For some reason my wife and I were comparing notes about high school recently. She was a cheerleader, class president and most likely to succeed. I was the kind of bookworm geek least likely to end up with a girl like her. My sport in school, for instance, was dodge ball target.
But this discussion centered more on demographic issues. Hers was a county high school in North Carolina, mine a suburban school outside a big city in northern Ohio. Her class numbered 200 or so, mine about 400. Her school was racially segregated and ethnically homogenous, mine had a small black contingent but also a wide diversity of family backgrounds.
Her classmates were largely protestant, often Southern Baptist, though she claims more than a few came from the snake-handling and talking-in-tongues sects. My town had two Catholic churches, all the mainstream protestant denominations including some relatively rare in the south — Lutherans, Congregationalists, Christian Scientists — and a synagogue could be found about seven miles down the road.
The names of her classmates indicated origins n Great Britain — Moody, Oakley, Clapp, Holt, Bowman, Smith, Kirkman, Jobe. I went to school with plenty of people named Adams, Monaghan and O’Neill, but also with people named Schinke, Skodis, Resnik, Zajdek, Ciccione, Macosko, Pucci, Neiheiser, Mordarski, Wilcheck, Rosenfeld.
To make that list, memory being fincreasingly fallible, I resorted to a website for my high school class and while there I discovered the 50th reunion of my class had taken place just a few weeks earlier. This shouldn’t have been a surprise. The 50th anniversary of events in 1965 have been in the news lately — the March on Selma, the premiere of “The Sound of Music,” the first combat troops sent to Vietnam, the death of Winston Churchill. But my own high school graduation anniversary never came to mind.
I probably wouldn’t have attended since it would have required a considerable trip, and because most of the people I was close to in high school wouldn’t have been there either. They are scattered to the winds. One is still in Ohio, but the others are in Connecticut, California, Missouri, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina.
And for many of us, high school wasn’t a high point and we were happy to see it recede in the rear view mirror. Several years after I escaped, when I was in graduate school and back home visiting my parents, at the local pizza restaurant I ran into a guy from my class who’d been a football star.
I wouldn’t have said he knew me from Adam in high school, but on this occasion he recognized me and wanted to chat. It soon became apparent I had entered a real life version of Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” This Friday night lights hero was now working on a loading dock and reasonably sure that the best years of his life really had been in high school. Whereas, I was looking forward to better days ahead.
“How sad, how strange, the days that are no more,” Tennyson said. And the long strange trip got stranger when I clicked on the photos of the class reunion I’d just missed that were posted on the website.
At first I thought there has been some mistake. Who were all these people? These were pictures of fat, bald, sagging, lined, rumpled people. These must be the photos from a reunion of our parents or grandparents classes. But wait, our parents and grandparents are all long gone, as are all the teachers and principals and coaches that once made us toe the line. Those geriatric people in the photos really are my classmates.
My God, we’re old! I couldn’t connect a single jowly, rheumy, careworn face to anyone I knew in high school. I might have noticed that this had happened to me too if I ever looked in a mirror or paused to tote up the number of my parts that no longer work as intended, but I try never to do either. Too depressing.
Besides, since I moved away from my hometown shortly after college and haven’t seen most of my classmates since high school, they are artificially preserved in my memory forever young, like bugs in amber. The lightfoot lads in my head are still vigorous and strong, the girls young and fresh as a spring day. It may be just as well I didn’t attend the reunion where I would have had to “see the boys of summer in their ruin.”
I also learned from the website that the whereabouts of about 25 percent of my classmates is unknown and almost 15 percent are undeniably, reliably dead. My mirror and the reunion snapshots suggest the rest of us aren’t far behind. The feelings aroused by our distant past, as Tennyson concluded are “deep as first love, and wild with all regret;/ O Death in Life, the days that are no more!”