Reunions are Important if you have Memories

I am stunned. I never thought I would live long enough to see this day. When I left high school, I was on the wrong side of every statistical indicator. I still believe that pretzels and porter are basic food groups that are enhanced by a dark cigar. Kale is a weed that can be controlled if sprayed regularly. A checkup is something I do for my computer. None the less, in the same year that my oldest grandson graduates from high school, I received an invitation to the 50th reunion of my graduating class. It just never occurred to me that I would live this long.

Stories, oh my the stories, from our late teen years and how they shape our beliefs and paths. I look back at my own days in high school for stories, only to be disappointed in either my memory or that my stories from those years do not revolve around the school. The people that I remember best attended other schools or were not students at the time. My stories tell a different experience than the people who will gather and recollect and retell and embellish. I only came up with a single story of Yorktown High School in Northern Virginia.

My first experience with Yorktown taught me that I had no ability what so ever to hit a baseball and with that the valuable life lesson that I was happier sitting in the shade with a popsicle than getting hit by a baseball. Of course, the school was an elementary school at the time and the baseball field was where the current football stadium does its northern Virginia imitation of Friday night lights. Arlington was growing, and growing fast, in the late 1950’s and early 60’s which meant that I had the chance to take a little life lesson from a list of schools. Start with Taylor, then John Marshall, followed by a brief visit to John Marshall Annex and finish up at James Madison. My older brother and sister both went to Stratford, but the rest of the family attended Williamsburg Junior High School. The older members of my family felt the changes in the school construction and redistricting acutely. We seemed to be the dividing line for many of the changes.

Nottingham and Tuckahoe replaced Yorktown as elementary schools so that a new high school could grow from the remains of the elementary school on Yorktown Boulevard. When it opened, the school could not have a graduation class until it had been a high school for a least a year. My sister chose to finish her remaining two years at Washington and Lee instead of attending the new high school. My brother did not have a choice and became a member of the second graduating class of Yorktown. I lived in the ideal set up for instant school rivalry; members of one family attending both schools simultaneously. My sister delighted in pointing out the superiority of blue and gray generals to baby blue fluer de lits. My brother had little offer in response except to point out the peaceful nature of Yorktown contained a courtyard dominated by a locust tree with the curious name of Elihu Fribble.

By the time the fifth graduating class entered Yorktown, boomers had already filled it to capacity and more expansion for the count’s three high schools was on the way. The design would fill the courtyard causing the removal of poor Ms. Fribble. I am not sure if there were any football, basketball or baseball victories to celebrate, but I do remember the sentiment attached to that thorny tree in the school’s center. Our claim to fame and rebuttal to the steel of the civil war had a date with a bulldozer. Details get lost in 50 years of far more important memories, but it was the 60’s and we did take the opportunity to create a bulletin board in protest.

“Woodsman, spare they axe” proclaimed for all of the school to see and rally around our fribblous symbol. The spirit of the 60’s had not reached administrators at Arlington’s public schools and their response meant that we removed the message of angst something less provocative. My second life lesson at Yorktown summarized as “keep your opinions to yourself”.

I would love to say that my high school years featured good times and growth shared with classmates, but those three years were marked by the rancor of the 60’s and the knowledge that the school did not want to entertain divergent opinions. For those who remember high school fondly, I am in some ways envious but know that the richness of my life came much later in an environment that fostered questions and diversity. My high school experience made me an expert in avoidance while I waited to begin searching for broader answers.

At my father’s funeral a few years ago, a man introduced himself as one of my former teachers from Yorktown. I did not catch his name and can only assume that he remembered correctly. He, like high school in general, have been unable to break through to the major threads of my life.

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