Sunday, August 28, 2011

I'd know you anywhere!

A couple of weekends ago, I attended Central Valley High School’s 50 year reunion, not as someone’s guest but as a member of the class of 1961! It is hard enough for me to believe I might know someone old enough to attend one of these celebrations let alone be one of the celebrants myself. But I did and it was fun and one of the highlights of the evening was a visit with one of our teachers who had graduated from CV about 15 years ahead of us. Del Muse taught physics and chemistry to those of us with the courage to enroll. He continues to educate today by coaching folks studying to take the GED. At our reunion, he could easily have been mistaken for a classmate.

Reunions are a funny business. Our expectations are decidedly mixed. We want to reconnect with friends we may have lost contact with, laugh at some of the antics that occupied our youth, and celebrate the fact that we can still “come to play.” And, if we are entirely honest, the possibility that there will be someone there more out of shape motivates many of us. It’s called the “gloat factor” – its appeal should not be underestimated. While I was in the process of becoming reacquainted with friends I hadn’t seen in many years, it became clear that the person I really needed to get reacquainted with was myself, for as you will see in what follows, I was not the person that others remembered.

There were over 300 in our class and about 125 of us made it to the reunion. A handful were having surgeries and sent their regrets, others simply chose to make themselves scarce, and for another 50 or so, attending regrettably wasn’t an option. Though I have never been a part of the cadre of dedicated folks who track down addresses and organize the reunion, I believe that the internet made locating people considerably easier. Many of us got “re-friended” on Facebook in the course of the past two years. Several classmates who at previous reunions had been listed as "unable to locate" were present, seemingly happy to be found. The award for the person who came the greatest distance went to Jim Dahl who flew in from New Zealand. Another classmate, Gary Kahler, who for the past 25years had been listed as deceased was discovered was found alive and kicking on Facebook and made it to the reunion. Coming back from the dead gets the prize in my book.

In general, I would say that the women fared better than the men, at least as far as appearances go. Of course, in large part that observation can be attributed to the hair migration many men experience, as it leaves the top of their head and relocates in various places on their face. Additionally, women have the benefit of clothing that helps hide some of the ravages visited upon us all by gravity. Women can float around in caftans while such garments for men are generally limited to those who have entered religious orders. Still at fifty years, simply “showing up” trumps appearances every time.

More than one person remarked that I looked “exactly the same” as I did when we graduated. The remark was meant as a compliment and I took it as such, but trust me, I know what I looked like when I graduated and a little alteration wouldn’t have gone amiss. As the reunion wore on, this rather benign bit of flattery took on a decidedly ironic twist.

The reunion kicked off with a cruise on Coeur D’Alene Lake on Friday night. It was a beautiful evening following a day with temperatures in the nineties. The cruise boat had a bar and buffet table on the main floor with rows of tables and chairs, set up cafeteria style. On the top of the boat there was an open deck. I started the evening out upstairs moving from table to table visiting with folks. After about an hour up there, I made my way down to the bar. While I was waiting for my glass of wine, a guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said. "Mary Gladhart - you haven’t changed a bit! I’d know you anywhere.” I turned to look at him and obviously he had changed as I was clueless to put a name with face smiling back at me. While I tried to discreetly peek at his name tag, he continued.

“You probably don't realize this, but I have been in love with you since the 6th grade."

“No you haven't." I replied with absolute confidence.

"No it’s true! I used to walk by your place up on 8th and Evergreen, just hoping you would step outside and see me." Bingo. Wrong person.

"Oh, you must mean Melissa Jones. She lived on 8th and Evergreen not me."

"Oh, you're right - it was Melissa.” At this point, the poor fellow had the grace to look embarrassed.

“Is she here?"

I point Melissa out to him; he squints and asks me if I am sure. I am sure and pick up my glass of wine and move along to visit with someone else who, believe or not, launches into a similar routine about his seventh grade crush on me, how he'd know me anywhere, and how I lived just three blocks away from him on – you guessed it - 8th and Evergreen.

"That was Melissa." I told him with a sigh. So much for looking the same. The same as whom? After that, I primarily struck up conversations with women.

