A blistering hot weekend is coming to a close. We should be just about done with 90 degrees. Another weekend of Indian summer in September maybe, but it won’t be long before we’re breaking out the sweathshirts. Frankly, I’m ready for it. It’s been a long, hot, humid summer. Up until this week I was still mowing the lawn once, sometimes twice a week. But the sun has baked it to straw, and the hot dry winds blasting out of the south have sucked the life right out of it.
As the dark comes on, I am sitting in the cool of the living room, listening to the whir of the air conditioner, and nursing an ice cold Surly. Ahhh… refreshed at last. Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect’s sleepover was a success, and the girls managed to stay awake until 5 am on Saturday, so it’s been a lazy couple of days. A few bike rides through the convection oven outdoors, and a trip to the beach to jump in the lake has been about all the activity I could muster. Last night I dug into the shelves in the garage and brought out my cardboard boxes of nostalgia.
Now Mrs. 20 Prospect doesn’t have a nostalgic bone in her body. She saves very little, and does not cling to the past. I, however, squirrel memories away like nuts for the coming winter. This is what we call balance. This is also what we call conflict. So a truce has been reached whereby I am allowed a small allotment of space to save whatever flotsam and jetsam of my life that pleases me, so long as it fits in 5 cardboard boxes.
Now two of those boxes are devoted to books that I have been unable to sell, or give away because of my attachment to them. Books that for whatever reason, either what they say, or who I was when I read them, hold a special place in my heart. Another box contains shoeboxes full of every letter and greeting card I received from ages 13 to 26. I’m not kidding. They are all there. Even the little pink slips of paper that Marianne passed to me in 8th grade.
Each piece of paper bears the cursive script of the sender in blue or black ink. They may very well be my greatest treasures. Proof that people did indeed love me enough to take the time to sit, compose a thought, right it out longhand in cursive script, fold it into a matching envelope, place a 13 cent stamp on it, and walk to the mailbox. Can you imagine actually taking that amount of time and effort to send someone a note today? Knowing full well that it might be weeks before you received a reply, if they even sent one? Mind boggling I know, but such was the world in the days before email, text messaging and Facebook.
Most of these letters contain nothing but mundane details, but somehow, over time, it is these little details that can speak the loudest. They are a Rosetta stone that reveals the parts of my life that has long since been buried beneath desert sands. Read one, and the brain whirls and clicks like a one armed bandit, until it settles upon 3 cherries and the memories spill forth like a torrent of coins.
In the same box with my letters, is the stacks of journals that I kept for the 4 years that I traveled the country. I can’t even begin to bring myself to open them up. Nothing ages quicker than your own “deep thoughts”. Better to leave them in the box for my biographer to read someday.
Then there is a box containing trophies, and awards that I accumulated over the years. From Pop Warner Football (Sylvania Chargers – 1978 Batavia Pop Warner Champions!! Woot!!) to High School graduation. I worked so bleeping hard for those things that I have never been able to bring myself to throw them away. So there they sit for all eternity, gathering dust in the dark of a cardboard box, like some golden treasure in a Pharaoh’s tomb.
And finally, there’s the box that holds my Notre Dame High School Year books, and other assorted clippings, and mementos from my high school years. Pointless things like the Ferry Schedule to the ferry we rode from Rotterdam to England when I was 16. Matchbooks, and garter belts, graduation tassels, ticket stubs to the 1984 Christmas Dance, and other assorted trinkets from “special occasions”.
What brought me to dig into these time capsules? Well, Lil’ Miss 20 P has been begging me to get them out ever since she learned of their existence. God bless her but the girl has inherited my penchant for nostalgia, and not her Mother’s pragmatism. So we spent the evening sifting through the boxes, like prospectors panning for gold. Well, 20 Prospecters panning for gold I guess.
Which is where I found this picture. This is the Notre Dame High School Senior Class of 1986, in all their pastel glory. I forgot I even had such a picture. It was taken the night of our senior prom, in the ballroom at the Treadway Inn. It was the 80’s man, we didn’t want no stinking gymnasium, we wanted tuxedo’s with tails, and limousines, and fancy mauve carpet! So we spent a good chunk of our class money to rent out the room, and go out in style.
Well, if you can call that style. It definitely is a kind of style. I would call it “redneck, Western New York, ethnicky melting pot style.” Looking at those faces, brought back memories of kids I haven’t thought about in over 20 years. Just about the entire Senior Class showed up at the prom, and I’d say, that only about 5-6 of them went with a classmates. I’m not sure what it says about us but almost all of our dates were from other schools. Oakfield, Pembroke, Pavillion, BHS, Byron-Bergen, Leroy, they are all represented. What did we have against each other that kept us all from dating?
Well, to be honest, we knew each other. That alone was reason not to date. I struggled with it at the time, and it took years, but I finally embraced my Damerhood. For most of High School I tried hard to be someone I wasn’t. I wanted out of Batavia in the worst way. I didn’t want to get “stuck” there. I had big plans to go to college, to travel, to live somewhere important.
Looking at the faces in that picture I see the same kind of big dreams. I also see fear, loneliness, hope, sadness, and loss. Mostly though I see something I never thought I would ever see for those 62 kids. I see love.
It only took 24 years, and a couple of months, but looking at that collection of Italian, Irish, Polish, German, and Sicilian (it’s distinct from Italian, trust me) kids, I see the stoners, the jocks, the brains, the wallflowers, the Cheerleaders, the clowns, the Joe Cools, and the hipsters, and I feel love for them. A more motley collection would be hard to find. And yet, this picture could be just about any Senior class from any rural school in Upstate New York. This is what we looked like. This is who we were. It wasn’t the cast from some damned John Hughes movie.
There was nothing wonderful about it. It hurt like hell to be a teenager, just as it hurts like hell to be a teen today. How we ever survived ourselves, each other, and the world around us is a mystery, but we did. Looking through those faces we have all been kicked hard in the groin by life at least once since those days. Some, more than once. We have lost parents, siblings, friends, and children. We have struggled with addictions, and depressions. We have lived through arrests, and divorces. These events have not been out of proportion to any statistical average for kids from W.N.Y. Hell, kids anywhere.
What matters isn’t the pain, but the fact that we have kept pulling ourselves back up off that floor for another kick. If there’s one lesson I learned in my 4 years at Notre Dame, I think it is this. Get up. Keep getting up. No matter how hard they kick you, don’t ever stay down.
How, when, and where we learned this lesson, I have no idea. Perhaps it was “the workshop way”. Looking at those faces tonight, I can see it in each and everyone. Tough little bastards we were then. Tough old bastards we are now. So Class of 1986, I raise this glass of Surly to you tonight. May we always keep pulling ourselves off the floor for another round.