Category Archives: memories

Childhood Christmases: The Candy House

Each year, in December (okay, a few have been in late-November), I post about some memory of past Christmases, specifically those from my childhood years. If I keep this blog up long enough, I may run out of those and have to go to teen years. Examples of some of those posts are:

December 2015: Progressive Christmas decoration

December 2014: Wrapping Paper

1953, perhaps first year for the house, before the tradition of adding candy was in place.
1953, perhaps first year for the house, before the tradition of adding candy was in place.

One memory I’ve wanted to write about, but haven’t because of a lack of photo to illustrate it, was our candy house. Other people do gingerbread houses; we did a candy house. My brother got all the family photo albums; one of his sons now has it. I keep forgetting to ask him for a copy of some of the photos. I’ve finally done that. However, as I wait for a good photo that shows the house in it’s full glory, I found this one in the photos I have. It’s from 1953, from before my memories, and it shows an early version of the house that would over the years morph into the one I remember.

Dad built the house out of plywood, put a simple light bulb base in it, with a blue incandescent bulb, and voila: you had a house that would be pretty with that blue light shining through the windows and door. All that was left was the decoration.

It is very hard to find Necco Wafers in stores around here. We have a stash we bought in R.I. years ago, begging to be put on a candy house.
It is very hard to find Necco Wafers in stores around here. We have a stash we bought in R.I. years ago, begging to be put on a candy house.

This happened either on Christmas eve, or maybe a couple of days before. Mom would make a large batch of white frosting (no store-bought stuff for us, if it was even available then). The whole outside was covered with this to represent snow, with the frosting dripped from the eves to form “icicles”. Then candy was stuck to the frosting. Necco Wafers for shingles on the roof. Red and green M&Ms for bricks on the chimney. Also M&Ms for the Christmas tree on the back. Gum drops to line the windows on each side.

The 1987 version in NC. I note we must not have had red and green M&Ms, and we used a white light inside the house.
The 1987 version in NC. I note we must not have had red and green M&Ms, and we used a white light inside the house.

The house was set on a thick piece of glass, which would also be covered with frosting. Spearmint candies made nice landscaping. Either spearmint or gumdrops lined the walkway leading to the house. The final thing was a candy cane stuck to the front door.

On to the dining room table it went. But, the decorating wasn’t done yet. All around the house were put various figurine. Carolers, snowmen, reindeer, someone in a horse-drawn sleigh. And, in the chimney, a right-sized Santa Claus, ready to go down.

Again, from 1987: our daughter and the house display.
Again, from 1987: our daughter and the house display.

The photo I give you here doesn’t do it justice. This was early in the candy house tradition. You can’t actually see any candy on it. In fact, I suspect this was the first year for it, when my sister was 3, I was almost 2, and baby brother would make his appearance two weeks later. They made a nice, white house—very pretty—and went with the external decorations. After this they probably thought, “Why not stick candy on all that frosting?”, and in later years did so.

How long did the candy last, you wonder? With three young kids in the house, you’d think not long. But the rule was: No taking candy off the candy house until New Year’s Day! And we obeyed. On new years day we could begin. I always went for a Necco Wafer first, then a gumdrop, then a spearmint tree. I’d break an “icicle” off and have that. It would usually take four or five days to get the house and “grounds” clean of candy.

Dad built several of these candy houses. I know he gave one to his sister Esther, who decorated it. I’m sure he made at least one more, though I’m not sure who got that.

Our accessories now go in the Christmas village.
Our accessories now go in the Christmas village.

Years later, in the mid-1980s, when we were living in North Carolina, I asked Dad if I could have the candy house. He had no kids in the house and no wife to prepare it. He said yes. I remember we decorated it one year, around 1986: same house, same base, same candies uses, different accessories. We have a very nice photo of our daughter next to the house. If I can find it, I’ll add it to this post. But, I believe it’s in an envelope somewhere in the house, never having been put in an album.

I thought this year would be a good year to make the candy house, for the grand-kids to enjoy. I wouldn’t even make them wait until New Year’s to take candy from it. Alas, I can’t find it. It appears that, from our many moves, the house and glass are gone. Did a mover steal it? Not likely. Did I give it to someone rather than store it when we moved from NC to Kuwait? Possible, but not likely. Is it hiding in a box, somewhere in our large and poorly-organized storeroom? Perhaps. If not, I don’t know what’s become of it. A piece of Dad gone forever.

