|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/23/2020
Occurred: 7/17/2009 11:30:00 PM
|Topics/Keywords: #ClassReunion #Florida #St.Augustine #St.JosephAcademy||Page Views: 2204|
|Our 40th high school reunion's first event: A social at Panama Hattie's.|
And then it was time to do the thing we'd come 3000 miles for: to attend my 40th high school class reunion, or at least the first of two events.
We left Zachary with my sister Louise and her husband Mikey, who planned to go to the beach and show him how to body surf. I then tapped the address of the venue into my GPS. It was fifteen minutes away (as everything in St. Augustine is) and we crossed the Matanzas River on the "new" 312 Bridge to get there.
As we parked at Panama Hattie's, I'm sure Michael was wondering whether his 40th reunion, which is scheduled for October, would be anything like mine. Particularly, how would our relationship as a gay couple be accepted? Especially considering that mine was a Catholic high school?
Panama Hattie's was busy, which is typical of the place even when they are not hosting a reunion. Plus, our reunion was combined with that of the secular St. Augustine High School.
The first person I saw that I recognized was Nancy Alexander, who had done most of the arranging of the event. She was talking with Janis Carter. Amazingly, after 40 years, the two women were completely recognizable—in fact, they had hardly changed at all!
My most personal memory of Nancy was on class night, when she and I performed a skit in which, made up as "old people", we reminisced about our old high school classmates and what had become of them. Now, here we were, doing that exact thing, which was a little creepy.
My strongest memory of Janis is one I am less proud of, and dates back to the day after we graduated from 8th grade. As Catholic school students, we had only seen each other in school uniforms. But for some reason both Janis and I showed up in "civvies" to talk with the choir director. I have no idea what I was wearing, but Janis had on a very stylish pink pant suit that was really stunning. Now, here's the thing. I was quite capable of being a jerk, plus I was a gay kid with no role models to teach me to tone down my natural impulses. I had discovered I was good with "dish" and proceeded to make fun of Janis' outfit for no reason other than that I could. In fact, I was even able to make the nun snicker at my clever remarks. I have felt terrible over this ever since, and I hope that if Janis reads this she'll accept my apology. I didn't have the chance (or the nerve) to say anything at the actual reunion. Maybe next time.
As Janet made the rounds she led the way to another classmate, Theresa Pandolfini. We didn't spend as much time with Theresa as we should have, but hopefully will have another chance tomorrow night. If we'd been able to talk, I'd have mentioned that, as yearbook photographer, her senior portrait had haunted me for years. She had the absolutely happiest expression on her face it was possible for a human to have, and I'd always wondered if it was because her school years were finally at an end, or if she had had some amazing premonition that, as an adult, she would win the lottery.
We then encountered someone who looked so familiar that I was sure he'd been in our class—but I couldn't quite place the name, and we weren't yet wearing name tags. It turned out to be Frank Cyr, one of the nicest guys in our class but also one of the quietest. In fact, Michael and I spoke more with Frank and his wife this one evening than I had talked to him the entire time we were in high school together. It turns out he's been working with the sheriff's office all these years. Somehow I'm not at all surprised he turned out to be a stable guy.
There were 43 senior photos in our yearbook, which means statistically there should have been 4 gay and/or lesbian kids. And, in fact, there were. Besides myself, there was one who died of AIDS back in the '80s, and one who I know is lesbian but I'm not sure she's "out" so I won't print her name here. But one who is out is Debbie Reyes.
You'd think that having this trait in common would have made Debbie and me best friends; and in fact, Michael and I had a terrific conversation with her and her partner, Sharon, at the reunion. However, my most vivid memory of Debbie will probably always be the time in 6th grade when she kicked me in the shin. And not just any shin, but the one wearing a brace for a knee condition I had at the time. Oh, well…time to let these things go.
The good news was that, though both Debbie and I had wondered what the reaction to our coming "out" might be, the fact was that no one really cared or seemed to treat us any differently. When a person is closeted, he or she always seems to overestimate the enormity of his or her secret. Most people are startlingly disinterested in the gender of the person we might fall in love with.
When we bumped into Nancy McLaughlin, I didn't recognize her at first, either. She had lived a couple of streets away from us in St. Augustine Beach and my sisters played with her more than I did. But when I was in 6th grade and had that brace on my leg, and therefore couldn't really run or even ride my bicycle, Nancy's brother Harry (who had been in our grade as well) used to come by every afternoon and hang out with me. At the time I didn't really know why, but now I realize it was because Harry was a really, really nice guy. Sadly, Harry was killed in a car accident in the 1970s.
When I spotted Janet Andreu, it was positively eerie because she looks exactly as she did in high school. Janet was so pretty that I simply never spoke to her in high school. I couldn't imagine she would have anything to say to me, so I just spared us both the awkwardness of an attempt at conversation. But when I became the yearbook photographer in our senior year, and got the varsity cheerleaders out to the Fountain of Youth grounds for a photo shoot, she became a collaborator and helped set up shots. I'll always remember how she spoke to me as if I were a regular person and not just the nerd best known for running the movie and filmstrip projectors.
As is customary with class reunions, especially in a small school like ours, there were a few students from other classes that became close to us, either as mentors or mascots. I don't have yearbook portraits of them, but I can share how they looked this evening. Kathleen Meehan and Winnie Bedouin were both present, making the evening more fun.