The next night was a dinner at the Coeur d’Alene Casino. As I was standing in line to pick up my ticket, I struck up a conversation with Joe Simmons who claimed he remembered beating me in a spelling bee our sophomore year. This was obviously still a source of pride for him so I didn’t have the heart to tell him what a hollow victory that was. I was generally the last person chosen to be on a spelling bee team – never the last man standing. Besides, I was pretty sure he had me mixed up with someone else. For all I knew Melissa might have been a champion speller along with a world class heart throb. I was getting a little nervous about then; afraid the Joe might ask me to spell the word I missed, just to prove a point, when he said something even more startling.

“You were first in our class, weren’t you?” Hastily I looked around, hoping that none of the really smart kids were standing close enough to hear this and then assured him that I wasn’t even in the running.

“Well, if you weren’t – who was?”

“Beats me.” I replied. There were a lot of very bright kids in our class and I could think of a number of contenders. When it comes to remembering class rankings, I am of the opinion, than unless you were number one or, one of the nine people next in line, you are not going to know, or care, for that matter.

Really, have you ever heard anyone announce that they were 17th in their class? Well, maybe someone who was 17 in a class of 17 and then became the CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred company might like point out of how little academic standing had mattered in “the real world.” Otherwise, it is pretty much a dead topic. Not so for Joe, it seems, as he brought it up again at the end of the evening as I was leaving.

“Are you sure you weren’t number one?”

So once again I find myself mired in an identity crisis. To think that at my age, I could be someone entirely different - a Nordic beauty or a Brainiac; a heartthrob or a candidate for the Nobel Prize. Wonder if I could be both?

In truth, Melissa and I actually had a lot in common – Girl Scouts, church choir, Rainbow girls and later on we were both teachers. Still, with all of that, we never looked alike. For starters, she was and still is tall, slim, and blonde and whereas the blonde part is easy, “tall and slim” require a mixture of genetics and will power that have managed to elude me. As for the brainy business, thankfully my older brother Peter had a corner on that, which relieved me of the responsibility. The perception of my academic prowess may well have benefitted from a little brainy blow back from my brother, but surely not enough to catapult me to the head of the class.

Tempting as reinventing myself might seem, I think for now I’ll just stick to the me I have been getting to know for the past 68 years and hope for the best. After all, if I started to act like someone else, it might just appear that dementia had set in, and my family would seize upon the opportunity to have me committed and there I would be drooling out the rest of my days in some care center and be among the “unable to locate” at my next reunion.

Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose! I’ve always thought that there was a lot of truth to that remark, but now I am not so sure. Evidently, it depends on whose memory you are relying on. And memory, as I have recently learned, is a fickle friend, unreliable and obdurate at best.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What once was lost . . .

There are few aggravations in life that I hate more than losing or misplacing stuff. Of course in the grand scheme of things, I recognize there are calamities of greater import – floods and famine, to name but two. But in my little world of personal disasters, losing something gets the prize. For one thing, it pushes all of my OCD buttons, so that I am flailing around, tracing and retracing my steps, opening cupboards and drawers, emptying out purses and backpacks, all the while muttering to myself.”How could you be so stupid, careless, lame-brained, etc?” My daughter will testify to the occasions when I came into her bed room after she had gone to bed and riffled through her drawers in search of a missing sports bra or a shin guard. “Mom, I am trying to go to sleep.” “Forget it mom! It doesn’t matter.” All of this falling on deaf ears as I admonished her to just ignore me, assuring her that I’d only be a minute and would be quiet as a mouse.

My most recent case of loss followed by self-flagellation occurred when I got home from a 12 hour flight from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands in February only to discover that I had lost my little jewelry case, at least I thought I had. It was a small flowered Clinique bag, designed I suppose to hold a lip stick, a car key and a tissue, but I had found it the perfect size for the two necklaces and three pair of earrings that I felt I needed to take along. This was a scuba diving trip, so the clothing requirements consist of swimsuits in the water, fleece on the boat, and sun dresses for evening wear. When packing for the return flight, I made a conscious decision to put my jewelry in my back pack rather than my checked bag.
I flew home on a red eye and in the course of the next twelve hours, was in and out of the back pack numerous times, pulling out pillows and Advil, books and granola bars, creating the perfect opportunity to dislodge my little flowered jewelry case. The jewelry was not expensive but that isn’t the same as saying it wasn’t valuable, because to me it was. Every piece had a story and most were acquired while traveling: two pair of earrings were from Shanghai; a necklace that was made entirely of seed pods found on Little Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua; another necklace made of silver beads and jasper Fred acquired from a local guide in Death Valley. Also in the bag were my opal earrings which I have worn for nearly thirty years, a gift one Christmas from Fred and dad.