Perhaps I’ll learn woodworking skills that Dad never taught me, and figure out how to make one; or find a kit at a hobby store. Maybe I can build a house for next year, and the wife and I can figure how to make it look half as good as Mom did. If so, you can be sure I’ll post it here.

Death In The Journey

Death does in fact change life, for those who are left to mourn.
Death does in fact change life, for those who are left to mourn.

In my last post, I started talking about the life journey I’ve been on. Several times death has punctuated that journey. At least once that death was life-changing. I allude to this in my most recent publication, When Death Changes Life. While those collected stories are officially fiction, they do come from a point of knowledge about how a death in the circumstances described will impact a family.

In my melancholy moments, I often think about another death: that of Chemala Johanan Babu. He worked for me in Kuwait. When I changed companies there and became a Director of Infrastructure Engineering Services at Kuwaiti Engineers Office, I inherited a crew that was working offsite. We were partnered with a British firm to improve one of the interstate-quality highways in Kuwait. The crew we supplied was mostly CAD technicians. They worked under the supervision of the Brits, in their office, although they were employees of our company. I had no need to do anything regarding this team. The Brits processed everything about them, even their timesheets. All I had to do was watch their billable hours get added to our department’s.

I met them all only once. When I learned that I had this crew working offsite, since I hadn’t met any of them, I made a trip across the city to meet them. They were all names to me, who became faces, but faces I wouldn’t ever have to deal with. Babu was one.

Nothing to do with, that is, until the job they were working on came to an end, and these men (about eight of them) would have to be let go. It was a sad day when I had to write them all a memo, telling them their assignment would come to an end in a month, and that we had no other work for them, and thus would have to let them go. Sad, yes, but they knew it was coming. They knew they took an assignment that would end at some point, and that their employment wasn’t needed after that. Kuwait allowed workers in their position to shop around on the open labor market, and hopefully they’d find a job with another engineering company.

The day after that memo was out, Babu was in my office. I recognized him, and realized I had seen him one other time, at the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait. There were two large Indian language congregations (Tamil and Malayalam, if I remember correctly), typically each over 1,000 in attendance, that met very early Friday morning, much earlier than the English Language Congregation, all of us sharing the same facilities. I had seen him there once, not sure why the two of us were there at the same time. Now here he was, the third time I’d seen him. I’d met him once, and then seen him. Now seeing him again, I realized who he was.

He came to plead his case to remain employed. He really needed the job, he said. There was something about his visa that wouldn’t allow him to stay in the country unemployed while looking for a job. He would have to go home. At least, now 27 years after the event, that’s how I remember it. I felt sorry for him, and said I’d see what I could do.

I checked with the other directors, scoured my own department’s workload, and had nothing. I did, however, have the promise of a couple of projects that would start soon. One was another roadway project with a different British firm; the other was improvements at a university campus. Neither project was guaranteed, but both looked good. We would know on both in a couple of months.

I decided I could take a chance, keep Babu on staff for a month while we waited on those projects, and help him out. If those projects both came through I would have to hire someone. I reasoned that keeping him on staff for a month without billable work would be no more expensive than having to go through a hiring process.

I called the off-site office to tell him the good news. He wasn’t there; had been that morning, but not since lunch. He didn’t call me that day. The next day I called again. He hadn’t yet reported to work. Later in the morning I learned the awful news. The previous day he had been to the Indian embassy on some personal business. Taking the bus to near the office, he crossed a six-lane road on foot. Except he didn’t make it. He was hit by an Iraqi driver who was in the country illegally and driving without a license. Babu was killed instantly.

A day or two later I went to pay my respects to the family. He had lived with his sister and brother-in-law in one of the poorer sections of Kuwait City. I went there to find the streets packed with people from southern India, all coming to mourn with the family. One of our senior mechanical engineers was from Babu’s province and language group. He met me and brought me up to the house, through the crowd.

Inside, I met only the brother-in-law, as the sister was wailing in another room and didn’t want to meet anyone. He and I talked about what would be done with the body, if the police were notified, if there were any mourning rituals I could participate in (such as fasting). It was a good ten-minute visit, and I was off again. The mechanical engineer thanked me over and over for coming. I hope it helped them.

