A PERSONAL ESSAY ON THE REUNION
For me the reunion fever started when I inadvertently picked up my 1961
Recall and started looking at pictures wondering what roads everyone had taken. I
started tracing back my footsteps like a child in the snow, not sure of what
I would find, but having the curiosity and courage to find the missing pieces
of that puzzle.
I found Slotkowski, who had been living just a few miles from me all that time,
and he directed me to the website. Then we all counted down the days until
the reunion weekend like kids waiting for the unknown surprises of Christmas.
Soon my classmates would patiently endure all my strange questions.
Suddenly there we were Friday night, like some kind of old Shriners walking
around with blinking nametags at a small convention. The appearance of my old
classmates was not recognizable for me, but what rang a bell was the voice I
heard when my back was turned, or the gestures and gait of someone's walk across
the darkened room. And then one by one the pleasant surprise of walking up
to someone, staring first at the yearbook picture on the nametag, and then
putting a new face on the old name. Some of us were confused, like deer
jacklighted in headlights, and others were in an outgoing celebration mood, showing a
sense of humor like a game show contestant guessing at all the wrong answers.
So many times in the last 44 years, when I would pass strangers on the street
in a new town, I would wonder how many times I may have walked right by someone I
didn't recognize, who had been a part of my life. Some of the peace I find
now, after the reunion, is that I will now probably recognize my old friends.
The highlight for me was going back to where the journey began on Saturday
morning. We were all completely informed about what to expect when we arrived.
It reminded me of how a doctor would quickly brief someone before visiting
their loved one in the hospital who had been critically injured and missing a
couple of limbs. The doctor would try to prepare you for a shock.
The first thing I saw was the quadrangle clock I used to look at as a boy,
from my barracks, during evening study hall, which had stopped at 1:10
some 30 years ago. Ellwood Heisey and his wife, Mary Ann, had graciously unlocked every door on the entire campus, just as it was four decades ago when we attended. It
was a different time and it's hard to imagine that back then the door to the
barracks and the cadets' rooms were never locked, 24 hours a day. Elwood allowed
us to explore and wander around by ourselves, opening doors just like I had
envisioned in many of my past time-travel nostalgia dreams. We could sit at the
headmaster's desk, or stand at the front of the quiet classrooms. Some of us just
sat quietly in the blenchers and visualized ghosts of the passing platoons from the last century marching by in full dress.
Stepping into the lower gym was, for me, stepping back into time as it
hadn't changed. I walked around the stage and it was complete with some of the
same stage props scattered backstage that were there when I was a boy. I sat in
the balcony where the less pretty girls would congregate and sit patiently
during military balls hoping, that any cadet would just ask them for one dance.
Walking into C barracks we had to pass through what seemed like a secret door
that appeared to be just a closet, but led to the 2nd and 3rd floor cadet
rooms. The size of the staircases were not as grand as I had remembered, as well
as the size of the cadets' rooms and bathrooms. But with imagination you could
see that they were pretty much as they must have been for more than a
century...Then it was time for the bus to leave and I had seen enough.
The Saturday night dinner was just a few hours away, with a noticably subdued
atmosphere. For me it was important to be myself and I thought the best way
to break the ice was to simply play my blues harp and let everyone hear who I
am. If anyone was a little bit curious about that shy crew-cut cadet of 1960,
then I figured someone could learn more about me by listening to 2 minutes of
my music than talking to me for an hour. My music is who I am. Always
improvised and straight from the heart, universal and simple to understand. In some
sort of strange way I'm proud to have not graduated, but rather to have
survived on my own terms and maybe, in the process, made some sort of very small
contribution to society with my soft-core animal rights work and self-taught music.
I find it incredible that we all took completely different roads; but for that
one short weekend (a wink of an eye in eternity) our paths converged at the
same intersection in St. Louis just to meet and celebrate at that crossroads.
No matter how different we all are, we have the common bond of having grown up
for a few years together at Western, and our past has become part of the
persons we are today making old habits that can never be broken.
To deny that would be to deny our past. I suppose that's why reunions are not for everybody, but for me it was a very worthwhile experience that provides some sort of closure and fulfillment, feeling satisfied that life has come full circle. I can only imagine how Nick from the class of "39" must have felt at 84 walking around smiling and laughing the during the entire reunion weekend. Now it is just another memory for all of us, and we should learn from him what a healthy sense of humor is really all about.
After all, in another 100 years, nobody will care what we did on May 7 & 8,
2004, but we will nevertheless leave pictures...just in case.