Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Class of '85, Reunions and Memory Lane

I am quite vocal about how much I love the Internet (especially Facebook). I love the difference that it made at our last class reunion, in the reach we were able to get ahead of time, in the ‘getting to know you all over again’ that we managed to have on the Internet before the reunion, making the actual reunion more involving, less separate.

Out of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, Taunton is one of the largest (ranking, I believe in the top 25). But even being from one of the larger cities, we are still part of a relatively small pond by comparison to even just the top two largest cities, and even smaller when looking further out. And then if we looked at the group of us, from all of the high schools who graduated in 1985 the number of people is even smaller. We can break down these groups into even smaller groups; just people from Taunton who graduated in 1985, and then just the ’85 graduates of Taunton High School. Doing that makes our group limited…exclusive.

In July we are having our 30th high school reunion. A lot of us have known each other since the kindergarten or the first grade. We have a history, together. Both in and out of school. That means that each and every one of us is a part of each and every one of us. It was in an encapsulated age and period of time. When we get together as a group, we are still the kids of that time period, who look at each other as we did back then. No matter how old you feel now, your youth is still right here with everybody who knew you back then. When your identity had everything to do with your hopes and dreams and just being. Reconnecting with the people that shared that time with us allows us to reconnect with ourselves as we were. We cannot look at each other without the memory of what we were like back then being a part of it, which allows us the chance to still be that young and stupid and unique. I have never said that I wanted to go back to being that age, but we all had a few happy moments then, didn’t we? And reunions allow us to go back, selectively. The memories that get taken out and dusted off are the happier ones, the ones that make us laugh or smile. And isn’t anything that gives us a smile worth it? It can be even funnier when a single event is retold by two people who were not in direct contact with each other at the time and two different perspectives come out.

I don’t know about you, but I find it a lot more enjoyable sharing a fun story with someone who went through it with me, or who has an idea about it, than with a person I have no history with. I get tired of having to explain why the crow never flies in a straight line and what that has to do with the price of tea in China. You and I may not have had Latin class together, but if you had Mr. Parsons, my telling you the story about the day Robert F. fell asleep in class (and he sat up front) would be funny to you, because you can guess how Mr. Parsons would have reacted.

Next year we will have been out of high school for 30 years. 30 years. We are very fortunate to have made it this far, because we all share memories of the people that didn’t. Look at how many relatives, friends and classmates we have lost, then and since then. How is it we are told we keep people alive? We keep them alive by sharing what we have left of them, our memories, with each other. Do we want to only see each other and share these memories at Memorial benefits and fundraisers?

We are privileged in our opportunity to get together again.

I was a part of the 25th reunion committee by default. When Kirk O. made the announcement that a meeting was coming up, I jumped on it as an opportunity to be social and see people I hadn’t seen in a while. When I got there, only two others were there and I became a part of it.

For that reunion, we opened up the invitation list to all Taunton members of the class of 1985, from Taunton High School, Bristol-Plymouth and Coyle-Cassidy. This was not an effort to take away from them having their own reunions, but to acknowledge the fact that they are still the people that we grew up with, that we may have gone to elementary and middle school with, before separating off in high school. After so many years pass after high school, the memories of our school days can be lumped together. When we say “I went to school with him or her,” we are not necessarily talking only about high school anymore. It’s too bad only three friends from Coyle showed up. (I was lucky because one of them was my best friend, Donna, who I shared nearly all of my life with since first grade.)

Think about this: only those of us that went to Taunton High understand the importance of the Wheat Bar and only a smaller part of that group know the Irish Blessing.

Note to Scott M.: although I am not a part of this reunion’s planning committee, if there are wheat bars at the reunion, I will personally make sure they are heavily guarded!

                                               (photo courtesy of Kristin M.S.)

Who else knows the fun we had at the Gondola after band and choir events, marching in parades, singing or performing at the lighting of The Green, when Taunton really did seem like the Christmas City? When Taunton High School was only Taunton High School—and had a usable swimming pool? Peter P. George. Highland Heights Roller Rink and Silver City Skateland, Granfield Driving School, the Boys Club or Girls Club (when they were separate). When 8th grade was still a part of middle school and we had graduations and trips to Rocky Point. Learning the New York Hustle in gym class at Bennett School. Riding bikes to ‘the mall’ (I’m not going to call it the ‘Old Taunton Mall’ here; back then, it was just ‘the mall’). Hanging out at Side One Records and Top of the Town (spending more time there than money), getting ice cream (or just fries, because that’s all we could afford) at Bliss, and seeing movies at the Chalet and the drive-in behind it.

Tell me you didn’t smile, even a little, at some of that.

We all bought our supplies for Home Economics at Sew-Fro Fabrics.

