BRUSHING AWAY THE MISTS OF TIME This is the seventh grade class at St. Mark's Catholic Elementary School.
Try to figure out which one is Joyce--and which little boys she liked best!
Grade school kids getting
together after 60 years
By JOYCE KIEFER
Ray Hudson was doing some soul searching. His wife had passed away a year ago. Now, both she and Jack, his best-ever friend, were dead. Jack was our classmate at St. Marks Catholic Elementary School. Now Ray was reviewing his life on the way back to the womb, passing his less than happy days in high school to stop off at St. Marks. The kids from grammar school who knew you then and still liked you are the best friends of all.
I was amazed to get his e-mail. The last time he wrote anything to me was one warm afternoon in Seventh Grade. Bored with whatever we were quietly doing at our desks, I passed him my autograph book. He filled it with one-line jokes.
How and why did he get in touch with me for the first time since we parted directions at the end of Eighth Grade? Not through Facebook but the old fashioned way through coincidence and conversation with a couple of classmates. One mentioned that hed seen me recently but didnt recognize me until we were introduced. Ray must have figured that any change was an improvement over my skinny, shy, pre-orthoRaytist self, because he got my e-mail address from another friend and wrote to me once again.
He drop-kicked the idea of a class reunion. There had been several school reunions attended by a few of our classmates, but never in almost 60 years had there been an event for just the 48 of us, face-to-face with the cast of our childhood and a script full of memories.
We shared the same start in life because most of us stayed together in our single class from kindergarten through 8th Grade. People didnt move around much in our San Francisco suburb. We ate the same Wonder Bread, fish on Fridays, Bordens ice cream cones, and fruit from our backyard trees. We walked or biked to school and played baseball in the street. And we were taught by nuns who accepted nothing less than our best work. Self-esteem rose and fell, depending on how we performed in the classroom, and, in the upper grades, how we appeared to the opposite sex. Bottom line, the nuns told us, God loved us when nobody else did. Sometimes that helped.
We shared the same strict Catholic religion and basic outlook on the worldwe all hated Communism.
But there was a difference in social backgrounds. Some dads were doctors and dentists, others were blue collar or, like mine, clerical workers. The father of one of my best friends was a vice president in a well-known chemical company. Rays girlfriend lived in a gated home with a swimming pool in Hillsborough. He lived in a modest bungalow. Together our class was greater than a simple sum of its parts. We each had a life within the community of our classmates that stood apart from whatever drinking, fighting, and cheating may be going on at home. We were an integral, comforting part of each others lives through familiarity, even if we werent best friends.
For the past few years my friend Jeanne and I had been getting together for lunch with a couple of fellows who were also Rays friends from school. Ray included Jeanne in our reunion chatter and suggested that he and our lunch group discuss an all-class gathering when he came to town the next month. One person invited another and a dozen of us from both ends of the state came together. Only three of us were women.
I stood outside the restaurant, scanning each car that drove in. Was that an old person at the wheel? Then it must be one of us. My heart wanted to see one of the kids jumping out of our 4th Grade group picture I dug up, but my mind told me to look for a gray or balding man with a bit of stoop to the shoulder.
We did have to introduce ourselves to each other, but then the years dropped off to reveal the same half-smile, mischievous glint in the eye, direct way of speaking that turned each person into the kid I once knew.
One member of our group was a priest and another a nun. They had stuck to their vows for a lifetime. We have another classmate who is still a nun, still composing liturgical music. As soon as we sat down, Dicky, who sat across from me, pulled out a picture of he and his wife of over 40 years. She had just passed away and he brought along a copy of the program for her funeral. He showed them to Ray, who sat next to him. No one pulled out pictures of kids and grandkids. Dick put away the pictures of his wife, put on his mischievous grin, and recalled the time one girls big sister chased him into the bedroom and he escaped out the window and down a trellis. He remembered how he, Ray, and other boys courted Gloria Grant by bicycle. They would park outside her house and pretend to fix their bikes. Her father chased them off.
Everyone remembered Gloria OConnor. She came to our class at the time the boys were starting to notice some of the girls. She had long, tightly curled blonde hair, a graceful walk, academic ability, and a breathy Marilyn Monroe-like voice. Out of uniform, she dressed like a young model. Her father was a dentist and the family lived in a big house in a stylish area of town. The girls fawned over her, hoping some of the boy attention would rub off on them. I wished so hard that I could be Gloria instead of gawky me. Gloria never went through the awkwardness of early adolescence.
Neither did Eddy Smith. He was slender, sun tanned with chiseled looks, and was unfailingly nice to everyone, including girls like me with less sophistication than Gloria and her cohort. All the girls had a crush on him. I think the boys did, too. He broke hearts when he transferred to our rival Catholic school at the end of 6th Grade.
Gloria did the same when her family moved to San Francisco the following year. She was replaced by newcomer Sharon Matthew, who made a smashing impression on the boys the day she wore a tight sweater on a non-uniform day, along with a matching knit golf cap with a pompon on top. The nuns let her wear the cap with her uniform. It became her trademark. She chose Ray as her boyfriend. They went together through the beginning of high school until she had a smorgasbord of boys to choose from. He has never forgotten her gorgeous mother.
At Rays urging we decided to invite Gloria and Eddy to our all-class reunion. Thanks to the internet and an address list of unknown origin, we had an address for almost everyone. He wrote a hilarious letter, asking who was interested in getting together, details later if they were. He listed himself, Jeanne and I as contacts. Two days later he phoned me to tell me breathlessly that the first person he heard from was Gloria. She was surprised and amazed that we would include her, found Rays humor so delightful and would be happy to help in any way she could. I could almost hear that breathy voice.
Two days later we got an e-mail from Eddie. Still the diplomat, he said he remembered each of us well. He lives at Pebble Beach now. I hear he had nine children.
This upcoming reunion could be like reopening a box that has sat in the attic. Lift the lid and youre inside with the fun times, the slights, the bullies, the embarrassing momentsall rehydrated. After a flurry of promises to stay in touch, the lid goes back on and once again your classmates take their seats in your past. Some people see their lives as a series of doors you go through and shut behind you as you move on. I think of mine like a bowl of oil colors. Stir them around and they marble into various shapes and configuration. Some sink to the bottom, but they always remain, ready to come forth.
Ray quoted the precocious reflections of his friend Jack on the day we graduated from St. Mark. Jack was everyones ideal, including the nuns. Tall, bright, good looking, athletic, popular, he was truly the star of our class. He died of a heart attack in his 40s, a college professor, divorced, no kids. Ray wrote:
I remember Jack and I standing outside the auditorium on the day we graduated from St. Marks where everyone was celebrating. Jack turned to me and, looking rather wistfully back at those years,said, "Ray, it is never going to get any better than this.
When we finally have our all-class reunion, almost 60 years after graduation, will we find that time has leveled us all? That what mattered when we were kids is no longer significant? We have no choice but to accept each other as is, as the grownups weve aged into, probably not recognized without a name tag. But when we catch the flash of expression, the tone of voice or the sense of humor we knew in each other as kids, well feel the comfort of familiarity. Well remind each other of who weve always been. And well meet ourselves all over again.
©2010 by Joyce Kiefer. This column first posted Oct. 18, 2010.
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