In Which I’m in Three Different Parts of the Country in Three Days
I’ve never had a bad time in Chicago, and that includes when I was 12 and took the Greyhound bus from Iowa in order to see Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic. Now the home of some of my favorite Carolina people, the trip was inspired by my sister Michelle, now in her 2nd trimester – she was attending a convention downtown and asked the rest of the family to meet her there. Oddly enough, almost all of us did.
We got to coo with baby Marlena, Lucy and her cousin Barnaby got to run roughshod over the rental house, I got to have BBQ with some Lodge buddies, and it was awesome. At least for the twelve minutes I was there, because the following morning, I had to fly to…
Saturday: Norfolk, VA
I will say this once, because it’s in print: this was my 25-year high school reunion. A full quarter-century has passed since I was at Norfolk Academy in Tidewater, Virginia, and while it’s always de rigeur to say “how time passes so quickly”, I do indeed feel like it was several geological epochs ago.
My extended clique of 8-10 deeply-interwoven friends from NA did a pretty terrible job of keeping up with each other for various reasons, yet Facebook and a tragedy last year has gradually put each other back together. It’s impossible, I think, to spend every waking moment with a group of people for many years – then suddenly never really see them again – and predict that it would go smoothly, but I have to tell you, with my friends, it’s been wonderfully effortless.
It’s one thing to see your old crowd again; it’s quite another to attend the actual reunion, populated by the student council, the cheerleaders, the lacrosse players, the dudes across the classroom you never talked to, and girls you once thought beautiful from afar. Our class was small, only about 100 kids, and many of them had gone to school together since 1st grade. ‘Twasn’t an easy party to wander into.
And yet, everyone is perfectly nice, in some cases surprisingly interesting, or bizarrely revelatory. And we all look at each other, former lab partners, ex-study group sharers; we had memorized each others’ 16-year-old faces, and now, we’re intensely aware that we’re staring at the eyes and skin of the same person, now 43 years old.
I know where their birthmarks are, whose parents divorced and married other classmates’ parents, whose religion tortured them even as their sexuality took them over. I know these amazing details, and yet, absolutely nothing. Why does anyone come to these things? There is no glory to relive, no “one last” anything, why did I go? We could have just gathered our old friends together, but we actually went to the party.
On the way back to Hamp’s place, it hits me: it’s not just the ghoulish interest to see who has aged the worst (although I’m sure that’s a subconscious parlor game), it’s to convince ourselves that we had actually existed. It’s a gathering of folks who all hum in unison, smile, and reassure you that it had happened. And it’s all a long time ago, and truly, all those psychological nightmares, those unrequited crushes, the glances across the room that made you live or die, the generalized anxiety of being a teenager, it all happened. And when you’re given that sort of validation, you are now free to do with those memories what you wish.
Hamp and Sharon deal with an unfortunate mullet-headed “NA student” sculpture on campus
flyer for school party celebrating the music WE WERE FORBIDDEN TO PLAY in the ACTUAL 1980s
Sunday – Manchester, NH and upstate NY
Why New Hampshire? Well, a dealership had the best price on the best Ford Escape hybrid I’d seen in a while, and it wasn’t that far from our farm, so I made it happen. When I told Lucy I was going to get a car that finally had “all-wheel drive” so it could drive in the snow and on ice, she said “Yes. It can also drive on ocean waves, over mountains, and even on HOT LAVA. It’s called Strongtaneous.” And so, my friends, this is our new car Strongtaneous:
I’d expected the fall colors to be long past peak by the time I got to the Hudson Valley in NY, but this is one party that has gone on for a gorgeously long time. The geese are heading south, and the first ones arrived at their usual stop near our place:
And the state route nearby… it’s hard to express how much you can miss the fall season when you’re in California. Maybe I thought if I took enough pictures, the yearning would be bearable.