I have long contended that I loved every minute of high school. But I am also acutely aware that memories tend to wax and wane and skew in countless ways as we try to harmonize our pasts with our presents.
As we planned for a reunion twice delayed by Covid, I was met with a mystifying amount of resistance that ranged from, “There is NO way I’d voluntarily spend an evening with those people,” to “I already keep in touch with anyone I care about,” to “If I lose 30 pounds by then, I’ll go.” I began to wonder if perhaps I had lost my marbles and maybe high school hadn’t actually been everything I cracked it up to be.
But when my lifelong sidekick, Margaret, suggested pulling out the Retina – our yearbook – to cram, I found myself swelling with nostalgia rather than cringing with PTSD. I had never given much thought to why this book, covered in a blue-jeaned graphic, was called what it was, so I did something I couldn’t do back in 1975, and googled the word retina.
The light-sensitive layers of nerve tissue at the back of the eye that receive images and sends them as electric signals through the optic nerve to the brain.
I guess in layman’s terms it means that we can all see the same picture yet process it differently.
And I have no doubt that along the way, some of our retinas have torn just the tiniest bit.As I looked at high school through the yearbook, I remembered it as The Way We Were, coincidentally our much maligned prom theme. While there’s no denying the power of Barbra’s pipes, perhaps Why Can’t We Be Friends would have been a better choice for those formative years.
After all high school was first and foremost, about friends. Making friends. Losing friends. Keeping friends. And looking for acceptance in alternate friend groups.
There were myriad cliques in our mostly homogeneous high school. We were jocks and jerks. Motor heads and air heads. Hard guys and fast girls. Freaks and geeks. Swimmers and spazzes. We were cool and we were nerds. Cheerleaders and color guards. Handsome hunks and hot chicks. We were members of the Wilderness Survival Club , the Chess Club, the Pep Club, the Debate Club, Stage Crew, Chorus and Band. We were class officers, class clowns, and in the top and bottom of our class – though most of us fell somewhere right in the middle. We were musical prodigies, budding artists, aspiring novelists, thespians, lesbians, boy crazy, girl-crazy and just plain crazy.
Yet, as the years rocketed by, those old familiar lines of demarcation blurred along with our memories.
“Do you remember Joe Sonneborn?” (name changed to protect poor Joe’s past, present and future), I asked Margaret soon after his reunion payment showed up in my Venmo account.
“Sure,” she responded. “He was in my home room. He was a hard guy who hung out with the juniors.”
“No he wasn’t. He was the volleyball team manager or an A-V guy or something. He was definitely NOT a hard guy.”
“Did we even have a volleyball team?”
I pulled out the Retina. Yes, we did. But no Joe Sonneborn was pictured with the team.
And so it went. As the RSVPs filled my inbox, I began to wonder. Was he a football player? Was she in I.I.? Was he at that party in Wyndmoor? Was she in my consumer math class? And mostly, did it even matter almost half-a-century later?
Still, I didn’t want anyone to think they’d been forgotten. So, Margaret and I conjured up a foolproof scheme for successful identification at the reunion. We set ourselves up at a table in the front of the room, crossing off names as people checked in.
“Absolutely no idea who this is coming in,” Margaret whispered.
“Head down,” I responded.
“Name?” one of us asked without lifting our eyes to the face.
At which point we both popped our heads up and in cried in gleeful unison, “Sue!”
And for the record, hers wasn’t a case of, “OMG, who IS this old lady?” Actually, it was quite the opposite.
Of course there were the Lance Rultenbergs and Jane Arcaris and Nancy Barretts and Marianne Bakers who looked mere minutes older than their 18 year-old selves and everyone, but everyone knew them immediately.
If we had thought to order trophies, Ellyn Ballezza would have been the clear winner for the most “Is she coming?” queries. Runner-up to farthest distance traveled would be Diane Pollsen, representing the Lone Star State. But, ever the competitor, Kit Schaeffer beat her by 1200 miles. John Schaeffer, same family, had the shortest commute – coming from his childhood-turned-adult home right down the street.
Lauren Fisher would have gotten the award for best at keeping in touch, having moved across the river before high school, but was still one of the first to respond with a resounding YES. Beth Marvin, another friend who graduated elsewhere, would have taken the prize for best in talking Betsy off the ledge as I spewed my hopes and fears throughout the planning process. And of course, Sue Harting, tapping into her Spartanette skills, would win hands-down for her bravery in bullying classmates into submission.
A few of our friends get gold stars for good intentions – Karl Douglass, Jody Field, Jane Finkelstein, Anne Jordan, John McGettigan, Rick Nesbitt, Tina Pelensky, Chuck Presser, Bob Schultz (were you ever REALLY planning on coming?) – but life got in their way and they ended up not making it. And in the eleventh hour, after literal years of planning, Pam Kroberger caught Covid and Beth Holmes caught cancer. But they’re both going to be just fine.
Jeff Ullberg had been radio silent but showed at the door, as did fan favorite, Kevin Forster. Pam Thomas brought a photo album of our senior trip to Nassau where teacher chaperones bellied up to the bar alongside our teenaged selves. Lori Stein’s dimples have not diminished nor has her wonderful warble, though she did refrain from belting out 70s songs. Val Simmens still has her sardonic wit, Karen Brown her twinkle-eyed smile, Scott Geller his persuasive abilities to get aforementioned Val to attend. Barry Magen still retains his inclusive geniality, Paul Fischer his humor. Wes Acker, Robert Black, Chip Horner, Ray Cassidy and Dave Hissey all married well, bringing their personable, not to mention very brave, brides along for the show. Jim Hill still has a way with dogs and Leslie Leidy maintains her love for horses. Carole Sugarman still has her nose for nose, Barbara Crits is still a stalwart for social justice, Amy Katz and David Troyer still have their legal sensibilities, Vince Urbano still has my heart.
