Pearl River I regularly get postcards and mailings every five years on the turn of the calendar inquiring, demanding, and soliciting my attendance at a college reunion. Having barely completed two years there, I get invitations based on my original class and my kind of secondary class. Either way, I would never go. I was hardly there long enough to recognize more than a handful of people who were my suitemates or roommates in my brief stays, having dropped out first to organize against the war and the second time for good to organize for welfare rights and then ACORN forever. The college was in Massachusetts and a long way from next door to where I spend much of any time, so a reunion would be more like an introduction than a reprise of old times.
My high school class is different. I graduated from high school in New Orleans, and New Orleans is my primary address. I could still ignore the emails of course. Our class was small in a big city, even bigger then, and I left for more than a dozen years before ending up back here to my surprise, so it’s not like I run into old classmates virtually ever. Nonetheless, these reunions are harder to ignore, largely because of an old companero, Dan Russell, who my longest serving veteran colleague at ACORN, Carolyn Carr, used to call “my only old friend.”
I’m still in touch with Danny. He sends cards on holidays and birthdays, and for a while when they were kids, our children looked forward to his annual box of chocolate chip cookies. Danny believes deeply in the class reunions and never misses a one of them, if he can help it. When he would come back to the city, sometimes he would stay with us. There was no way to keep the peace with him without promising to attend at least one function. One year he organized a contribution to create a diversity garden at our old school, Benjamin Franklin, so I had to dig deep, contribute, and attend. This year, he somehow ended up as the primary organizer of the event, long postponed because of the pandemic, so once again, there was no way to say “no” to the whole shebang. In fact, with a light twist of my arm, we had agreed to host the opening get together at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, so we were in for a penny, in for a pound.
A funny thing happened this time. Maybe it was because my son, Beth, and I all had to keep busy making sure the event worked. Maybe it was because we were kind of the hosts. More likely, it was because everyone there is now so much older. For the most part they are no longer people I knew from high school, many of whom I hardly remember, but they are nice people with different stories to tell of their children, their homes, their careers, largely over, and the interests that now hold their attention. In some cases, their stories bring back memories of old friends, teammates, fellow travelers. In other cases, the dimness of memory, introduces a new side to people that is more comfortable as it notches a new experience or conversation in the brain, where none was rooted anymore. Maybe it was the last-minute note about classmates who had passed away that softened and inspired this latest reunion or the thoughtful remarks in memoriam.
Unbelievably, Danny, after spending a year putting this whole thing together, wasn’t there. American Airlines canceled his plane twice out of the Springfield-Hartford airport because Covid prevented them from getting sufficient crew on the planes. Maybe it was feeling, with Danny missing, that I had to represent? Maybe it was the last-minute exhortations from the love-of-my-life about how I had to behave and be charming?
Whatever it was, and no matter my mixed feelings on these kinds of reunions, it worked this time. I’m not sure there will be another reunion, and depending on how hard Danny pushes me, or where I might be, who knows if I’ll attend and for how long, but, regardless, it was good to see some of the survivors of the Franklin Class of 1966 back in the New Orleans this time around.
May we all stay well and persist!