And climb the stairs to the beach...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not just a 40th Reunion

Most of you know that I attended my 40th high school class reunion a couple of weeks ago. It took a full year of planning, as usual, and was a lot of work but well worth it. Although I live 1,000 miles away, now, I still was able to help out via Internet and telephone. And I was able to attend one meeting up in MA last June. Having worked on every one of them in the past, this one, for me, was the most fun and the most successful.

I have lots of pictures of the event I can post here on the blog, and I will soon. There are so many people who I have had fun getting to know again, and even for the first time via Facebook and email and I will write about them as well. But today, I have one little part of the reunion I want to write about.

We had about 113 people attend, 88 of who were classmates. Some were classmates for only one year; others from first grade all the way through graduation- a wonderful gift of growing up in a small town in a time when people stayed put for a while and everyone knew all their neighbors.

Some of those kids from my neighborhood with whom I shared 12 years of school were at the 40th reunion of Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School's class of 1969. But back in the late 50s, we were lucky to have had the South School, a neighborhood school house with just two classrooms: one for first grade to the left and one for second grade to the right. It was on Massasoit Avenue and is today a private home that I would love to go inside to explore someday.

There, in what we all saw as a looming white building on a hill, we experienced together our first day of first grade. We all walked there, leaving home early so we had time to play before the bell rang, some of us running down the steep hill of Pokonoket, across Indian Ridge Road, cutting through neighbors’ yards. There were lilacs, heavy with purple blossoms hanging over the fence between Mrs. Wynn's and the Downing's house, smelling sweet as we ran by, trying not to alert their barking shepherds. Through woods and across fields and carefully avoiding the Winship’s clay tennis courts, where we had heard older siblings, taking the same short cut in earlier spring times had left behind damaging footprints in the soft and muddy clay. Apple trees, from an old orchard left fragrant memories of blossoms in the spring and apples in the fall as we passed them before entering and crossing the needle-carpeted stand of pine, at last emerging across the street from the school.

Beneath the giant horse chestnut tree at the edge of the schoolyard and near Miss Simonds' house, were hundreds of chestnuts and sharp, prickly pods, always a curiosity worthy of taking the time to stop and examine in the morning if we weren’t late; and again when we left in the afternoon, usually collecting a few to take with us.

The School was perched on the side of a grassy hill, set perpendicular to the street. A circular gravel driveway went halfway up and swooped past the boys' basement entrance and back down around to the road near Mrs. Poe's house. Over on the far side was a spot for the teachers' cars, never more than two.

The swings, near the top of the hill swung higher than any I had ever been on and the jungle gym was a challenge for me. I remember its cold metal bars and wishing I, too, could hang upside down by my knees. The jungle gym was near the girls' basement door. That's where we hung our jackets, on metal hooks lining one wall, our boots and lunch boxes right beneath.

Right past the jungle gym and next to the swings, was a path through a small opening in the fence. It was the short cut to Robin's and Laura's and our church, the library and my Dad's office.

On the downhill side of the school yard, near the back fence of the Harpin's house, was a huge tree, probably an elm. I have a very clear memory of 4 or 5 of us walking around and around that tree, one hand brushing the trunk as we circled it, singing "Whistle while you work. Stevenson's a jerk. Eisenhower’s got the power. Whistle while you work."

Mrs. Stanley was our teacher in first grade. She was young and pretty and blonde and wore her hair in a French twist. I remember high heels and a smart black dress. She left us part way through the year to have a baby so Mrs. Bennet was the substitute for the rest of the year. She was a grandmotherly type who had taught some of our parents at the little red school house near the Wayside Inn, before she retired. Some first grade memories are putting our heads down on our desks for a nap each afternoon; mid-morning milk, not always cold; and sandwiches in wax paper for lunch; sun streaming through the huge windows that went all the way to the high ceiling, just like church.

My brother Chuck and I, 1958

But then, for second grade we had the most loved of all teachers: the legendary Mrs. Mary O'Connor. She was all my brother had ever talked about the year before and finally I was in her class. What a thrill! Who could forget Good Work Slips on Fridays? They were simple strips of construction paper she had cut and then she placed a gold star or sticker on the top. I remember sometimes we would get seasonal stickers like a cornucopia or a Christmas tree. They were handed out the last thing of Friday afternoon with much ceremony, individually calling the name of each child who had earned one that week. We didn’t get one every week, but boy, when we did, it was something to be proud of. She expected us to do our best, and so we tried to do that. She made us believe that we were smart and nothing was too hard for us. She always called us 'dear' and we knew she meant it.

Mrs. O'Connor had a hand puppet called Hazel the Witch and she wrote vocabulary lists on the tall thin blackboard in the back of the room. Phonics was her passion and my favorite thing. We memorized Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening in her class and that was my introduction to poetry, something I love still. She showed us pictures of famous paintings and we listened to music and sometimes we put on plays right there in the classroom, memorizing our lines of course. I played Mrs. Claus in the Christmas play. Santa, played by Bruce Larson, had lost his spirit that year. I still remember the line I had. "Why Santa, why do you sit there idle?" I had no idea what the word Idle meant and needed quite a bit of direction to get the inflection just right. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, ‘When I was seven, it was a very good year’.

And so two weeks ago, while we reunited with high school classmates from 40 years ago, we managed to have a reunion within a reunion and a handful of those kids who 50 years earlier had that unique connection of spending two years in that small but special schoolhouse, gathered in a room and had our picture taken. These are the people I look for at every reunion. I have some wonderful friends from later years in elementary and high school and even from reunion committees over the years. I love them all and I have stayed in touch with some and I am always excited to see them and reminisce and catch up. But these people-who I have known since before we ever read our first Dick and Jane-these are the folks I really hope to see every 10 years because when I do, I really feel like I am home.

Seated: Betsy Medowski Gately, (retired after 30 years as a 2nd grade teacher.) Robyn Long Reel, Cathy Marsh Finan
Standing: Laura Jewett Corcoran, Larry Morisson, Brian Maurer, Peter Mercury, Suzanne Hall Eaton

Patty Ide and Robin Long, Bluebirds c. 1958
I do wish there had been a few more of them there that night and maybe next time there will be. I know of only one, Patty Ide, who sadly is no longer with us.

Peter Mercury and Betsy Medowski Gately at the class reunion, stand next to the Memory board made in honor of our 22 classmates, gone too soon.

And my oldest and dearest friend, Sue, couldn’t make it this year, but I will personally get her there somehow for the next one.

For now, I have the photo of the eight of us from that night a couple of weeks ago, a few snapshots and a couple of home movies from those years when we were all growing up in the neighborhood and all those memories that only we South School alumni from Mrs. O'Connor's class of 1959 can share.

Have a great day!



Note-The quality of some of the photos is not the best because they are taken from old home movies from 1957-1958.

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