That’s my I.D. badge, Dear Readers, proudly bearing my class picture. (Wince.)
The year was 1967, and although I was having a clearly a bad hair day, my four years at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois were the greatest.
I was handed that badge two Saturday nights ago on the twelfth floor at the Doubletree Hotel in Skokie, Illinois. That’s where our fiftieth reunion was being held and I wasn’t entirely sure if I should still clip it on.
When I first got the invitation earlier this year, I had had my doubts.
A lot had changed in my life since my last appearance at the twenty-fifth reunion. Back then, I was a Winnetka housewife, a mother, a columnist, a generous philanthropist and hard worker for many Chicago charities.
All that had gone with the divorce wind. I wasn’t real sure how the 2017 version of Ellen Ross would play.
But high school had been a magical time for me. And more importantly, New Trier had given me everything.
I had loved my teachers, my friends, my classes. And the school had given me an identity of which I was- and am- proud. As a dopey teenager, it had been a privilege to be part of something truly special.
There is no doubt in my mind as I type this. New Trier had shaped the course of my life.
And of course, I wanted to reconnect with my old- no make that former- classmates. Some I still see, of course. But others I hadn’t seen in over twenty-five years.
And the subset I was most anxious to revisit were my Avoca Class of ’63 kids. Avoca was/is a small school- eighty three boys and girls had been in my graduating class- and I had gone all the way from first to eighth grade with most of them.
But eighty-three freshmen got lost in a class of twelve hundred and I hadn’t seen most of these people since they were twelve. What would they be like now? Would I recognize them? Would they know who I was?
Curiosity may have killed the cat but it got me to overcome my second thoughts and shell out the $125 to put my name on the guest list.
Once that check was in the mail, the die was cast and the Rubicon was crossed. (N.B. Mr. Thomson. Latin teacher ne plus ultra and professore d’italiano magnifico.)
Author’s Note: I’ve already apple-polished and written a love screed to my favorite teachers. If you want to read (or reread ) it here it is. Click here.
But as Saturday, September sixteenth drew near, my original trepidation came back.
After all, I wasn’t married, my kids had moved away and Kelly Ripa still had my dream job. I hadn’t written Heartburn or directed Something’s Got To Give, either.
I had nothing to show for the last fifty years.
But it felt lousy to chicken out and pull a no-show. Besides, my former next-door neighbor had graciously agreed to pick me up at the train station and I didn’t want to stand her up.
Ellen was waiting right on time with her old friend Janice already riding shotgun. And as we walked in to the reception, I felt my pulse quicken with…I don’t know nerves, anxiety, excitement…
And then I spotted Cathy and it was 1963 all over again. All the memories came flooding back and I was awash in laughter- and a few tears- for the rest of the night.
Old training-wheels beaux, former jumprope and jacks rivals, girls I had worshipped from afar swirled around me in a wonderful whirlpool. People and things I hadn’t thought about in fifty years all came rushing towards me with a clarity that somehow defied the years.
There was Bob and Jeff and Ernie and Cathy and Vickie and beloved Barbara and Diane and Butch and Rodney and Stew…
We laughed and reminisced.
And we mourned our fallen classmates. I hadn’t realized how many of us had died. Living in Colorado for seventeen years had left me way out of the loop.
Too many kids in our little class were gone. And that’s how I’ll always think about them- as twelve year old kids with their whole lives in front of them. Scott and Jimmy and Bob and Charles…
My buddy Fred drove me home. We left kind of on the early side before the music and the dancing started.
Besides, I was ready to go. I had seen everybody that I wanted to see. It had been a blast and now it was time to let my inner teenager go.
Ave atque vale, Class of 1967.
It was a gas, gas gas.
With love from Ellen R.