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Can’t go back?

Hope my wife doesn’t mind. I must have invited my entire suburban Los Angeles high school’s class of 1975 at our 30th reunion to visit us.How did it go? Well, the organizers mustered a solid two-thirds of us, even me for the first time. The laughter at times was deafening. Three parties over the weekend weren’t enough to talk with everyone. And I was among the last handful to leave each event – true to form, as I dimly recall. Not to quibble overly much with Thomas Wolfe. But you can go home, at least to visit. You should, too. Absolutely you can recover the past. That’s what reunions are all about. South Pasadena is as I remembered. South Pas, San Marino and southern Pasadena form “old Pasadena,” a stately, well-shaded roost that remains largely as it was 30 years ago. Stay off the freeways and you won’t know you are in L.A. The homes are exactly as I recall them. I see a child – me – pedaling his Sting Ray to Marengo Elementary on this route I suddenly remember down to the chill on slight downhills where the bike gained speed. Somehow, I know my way all around town. Ghosts are everywhere. The place lies in my DNA. As do my classmates, even if I no longer recognized them as well as the unchanged landmarks of childhood. Thank God for name tags with black-and-whites from the yearbook.It took at least an hour to get my first beer at the first party, and didn’t improve on that account from there. Not from any long lines. No, with each step I bumped into another classmate and a chance to catch up on those 30 years since we last saw each other. My class is a bright bunch. We can’t count a senator, rock star or other celebrity among us. But our mainly upper middle class town produced better than its share of Ph.D.’s, attorneys, business executives and a doctor or two. Only one of us went to prison that I know of. A few have managed already to retire in comfort. Some have died before their time.This first party was the most disorienting. We were in the back yard of a house much like the ones where parents had made the regrettable choice to leave one of my classmates home on a Friday or Saturday night. The beer was better now, and we had a lot more to talk about in the dark illuminated by lanterns and a blue glow from the swimming pool. Still, I half-expected the cops to knock on the front door as the hours wore on. I recall they were polite in those days. Then we’d slip off to Twoee’s or the Salt Shaker to wrap up the evening. Look, I was a “good” kid. But I wasn’t that good. Names tickled at my memory more than faces, even the young faces pinned on shirts and blouses from the last time we saw each other. I recognized hardly anyone, truth be told, and I tried not to tell. Surely this was the price of losing those yearbooks. All these old people, just my age.But as we spoke, the years peeled away. Strange voices began to resonate as familiar. The eyes, mainly, revealed the person I once knew. If we talked long enough, the personality I didn’t realize I’d remembered showed itself, too. You can go back, with a little patience.Our social skills certainly have improved over the years. Immensely in some cases, including my own. I remember the cliques even less than the faces and names. Pre-journalist fashion, I drifted at the fringes of several, by my senior year enjoying an eclectic mix of friends. I think by then we all were looking beyond high school and recognizing its rather cloistered social culture.I had longer conversations with some classmates over the reunion weekend than I think we had in school. And I missed catching up at all with some I knew well back then. But now, I didn’t know anyone anymore anyway. Some of my favorite conversations were with classmates’ spouses, those brave souls. Mine stayed home. As my wife had predicted to my laughing denial that I was too much of a dork, a classmate confessed a crush back in high school. I recalled a dance with a very pretty girl while being utterly unable to find the words to hold a conversation. Girls flat awed me. Shy couldn’t begin to explain this. I lived in anguish at my eternal awkwardness around them. So boy, did I miss an opportunity then for all that pained self-absorption. My classmate and her husband were great company at the reunion. Can’t say I mind the wrinkles and gray so much, considering they came with finding our grown-up voices. Still, our teen follies, our awkward moments, our forehead-slapping mistakes shaped us just as our successes did. I wouldn’t trade the crooked path that led here for anything. But relationships for this kid had to wait until after graduation and leaving town within the week. Other surprises? — The big fellas on our basketball team were even bigger than I remembered. I felt a little like Earl Boykins, the tiny Nuggets player, around these guys. Even the other guards looked taller than I remembered. I thought we were supposed to shrink with age.– So many marriages have lasted 20 years and more. So few divorces. How did that happen so close to Hollywood? — Feeling actual affection for my hometown. In high school, I couldn’t wait to escape. I seldom went back; the last time, my 17-year-old son was all of 4 months old. Maybe I just needed a few decades for the clarity to see that South Pas is a terrific community, even surrounded as it is by millions and millions of people. But here’s what alone made going back home for the reunion worth it: kinship. I suppose that was a surprise, too. I figured this would be fun, but the experience was more than that. We scattered or stayed as our fates dictated. But we all came from the same foundation, whatever our ethnicity and whether we came from the mansions or the apartment houses. I discovered a bond I didn’t know we shared. The cord is strong, too, stretching across decades, our separate adventures, careers, families, aging itself. I’m not sure I went back so much as learned that “home” never really left me. I guess that fool of an author knew something after all. If something doesn’t leave, how can you go back? I’ve just been looking at it the wrong way all this time. I know better now.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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