So, this was part of my life journey. Not a happy part, obviously. But, as I said earlier, it’s something that always comes to mind in my melancholy moments. As I get older, and am nearer to death myself than to birth, death will become more and more a part of my life. I’ll have many more chances to grieve, and to mourn with others. Yet, the story of Babu will stay with me, forever a memorable part of my journey.

Finding Beauty

Our backyard; 18 Dec 2016

Tomorrow I will turn 65. There’s not much beauty in that age anymore. It used to be that you  could retire at 65 with full benefits. Alas, the “Normal Retirement Age” for my birth year is 66. And, of course, since retirement is more a question of money than of age, I figure on working till I reach 67.

This week my brother-in-law has been with us, as we prepared for the trip to Oklahoma City that we’re currently on. He’s staying behind at our house with his mom, my mother-in-law. He, his mom, and my wife, when they get together, talk about the hometown and who’s alive, who’s dead, where someone lived and moved to, who so and so is, etc. It’s interesting to listen to, but I can’t participate much. I know some of the names, as I’ve been in the family over forty years now, but I’m still not a full participant in those conversations.

Anyhow, at some point this last week, one of them (I think my mother-in-law) said, “What a dreary place western Kansas is.” [approximate quote] I’ve heard that before from her, and from her children. In the past I’ve said I find much beauty in the stark plains of Kansas, but this time I said nothing.

It’s true, however. I do find much beauty in the prairie, even the high plains, where the trees are few, vegetation limited, lakes mostly absent, the riverbeds mostly dry, and the towns ten to twenty miles apart. I got my first glimpse of the Kansas prairies in 1974 when I made the short drive from Kansas City to Lawrence. But, that’s eastern Kansas, which even then was seeing development. I had my introduction to the central Kansas Flint Hills area in May 1975 and western Kansas in October 1975. I loved both areas. They have a stark beauty. Perhaps, had I grown up there, I would feel differently. But as one who married into a Kansas family, I found it beautiful.

So, this got me to thinking about the beauty of the world—really of the universe—in its many locations. Having grown up in the eastern megalopolis, I was always amid a manmade environment. When I made my drive west in 1974 to take up my job and residence in Kansas City, I couldn’t believe the beauty of the endless mountain chains in Pennsylvania. Driving through Akron I found beauty in the tire plants on both sides of the Interstate, a different built environment than I was used to. Central Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois each had their own kind of beauty, mostly rural as seen from the (then) relatively new interstate highways. Missouri was an eye-opener, as for the first time in my life I saw frontage roads, seeing three or four miles from one hill peak to the next, and I found it all beautiful. A few months later and I added Kansas to the list of the USA’s beautiful places.

Years later came Saudi Arabia, Europe, North Carolina, Kuwait, several countries in Asia, then Arkansas. And in each place I found a different kind of beauty. The deserts I found beautiful. The dense hardwood forests of Arkansas and the mixed hardwood-softwood forests of North Carolina were equally beautiful. At some point I made the first of several trips to New York City. There, in the concrete jungle, I found beautiful architecture and other things to admire.

So what am I saying? That beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Maybe, at least a little. I think though, rather, I’m saying that you find beauty by looking for beauty in your circumstances. Those circumstances might require you to redefine what beauty is. Which is a good thing, I think. I’ve done that several times in my life, and may do so again some day.

I don’t know that I’ll be able to find beauty in every situation, every location. But I’m up for trying.

A View of Christmas Past: The Nativity Scene

bumpkins-manger-scene-croppedBack in December 2010, I started this series, intending to do a post each year, or many a couple, around Christmastime about my memories of childhood Christmases, maybe linking that to how times have changed. I didn’t do a good job with my series. I made two posts in 2010, then not another one until last year. Time to resume telling about Christmases past.

Long past? No, my past.

One of the things our family did, which perhaps was unique, was how we did the nativity scene. We called it the manger back then, or perhaps the crèche, not the nativity scene. That term entered our family much later, but I’ll use it now since that’s what most folks call it.

This was, perhaps, the first Christmas decoration to go up in the house. Last year I wrote about our tradition of progressive decorations. Well, the nativity was one of the first to go up, two or three weeks before Christmas. But it had only animals in it. I remember a cow, a donkey, a horse, and some sheep. Maybe we had a shepherd too (can’t remember), but probably it was just the stable and animals. So where were Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus?