For five months I have been grinding my teeth over this debacle. I missed all of these pieces but refused to seek out replacements, determined to punish myself appropriately for my carelessness. Last weekend I started on a purge of the “travel closet” where I keep our suitcases, back packs, and all the little bottles of shampoo and lotion, mosquito repellent and sun block that I tuck into our bags when we take a trip. Some things made their way to the bag destined for the Goodwill and others “did not pass go” but went right into the trash. I opened every suit case and back pack, clearing out stray socks and a hairbrush, Purell and toothpaste, as well as boarding passes and ball point pens. And, miracle of miracles, floating around inside my back pack was the little flowered case with all the missing jewelry!

I was elated to say the least. I put the opal earrings on and haven’t taken them off since. This great finder’s event put me in mind of a number of other times when I have been sure that I lost something only to discover it, sometimes years later. When I was in law school, the large jade stone from the ring I wore constantly disappeared. I bought that ring in Peurto Villarta at a time when I still thought I should ask Fred for permission to spend $40 on a piece of jewelry. I was sure I must have lost it in the parking lot and enlisted my friends to help with the search which turned out to be futile. At home that night when I was unloading my book bag, I found it. No doubt I slammed my hand just right against some heavy legal tome and dislodged it and it fell into the book bag.

On another occasion, I thought that I had lost a necklace of Venetian trading beads that I fell in love with in the little resort gift shop in Antigua. Naïve as I was in those days, I still was aware there were no bargains to be had at the resort gift bar. Still these were the beads that I wanted and so I bought them. Once the exchange rate was sorted out, I think that once again I ventured into the $40.00 range. Though by this time, I by-passed the permission step.

I wore those beads a lot – both for work and casually. They were predominantly red and blue and graduated, so that the center bead was larger than all of the others. The summer that my parents moved over here from Spokane, I made monthly trips back and forth to help with the packing and of course, I wore the beads. Once my parents arrived in Olympia, I never saw them again. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to them – had they fallen off at a rest stop? Surely not. I would have heard them hit the floor if they had come apart. My mother felt badly about it and found a similar looking set of beads from a museum gift store catalogue, for I am sure twice what I had paid for the original. They were nice but they simply weren’t the same.
After my mother died, I found them in what seemed to me a very unlikely place. When we visited my parents in Spokane, one of Kate's favorite playthings was my old doll buggy with a large doll that Katie called "grandma baby" - a name that defies logic unless you understood that this doll, that once was mine, now lived with grandma. The doll buggy and grandma baby were one of the last things to be loaded for the move, as they had provided a welcome distraction for a seven year old while the rest of us were boxing and packing. So now, several years later as I was going through things in my parent’s home, sending some directly to the dumpster and others to the Good Will, I came upon grandma baby and the buggy and a miscellany of odds and ends including a plastic bag that appeared to be full of dust rags. I was on the verge of consigning them to the dumpster when I paused to look inside, and there, quite incredulously, I found the little jewelry box with my favorite beads.

I could go on about my amazing luck in finding things; or maybe, it is my amazing knack for thinking that something is lost that really isn’t. I feel as if I should be taking some lesson out of this. That perhaps, if I were able to channel Saint Anthony he would tell me that from now on, I am on my own! That he has saved me and my stuff for the last time. Maybe if I really tried harder, I would become a “place for everything and everything in its place” kind of person. But I know better than to hold my breath on that idea. Maybe what you do with good luck is just be grateful and let go of it. Just relax and move on. It is a tempting notion. Still, on this next trip, I have a plan for my jewelry case – I have pasted an address label to the inside and plan to pin the case to the inside of one of the many zip pockets in my back pack that I rarely get into! That should do it and I can leave the old hair shirt hanging in the closet when I get home. Provided, of course, that once I get where I am going, I can remember where I have hidden it!