Tomorrow my husband and I are heading down to good old Rockland County, New York for my 40th high school reunion--North Rockland High School, Class of 1970. The school is now located in Theills, New York and has been since it opened for my senior year. This won't be so tortuous for my husband because he actually went to school with most of these people until his family moved to another nearby town in 10th grade. The best part is that the reunion will take place in Haverstraw (which is where the grand, old school was from 1933 until the new one was built) in a place just a half a block down the street from the house (on the Hudson River) in which my husband grew up, until the fateful move.
Needless to say, this is a prime experience for a time-passing-obsessive-nut like myself. What could be better than participating your own Ken Burns experience? I am not exaggerating when I say that with very little effort, I can put myself right back in my late 60s mindset, in the very halls where my high school heart still wanders in my dreams. In that place, everyone still looks exactly as they did 40 years ago. Close my eyes, and it is not much of a stretch to be back in my old clothes, in my old classrooms, cafeteria, and locker room, with a vivd sense of what was. I can recall the feeling of the halls, the big old windows, the way the old granite and marble steps felt, the vivid CCC/WPA Depression painted murals on the walls of the Home Ec classroom, and the sense of a solid and substantial building meant to last (they still use it for the Middle School).
I won't go into much detail about how the new, one level, barely finished high school structure felt for the one laskluster year I was there. But suffice it to say that the yearbook staff managed to sneak one four letter word via morse code into the monotmous brick cover of the yearbook itself; that exposed where our collective hearts really lay with regard to the new school vs. the old stately building. It was a very silly and immature act of rebellion in retrospect, of course, but accurate at the time for a bunch of 17-18 year olds who loved the old building and town fiercely.
In any event, I am very much looking forward to doing some time travel and some great catching up with my former classmates to see where our lives have led us during the past 40 years. We may not look now as we did then, but I am sure that many of us still feel like adolescents in our hearts.
After a weekend of High School revisited in Rockland, back in Boston the following week my husband and I have are having dinner with one of his law school classmates and his wife, after not seeing them for 30 years. Here is another case where it is effortless to imagine us once again back in Ithaca where we lived for 3 years, and get into that late seventies mindset. And it is equally vivid: clothes, food, house, soft sculptured dolls everywhere, while he happily toiled away in the evenings at his studies. Got local yogurt, Earth shoes, Indian wrap skirts and home made bread? Oh, yeah. That and lots of granola. And I can tell you from years of futility: you cannot make brownies with honey and whole wheat flour so don't even try.
So, yes, I can time travel back years and remember very clearly what life was like years ago. But the last twenty-plus years? Where the heck did they go? Was I here? What did I wear, eat, think, watch? Did I make all my appointments? (the answer is no). When did my hair start to turn gray? I know I made plenty of art work and changed plenty of diapers. Did I ever cook? I think I did. I think I actually used to cook real meals, using real cookbooks and real pots and pans. Or so they tell me.
Fact is, with three boys to chase around and extended family to worry about and sometimes care for, and illustration jobs to get done, along with a husband who works long hours, much of my more recent life has flown by in a blur of extreme busyness, multitasking, family celebrations, caring for loved ones and sleep deprivation. From the time I became a parent (which is when I feel like I finally became an adult), a good night's sleep has eluded me, and while my family is what really gives my life meaning and purpose beyond all else, life has also flown by so quickly that I have come to feel like Rip Van Winkle: asleep for 20 years only to wake up and find myself and everything around me is now older and very changed.
What does all this mean? It means that I had to revisit that old story by Washington Irving a little bit today, of course! I learned some interesting facts: Irving wrote that story while living in England for a spell after meeting with some failure and filing for bankruptcy. The story idea came to him after an evening of what else? Reminiscing! According to Wikipedia, he locked himself in a room after waxing nostalgic with his brother-in-law and wrote non-stop all night. I guess the conversation much have ignited a long-suppressed creative urge, since it is said he "felt like a man waking from a long sleep."
And so it hit me: the story of Rip Van Winkle is simply an allegory for life itself, for as our lives march forward we can get so caught up in the day-to-day acts of just keeping things afloat and our homes intact, that we often suppress dreams, creativity, and that risk-taking side of ourselves that seemed to vibrate with potency when we were young.
I have been lucky enough be able to have embraced my creative side for the last twenty years. But those years have still flown by. I find myself waking up to see my children looking grown up and more and more independent. Fashions are coming back in vogue, and I still haven't gotten rid of them from the first time they were stylish. My musician son lists the Beatles and Rolling Stones as two of his favorite "old" bands. And when I watch "Mad Men" I can actually catch the anachronisms because that era was the beginning of my pre-teen awareness of everything around me.
The good part about raising a family and getting older is that as your children become themselves, you gain more time again within which to reflect and savor what life offers, because you know that as quickly as the previous years have passed, the remaining ones will do so, only with greater speed. Even though it sounds corny, I do think that this reunion is so much more than simply catching up and saying hello. I absolutely do not get it when people have no desire to attend these events. It is about understanding the past in the context of life. If you don't examine where you have been, how can you possibly get a grasp on where you are and where you are going?
It's all part of getting older and the game of life. I do like to play it and I am glad I still can.