– Yes, I took Home Ec. In sixth grade at Mulcahey school. I had to. (I made a gym bag and learned how to fry an egg inside a hole cut in a piece of bread with a drinking glass.) But I fought it. My reasons for being the un-domestic goddess that you know today go way back, having been told my whole life that “women had their place.” My grandfather told me on a regular basis that I would never get a husband if I didn’t learn how to “cook for my man.” (I certainly showed him! Of course, I don’t have one now, but I’m fairly certain it has nothing to do with my lack of cooking skills. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.)

I hated having to take Home Ec at all, but was able to switch into Industrial Arts for seventh and eighth grade. Donna did, too. We were the only two girls in the class and were constantly picked to sweep the floor at the end of the class, because our teacher was another man who didn’t think girls belonged there.

(I guess I can also thank Mr. Bettencourt, too, for his involvement in shaping me into the man I am today!)

All the boys in that class that saw us sweeping the floor, whether they heard us bitching or not, are also part of a shared memory and experience, even if indirectly. And yes, I did make the wall sconces. And they were beautiful.

(This is still my blog.)

A number of months ago, before the reunion committee officially convened, I had drinks with two of our classmates, Kathy O. and Yvonne B. I did not hang around with Kathy in high school, in fact I saw her more in middle school and elementary school (she is one of the few people who would understand what it meant at Bennett School when Mr. O’Neill’s ears turned red). I did not know Yvonne in high school, but we are great friends now. We took a picture and I posted it to our class of 1985 page and called the picture a ‘mini reunion’. I posted it because I think it’s cool that we can remain connected this many years later, and even be closer now than we were back then. A few of the first comments on the picture were negative and had to do with us ‘planning the reunion and not telling anyone.’ I took it down after that. It was rather funny, but at the same time it wasn’t. Shortly after that, the reunion meetings started and almost immediately there were minor quibbles about who was in charge of making decisions. One of the most unfortunate parts about that is that some of the people who were the most vocal were not making an effort to be a part of things. For my own separate reasons, I am no longer part of the planning committee. But I hear bits and pieces, and the funny thing is one of the first comments I hear is that “this is just like high school” – obviously that is a derogatory comment. And while I agree with that assessment, I am also seeing that the reactions in the background conversations and possible decisions to boycott the reunion are just as ‘high school’.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who planned the reunion, or how it was planned. Obviously, yes some of these details can enhance or detract from the event – but only mildly. They are just details, and have nothing to do with what the idea of a reunion is about. Whether or not you hung out with specific people in high school, junior high or elementary school, you did share a moment of time, of your history and theirs, together. What matters is that we are still here and have the opportunity to relive the best moments of our childhood with the freedom that adulthood gives us of being selective, enjoying only the good ones with people who were there with us whether they were part of our inner circles or not, without having to worry about the lines of the ‘class status’ that were in place then, or being defined by our lives now in our jobs, marriages, children and (choke!) grandchildren.

We are each a part of each other’s history in one way shape or form, in direct friendships and then shared friends and events, neighborhoods, schools, classes and teachers, extracurricular activities, churches, Taunton, and the 80s. I may not have shared some of those experiences directly with you, but I did have many of the same experiences.

—well, some. I, sadly, have no overly crazy high school party experiences to share. I waited until after high school to get a reputation. J That was not by design; Dad was very strict. Who knows what kind of crazy party animal I could have been back then if I’d had the opportunity?

No, no one is everybody’s cup of tea. Some of us didn’t get along back then or now. We are even allowed that. But whatever our relationships with each other, nothing can change the fact that we were all there together at that time. And whether or not certain events were shared directly or indirectly, we did share them and we are lucky to be able to go back and touch them.

We are all old enough to know that we give our attention to what really matters to us. If the venue, or any of the details about the reunion, matter that much to you, show up. Or make it a point to be involved. That’s the bottom line. Understandably, some of you can’t attend meetings because you may live out of state. If that’s the case keep in contact with the reunion committee; we have the Internet now, we can use it. If you can’t be bothered, then let the decisions be made by those that do, and trust them. The class does get consulted as much as they can be if any big decisions need to be made, and plenty of things can be done over the Internet.

If nothing about the idea of a reunion appeals to you, just don’t go. But don’t let the reason for your absence be or have anything to do with what doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. That would be a real shame. Go for the right reasons, or don’t go—for the right reasons. I’ll be honest, I toyed with the idea of not attending myself. My own reasons had nothing to do with any minor squabbles about the reunion, but I am ashamed to admit they were no less ‘high school’ (actually, they were…maybe more like ‘junior high’). But I also realized that it would be a shame to let one reason possibly cause me to miss another smile like I got the last reunion, when Donna and I were once again the only ones dancing and Chris M. came up to us and said that seeing us together alone on the dance floor was like a “flashback to Mulcahey School.” 

(Thank you for that smile, Chris.)

I hope to see you all there.