I turned right on Cedar St and headed up the hill with some apprehension. Santa Monica had changed so much. Older houses are gradually being torn down and replaced with McMansions. Would my childhood home still be there? I crossed 10th St. and let out a sigh of relief. Not only was the home my parents built almost 70 years ago still standing, it was well cared for. The house across the street was not so lucky; it was gone and a 3-story ultra-modern house stood in its place.
I headed up the street to see the fate of Will Rogers Elementary, which opened when I was in the 3rd grade. It was still a bustling hub of the neighborhood. The neighborhood demographics had changed. In the 40’s the majority of the residents in our neighborhood were senior citizens. It now hummed with the energy of families with children.
This pilgrimage to my childhood started last winter when I registered with Facebook. I filled in the requisite information, including the name of my high school and year I graduated. As I explored the web site’s possibilities, I discovered that if I clicked on San Bernardino High School ’59 it took me to a page which listed others who had graduated in my class. I started scrolling through the names and photos, racking my brain to remember who they were. This led me to dig through my shelf of memorabilia and pull out the annual from my senior year and my high school scrapbook.
When I moved from San Bernardino to the Seattle area in the early 70’s, I lost track of my best friends from high school. Before the Internet, keeping in touch involved writing letters, which was hard for a busy, working mother to do. Over the years I have felt guilty about not making more of an effort, and was disappointed not to find those friends among the profiles on Facebook.
As the spring progressed, I realized that I had graduated 50 years ago and that there probably would be a 50th reunion. Of course, no one knew where I was or that my name had changed again, so I had to seek out information. A search on the Internet led me to the web site of the company that was putting on the reunion and told me how to register to receive information. I sent them my address and soon received a notice. I still wasn’t sure whether I would attend; I had not attended any other reunions.
My high school annual now sat next to my computer. I started checking the Facebook link to San Bernardino ’59 graduates weekly to see who was new and hoping that the upcoming 50th reunion would spur others to connect. I became more and more curious about the lives of my high school friends.
“You should join Classmates.com,” my sister told me. I had done that when it first launched and hadn’t connected with any friends; the chatter seemed frivolous. I started to protest.
“Since I am a member, let’s log onto your class and see if you recognize any names,” she continued. We started scrolling through the names – and there were the friends I was looking for! One had entered information about herself. She was now living in Las Vegas. So, I went home, registered, and wrote her using my one free message.
Within 24 hours she had responded and we shared e-mail addresses. She had stayed in contact with two others and I began to reconnect. One was on Facebook, but somehow the high school link was faulty. Now I started getting excited about attending the reunion.
I contacted three friends from college with whom I stay in regular contact. “When are your reunions?” I asked in an e-mail to them, since we all grew up in Southern California. Two of them had reunions the week before mine and would be in CA.
After spending a long weekend with BJ, Cori and Lilli in Encino, I took the light rail to Long Beach where one of my college friends had just moved. Our friendship also spanned 50 years. Three of us had been squeezed into a 2-person room our freshman year in college – and not only survived, but remained friends. The four of us went through different configurations of roommate combinations, depending on who was taking advantage of the University of Redland’s semester/year abroad options. It was delightful to have our own mini-reunion.
And then it was time to drive out to San Bernardino to re-explore the area after a 36 year absence and attend my reunion. The day prior to the reunion was spent birding in the San Bernardino Mountains. I stopped in the town of Running Springs where my family had escaped the heat of the valley at a swim club. I was trying to find a memento and wandered into a curio shop. The owner, who had lived in the town her entire life, perked up when she found out the purpose of my visit and began to drag out old photos of the town. “Do you remember a girl who rode a motorcycle to the club in her bathing suit?” she inquired. “The club is gone now,” she continued. “The property is now a parking lot for a church.”
“We are going to be gathering for a pre-reunion happy hour in our motel,” Leslie told me when I called her at 4:00 later that afternoon. “They let me post a sign in the lobby.”
I headed over there at 5:00. “Aren’t you Judy?” a man called from the other end of the hallway as I headed towards the elevator.
I recognized his face from Classmates, but couldn’t place his name. It would be like this all evening. It was a person’s smile or gestures that sparked recognition.
It was wonderful re-connecting with Suzy and Leslie. After kibitzing for half an hour, we drove over to the Arrowhead Country Club. “I’ve been taking Tums all day,” Suzy admitted as we made our way to the reunion. I also experienced alternating excited anticipation and anxiety off and on all day.
The room was dim when we arrived and was filled with wall-to-wall people talking excitedly. We eased our way into the crowd and over the loud belting of hits from the 50’s, we began to greet our former classmates. The majority of people who attended (about 100, including many spouses, out of a class of almost 650) had remained in the general area. Many not only had several grandchildren, but also great-grandchildren! Several had lost their spouses.
“Are you still involved with algae?” a former classmate inquired. I was surprised that she remembered my senior science project on the potential use of algae as food. “I thought that maybe you were part of the progress that is being made to use algae as bio-fuel and had hit the big time.” My only involvement with algae, of course, is to continually scoop it out of my pond.
“You always were taller than I was,” a man said as he sidled up to me while we were mingling after our chicken dinner.
“Didn’t you live in the flat-roofed house at the end of Mt. View?” a woman asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I drove by it yesterday and it broke my heart, it looked so neglected.”
“Have you driven by the school?” someone asked. The old administration building is gone; they built a new one.”
A man grabbed the microphone from the DJ and asked, “Who is no longer with us?” Name after name was mentioned. It was sobering.
“Everyone who went to Wilson Elementary, gather for a picture,” the DJ announced. A number of people congregated for the photo, realizing that they had known each other for 60 plus years.
I gathered with the group photo of those who attended Arrowview Junior High.
And then it was time to leave. We said our good-byes and slipped out into the quiet evening air. “I’m glad I came, but I am glad it is over,” I stated. We all agreed.
The next day, after attending services at my old church, I headed back to Los Angeles. As I sped along the freeway, I pondered the experiences of the past few days. Many things had endured, yet other things had changed. In some ways fifty years seems like yesterday; in others, it feels like eons have passed.
A friend summed it up, “Isn’t it amazing that we are still who we were then, and yet different.”