|Thomas Wolfe was right -- 09/24/01|
No, not that Tom Wolfe, not the white-suited Bonfire of the Vanities, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby Tom Wolfe.
Yeah, the other one, the Look Homeward Angel, Of Time and the River Thomas Wolfe.
The one who wrote You Can't Go Home Again.
I went home this past weekend, back to my home town for my high school reunion.... my 40th high school reunion!
I had gone to my 10th reunion -- I was in graduate school then, long-haired and bearded (When I had started that beard the previous fall I had been shocked to discover a light frosting of gray, as if I had been eating a powdered donut and some of the powdered sugar had collected on my beard), married and the father of a toddler son (yeah, the one who got married this summer and who is about to celebrate his 33rd birthday). In high school I had been sort of a hood, turned-up collar, hair worn in a d.a.... ten years later I had more of a hippie look.... There hadn't been too many changes in my classmates -- obviously no longer teenagers -- although I thought my looks had changed someone came up to me and said that I hadn't changed a bit.
I also attended my 20th reunion. That time as I was about to enter the banquet room where the reunion was being held I did a bit of a double-take because at first glance I did not recognize the group -- had a brief flash that I was at the wrong room, that this was somebody's wedding reception -- and then I realized that these were my classmates, now age 37 and 38 instead of 17 and 18. The 25th reunion was held at the same country club where the Commencement Dance (our graduation dance) had been held.... likewise the 30th reunion. As we pulled into the parking lot for my 30th reunion and I saw the people walking from their cars into the building I turned to Nancy and said "These aren't my classmates; these are our parents!" No longer teenagers, indeed; it was a collection of people in their late 40's.
The City of Kingston is quite old (for an American town)... in fact, I believe next year will be the 350th anniversary of its original city charter. It has not aged well in recent years. I understand that the Rondout neighborhood, the seedy and crumbling "downtown" of my youth, has somehow survived the devastation wrought by the Urban Destruction (uh, excuse me, I guess that should be "Urban Renewal") of the 1960's and 1970's that tore down interesting examples of 19th century buildings and replaced them with cinderblock boredom and vacant lots... apparently those buildings that were not torn down have now become gentrified and the area now boasts of restaurants and galleries. The prime shopping district -- known as "uptown" -- has never quite recovered from the loss of business to suburban shopping centers. At some point a decade or more ago they converted the heart of the area to covered sidewalks. It certainly was not in keeping with the nineteenth century commercial architecture of the prime buildings, nor with the historical nature of the area (this was the site of the original 1652 settlement and there are many examples of colonial architecture in the neighborhood). I'm not quite sure if the net effect is more silly or tacky... or just plain pathetic.
Uptown and downtown are connected by Broadway, more than a mile of various commercial buildings, small businesses, gas stations, restaurants -- a hospital, city hall, and the high school. There once had been a beautiful Greek temple style central post office on this street. A new postal processing center was built (looks like a cheap factory or warehouse) and this gorgeous post office was torn down and replaced by a Jack-in-the-Box fast-food restaurant. (Eventually, to my delight, the Jack-in-the-Box went out of business... it is now a restaurant that apparently specializes in chicken wings.) Over the years Broadway, especially, it seems, the ten or fifteen blocks past the high school, has become seedier and seedier.
It is now the kind of street where you double-check at stop lights to be sure your doors are locked. It's the kind of hopeless urban street where junkies and drunks stumble along. It's the kind of street that makes you wonder why anyone would live in this city who wasn't forced to by circumstances beyond their control. I can imagine a visitor seeking a site for a new factory taking one look at this street and deciding to go elsewhere. Yes, I know, a harsh judgement... and there are still pleasant residential neighborhoods in Kingston... but the city is rotting away in its core.
To get to the reunion I had to drive down Broadway almost to the high school... totally depressing... and then find my way to the country club where the party was being held.... park my car... walk up to the building where a registration table was set up on a covered patio area... there were people on the porch, eating, drinking, chatting.. and more inside... and they were all adults... and, uh, not young adults either...
There were no teenagers here. I went to school with teenagers! Where have they all gone?
Someone did recognize me as I entered the main room -- a cry of "Green shoes!" -- a reference to the St.Patrick's Day when my girlfriend and I came to school wearing shoes we had painted bright kelly green. (Oh, okay, so these days kids come to school with hair that color everyday, but this was in my junior year, March of 1960) -- But other than that there was not much instant recognition -- more of a curious look and a squinting look at nametag -- *sigh* -- at all of our reunions name tags have been copies of our yearbook picture and entry -- I think for the next one they had better copy them in a larger size or print the names larger so aging eyes can find them easier to read -- Constant question "Hi! Who did you used to be?" *grin*
Well, after you talk with someone for a while you can sometimes begin to see the teenager that they once were... and memories surfaced and were shared and I think people had a good time. I must admit that I enjoyed our Saturday activity even more. We had a tour of the high school conducted by one of our classmates who is now a science teacher there. We wandered down the corridors...Yeah, this was "Tex" Mason's biology room... Remember when he would drop water balloons on kids who had lunch break making noise outside his window while he was trying to hold class? and Hey, this was Smitty's room and all of the high school newspaper staff would remember their days writing for Dame Rumor, the school newspaper... Hey, this was where we had Mr. Sayvetz for Chemistry... and discovering that the school added a new wing in the back and then connected to our old junior high building and incorporated that building into the high school complex.
KHS is on a hill, looking down on Broadway...
the school lawn extends down the hill but
is chopped short by a stone wall... in days
of old (and I assume today) hundreds of teenagers
might be sitting on this wall (or standing,
talking with kids sitting on the wall) before
school and during lunch periods. Here's a
picture of four (former) teenagers sitting
on the wall.
Well, in just five years we can all get together again... and in 2011 we'll be due for our 50th! Half a century! I hope it will have a good turnout so we can have a drink and share some memories...