orange spider with furry plastic legs as they giggle up to the door to get some candy. I wish I were at home, in my parents’ place on Indian Hill Road, giving out candy to bunches of kids, traveling in packs, holding out their bags for candy. A pillowcase? Me ‘n Kenny again, stealing a pumpkin a week before the big night right off a front door step, and carving it, and putting a candle in – Kenny just happened to have one on him- and lighting it and putting it back on their step, ringing the door bell, running like hell across the street to hide in the bushes and watching their faces when they see their pumpkin carved and lit up. Memories begin to flow. I drive to Churchill park. God it’s changed. We used to swim in that pond? Frank O’Rourke ran the waterfront. I drive down road after road, just pumped. It’s becoming magic. Dominic’s street, where I met Krista Telangitz. The street Truda lived on. Sandy St. John. Is that it? Are we looking for lost love? Do we want to revisit for a night the time in our lives when we were so full of life and possibilities? Do we want to be like that again- instead of on the other end of it, shuffling along with our aching bones? Do we want to see how everyone turned out? Do we want to say hello again to people who were our friends, our classmates but have been out of our lives for too long? Do we just want to revisit a time in our lives when we were in love with life, in love with ideas, and friends, and excited about what might be, not at all worried yet. Or are we just curious to see how Doug turned out, or Laurie?
Remember in ninth grade when Steve Toce combed his hair down over his forehead in imitation of a Beatles haircut and he got sent to the office? Remember being told you couldn’t wear a tie loose around your neck; you had to pull it up tight. You couldn’t wear loafers with no socks. Your skirt had to be so long. And no shorts. And no shirts without collars. Isn’t it fun to remember? Remember the 40th reunion, which was held in Afghanistan as I recall, or Berlin, or some foreign place miles from Newington, and was in conjunction with every other class that ever graduated from Newington High and you couldn’t find three people you knew? I swore I’d never go to another. Then ten years later I get a postcard with an announcement that there will be a fiftieth and it will be our class alone and it will be held at Newington Country club and I can suddenly no more stay away from this reunion than I could not breathe. I have to go. And apart from a few pangs of nervousness thinking I’d be sixteen again and punctured by someone’s rapier wit, it is absolutely wonderful. I pull into a parking space down from the country club. Not far from Greg Tower’s house. I walk up the hill. I have to check the hill in back of the putting green to see if it is still as steep as it used to be. All the other hills in town, the ones I struggled up on my bicycle as a kid, seem to have shrunk. The one in back of the country club has not. It is steeper. We used to ski back there and set up a jump. Not now. Whoa. I walk to the entrance. Someone grabs my hand to shake and he looks pretty familiar, but I can’t place him. He lets me struggle a moment. It’s Ray Acey! And then Phil Paternostro. And Paula, and Sue. And I’m not nervous now. And our name tags have pictures of us from the year book and you soon become completely unabashed about staring at people’s name tags, and then excitedly talking about the good old days. And the stories flow. And people seem very much like they used to be. 50 years ago. It’s different from other reunions. Better? Better. Absolutely cosmic. The first night there is no music- just some hors d’oeuvres and drinks so you can walk around and talk with old classmates. Erstwhile class mates, not old. No one is old tonight. We are in high school again. The best times of our lives? No. But good times. And Jean Pezzenti- now Napper- has assembled a book of memories that is absolutely fabulous. She manages to squeeze as many of us in to news clippings from the Town Crier as possible and she does a wonderful job. I razz her about shameless self aggrandizement because she is mentioned in one clipping as the winner of the 11-13 division in the Elm Hill Playground Tetherball Championship. Cathy McCusker becomes inflamed. She is undefeated in tetherball. She could beat Jean. Trash talk begins- completely not serious- we laugh. Such fun. Do they still have tetherball tournaments? The good old days.
You find out about people. Dannie Buden, Corporal Dan Buden, writes from Vietnam about how what we are doing back home affects moral of the Marine grunts over there. About the same time Ernie Minor left for Canada to avoid the draft and has never returned. You have to admire both stances. People have died. Thirty- three of us are no longer around. I want to know why. Alfred Parys can’t be dead. Nor Linda Flynt or Janet Rosenblatt. How can that be? We’re so young. Lynn Sorrow? No. Lucinda Shipps? Can’t be.
And some people don’t show and I wanted to see them. Where’s Arty Fuchs? And Kenny Peterson. And Bruce Mortensen. And Roddy. And Al. And Steve Freeze. And Joy. And Lynn Grogan. And Debbie. And Mary Ellen. And Bubbles. Why didn’t Bubbles show? And Bruce Phillips.
But so many of us are there that you do not have time to get to everyone on the first night. Some of us have gained a little weight. Some of us are thinner. There’s less hair. But our smiles are the same. It feels so good to be together again. Why is that? Did we share some magical time? Yes. We did. Our youth. School. In Newington, CT. Headed home one night I am passed by two cars on the Berlin Turnpike being driven noisily and fast- high school kids I’m guessing. There are other generations coming along. I hope they have as great a youth as we did. I hope our schools are still as good, and our towns still as supportive. I hope that greed and technology do not spell an end to all the good times that growing up in Newington meant to us.
You find out cool things. Stanley Sobielski has a letter to the editor in the paper this weekend; Steve Seymour lives on the Cape and used to run by Kurt Vonnegut’s house. Gayle and Dennis are pals with an alligator. Sharon and I talk about Friendly’s. I hear of an escapade with Dean and David involving a small boat and trip to NY for beer. Fred Roth still plays the sax. Fred Lewonczk’s as witty as ever. Kurt Austin is a professor of electrical engineering in Vermont. Henry Kalman is still playing tennis and has a really cool mountain bike. Claire Barrows still talks when someone is speaking to us all and needs to be hit with a magazine and shushed by Marcia. Betty has been married for 46 years to a man who writes poetry and they have five grandkids, one of whom was there. Ann Marie is still completely irrepressibly fun to be around. You leave that first night just thrumming. What a jolt.
And on the second night you start up again, but it is different. Food. Tables. We have to sit. Speeches. Roger thanks Jean for her efforts on the cool booklet of news clippings and photographs. Then the music starts and my older ears can’t handle the extraneous noise and conversation so well as maybe they once could have. So I have to start to listen to the music. And it’s late 1960’s again. The Wild Weeds. Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs. Rock Around the Clock.
I ask Betty if she wants to dance. I guide her out onto the dance floor: she’s blind, and we dance a few slow ones, talking about NHS, our lives, our classmates. I’m in a line dance with Paula but somehow we get goofed up. It’s fun. After ice cream, Marcia and Nancy drag me out onto the dance floor. I end up dancing with Steve Argosy’s wife, Carol. Later, we’ve drifted completely into the past. Claire and Karen and Janet and Gail and Doug and Jean Paul and Fred, are all dancing, but Dominic is the man of the hour- cutting the rug. High school. 1967. Again. But somehow improved with age.
It was a blast, An absolute blast. The feelings of affection for the town I grew up in, being here again at the country club, the comradery of my classmates all leave me feeling pretty wonderful. It’s a special time. Thank you all, planners, who made it possible. Thank you all who were there. I can hardly wait for the next one.