A Brief Recap: I have just walked into a room for a reunion of my Elementary Hebrew School class, the members of which, with one exception, I had not been in contact with for fifty-seven years.
Other than myself, there were nine attendees at that reunion. I immediately recognized seven of them. “Father Time” had exacted minimal damage. My classmates were instantly recognizable. As, apparently, was I.
We did not require adhesive nametags.
(Of the two I could not identify, one was an intermittent classmate, the other had evolved physically from wispy to huskily substantial.)
The hugs and handshakes were indisputably genuine, the “How’re ya doin’s”, excitedly sincere. It felt like “Dieppe” or “Vimy Ridge”, the remnants of the platoon reassembling after decades of separation. (I don’t know why I picked “Dieppe” and “Vimy Ridge” – they were both Canadian disasters. Maybe that’s how I felt about that school. A perception which would be challenged later in the evening.)
When it comes to personalities, everybody was who they used to be, only older – earnest, abrasive, silly, non-confrontational. Yes, the silly one was me. I was hoping to sneak it in in the middle so you wouldn’t notice.
Evidence of Silliness:
Early on, I reveal a longstanding personal grievance. During the Purim assembly, appearing as one of King Ahasuerus’s less muscular bodyguards, I was costumed in a “towel turban” and the Scotch plaid flannel bathrobe that I had recently received for my Bar Mitzvah. After the assembly, I hung my bathrobe in the Cloak Room, I neglected to take it home that night, and when I went to retrieve it the following morning, it was missing.
“I want my bathrobe back!” I proclaimed, mock insistently, promising that I would cover my eyes, allowing the culprit to return it to me – “No questions asked.”
I did not get back my bathrobe. But I was generously forgiven for the foolishness of my campaign.
At the suggestion of an organizationally-attuned participant, it was decided that we should go around the room, each of us providing a brief summary of our fifty-seven year biography. What I heard confirmed my fundamental belief that everyone’s story is inherently interesting.
(An Apologetic Note: Our encounter lasted four hours. The best I can provide are selected flashes and impressions.)
The range of relationship statuses – or is it relationship stati – covered the predictable spectrum – multi-married, almost-married, a long-term unconventional relationship, and extendedly married to the same person, a category where me and my wife – married thirty-three-plus years – ranked as comparative newlyweds.
Some personal histories were at odds with what might confidently have been predicted. Others were spectacularly consistent.
Although none of us had become doctors or lawyers – or law enforcement officers, meaning there would be no television series about any of us, since those are the only series they do – everyone expressed satisfaction with their professional undertakings. Not a regretful “I could have been a contender” in the bunch. They did what they did, and seemed content that they did it.
Okay, the rest of this – until the wrap-up – is about me. Because that’s what I do here. If my classmates want to talk about themselves, let ‘em get a blog of their own.
Wait, that’s too dismissive. The real reason is, I have never felt comfortable speaking for or about others, possibly inadvertently misrepresenting them in the process. I prefer to, more safely, misrepresent myself.
So that’s what I’m going to do. Starting now.
I am quite famous – not incorrectly – for my prodigious memory concerning factual trivialities and random minutia.
I know that classmate Ricky Green’s birthday is on Saint Patrick’s Day. Ricky Green!
I recall that our Grade Two teacher, Miss Hatfield, when admonishing a classroom showoff, would intone,
“‘Smarty’ had a party and nobody came to it.”
On Saturday night sleepovers to watch the hockey game, a classmate’s mother would prepare a delicious dinner of what she characteristically pronounced, “ha’digs.”
Turning the tables, at the reunion, I was bowled over by the minute details other people had retained about me.
I wrote a series of “shark” stories.
I have no recollection of doing that.
Not wanting to be the slowest performer in our “Manual Training” class, I was reminded of a two-line prayer I had composed, that went:
“Please God, help me on this ‘Manual’ Day,
To get ahead of Ariyay.”
That prayer had entirely slipped my mind.
I also composed an incomprehensible nonsense jingle that went,
“El zeb, fiddi ma,
Fiddi benzel diddi ma shne-e-eb.”
Which came back to me only after being loudly serenaded by it. I have not the slightest idea what that means.
Then there was this forgotten “blast from the past”, which I relate with a substantial amount of retroactive embarrassment.
A classmate told a story, wherein, I apparently, tossed a quarter onto a roof extending below our second-floor classroom window, encouraging classmates to venture onto the roof to retrieve it. (A quarter was no small amount in those days. It could purchase two hot dogs and a Coke at nearby Weltz’s Delicatessen.)
Apparently, when the storyteller and a companion responded my proposition and clambered out onto the roof, somebody, he reported, closed the window behind them. When the teacher arrived, the “quarter retrievers” were ordered to return to the classroom, after which they were immediately punished.
Truth be told, I can imagine myself tossing that quarter onto the roof. But closing the window on them?
I don’t know, maybe I did. But fifty-seven years later, I felt terrible about it.
The pervasive “vibe” or the gathering was natural and spontaneous, like we had just seen each other yesterday. Though there were flurries of adversarial opinionation – to my surprise, my impression of the doctrinaire oppressiveness of our educational experience met with less than unanimous agreement – the general atmosphere was solicitous and concerned, everyone listening attentively as our classmates unfolded their narratives, interrupting only because they wanted to hear more.
Near the end of our gathering, when a classmate inquired why, though I had visited Toronto on numerous occasions, I had never gotten in touch with them before, I candidly responded,
“It never came to mind.”
When she followed up with,
“Why did you decide to do it now?”
I thought about that for a second. And then finally replied,
It was some evening – one that will remain in my heart forever. The people at that reunion have a bond. We may have had varying experiences at that school and may have traveled in different directions, but, common denominator:
We are Toronto Hebrew Day School, “Class of ‘58.”
We have an indelible connection.
That night, a thoughtful classmate committed to Jewish adult education graciously drove me back to my hotel. My agnosticism may have come up during the journey. When she dropped me off, she casually floated a suggestion:
“Think about something you want to know a little more about.”
Perhaps someday I will.