They were somewhere across the house. Joseph and Mary were, that is. They were enroute to Bethlehem, to the stable. Every day they moved a little closer. I think the nativity was placed on the closed sewing machine table in the dining room. If so, Mary and Joseph were somewhere in the living room. But baby Jesus wasn’t with them. He wouldn’t appear until Christmas morning.

Day by day the couple inched their way to Bethlehem. Obviously the geography of the Holy Land wasn’t a factor. Focus on the journey, not accuracy, was the intent. Eventually they made it to Dad’s desk, also in the dining room, then to the Windsor chair next to the sewing machine, then finally, on Christmas eve evening, they arrived at the stable. Christmas morning Dad or Mom would bring out the baby, and one of us would put it in the empty feed trough. And a couple of shepherds would arrive, along with their sheep (three, if I recall correctly). And I think we added an angel as well, on top of the stable. What about the wise men, you ask?

They also appeared on Christmas day, but not at the nativity. They started a long ways away from the stable, and started their trek there, which would end on January 6, Epiphany. The next day the nativity would be put away with the rest of the decorations.

So for one brief day, the nativity scene was complete. This was a lot of fun for us kids. And I think it helped us to better understand the dynamics of the story. Rather than have a static scene of all participants, we had a moving story that we participated in. We never actually read the Christmas story, ever, on that morning. But we understood what was going on.

What about in adult years? I think I tried this a year or two when we lived in North Carolina. We had a large, older home, with lots of territory between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and between lands to the east and Bethlehem. But the tradition never got going. Maybe all the relocations we made made this impossible. Not every place we lived would have worked for a moving nativity. Plus, the nativities we had didn’t have as many moving parts.

Now, with just me and the wife, and now the mother-in-law, in the house, it seems unnecessary. So the manger sits, all participants in place, as if it were Epiphany. The photo above is of how it looks this year, on our new console TV converted into a table. It’s pretty, even if it’s not historically accurate.

Wisdom From Dad – A Peck of Dirt

About 1934
About 1934

Wisdom from My Dad – A Peck Of Dirt

My dad, Norman Todd, was a smart man. No, he didn’t have a great education. He quit public school after eighth grade, which was sort of a standard for many people around 1930. He went to work for “Old Man Angel” in East Providence, Rhode Island, as a farm hand. He worked the five weekdays and a half day on Saturday, and for this he got “a dollar a day plus my dinner” (by which he meant lunch). I’ll talk more about that in a future edition of Wisdom From My Dad.

He didn’t stay out of school, however. He entered a trade school to learn the trade of a linotype operator. When he finished, he started work at this trade, and worked at it till his forced early retirement at age 60, interrupted only by his time in the army during World War 2.

As I said, though only moderately well educated, Dad was smart. He had these sayings he used to say. One of them was “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you croak.”

I never asked him to elaborate on that. And I’m not sure whether this was one of those things he said to be witty, or if he really believed it. But I see in it a lot of wisdom. A lot of people will recoil at the idea of eating a peck of dirt. For those who don’t know, a peck is two gallons (eight quarts). Unless you’re an unsupervised and adventurous kid playing in mud puddles, you’re going to ingest this dirt grain by grain over the years. A lot of food goes in, along with a little dirt. You don’t notice the dirt.

So, is there any wisdom in Dad’s saying? Do you actually have to eat a peck of dirt before you can hang up your cares in this world and move on to the next?

To me, it means you have to live life. Don’t shrink back and be a wallflower. Don’t let others run your life. It might also mean don’t avoid things in life that are messy. Not everything you need or want comes in a pretty box with a bow on it. Sometimes you must get your hands dirty to accomplish anything.

I wonder if it also can be taken literally. Not everything you eat or drink is pure. Some of it has dirt on it. Eat it anyway. The dirt and a few germs will make you stronger. We have a tendency now to try to make our personal environment as sterile as possible. In a noon hour class yesterday I watched a man go to adjust the thermostat when several people complained about the temperature in the room. He took a key from his pocket and tapped the thermostat key. I thought that was odd. Then I remembered this is a guy who touches nothing in a bathroom without a paper towel covering his hand. When he washes his hands he turns the water on full blast for a minute or more, scouring his hand until the last germ he might have encountered has reached a distant sewer. He fears picking up a germ on the thermostat button, so he won’t touch it directly. Of course, no germs would be transferred from the button to the key to his pocket and later to his hand.

