Everybody here is old!!!!! How can that be?!?!? I am still 16. I look around and see younger faces emerging dreamlike from older faces. Some of the emerging faces have names that I could recall instantly, others remained murky. We are wearing name tags on lanyards at chest level and none of us are wearing our reading glasses so there is a lot of staring closely at breasts and groping to turn the name tags around because they are only printed on one side.
Some of the faces are vaguely familiar, all of them kind and eager, but belong to people that may have chosen different electives (mine were all artsy). Some belonged to people who entered the high school in grade ten which was when I was entering grade ten at Laurentian Regional in Lachute. One lady rushed up to me and exuberantly exclaimed “ I remember you from Grad!!!!” Which was funny, seeing as I did not graduate with this group. I helped her sort out her error.
I was most interested in the faces I have known since we were all five years old and (due to flukes in geography, zoning, religion and socioeconomic status) were thrust into the same kindergarten class.
There were two Kindergarten classes at our school and pretty well two classes for every other grade up through grade seven. Some kids might be in your class one year and the other class the next year. Even shuffled, we all went to the same birthday parties, some met in cub scouts, Sunday School, municipal sports etc.
Shuffling classes at the end of each school year is a humorous ritual I sat in on every year throughout my own teaching career. Kid A and Kid B shouldn’t be in the same class. The mother of kid K doesn’t want K to be near student R. He’s ”Special K”. Student P and student Q shouldn’t sit together. “Mind your P’s and Q’s”.
Suffice it to say we all knew each other pretty well by grade seven. In high school we stuck together at first because in eighth grade we went from 60 kids in our grade to a huge school with probably a few thousand kids some of whom actually smoked, drank, did drugs, had sex, etc. Overwhelming for a young knob to go from top of the hill to bottom of the pile. Seeing familiar faces was a relief then, even if the kid you saw may not have been a friend before. Without all the angst, last night was similar. Friendly familiar faces were like oases.
At this 50 year reunion our elementary school (Dunrae Gardens) was well represented with just under twenty of us there. I managed to talk to most, but not all. Some I have been in touch with over the years, and some I hadn’t seen since 1971 (two years before grad). Many came from quite far away. Cincinnati, Houston, California, Western Canada and mostly next door in Ontario. Striking how few live in Montreal.
Some conversations I wished could go on for hours. Others were not as stimulating. Not everyone has the gift of gab, nor others, the gift of listening. I hope I didn’t bore anyone with anything! Subjects were wide and varied. Common denominators were: dealing with the deaths of our parents, various medical procedures (lol) and grandchildren, DIVERSE subjects such as politics; how lousy the MRHS football team was; band; favourite music; exporting alfalfa sprouts to Saudi Arabia (I’m not kidding…very interesting actually) etc.
What struck me most when surveying the crowd, taking the pulse, was how homogeneous the crowd was. We were 95% white skinned, English speaking, mostly privileged well fed middle class people. I thought ‘we are interlopers in a place that used to be home’. TMR is now predominantly French speaking and to live in TMR these days, requires more moolah than even an Aeronautical Engineer like my dad could muster. My kindergarten teacher Mrs. Sevigny lived across the street from us. I know I couldn’t live there now on a teacher’s income.
Having taught for many years in this city I can assure you that this experience of homogeneity is an anomaly, a throwback to a different era. An era that only exists in fading memories and history books.
One classmate remarked that we were so lucky to benefit from post war stability, relative affluence and an insular environment. Our music was great, our freedoms were many, our problems few. OK Boomer…. We know that on the surface it was like that, but dig a bit and the skeletons come out.
One dear friend took me to task when I said we came from privilege. His parents were blue collar and he grew up in a basement apartment on Graham Boulevard, etc. I said: “Fair enough, did you ever go hungry? Were you sheltered? Did you lack anything?” Right. Privilege.
My own parents were not rich, they were educated, socially active, volunteered, were active in the church. I was fortunate. My family was less dysfunctional than some. Many families held dark secrets: alcoholism; abuse; absentee parents; etc. Easy to hide all that in the surface environment of school..
I loved seeing the classmates that I did, but many of the classmates I also wanted to see were not there. Reunions aren’t for everyone. My old gang is off the grid. I, like them, didn’t really fit school, not because I didn’t love learning, I didn’t like the institution and I am not really a joiner. Ironic that I became a teacher.
Part of me says if I really cared so much about lost friends, we wouldn’t have lost touch. The rational part of me says that our friendship is locked in history and maybe if we met today there would be no bond like before. The kids I played tennis racquet guitar with, kids I pulled pranks with, swiped candy from Deguire’s with, smoked pot with, have all moved on as well.
An interesting thing I noticed on the way out was a picture display of classmates who have died. There were perhaps eight or nine. Maybe as many as twelve. Point is: a relatively small number.
I was also invited to attend a reunion of the second High School I attended. I am in touch with most the friends I made there via social media and the occasional visit. I am otherly occupied on that day, so I declined. The obituary list for my class at that rural regional school was easily double that of my class at MRHS. Pause for thought about the reality of hardships faced on the farm and speeding on country roads and in one case my dear friend who died of loneliness, poor nutrition and alcoholism.
I recognize my privilege and my good fortune to live a life worth living, an examined life, an artistic life. My wife’s cousin and I were discussing Charles Darwin who never needed a job, he was heir to a vast fortune but worked tirelessly on his specimens and ideas and advanced humankind via his writings. I said I was rethinking my ideas on class divide. She said “There’s nothing wrong with privilege, It’s what you DO with it.”