As we made our way through memories with the in-from-the-beginning Gail Margulies, Frank Abromitis and Rick Altomare, the kindness-spreading Halligans and Pam Hadley, the coupled after multiple drinks at the last reunion, Kathy McIntyre and Jeff Simmons, the ever-active Caryn Hartman, Thad MacNamara, Leon Dender, Roger Stewart, Gwen Donofry and Terry Kiely, the multi-sported Marion MacNeill and the still-smiling Lynn Wallach, we learned that despite the things that haven’t changed, the way we were is not necessarily the way we are.
Except, of course, for some of us. Just like back in the day, Margaret Sommerville, Lynne Murray, Alexa Koutsourus, Ann Lupica, Karen Bruno, Sue Harting and I were intent on keeping the party going, finally closing the bar at 2 am.
We wandered through the room, sharing our unique accounts of Springfield High. We reminisced about our almost-winning hockey team, the football parties we were or weren’t invited to, our first kisses, our first beers, our worst kisses, our worst jobs. We remembered detentions with Mr. Matula, canoe trips with Dave Cockrell, Driver’s Ed with Mr. Reifinger, communal showers after gym class, ice cream cones at Yum Yum, victories at Oreland Girls Softball, being shushed in the library by Ms Newton and pep rallies in the gymnasium. We talked about the prom, our rain-soaked graduation and getting stopped by the cops because Karin Shea was riding through Erdenheim on the literal roof of my mother’s wood-paneled station wagon. We recalled smoking in the woods behind Harston Hall, joining Sunday night youth groups based solely on which church drew the coolest kids, abusing open campus privileges by hanging out in parentless homes and driving eight-to-a-car into Flourtown for a hamburger from Gino’s or a hoagie from Cisco’s. We laughed about the parent-busting party in Ellyn’s basement, and driving laps and laps from town to town, hoping to catch a glimpse of the hunk of the hour. We challenged our memories with “who was that guy who…” and debated our opposing truths of whether the poor girl was a victim or a villain that night on the golf course.
While making rounds from table to table I lamented those who had no interest in coming.
“It’s easy for you,” one classmate said to me in defense of the absent. “You were always popular.”
I scoffed. Me? Popular? Now that’s a distorted memory. I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to be popular as much as I wanted to have straight hair. And though I could hang with the best of them and did my fair share of dangling from the high rungs, I never earned a firm and final perch at the top. That was reserved for those with looks and charm way beyond my reach.
I also know that I exchanged more words with some of my classmates in the course of party planning than we had in all our years of school put together.
So why, one might ask, would I want to go to a reunion with people I hadn’t spoken to in 47 years? And why would I want to kindle a relationship with those I may never have spoken to at all, ever?
I must admit, leading up to the event there were moments, though fleeting, when I questioned it myself.
But when the night was over and we said our goodbyes, vowing to stay in better touch, swearing our undying allegiance and promising to become fast Facebook friends, it all made sense as to why we were there.
Unlike two dozen members of the Class of 1975, we had survived. We had gotten through deaths and divorces, conquered Covid and cancer, hobbled through hip replacements and job replacements. We became business owners and doctors, lawyers and financiers, engineers and journalists. We became controllers and consultants, volunteers and vice presidents, psychologists and dog trainers, realtors and writers, musicians and managers, nurses and hygienists.
But at the root of our souls we’re all just average Joes who serendipitously shared our humble beginnings at Springfield Township High School. We navigated our lives as best as we were able only to find that the former athletes struggle with their arthritic joints just as the beauty queens now harbor their jowly necks. Some of us went to college, some of us learned trades. Some of us have children, some of our children have children. Some of us are happy, some of us wish we were. Some of us have way surpassed our parents’ successes, some of us can barely get by. Some of us peaked in high school, and some of us still have a long, long way to go.
We shared a lot, this class of 1975. Vietnam and Watergate. Driver’s licenses and college rejections. The energy crisis and Earth Day. Long hair and bell bottoms. Patty Hearst and Saturday Night Live. Broken hearts and not-so-perfect prom dates. And of course, the hallowed halls of Springfield High.
Sure, we have packed on the pounds, lost our hair, and wear deep wrinkles on our faces. But we’re also a little bit wiser, a little bit kinder and a little bit more tolerant than we were back when we were jockeying for position on the pages of the Retina.
After all was said and done, I pulled out the 200-page spiral-bound notebook that served as my diary throughout my high school days.
Somewhere between being SO mad at Debbie Atlee that “I can’t WAIT to get away from here and go to college,” and three days later, raving about the Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert at the Spectrum (which I attended with former ex-friend, Debbie), there it was.
“I am soooooooo lucky !!!!! (multiple o’s and exclamation points). I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine EVER having as much fun as I’m having in high school.”
I was oh, so right. Yet oh, so wrong.
Cheers to The Way We Were and the long, and windy road that led us to The Way We Are.
…And the Way We Will Be at our 50th reunion. Save the date coming soon!