by Martha E. Shivvers
I HELD THE LETTER in my hand, caressing it as I dreamed of bygone days. “The reunion,” the letter conveyed, “will be held the thirtieth of May at Cedar’s Park. Come and bring some old pictures of yourself and see if you can remember your former classmates.”
Now, that was a silly remark. Remember the old classmates? Why, I could still see them! For instance, I could see Bill as plain as day, blushing to his hairline the day I was helping prepare the senior class picnic lunch and I’d teasingly, holding up the fruit, asked him if he would like a date. Oh, how handsome he was! And I would have been thrilled to have been a dating companion of his, but he did not have eyes for me.
There were the athletes who were the gods of the school. To have one of these big, handsome boys look at you sent shivers of excitement down the spine, but if perchance one of them would wink at you, your body felt it was shapeless putty. And they must have known the power of the wink because they seemed quite profuse with it… I discovered much later when some of the girls were comparing notes. Of the “wonder men” only Pat and Timothy went on for higher education. I wondered, now, what their future had held for them. The other fellows, so far as I’d ever learned, had stayed around the town working at different jobs, or were farmers.
I thought about Ella; lovable, laughing, teasing Ella. The boys called her “Fat Ella,” and no one ever asked her for a date. However, she was the life of any group with her wit as she always had something funny to say or do. She was… obese, we gently called it, and never attractive to the guys. I can see now, but couldn’t then, that all of that buffoonery was a cover-up. She cloaked her personal emptiness with a forced mirth, the raucous laughs, and the pranks and jokes.
I couldn’t forget John. I laughed to myself. How could I? If he had worked as hard at studying as he did at teasing, he could have been the valedictorian. He had a way of twisting his mouth and talking so no one would believe it was him. Many times he provoked the teacher with his antics, and when, and if, he was accosted, he would look as innocent as a baby, and the teacher believed his innocence… or did she? Anyway, many a wronged student was sent to the principal’s office for talking. Since John sat right behind me, I had the humiliation of being one of them. John laughed at my plight, but then he treated me to a malt after school. He was so full of fun and self-assurance and charm that girls and guys flocked around him. Oh, I would know John!
Wanda and I were exceptionally close. We planned what dresses we would wear, we styled our hair the same way, we took the same classes in school, and we even dated fellows that were friends. We shared happiness and youthful sorrows. We planned to go to college together – room together and study together. But the plans were changed. Wanda went on. I stayed behind and sought work. Her lifestyle changed, and I cried when I wasn’t invited to her wedding. Oh, she comes to see me once in a while, but I don’t understand her life, and I’m sure she would never understand mine.
Our class was rather large that year – that is, large for Cedar High. There were some boys and girls that I didn’t know very well. I knew their names, and all of that, but we didn’t have much in common. One little group that I thought was especially happy consisted of Nell, Mindy, Susan, Mary and Polly. They had a camaraderie that was extra-special; they spent weekends together and had slumber parties. I often wished I could be a part of some of their fun, but I wasn’t ever asked, and then, too, I didn’t want to hurt Wanda’s feelings by sharing fun with someone else but her. I talked to them friendly like and laughed when they told me about some of the good times that they had had.
Oh, yes, little Susie. So beautiful, so intelligent, and so quiet. I think we may have envied Susie a little, but she was never part of any particular clique, nor did she seem to mind.
At last the day came – our fiftieth-year reunion! I was slightly apprehensive as Jim, my husband, and I trudged across the park with our picnic basket. We’d driven over a hundred miles, and I was excited. Could it be possible that I wouldn’t remember some of the people?
There was a large gathering in the shelter house – a lot of people with white hair, some men with no hair at all. Some of the men were skinny and some had paunches – this much I could see as we threaded our way across the grass. There were some tall, beautiful ladies with dark hair, some short, fat ladies with snow-white hair, while some of them looked ordinary, like me. There were also teenagers and little tots running around the park. Could I be in the right place? From where we were, I couldn’t recognize anyone as yet. I looked at Jim. Well, he was getting pretty gray on top, and so was I – so we walked ahead.
A tall, svelte, black-haired lady reached for my hand and pumped it vigorously in a warm greeting. “Ah, Wanda, you haven’t changed a bit,” she sweetly said.
I gulped. “But I’m not Wanda. I’m Josie. Wanda and I always chummed around together; you’ve just gotten us mixed up. But… now let me guess… you’re….” I was groping. Remember, little mind, remember! After what seemed to me to be uncomfortable hours, the lady laughed loudly and raucously.
“Why, don’t you know me? Fat Ella? I didn’t think anyone would forget that!” Then she tugged at the sleeve of a good-looking man who seemed to be quiet, serious, and bashful. “And this is my Everett! We are celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary today. Aren’t we lucky!” She patted my cheek and flitted off to meet the next arrival. I didn’t get to introduce my Jim. We just looked at each other and smiled.
