Peeling Away 40 Years
My family moved from Jericho in 1978 and I don’t think I have been back to visit in a good thirty years. I’ve often wanted to take the time to return, revisit where I spent ages 3-18, but there never seemed time.
This weekend, though, was my 40th high school reunion and after being hit or miss about previous ones, I felt compelled to be there. Thankfully, the stars aligned and I managed to have the entire day to luxuriate in being a teenager again. First, I headed to New York then took the Long Island Railroad to Hicksville, commuting as my father did for 17 years and I did on occasion for conventions and concerts.
My childhood best friend Jeff Strell and his wonderful wife Debi collected me and let me rubberneck as we headed to a Syosset diner. So much looked the same and yet even more had changed so restaurants, fast food chains, and local businesses had vanished. We reminisced, recalling what had been there, slipping backward through the years.
Lunch was with two more pals who were also choosing not to attend the formal reunion that evening. David Carol’s mom and mine played cards on Tuesday nights for nearly two decades. As a result, David and were friendly despite being very different. He’s done quite well for himself as a photographer with his fifth book due out shortly. Steven Kelmenson had worked with Jeff at whatever Sperry Rand is called now until his recent retirement and he’s fit, happy, and chatting with them was like time hadn’t really passed.
After lunch, we hit the Jericho Cider Mill, adjacent to the high school and the site of many a field trip to watch the cider get made. It was hopping but look the same, the wood frame structure showing its age.
In 1959, Jericho Junior and Senior High Schools were built as a massive complex with
double-doors acting as the barrier separating worlds. They wisely added a spacious gym and an indoor pool where elementary school kids were bussed for swimming lessons. The place was packed with various activates going on so, at Debi’s urging, we entered. Once more, we time traveled but to Earth-2. So much was the same but there were definitely new touches. The rifle range for the gun club is now a dance studio and the lockers were all changed. Administrative offices seemed to expand into former class spaces.
A recent renovation had just been completed and it’s now a Middle School and High School complex but that’s just organizational semantics.
We went upstairs for to continue looking only to hit an odd dead end that was confusing until I later learned they added to the building. Once reoriented, we walked through the years from junior to senior high. The entire front lobby is different complete with a huge Hall of Fame set of plaques and we scanned, looking for familiar names. We wandered to the Little Theater, where I jumped off the stage and tore ligaments in my ankle, and where our joke of a radio station was (we never had a transmitter, just the ability to play music into the cafeteria and we had to bring our own LPs).
We both recounted where we took classes, who the teachers were, and marveled at how much was suddenly instantly recalled.
We then headed to West Birchwood, the housing development that took over the potato farms starting in the late 1950s. Some of my earliest memories were Sunday mornings with Dad, going to watch our new home being constructed, me marveling at the work and eating a bagel. Driving slowly down Tioga Drive, I recounted the names of who lived in each house until we got to my house. While many had been remodeled or given fresh colors of paint, my house was an outlier, unchanged. I stared and of course the memories flooded back.
Driving from my house to Jeff’s, I noticed the full grown trees altered the look of the streets and the distance between points, from an adult’s perspective, were nowhere near as long. We got to his home and visited with Jeff’s mom for a while. Sitting in the living room, so much had not changed and I was ten again, surprised to learn our front door keys fit each other’s front doors, and something that kept coming up in conversation.
The reunion committee selected a restaurant at 10th Avenue and 18th Street for the party. Some 70 people, of a class of 350, had signed up to attend. Walking in, I was impressed by how many I could recognize on sight (thanks to them not changing or Facebook) while I had to study name tags to make the connections. I was reminded of my fannish obsessions all through elementary school and into high school but then had their admiration that I turned those into a career. Many of those present I had known since Kindergarten and we did the usual 30 second catchup, condensing forty years into the barest of highlights.
These were not my closest friends as time and circumstance kept them away, but they were warm, familiar presences. The social cliques from high school were largely erased and we intermingled freely. One of the organizers and her sister made a very impressive video covering high school and previous reunions. The 15 known deceased members of the class were remembered and reminded us of our own mortality. I wasn’t close to most of them and one name threw me since I hadn’t heard previously.
Still, seeing everyone was fun. Some I would have liked to have had deeper conversations but the venue didn’t allow for it. (I did, have, though one heck of a pep talk from one, which was really appreciated.) Everyone, though, seemed content with their place in life, many already talking retirement, proud of their kids and even grandkids. Life has been pretty good to the Class of 1976 and we were all very pleased to be there. The outpouring of affection has continued across social media, which helps those bonds remain between physical meetings.
Was it worth the time and expense? Absolutely. Sometimes reviewing and reliving the past can be a good thing, showing how far we’ve come and how we’re not alone on the journey.