Can we totally avoid germs in our lives? I don’t think so. Should we take reasonable efforts to avoid contacting germs? Yes, for sure. Should we take extreme measures to avoid contacting germs? I think, for the normal person with normally functioning immune system, germ avoidance can indeed be taken to an extreme. Take in a few germs; build up some anti-bodies; keep stressing that immune system to help it grow stronger; get your hands dirty; live a long life.

Thanks, Dad, for this bit of wisdom.

A Shot in the Arm on a Dull Sunday

I had my flu shot a little over a week ago, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

This morning we had a good sermon, a great service, and a great Life Group class (that I didn’t have to teach). It was a difficult lesson, and my co-teacher did a wonderful job with it. But that’s not what I’m referring to.

After church, we dropped off recyclables, which is on the way home. That’s a once or twice a month Sunday ritual. Then we had a simple lunch. I pulled out the piano and vacuumed behind it. Then I vacuumed one little place in our bedroom that needed it. I paid a couple of bills and walked them to the post office, about a 2 mile walk. Thence it was re-hydrate with some ice water, and to The Dungeon to see what I could accomplish. Many things to do, including write this blog post, and not enough time to do them in.

First thing I did was check my e-mail. Ten new ones, which I figured were the usual junk and “who cares” type of e-mails. But there, in the middle of the ten, in the “from” line, was the name of a high school and college friend I’d lost contact with. Actually we’d all lost contact with him. By “all” I mean every single one of my high school and college friends I still keep in touch with. Every time we get together we speculate about ________, wondering if he was alive or dead (an awful speculation, one that will only grow through the years), where he was, what he’d done with his life, etc. I had looked for him on FB and not found him.

He found me. Said in his e-mail he was organizing old negatives, found a couple with me in them, went looking for me on the Internet, found my website (I guess) and thus my e-mail, and sent me the photos. We’ve now exchanged a couple of e-mails, and have caught up a bit. Turns out my February business trip will be to his current city of residence. Hopefully we’ll be able to see each other.

It’s always a shot in the arm to reconnect with someone after four decades. But what’s even nicer about this is he tried to find me. That has happened so rarely in my life that I’m sure I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Sorry for the cliche.

That wasn’t what I was going to write about today. I had two other things that crossed my mind and would have made good posts, but this seemed better. Hopefully the other ideas will come back to me at some point.

Saying Goodbye to an old friend

045We are assimilating the “stuff” of my mother-in-law into our house. Her large furniture has been sold, or put in use in our house: one bedroom set and three easy chairs. In the garage are a mattress and box springs (surplus), and an extra box springs (bought by someone years ago but never picked up). In the house are mostly smaller items, including linens and paper items. Those will take time to go through. The garage is full of her stuff spread out on tables, mostly marked for sale. When the sale will actually take place is a mystery, but hopefully soon. Part of our work yesterday was more work going through the pantry to see what might be too old to keep, seeing what was now duplicated, etc.

Meanwhile, the need to de-clutter has been on our minds. We knew we had to start, so that we don’t leave our kids in the place my dad left us, with a houseful of stuff to be sorted, priced, and sold or discarded. Yet, saying you will de-clutter is easier than actually doing it.

I made a little progress two weekends ago. I moved things around in the basement storeroom to accommodate a spare bedroom set. While doing so I found four suitcases we’ve had since heading to Saudi Arabia in 1981. These are well-traveled suitcases, but still in good condition. We originally had 12, of two different sizes, but through the years the others have been damaged and discarded. Even though we have new suitcases, we kept these because…why did we keep them? I suppose because they were in good condition and we thought we might use them someday. I pulled them out and set them in a place where I can easily take them upstairs when we have the garage sale, which hopefully will be soon.

Then, behind where the suitcases were, I saw my old trumpet. I bought this in the fall of 1963 (6th grade), with my own money, Dad later chipping in with some money he owed me (that’s a long story), and played in the school band from 6th grade through 12th grade. Truth is, I was never very good, and in high school never made it past 3rd trumpet. But I enjoyed it and I played.

