It’s fascinating when you get a chance to put some of the pieces of the puzzle of your life together.
I had one of those fascinating moments last Saturday at my high school reunion.
It started early Saturday morning. I hooked up with one of my old friends. I remember him from high school, but he remembered me from as far back as elementary school.
He told my wife he first saw me as I walked into our third grade classroom mid-year. I was on crutches, and the children, according to him, were afraid to associate with me, because I was “crippled.”
Next, as MC for the night’s activities, I went around and personally shook hands with all who attended. One alumnus, who said he was on the water polo team with me, asked if I remembered when we were in the cafeteria, and he said,” what are you gimping around for? You trying to get out of practice?” He said I turned around angrily and said, “I had polio.”
The next day my wife asked me if I had learned anything from the reunion.
I paused. Hesitantly, I nodded affirmatively. It was hard to let words come out.
“I thought I was someone who had overcome polio. I was wrong. Evidently, in the minds of some, I’ve always had polio.”
I did not want to be known for having polio. Evidently that’s exactly what I was known for.
Not the only thing
That wasn’t the only thing people remembered about me. I had another water polo team mate come up to me and say how “outgoing” I was. “You would talk to anyone,” he said. Even in water polo games, “you would talk to the guy who was guarding you.”
And one of the girls who remembered me said I was always being sent to the office in junior high for talking too much in class. “You were such a hoodlum.”
Well, I didn’t know I talked so much, but come to think about it, that’s how I’ve made my living for the past forty five years.
I met one woman I had known quite well, but not only couldn’t she remember me, she couldn’t remember what function she was attending.
The same thing happened to a man I also had known quite well. I greeted him and he said, “Who are you? I don’t need your help.” Of course he also said that to everyone who greeted him that night.
It’s Clear To Me Now
Well, could this possibly be how I was remembered? As the kid with polio? As a kid who talked a lot? Was it really true that a few of my close friends were no longer capable of remembering those they grew up with?
There’s nothing like a high school reunion to keep one grounded.
Some Interesting Stories
There were some interesting stories that emerged.
One of the guys I swam with at Long Beach Millikan High School had become a Zen master, and lives two to three blocks from me in Salt Lake City. He’s lived there “19” years, I’ve lived there 10 years, and I’ve never seen him. Of course, he’s been dressed as a Buddhist monk.
The vast majority of the two hundred people who attended listed travel as one of their achievements in life.
A retired Los Angeles Angels baseball player now drives a school bus in Northern California.
Ninety-two people in our 1962 class have passed away. Those who had died in their twenties usually did so from accidents. One person in his fifties died from drinking gasoline that he regularly siphoned from cars.
One guy was Goofy at Disneyland, and flew around the world in Disney’s jet playing that character. He’s now a multimillionaire “slumlord” in Los Angeles, Detroit, San Diego, etc.
Close to 20% of us have been married to the same person for 40 years.
And, 70% graduated from college.
As a graduating class we went through many of the great transitions of the twentieth century.
The Soviets (Russia) put up Sputnik (first satellite) in 1958, and it became apparent that they had pulled away from us in math and science. Hence, we were the kids who were expected and required to load up and excel in these subjects as we entered high school. By 1970, we had put a man on the moon.
In 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis took place, and many of us volunteered for military service. It was a false alarm, but the Vietnam War wasn’t. By this time some in my class became the first anti-war protestors.
In 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated, and within a five year span of time, assassination had taken the lives of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, etc. Violence for political and social ends upended our Camelot kind of lives and turned them into wild and chaotic ventures.
A 60’s rebellion came into full bloom. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll became the symbols that described our generation. Long hair, beards, and sandals became common attire. A rift, between the traditions of our parents and the existentialism of ours, opened up, causing a breach that never closed.
Our music tastes evolved from the cool Jersey sounds of Frankie Valli and The four Seasons to the hard edge of The Rolling Stones.
During the mid 1960’s, the civil rights movement started and many of us experienced the Watts Riots firsthand. Civil Rights legislation, regarding open housing, fair voting and educational equality for African Americans, changed the political landscape in America for good. Because a Democratic President from Texas was responsible for pushing through this legislation, many in the South were repulsed and vacated the Democratic Party. The South eventually became the backbone of today’s conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Most all of our parents participated in World War II and were part of the “Greatest Generation”. We changed that. We were and are known for being the “hippie generation”, “the sexual revolution generation”, “the god is dead generation”, “the drug culture generation”, “the civil rights generation”, and just two years removed from being “the baby boom generation.”
In many ways we created a new world. A world that set the foundation for much of what most of us either embrace or reject today. According to Pope Benedict, many of his conservative views on social issues today stem from his horror while experiencing the radical 60’s as a young Catholic priest.
Last Saturday, we returned to see how each fared through these tumultuous years. It was evident to me that many weathered those events pretty well. In our book of photos and bios, it was obvious that we were far more inclined to talk about our grandchildren than anything else.
With the exception of two or three irascible types, our rebelliousness has receded. Even though there were those who have achieved great things in their lifetimes, there was less talk of that and more interest in enjoying the company of old friends.
But, I’m sure that in the back of most of our minds is the recognition of the wisdom gained from the great events we witnessed and participated in.
Generally speaking, as far as I could determine, the class of 62 is still full of hope and enthusiasm. We know that on average we will live longer than any other generation before us. And, if we so choose, we will continue to contribute to our chosen professions, and maybe even start new ones. And, of course, we will continue to roam the earth.