Thursday, June 18, 2015

Alma Mater

Earlier this month, my teenage daughter and I drove down to my hometown. She was along for the ride because I had wrangled half-price tickets to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring Glee's Darren Criss, who is particularly dreamy if you're seventeen. I was going for an even more sentimental reason. My 35th high school reunion.

All right, let me stop you before you say "You must be kidding!" Or "How is that possible?" Or "But, you look so young!"

Yeah, thanks, I know.


Anyway ...

We were also joined by our new canine. My New York family, having seen countless puppy posts, photos, and videos on Facebook, was desperate to meet him. The poor little guy had a couple of vaccines at the vet's the morning we left (rabies and the first of two for Lyme disease), so he wasn't very comfortable. The ride down was long.

Not too sure how the little dog would respond to a strange apartment, we stayed in, ordering (real) New York pizza and watching TV. Even though I hate to miss a single moment of city life, it was good to chill because the rest of the weekend was a whirlwind.

In the morning, there was a program at my high school. I grew up in the west 60s, and the school is in the east 90s. Despite some ominous clouds and a misty rain, I decided to walk diagonally through the park. Between the bikers and the joggers, dog walkers and strollers, suffice it to say, I wasn't alone. 

The school was built on the grounds of an old armory. We moved there when I was in ninth grade, after two years in an office building near Grand Central Station. Later classes dubbed it "the brick prison." We were just happy to have a permanent home. The school, an extension of the City University of New York system, had been placed and displaced several times.

As I walked up 94th street towards Park Avenue, I felt a wave of familiarity. I wished for a moment that I could share it with my daughter or my husband. But, the former was still sleeping and the latter had politely declined. My husband won't go to his own reunions because he doesn't want to compare "hairlines, waistlines or bottom lines."

The morning was very satisfying. Twenty or twenty-five of my classmates had come. We met in one of the classrooms first (I think I had English there, once upon a time), hugged, kissed, caught up and took pictures. Then, we headed down to the newly renovated auditorium, where we were treated to video excerpts from the school's most recent musical, a couple of presentations from students, and comments from each milestone class. Most affecting were two 93-year-old alumnae who reminisced about finding their first jobs during World War II.

I had to rush out as soon as the representative from our class finished speaking to catch a cab down to Times Square, where my daughter would meet me for Hedwig. As soon as we finished at the theatre, we took another cab uptown where I changed, grabbed a bag of nametags, posters and goody bags, then jumped in yet another cab for a ride downtown to our reunion dinner.

What a wonderful evening! We had nearly 100 people and the atmosphere was pure joy. Even the girls who at seventeen were cultivating an attitude of world-weary
blasé seemed genuinely happy to be there. We caught up with old friends and in some cases made new ones. And together we remembered the handful of classmates who passed away before their time.

These reunions mean more to me as I get older. Partly, I think, it's a natural nostalgia. But a lot of it has to do with watching my own high schooler negotiate her education and her friendships and all the changes she's going through as she moves from childhood to adulthood. I also have a much greater appreciation for my old school and the respect it afforded each of us. The building may have looked like a prison, but we had freedom that my daughter and her cohorts only dream of.

More than anything else, I look forward to the next reunion and celebrating who we were and who we've become with the remarkable women and men who shared that time with me.

Despite too much stress and too many rules, I hope my daughter will relish her reunions someday too.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at 

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