Then came adulthood and children and overseas adventures. The trumpet went in storage twice while we were out of the country, and otherwise was in whatever storeroom we had in whatever house we lived in. Here in Bella Vista that’s the basement storeroom. The last time I played it was about 20 years ago. The interim of no practice hadn’t made me a better player.

So I thought, “Time to de-clutter; unused trumpet.” Two and two went together. I thought I should donate it to a school district for a kid who wanted to play but couldn’t afford one. The problem was the case was really beat up. I once rammed it into a fence post while trying to avoid hitting Adele Palazzo with it between home and school (another story, not so long). That gave it a crack, which later expanded, and a small piece of the case was lost. Then, around 1997 I loaned it to a family at church who couldn’t afford to buy one. It came back in a few weeks with several long cracks in the case. And when I pulled it from storage, a 7-inch piece of the case was on the floor under it. Would anyone want it with a severely damaged case?

I decided to check. One of my wife’s step-sister’s husband works at a Catholic school system, was a music major years ago, and is involved in music with the school. I asked him if his school system would like it, damaged as it is, and he said yes, very much so. I told him I’d bring it to Oklahoma City next time we were there, and he said he’d actually be passing through our area soon and would pick it up. That happened yesterday, and it is now gone, somewhere in Norman, OK, waiting to be used by some student who can’t afford one and can live with a bad case.

So I say goodbye, old friend. Sorry I never gave you a name. You were part of my life for 52 years, though admittedly I’ve neglected you for the last 45. You were money well-spent. Yesterday it was nice to see your valves still worked after at least two decades without maintenance. May you find love in a new home, and help some kid to come to appreciate music. And may your tones bless the world for decades to come. Over the next year, no telling how many of your storeroom buddies will also find new homes.

Something Special: Meade High School, Class of ’67

This was the fourth reunion I attended of Meade (Kansas) High School class of 1967, my wife’s graduating class. We also attended in 1995, 2000, and 2005. Now some of you may ask how a class with year ending in 7 has reunions in years ending in 0 and 5 instead of 2 and 7. To explain I need to tell you a bit about Meade.
First you need to find it on a map. Look for southwestern Kansas. Find Dodge City, Liberal, and Garden City. Mead in on US Highway 54, about 40 miles southwest of Dodge, 39 miles northeast of Liberal, and about 60 miles southeast of Garden City, about 100 miles east of the Colorado border and 20 miles north of the Oklahoma panhandle. Notice on the map how the towns in this area are ten to fifteen miles apart. The dryland/irrigated agriculture of the regions does not need population centers with services closer than that.

Meade, the city, has somewhere around 1,700 people. It peaked at 2,200 people in past censuses, when agriculture boomed and oil drilling was in full swing. But 90 percent of their high school graduates move away. A few move back ten or twenty hears later to raise their families, and a few people move in in search of jobs, but not enough to replace those who die off.

With the small population, and with the largest graduating class ever being about 64 people, and with a total of 3,400 graduates in the school’s 98 year history, the Meade High Alumni Association decided to have all school reunions on the 5 and 10 years. They hold this on the closing weekend of the county fair. So all interested alumns came to Meade last weekend.

Lynda’s class had 61 graduates, and three “friends of the class” who for whatever reason left the cohort, making for 64 people associated with the class. Near as anyone can figure thirty-two of those attended some or all of the events. We drove in late Thursday afternoon, not knowing her class was holding a party of the early arrivers, so we didn’t attend that. We did attend the Friday evening party. It was supposed to be for the class of ’67, but there were people there from ’57 (kind of old and out of place), ’61, ’64, ’65, ’66, ’67, ’68, and probably ’69. All over town there were similar gatherings that evening.

Saturday was a reunion at Lynda’s home church of returning attendees, then tours of the old school, then a picnic at the park of the classes of ’65, ’66, ’67, ’68, and ’69 (while other groups met elsewhere in town). Then a banquet and program that evening of all the classes, then an after-banquet party for ’67 that sort of fizzled (or started very late), then an ecumenical church service on Sunday morning. At each of the official or semi-official gatherings, the conversations lingered long. Heck, even the check-in on Saturday morning was a reunion, with small grouped engaged in animated conversations.

