|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/20/2020
|Topics/Keywords: #St.JosephAcademy||Page Views: 3913|
|All about my 25th high school reunion.|
In 1994, shortly after the finalization of my divorce, I was invited to my 25th high school class reunion. So was my ex-wife, Mary, who graduated with me. It was a small class in a small school, with only about 40 students; and the fact that Mary was going to be there potentially made it a bit awkward. But, I thought, what the heck—I hadn't been popular in high school, anyway.
I made my flight and hotel reservations. Mary, who had to borrow money from me for her flight, made arrangements to stay with one of our classmates, Louis.
Louie had been one of my favorite classmates. I didn't get to know him well in high school, where he was a top football player (on a team with barely enough players to be a team) but he and I had worked together for some three months at Palm Coast as tour guides a few years after graduation. That job consisted mostly of our waiting for our turn to give the next tour. So we'd gotten to know each other and, to my surprise, Louie turned out to be a poet. He'd been writing poems for years. When we were in high school and I was writing science fiction stories, he'd been scribbling poems. It probably took a great deal of courage for him to share that with me; I don't think anyone else in our class knew it.
I'm not actually a big fan of poetry; if it's more introspective than Robert W. Service, I probably won't like it. Louie's poems were dark and somewhat disturbing. While it wasn't the sort of thing I'd want to read, I couldn't deny—and told him—that he seemed to have some talent.
After 25 years, it was amazing to see how people had changed—and how many hadn't changed significantly. A few of the "girls", especially Susan and Nancy, hadn't aged a bit. A few, like Janis and Pam, looked better than they ever had in high school. Some of the guys, like me, had put on weight; others hadn't. For most of us, our forties seemed to suit us.
The reunion was held over three days.
The first evening was at Charlie's house. Charlie was famous, to me, for the photo I took of him at the "Potato Bowl" in 1968. The Potato Bowl was the big, football grudgematch between St. Joseph Academy and Hastings High. We had won in spite of the muddy field; Charlie had played an outstanding game. Yet, in the photo I (as official football team photographer) had shot, while every other player is covered in mud from head to toe, Charlie has just one little smudge on his knee. The rest of his uniform looks like it had come straight from a Cheer commercial.
The second day was spent at Nancy's mother's beach house. Nancy and I had done a bit at our high school Class Night where we played old folks, a-settin' in our rocking chairs and reminiscing about what had become of our classmates in some alternate (and somewhat lopsided) universe.
The third event was a dance, but because of my teaching schedule I was unable to remain for that.
Probably the most interesting thing that happened to me, however, was learning how I had looked to other people in the class. When I mentioned to Nancy that I hadn't been well-liked in high school (with the unspoken implication that it had been the fault of all those people who hadn't gotten to know me), she said in some surprise, "We'd have liked to have known you better. But you never talked to us, so we thought you didn't like us!"
In thinking back, I realized she was right. I had come into the game expecting to be disliked. Whenever anyone made an overture to me, I had assumed they were trying to make fun of me—so, basically, I ran and kept to myself. In fact, it wasn't until I was a senior that I felt I had a best friend; and he was a new student who didn't have years of experience to dissuade him from talking to me!
Well, it was water under the bridge now. But with years of living out of town (most of my classmates had seen each other frequently in our small city), I found that all of these people, whom I thought I'd known well but hadn't really known at all, were nice folks that I'd enjoy knowing under any circumstances.
Too bad it had taken me 25 years to learn that!
Perhaps oddly for such a small class (or maybe not) we had suffered some casualties along the way. No gathering of the Class of '69 could omit the death of James, who died in a car crash while we were still in the early years of high school. But Mike had died a few years after we graduated. I had never known until he died that I wasn't, in fact, the only gay kid in our class. (Statistically, in a class of 40 there should have been four of us, which turned out to be the case.)
Louie, my poet friend, had perhaps had the toughest time, as he wound up needing some medications that were difficult to adjust. His behavior, which seemed erratic to Mary, made her uncomfortable so she spent the rest of the weekend sharing my motel room, which made me uncomfortable. At first. But it gave us our first chance to talk over our marriage, separation, and divorce since the divorce, and we were able to resolve a lot of our issues and begin to focus on our new relationship, as close friends with a lot of history, most of it good, that could never be ignored.
A couple of years later, Louie was dead, a victim of his maladjusted medication.
Also since then, we've lost Joe. Joe wasn't able to make it to the 25th reunion, though he was present at our 30th (which I couldn't make). Joe had been immensely popular, a star football hero as well as class president; and he had made a special effort to befriend me, which at the time I hadn't seen. But not long after our 30th reunion, he, too, was dead of stomach cancer. At least, I'd been able to speak to him on the phone before he passed away.
I've intentionally mentioned only first names, and only a few, because I don't want to compromise the privacy of my high school classmates. On the other hand, a number of them read my blog and I thought they might like access to the photos I took of the occasion.