Saturday, June 15, 2019

50th class reunion (Part 1)

The last thing I wanted to do was to impose myself on one of my dearest friends, but she often told us that whenever we were in Pennsylvania, Kim and I were more than welcome to stay with her for however long we were going to be in town.

That's a bold offer to make. As Ben Franklin once said, guests and fish tend to stink after three days.

And, yet, this was one of those times. My 50th high school class reunion was fast approaching and it sure would be nice to have a centrally located place to crash. And, sure enough, it would require a three-day stay. What's that I smell?

It didn't matter to her. When I called to tell her of my plans, she quickly agreed to put us up for the weekend. She's done this before.

Morag and I share an enduring friendship.*
Morag and I met 52 years ago. We both had summer jobs at the community swimming pool. She was the cashier in the ticket booth, and I was the pool maintenance man (or pool boy, as they say). She was 17 years old and driving a car; I was 16 years old and riding a 10-speed bicycle. The maturity gap was striking.

There was no way we could guess, back in 1967, that this summer working at the pool would turn into an enduring friendship. We never made formal plans to stay in touch, it's just something that we did over time with Christmas cards and occasional phone calls. We celebrated each other's weddings, cheered the birth of her son, and mourned the death of her husband.

After college, she became a special education teacher, eventually becoming a department head and now, even in retirement, she works as a part-time consultant in a nearby school system.

During some downtime the other evening, we sat on her back porch, sipping a little pinot and watching the crimson-and-orange evening sun settle behind South Mountain. I knew her family had immigrated from Scotland when she was a young girl, but I wasn't sure about the particulars.

So we talked. Morag (which is Gaelic for Sarah) was 7 years old when her family came stateside in 1957 – without much more than the shirts on their backs – and settled in Cleveland. I didn't know that.

A few years later, her family moved to Missouri. I didn't know that. And when I first met her, she'd been in Pennsylvania for less than five years. I didn't know that.

She became a naturalized citizen after college, prior to her certification as a teacher. Part of the process was that she had to painfully renounce her beloved Scotland. I didn't know that.

The things you learn about your friends 50 years later.

•   •   •

I had it in my head for years that the friendship I had with Morag was my longest – until I remembered Bernie.

Bernie was my first best friend in life. He was 5 years old and I was 6, and we lived a block away from each other in tiny Fountain Hill, which is nestled comfortably in a crook of South Mountain between Allentown and Bethlehem.

Bernie and I reconnect for the second time in 63 years.
 So Bernie and I go back 63 years. Oh, my. That takes my breath away when I think about it. I've been told a friendship this long is a rare thing to happen. I guess so, but we're still living it. There might be a few more years in there somewhere.

The joy of Fountain Hill was that both of us lived just across the street from the borough playground, which was the beating heart of that working class community. Bernie and I spent long, lazy summer days playing on the swings, see-saws, sliding boards and jungle gyms, forging a daily friendship that we thought would never end.

Until our family moved to New Hampshire. We lost touch. A couple of decades danced by. I ended up in North Carolina. He remained in the Lehigh Valley to become a school librarian.

Then I went to my 25th class reunion. A fellow walked up to me and asked, "Do you remember me?" He wasn't wearing a name tag. "I'm Bernie."

I about lost it right there. Oddly enough, Bernie did not go to my high school. But he was at the reunion because he'd married a girl in my class. How amazing is that for a happenstance reconnection?

This time, we stayed in touch, even though we didn't see each other as another couple of decades drifted by.

But I was determined not to let this new opportunity get away from us. I called Bernie a few days before leaving for Pennsylvania – and my 50th class reunion – and asked if we could get together.

Then I suggested, how about if we meet at the playground? (That was my wife's idea. I'm not that clever).

So we did. We talked. We reminisced. He took us out to lunch for a Philly cheese steak. Then we returned to the playground, where we opened a bottle of champagne (no alcoholic beverages allowed) and toasted our friendship.

Wow. We made it this far. Cheers.

Bernie and I toast our 63-year-old friendship at the playground.

*Photos by Kim Wehrle.


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