Let the Celebrating Begin

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It has been fifty years since the Mt. Carmel High School Class 0f 1966 left the school gymnasium after graduation. We departed with high hopes and good intentions and the clock on our lives began ticking far more quickly than we might have imagined. Some among us served in the military. Others went to college. There were those who married and started families, some who focused on careers. We navigated through the ups and downs of life, experiencing the milestones of human existence. All the while we remembered those years when we were young. Our days in high school had at times been filled with angst and at others with joy. As teenagers we had felt hurts and victories. As full fledged adults we mostly moved past our immaturities and hangups to mellow into acceptance of ourselves just as we are. We became able to gaze into the mirror past all of the flaws and truly like the people that we had become. Somehow all we now need to know about our former classmates is that each among us has found happiness. We have embraced the contentment that comes with wisdom and age and grace.

Tomorrow evening we will gather together for our fiftieth reunion. It will be good to see one another again and to hear the stories of what happened to everyone as the decades passed. Our old friends will be there and some will bring their spouses, people that we have yet to meet but will most surely enjoy. We will view photos of travels, children and grandchildren. We will learn about jobs and hobbies and all of those things that weave together the fabric of our lives. None of us will look the same. Regardless of how well we have aged fifty years leave an imprint on our faces and our outlooks. We are now just as we once were and yet different. The essence of our youthfulness is still in our hearts but our experiences will have changed us.

I lost track of so many people after graduation day. I was busy earning a college degree, raising a family, teaching and caring for my mother who developed chronic mental illness shortly after I had finished high school. Like most people my days were filled with responsibilities from dawn until I fell asleep at night. I had little time for pursuits outside of my family and my work but I have enjoyed a long and lovely friendship with Linda Daigle Scheffler that thankfully continues to this day. Our children grew up together taking swimming lessons, watching football games and celebrating birthdays, graduations, marriages. We have met at Christmas to exchange ornaments and gifts virtually every year since our children were born with few exceptions. Monica Krider Watzak has been by my side from the time that I was a tiny girl. She was one of the first people that I met on the playground in second grade back at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary. Her children also grew up with mine. We have gone on trips together and stood by each other in times both good and bad. Nancy Gracey was one of the bridesmaids in my wedding. We played bridge together on Fridays and finished sentences for each other. She eventually moved away and we lost touch for years only to reunite as though it had only been five minutes since our last meeting. I continue to encounter Susan McKenna Bolduc, another of my bridesmaids, time and again at funerals for classmates and their parents.  Judy Loisey is often there as well demonstrating the same warmth of heart that was her trademark in high school. Of course I also encounter Tommy Darst who has so graciously helped so many Mt. Carmel families during times of greatest sorrow. 

Mostly though I lost track of the one hundred forty three souls with whom I had shared so much during those critical four years of my life. From time to time I heard stories about them but somehow I never crossed paths with them even though I must have surely been moving through the same places where they had been. It was only through the miracle of Facebook that I have slowly  reignited friendships with former classmates, sometimes finding surprising kinship with those that I barely knew when I was young. I have enjoyed reading about their trips and adventures and seeing their beautiful children and grandchildren. I’ve even appreciated the great variety of their political persuasions. Nobody can ever say that we were brainwashed at Mt. Carmel High School. Everyone has a mind of his/her own. Mostly though I have marveled at how wonderful we all became. We are good people who took the lessons that we learned at Mt. Carmel High School to heart no matter where in the world we landed.

I get excited just thinking about the possibility of seeing so many of my classmates tomorrow night. The guest list has swelled to a hundred or more including curious spouses who have no doubt heard so many stories about our Class of 1966. I get both giddy and nervous when I think about seeing them in person again after all these years. 

Even though there were once one hundred forty four of us. Not everyone has made it this far. Before we had even been gone for ten years some among us had already died from cancer or accidents. Others have gone from us more recently. They had hoped to be with us for our celebration but the good Lord saw fit to take them. Each time we have heard of a death among our old friends it has brought us great sadness. We remember when they were so bright and beautiful. We know that they meant so much to their families and to us.

When I was a young mom buying shoes for my little girls Mrs. Lippies used to ask me to pray for her son Kerry who had cancer. Sadly he did not make it. He was one of the first among us to die. I was broken apart when Bill Bailey was killed in a freak accident in Galveston. Not long ago I heard that a colleague of mine at St. Christopher’s School had lost her husband who also happened to be one of my classmates, Frank Fox, a wonderful man who had been so loved by his wife and children. I followed Cindy Cash Criss’s medical progress as she fought ALS. I loved seeing her images of kitties on Facebook and I marveled at her courage and optimism as she dealt with the devastating effects of that terrible disease. I know how much she wanted to make it to the reunion but that was not to be. Instead many of us gathered at her memorial and came together for the first time in years. We knew that she had been the catalyst for beginning our journey to the celebration that we will enjoy tomorrow. Somehow her spirit will be there with us, hoping that we love and laugh the way she always did. Chris Nixon had overcome many heath problems and came faithfully to the early planning meetings for the reunion. He too was called to heaven sooner than we had hoped. Many of us attended his funeral only months ago and cried together for a dear sweet friend.

I had lost track of my friend and high school confidante, Claudia Dean Langguth for well over forty years. When we were teenagers we had shared our deepest secrets and dreams. I had thought that ours would be a lifetime of togetherness but circumstances pulled us apart. When I recently searched for her I learned that she had died only a year ago. I wish that I had been able to tell her how much she had meant to me. I would have liked to let her know that I loved her.

Others who meant much to me are also gone. David Patton and I often competed with one another academically. I knew in my heart that he was my intellectual superior but I would never have admitted that to him. A few years back he began to email me after he had suffered from a stroke. It was sad to know that his brilliant mind had been diminished. I hope that I gave him a bit of comfort with my responses to his communications. I was crushed to learn of his death.

In school our teachers usually seated us in alphabetical order. I sat behind John Kurtz for four years and got to know him well enough to have a secret crush on him. He once told me that his juvenile diabetes would curtail his life prematurely. I was too young and inexperienced to believe that he knew the truth. I shook my head and told him that he was being silly. Unfortunately he was not wrong and left this earth far too soon for such a good man.

The list of those who have already entered the kingdom of God is longer than I would want it to be. There are about twenty four souls who have already died and will be watching over us as we convene this weekend. They will remind us that life is a treasure that we must embrace before the opportunity to do so has left us. In our minds they will be forever young and as lovely and energetic as they were on that May day of long ago when none of us were able to imagine the roads that we would travel or that fifty years would go by so quickly. They are gone but never forgotten. We can still see Janice Repsdorph as the amazing athlete that she always was. We will remember Dorothy Wheeler Cox and her sweet smile and loving presence. In our hearts we’ll think of Diane Martin in all of her glorious beauty and generous spirit. Each of them touched our hearts.

Our lives have been blessed. We are all fine people who have contributed to the benefit of our families, our friends and our communities. We have remembered what is most important and have lived the way our teachers had hoped that we would. When we left on that May in 1966 we understood that we had been called to work for the benefit of all mankind. We have kept the promises that we made. Now it is time to remember and appreciate all of the people who helped us to arrive at this remarkable place in time. Let the celebrating begin.

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