“Now, I’ve got to know you,” I said to the fellow at the coffee urn. “You’re John.”
His eyes twinkled; he laughed easily and said, “Would you like to have a date?”
“Not Bill! Of course, I should have known. But where’s that blush?”
“Left it in old Cedar High. I’d like you to meet Candy, my wife, and would you believe that two of those little tykes running around out there are our grandchildren? We have four children, did you know?”
I didn’t, and told them we had four children, too. And we had three grandchildren, but that our family was scattered, and we didn’t get to see them very often. I started to tell him about the children going to college, but Jim pulled on the sleeve of my dress. I was proud of them getting to do the very thing I had so longed to accomplish and didn’t get to. Perhaps it was just as well to keep quiet; it would sound like bragging anyway. Bill’s Candy was lovely, and they both seemed to like my Jim. Our conversation flowed easily.
The sea of faces before us astounded me. I tried to find Nell, Mindy, Susan, Mary, and Polly. I did so much want to meet them again and learn from them just what their life had been like. When I asked about them, someone told me that none of them could come. Polly and Mary had moved to California; Mindy had had an unfortunate marriage, and it had devastated her life. She lived in a little home on the outskirts of town. She manicured her yard, raised beautiful flowers, and it was thought that she was the one who wrote the articles for the local paper. The name was strange, and some of the group thought it sounded like what Mindy might do. Susan and Nell had never married, and they had moved. No one had their addresses so invitations could not be sent to them. I was deeply disappointed.
As the sound of conversation rose higher and higher, it became more and more difficult to hear the introductions of the classmates and their families. I tried, too, to readjust the memory I had retained of each individual to the person speaking, and to the actuality of the passing years, many times failing.
“Where’s John?” I asked. “Isn’t he coming?”
Someone soberly announced his death… last year… cancer… a long time of suffering.
“Oh, no! Not John who was so vibrant and fun-loving.”
“Yes, John, and witty to the end.” It was like an eulogy.
I studied the faces of some of the folks that stood in an outer circle, quietly visiting. Should I go to them and make myself known and ask who they are? My assurance was faltering by now. Do people always change that much in fifty years? Then the man in a summer navy uniform and the lady clinging to his arm moved toward Jim and me. He smiled, and I returned the smile, weakly. Who in the world was he? I tried and tried to think, but my mind was blank.
“Josie, Josie, don’t tell me you don’t remember the fellow who came home with your brother Bob so many times?”
“Richard? Richard Irvin? I didn’t know you went into service. Surely by now you have retired.”
“Well, this is my last year. You see, I didn’t enter the service for several years, and I’ve been on limited duty for the past five years. I want you to meet my wife, Cloe. She was a freshman when we were seniors; perhaps you didn’t know her.”
Cloe Hunter! That cute little freshman cheerleader that everyone flipped over. I wouldn’t have recognized her. She seemed to drool over Jim. I didn’t much like her approach but tried to smile warmly.
We unpacked our baskets, putting the array of foods on the table. We ate, we talked, we joked, and we were serious in remembering events and recalling incidents and finally listened to the reading of the letters from absent classmates, that is, those classmates who took the trouble to write. One of the letters was from Timothy’s wife. Timothy, she wrote, had been a pilot in the war. Some folks in the group knew that; I didn’t. They had met while he was training in California. They moved back to the mid-west, into the Chicago area, in fact, after his dismissal, and he went into business with an uncle. He was sent out on business, flying the company’s plane many times.
Timothy had often talked about his schoolmates fondly, the letter went on, and she was sure he would have liked to have shared this special day with those present recalling days gone by. He had been sent on a trip a year ago, and the plane had gone down in bad weather. Both he and the plane were burned. Perhaps we had read about the incident, she went on. She and their two children, who were grown, made their home in Evansville, near Chicago. Two dogs completed the family. She sent her best wishes to everyone present. It was hard to keep the tears back as the letter was completed. Then a little ceremony was quietly presented respecting the four class members known to have died.
Then the conversation drifted to our lives of today; high prices, taxes, aches and pains along with illnesses, and, oh yes, retirement. Indeed we talked about the ups and downs of retirement with its pitfalls and its joys.
“Oh, heck, what’s the use kidding ourselves!” It was Pat, the athlete who had become a successful businessman and retired on a nice income with a lovely home all paid for, so someone told me, and a family that was grown. And he was bored. “We just live to get old!”
“Not me!” The voice was melodious. The lady was petite. She hadn’t made herself obvious before. Her smile was sincere as she continued, “I’m growing old to live.”
Susie! Quiet little Susie, still the wisest of the group.
Hand set in Deepdene; initial is Fornier, cover type is Rivoli. Paper is Ivory Sunray Vellum, 70 lb., and cover, 65 lb. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 470 copies on an SP-15 Vandercook.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20770