I enjoy going to these reunions, even though I didn’t attend that school and had met only one of her classmates before 1995. I sit back with the other spouses or significant others, and watch the interactions of the returning classmates. For a long time only two or three lived in Meade. That number is not up to six, so almost all of them are coming in from afar. The interaction is great. Every reunion someone returns who has never been to one before, and that person becomes a star of sorts as everyone tries to catch up. the men keep looking older in five-year chunks, and the women seems to change less, no doubt the chunks mitigated by applied colors and perhaps surgeries. The women all insist the guys take their caps off to see what they are hiding. The guys…make no similar request of the women.

This class of sixty-four has something my class of 725 doesn’t have: a shared school experience, and a shared community experience. They all went to the same grade school and junior high school, actually in the same building as the old high school. When someone tells a story about Mrs. Griffiths, one of the two 6th grade teachers, everyone knows her (even those who had the other one), and can appreciate the story. Everyone in the class knew each other well, and hung out with a large proportion of the class after hours. They shopped at the same grocery store, tormented the same elderly people, vandalized the same vacant houses, and played in the same woods.

In contrast, I doubt if I even knew a hundred people in my graduating class. I think not more than five others from my elementary school spent all twelve grades in the same schools I did, though many others spent more years together. Those shared experiences and relationships with the entire class is what I don’t have with my class. Maybe part of it is because it took me forty years to ever get to one of my reunions. Bit I knew very few of those at my reunion. Of the 79 who attended, I probably knew fifteen. I met about five or ten of my classmates for the first time, even though forty years ago we walked the same halls and hated the same assistant principal.

My class will never have that special bond that Lynda’s class has. It can’t have it. For all the benefits of growing up in a good sized city with a large school, the lack of shared experience is one of the unfortunate drawbacks.

Kudos to Meade High class of ’67. I hope you know what you have.

Going Back Again

Last week I was in Rhode Island for the first time in almost five years. Visits there are less frequent now that Dad is gone. Then we went every couple of years to see him (and when we were overseas we made Boston our port of entry and Cranston, Rhode Island our home base for visits to the States), but now it takes a wedding, a funeral, or a business trip to get us east of Chicago. Not many of those come up.

This was the longest time between RI visits for me. Perhaps it was this length of absence, but Rhode Island almost seemed a foreign place. Of course there is the language barrier–accents that are strange after years in the midwest, overseas, south, and for the last eighteen years the border between the south and the midwest, but it’s more than that. Place names are mostly familiar, but not roads. Does RI 37 have an interchange at Pontiac Avenue? I wasn’t sure, but took a chance and it turned out it did. Does this city street extend from Pontiac to Reservoir? I didn’t think so, so I accessed it via Pontiac. Turned out I was right again. But the memories were weak, more instinct based on years of learning how cities and streets develop than memory.

I could write much more about this, but have little time to do so. The visit to the cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried brought familiar scenes to the fore, a mixture of pleasantness and loss. The trees surrounding Birch Garden in Highland Memorial Park were larger, but it seemed many must have died, for it was not as grown up as I remember it from 1997.

The URI campus was much changed, a mix of familiar and new. Trees bigger. Traffic patterns changed. Frats and Sororities in places I didn’t remember, but with buildings obviously old enough to have been there when I was. The lay of the land and topography seemingly new. New athletic facilities that seemed so large they must have been a waste of taxpayer money. I found I only remembered an axis from Butterfield dormitory to the Student Union and the quad and on to Bliss Hall (the civil engineering building), but little else. Even the streets I used to ride my bicycle on to get to work in Wakefield seemed different. The second dorm I stayed in (only for one semester) I couldn’t have picked out. Maybe if I was on foot, but not from a car.

The years have flowed by, like water in a pipe. Life has taken me down paths I never would have guessed, though the work of my career has turned out quite similar to what I decided on my junior year of high school. Last night Lynda and I were discussing the mini-reunion I had with friends in Cranston last week. That led me to take my senior yearbook from the shelf and spend almost an hour in it, something I haven’t done for probably three decades. So many of the faces were foreign to me, even some of those who signed at their picture. I knew that person? How? It says we were in band together (or English or Chemistry or football or track), but I just don’t remember them. For a lot of years I have limited my ready recall to just those few I was closest to. Maybe that’s how most people do it.

Hopefully I’ll be back in RI new year for my 40th high school reunion. About 680 graduated from Cranston East in 1970. Per actuarial tables, most of us should still be alive, though not all will actually attend. Will seeing people in the flesh bring back the memories? I kind of hope so.