And it was great to see Ronny Howes, who had been in our class in grade school but switched to St. Augustine High for high school. He had the distinction of being the tallest boy in the class in 8th grade and I felt a kinship with him because I was second tallest and we always were placed together for group photos. That didn't last long, as other classmates shot past me. But it was still great to see Ronny and his wife (and discover that he is still tall!).
Two more familiar faces belonged to Debby Dean and Karen Estrada.
Karen was one of the students who was a part of the class when I arrived, in the middle of the 5th grade. One of the prettiest girls in a class of pretty girls, she was also one who intimidated me through no fault of her own. She just seemed like she so had it all together. And, though we didn't get to speak at length at the reunion, I have to say she looks like she still does.
Debby Dean didn't arrive in our school until our senior year (or maybe our junior year). She was one of four or so "new kids" that had previously attended St. Augustine High. The new kids tended to stick together, but Debby was more outgoing and very funny. She was always laughing, and it was good to see that, 40 years later, she still was. She is married to a guy who obviously worships the ground she walks on; he couldn't keep his eyes off her the entire evening. It was really nice to see.
Bob McAloon was also present, with his wife. However, he stayed in the darker recesses of Panama Hattie's where I couldn't get a good picture, and then left without my realizing he was going. I remember Bob for two specific things. One is when he was my lab partner in Sister Concepta's biology class. We had to take strands of our own hair and examine them under a microscope. Bob's hair actually grew in three different colors. Although the overall impression was blond, there were also black and reddish-brown hairs growing adjacent to the blond ones. My own hairs were all a rather boring brown. I have never forgotten how details, seen at a distance, can combine to create an apparent reality that is actually mere illusion.
And the other thing I remember was racing Bob to gym class one afternoon. Gym was held in a separate building a couple of blocks away from the main campus. Bob was wiry and athletic, while I was skinny and clumsy, or so I thought. We had left the campus a few minutes late for some reason, and found ourselves walking to the gym alone. I started to hurry, and he started to hurry; and somehow it turned into a race, with the two of us pelting our way down the cobbled streets as fast as we could go, arriving at the gate to the gym about the same time. "I didn't think you'd be so fast!" Bob said, which I clutched as a compliment and treasure to this day.
Bill Langston was there, one of the few guys in the class to still have all his hair in its original color. But he always was one of the handsomest boys in class. He was also our only non-Catholic classmate for many years. As such, he was excused from Religion class (though some of the nuns nevertheless harangued him mildly, trying to get him to convert).
Bill's dad, Dr. Langston, became my personal physician for a number of years. It was Dr. Langston who performed my vasectomy. I was happy to learn from Bill that his dad is still alive and even still seeing a select few patients, though he must be in his 90s by now.
Then there was darling Susan Stanton. Even though she was also one of the prettiest girls in the class, she had always made a real effort to talk to me so I wasn't intimidated by her. Perhaps it was our shared artists' sensibilities that bonded us; she became a graphic artist and is now teaching graphic arts.
Terrie Weiking was also there, but I did not get a photo and will have to try again tomorrow night. She was also a members of the "new kids" who joined us in our senior year. I never really knew Terrie, but am happy to note she is still as pretty as ever.
Ken Barrett, the other "new kid" wouldn't pose for a good photo, which is ironic because he is a professional photographer. Back in 1969, Ken was a surfer, which in St. Augustine carried a lot of weight. I mean, everyone surfed; even I did it when I could get someone to loan me a board. But Ken did it every day before school, which had sun-bleached his hair to the 1960s Beach-Boys-ideal. And the last time I saw him was at our 25th reunion, which was held at the beach; and he and I were the only people in the class who went body surfing even though the temperature was perfect and everyone had brought a bathing suit.
The last two people who were there were two of my favorites, Pam Prichard and Charlie Thomas.
I will never forget Pam for being so kind, in 5th grade, as to sit on our piano teacher's porch one day while waiting for her ride, and spend 20 minutes explaining in detail just exactly why I was a "creep". As a new kid in the school, even that kind of attention was appreciated and I hung on her every word. In subsequent years, once I got over my serious "cooties" affliction, we got to the point of being able to joke together and be friends. At our 25th reunion, she displayed an amazing and uncanny ability to do the Limbo, and insists she has not lost that knack.
It was especially good to see Charlie Thomas after all these years.
Charlie was one of our best football players, very popular, and therefore not someone I ever thought, in school, that I would be worthy of having for a friend. But Charlie was always friendly to me anyway, and even stood up for me once when one of the other guys was giving me a hard time. The summer after we graduated high school, I was the lifeguard at the Ponce De Leon Motor Lodge swimming pool and Charlie often came by to spend a few hours swimming and hanging out with me.
He eventually got a job with Craig's Funeral Home as a mortician, though, and that's where he earned a permanent place in my heart. In May of 1987, when my sister called me in Virginia to tell me our grandmother was dying, I flew down and stayed up all night with Gramma as she passed away. In the morning Mom and I went to Charlie to make the funeral arrangements. My grandmother and I had always been close and, to my surprise, I lost it. The funeral was held the next day and I basically sobbed for 24 hours, having to be led around because I was crying so hard I couldn't see where I was going. Through all of this, Charlie was the epitome of kindness and professionalism. I would never have gotten through that day without his support.
Through the years Charlie has suffered some reversals and spent some time doing other things. I was happy to hear from him that he was back in the funeral business. "Because I'm so damnedgood at it!" he said.
To which I can attest.