The Power of Place: My 65th High School Reunion

By Guest Blogger Ellie Miller Greenberg

The 65th anniversary
Of anything
Is significant.

But the 65th reunion
Of my high school graduation class
Was especially significant
For me.

It meant
That I would return
To New Jersey,
From Colorado,
Where I had lived
For 60 years.

I chose
To come to Colorado
After completing
My Masters degree program
In Speech Pathology.

I had already been gone
From New Jersey
For five years—
First for four years
At Mount Holyoke College
And, then,
Another year
At the University of Wisconsin.

The thought of returning
To New Jersey
Was unappealing.
So, I accepted a job
In Denver
As the first speech therapist
At a new school
For severely brain injured kids.

At that time,
In Colorado,
Severely handicapped children and adults with
Cerebral palsy, plus “mental retardation”,
Had only two choices:
Stay at home
And depend on their parents
For education,
And, perhaps,
Intermittent therapies,
If their parents could afford it.

Or, be committed
To an institution
In Grand Junction
Or, Wheat Ridge,
Where education and therapy
Were at a minimum.

When the United Cerebral Palsy Association
Opened its first school,
In Denver,
For this population,
Exhausted and frustrated parents
Of these difficult
And totally dependent CP people
Were overjoyed.

They welcomed us,
Their first professional staff,
With open arms.
We were totally appreciated
And expectations were high,
Unrealistically high.

I told this story
Many times
At my 65th high school reunion,
As some of the
Seventy–five reunion attendees,
Who I had rarely seen
In the intervening years,
Asked,
“What brought you to Colorado?”

Then, I told them of my
Fifty-four year marriage,
The sudden death of my husband in China,
Five years ago,
My three adult children and
Four grandchildren,
All of whom
Now live in Colorado,
After two of my children were gone
For more than
Twenty years.

I was asked
To make a little speech
About our high school,
Which I did.
And, then,
Elsie Flagg,
The only African-American student
In our class
Got up to speak.

She spoke about
What it meant to her
To graduate from
Weequahic High School,
Which was
Ninety-nine percent Jewish,
When we were there.

She and I had met
In the Ladies Room,
At our 60th Reunion,
When I had hugged her
And told her
What it had meant to me
To have a “Negro” friend
In high school,
And that she was partially responsible
For my involvement
In the Civil Rights Movement,
In the 1960s.

This time,
She spoke publicly
About our friendship,
And even said that
I was both a friend
And a role model
For her.

As she returned
To her seat
Near her African-American
Family and guests,
I got up
And we hugged,
And then we both cried.

I had come
With my good friend, Anita,
Who was recently widowed,
As was I.
Our mutual friend, Bev,
Was not there,
Since her second husband
Had died the week before.

Missing was my
Dear boyfriend
From the sixth grade,
Irwin,
Who died last year,
And another boyfriend,
Who was our class president,
Don,
Who had died a few years ago.

Others for whom I had cared
All these years,
Were not there either.
I especially missed
Pearl and Jack,
Although I enjoyed seeing
Roger, Irving, Allen, and Morty.

Thinking about our high school days
And the committee
That organized the reunion,
I realized that
It was the boys
Who had always mattered more,
Who led the way,
Who were the class officers,
Who made the speeches,
Who took the mike,
And who were the clearest
In my mind.

I think that we were
Boy-oriented,
And the girls came second,
Except for a small circle of girlfriends.

Those of us
Who were twirlers
And, then, majorettes,
Were the center of attention.
Other girls were viewed
As competitors…
For the boys, mostly….
But also for grades…
Typical teen values;
Typical 1950s;
Typical pre-Feminist Movement.

Today, in the New York Times,
There was a review
Of a new novel.
I was attracted to the title:
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
That’s how I think about
My high school class .

There are those who ventured
Just a town or so
From where they grew up.
They never tried a new place
Or, experienced a new environment.
They were never challenged
To make all new friends
Or to create a career
In a strange new place
Without prior connections.
Those were the ones who stayed.

Then, there were those who ventured
To new cities, new states and new countries.
They met and married new partners,
They built new houses in new communities.
They raised their families in new schools.
They created new careers
Without prior connections.
Those were the ones who left.

As I said my good-byes
To my 65-year classmates,
I wondered who would
Be missing from
Our 70th reunion,
In 2019….
And whether I would even be there
To see if the boys
Were still in charge,
And, if those of us
Who had left
Would be able to travel
All the way to New Jersey and
Back home again….

All rights reserved.(c) Elinor Miller Greenberg 2014

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