Thursday, October 09, 2014

"Sooooo...Whatcha been doing for half a century?"

Some old friends.

(Uh, let's make that: Friends I've known a long while.)

Left to right: RevDrThomas Shepherd, Cheryl Thornburg, Mary Ellen Schultz, Beverly Reidinger.

Reading High Class of '64
50th Rerunion
October 2014

Comments at a Milestone: The gathering of aging baby-boomers.

Like salmon obeying the call to retrace the path which led us away, we returned to Reading, PA,  My graduating senior class from Reading High, which originally numbered almost 800, returned from the sea and found the home waters familiar, yet no matter how comfortable we were with each other, everything had changed.

I have been to one other reunion, the 20th, thirty years ago. (Three decades--how's that possible?!) So, I was eager to see what life had done with the raw material of youth we so brazenly threw into the marketplace of experience. Confession: With an adolescent need to look artificially impressive, I upgraded my rental car at Philly Airport to a bright red Chrysler New Yorker and drove happily onto the lot of the Inn at Reading. Of course, the parking was taken near the door, so I pulled into a distant slot and nobody ever noticed. But, what a grand car!

It was an evening of restrained merriment--we're Pennsylvanians, for God's sake, not a mob of New Orleaners cavorting at Mardi Gras. Yet, one of my favorite moments happened when a mixed dance floor packed with Germans, Italians, Poles, African Americans, and an assorted selection of ethnicities went a little wild, dancing and singing the words to "Play That Funky Music, Whiteboy!" Those lyrics would have been impossible at the Senior Prom in the Spring of '64.  I smiled and thought, "We've come a long way, Baby, and we're better people because of it."

People mingled throughout the evening, squinting at plastic-covered name tags which showed our Senior Photo as it appeared in the Arxalama, the school yearbook. I never bought a copy; my family was too poor to afford one. I joined the Army a few weeks later, and I've never looked back. The Reading School District was more-or-less integrated in the 50s and 60s when we got our public education. RHS was the lone public high school in a city of almost 100,000 souls, and unless you were Catholic with religious parents who could afford parochial school, all school roads lead to RHS. Roads, not buses.  There were no school buses in Reading, so some of us literally walked a few miles to and from school. We came from four Junior Highs, all converging on the "Castle on a Hill."

 As the evening rolled on, people dribbled out, obeying their aging bodies at last. Yet, even after the music ended, little knots of conversation lingered, as if to squeeze the last drop of completion, to find the nectar of meaning in half a century, even though, I suspect, most of us realized long ago that life is under no obligation to make sense. A still-youngish woman I knew as my age--one of those rare beauties of fifty years ago which lingered in memory and aged like good wine--made a remarkable comment in this lights-up, post-music, after party. She said--and I paraphrase--You can tell those who have kept themselves young at heart, by looking in their eyes.

As a Unity minister, I translated that observation: Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind. You get from life whatever you put in it. My classmates could not control forces beyond themselves--the dynamic changes in their world, the advance of age and the occasional battering by illness--but they could control the way the responded to it. And I saw lots of smiling retirees and people who were still working, bringing the zest for life with them after fifty years at sea.

Well done, Red Knights. See you at the 55th. (I just bought a yearbook online.)


Anonymous said...

Very nice post Thomas...enjoyed reading it.
Looking forward to our 55th.....

Jeff J

Patrick Geary said...

We had our 50 year junior high reunion this year and it was magical. Looking forward to the 55th!