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Facing a tide of old memories

Forget the gray hair, the wrinkles, the “wisdom” that comes only with age. I’m going home this week for the hometown high school reunion for the first time. It’s only been 30 years.Contemplating this, suddenly I’m not the long-married father of two teenagers in high school themselves, the all too curmudgeonly newspaper editor, the semi-responsible member of the community, the well-travelled journalist, the taxpaying, God-fearing, home-owning earnest voter in each election.Nope. I’m stripped right down to my gawky adolescent self – my milk-mustache, deer-in-the-headlights, L-on-my-forehead emotional tighty-whiteys as I get ready for the drive to suburban Los Angeles. Was I an awkward teen? Well, let’s put it this way. My absolutely gorgeous statuesque blonde sister, in one of her honest if not precisely kindest teen moments, once arched her eyebrows at me and remarked, “God you’re a dork.” Sigh, I didn’t get those genes. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly the coolest kid in class. Not that I was original enough to be uncool in any memorable (and therefore ultimately cool) way. Just another skinny, freckle-faced, pimply, trying-too-hard and I’m sure posing sort of teen male. Ah well, I had lots and lots of company, anyway. So, fast forward, watch the clouds rip across the screen, a boy metamorphose into a man. I’m off this week to encounter my classmates from South Pasadena High School, a place I’m not entirely sure I can find anymore without a map. To see nearly all people I haven’t seen since graduation. I’ve long since lost track of my yearbook and with it any hope of recognizing even the treasured few I stayed in contact with until life swept us completely out of touch. (My fault, not theirs.)The Internet is a blessing, though. Looking through the reunion Web site, I recognize more names each time I read the list of RSVPs. The classmates who have passed away have their pictures posted, which jogs memories but won’t help much at the reunion, I’m afraid. I believe there’s something special about the 30th reunion. We’re close to 50, we have kids in high school, some of us even have grandkids, and we’re beginning to die of things other than car accidents. For me, this reunion is a midlife check, a tapping of our roots in South Pasadena. It’s another rite of passage, if less life-altering than, say, graduation, marriage or child birth. We sprang from the same community and share essential memories that track back clear into childhood. These memories sweep over me as the big weekend draws near, a tide rolling in. I’m smashing a knuckle on Marty Swain’s chin at Marengo Elementary School. I’m breathless at Terry Burkett’s beauty, which just hit me, in junior high. I’m knicking the rim during warm-ups before a home Friday night basketball game against rival San Marino in high school, and the stands are packed. The reel that ends abruptly at graduation night with a bus and boat trip much like the Project Graduations in this community is spliced throughout. High school to elementary to junior high, no apparent order. Sweet moments, ones that make me wince, odd and neutral ones. Class, cutting class. Doing what I should, and most definitely what I should not, at least from the parental viewpoint that has taken over since then. The funny thing is I hadn’t thought much about high school or South Pas until last winter, when Leanne (Cox) O’Neill called and my wife handed over the phone with a wide smirk. “Hello, Doo-Hick?” Now, that wasn’t just my nickname in high school. That was my name-name to friend and foe, “Hick” for short. I think only teachers and my mother called me “Don.” (Remember, I was “Dork” to my sister.)So I blame Leanne for all this. And I thank her, too. To be yanked back into these memories is dislocating, to say the least. But so much of who we are today was formed by these awkward years. The perspective is a pearl, burnished from painful grain of sand to precious jewel. My life since Leanne called has been richer for it.Now, to encounter the grownups I last saw as kids about the age of my eldest. … Tighty-whitey jitters and all, I can’t wait to see them. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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