I recently attended a reunion involving a group of people with whom I had not been in contact for fifty-seven years. With one exception, whom I had spent a few hours with more than twenty years ago.
We are now hovering on both sides of seventy. The last time I saw them, we were all thirteen years old.
Just saying that gives me a shiver. Though I admit to an even bigger shiver before the reunion, both of anticipation and of “What if it’s terrible?” (Translation: What if they never liked me and they have built up a fifty-seven-year head of steam to let me have it?)
Here’s how this came about.
Wait, first let me tell you what I’m talking about.
Regular readers perhaps recall that the elementary school I attended was the Toronto Hebrew Day School. “T.H.D.S.” was labeled a parochial school. I just looked “parochial school” up in the dictionary. Not that dictionaries are the final arbiter on the definition of words. No, wait a minute. They are.
My dictionary defines “parochial school” as “an elementary or high school maintained by a religious organization.”
The “T.H.D.S.” religious organization was – no drumrolling “reveal” here – Jewish. I am certain that the sleuths among you saw the “H” in the title as a transparent giveaway.
The septuagenarians (or near septuagenarians) with whom I’d be reunioning and I were members of a class that had proceeded as a group from Nursery School or Kindergarten up through the end of Seventh Grade (or as Canadians call it, Grade Seven.)
There were a couple of additions along the way, but no subtractions that I can remember. We were classmates for at least eight school years.
Here’s how the place worked.
Half of each day was devoted to the regular Public School English curriculum. There is no need to spell that out; I believe you all went to school. The other half of our day was allotted to Jewish studies – conversational and grammatical Hebrew, Jewish History – where we were familiarized with the countries that had persecuted and/or kicked us out during the past twenty-five hundred years, which I believe was all of them – and to the intensive study of The Five Books of Moses.
(In commemoration of the beginning of those studies – which were initiated in Grade Three – every student was presented with a commemorative miniature Torah.
Mine sits in the box it was presented in, which is on a shelf about six feet away from where I am currently typing. Close to our Grade Seven class picture, which is next to a sailboat I made in the “Wood Shop” portion of “Manual Training.” I tell you, I am a veritable “Museum of Me.”)
Here’s the last thing I will say about the school. For now.
Although we studied English subjects for only a half of every day, when we completed Grade Seven, at which point, at the time at least, the school ended, meaning we would shortly be entering the Ontario Public School System, all the about-to-become graduates were required to take a provincially-sanctioned “Equivalency Test.”
As a result of our performance on that test, every one of us was “accelerated” into Grade Nine. (This was not unusual at our school. It happened every year.)
I never understood that. We studied English subjects for half a day. Public schools studied English subjects the whole day. And despite that, every one of us skipped an entire grade.
What exactly were they doing in public school? Phys. Ed? Maybe that was the difference. We never had Phys. Ed.
Anyway, so now there’s a reunion of that class.
There were originally seventeen of us. Four are, sadly, now gone, one taken tragically in a car accident as a teenager. A couple of “home-towners” gave the reunion a pass. And of the half-dozen or so “out-of-towners”, three of us were able to attend – two from Vancouver, and yours truly from Los Angeles.
The final tally of reunion participants would be ten.
I will leave it there for today. For those of you hoping that I’d be finished in one sitting – sorry. Regular readers know better. I am not good at “short.”
I will conclude today’s offering with a true-life vignette, which occurred during my stay but is unrelated to the reunion. Why am I doing that? Because I can.
It’s the first morning of the trip. I am in my hotel room; I am about to take a shower. I take a look in my “cosmetics bag” and suddenly realize that I am missing deodorant.
Not wanting to get fully dressed, go down to the hotel gift shop, buy the deodorant, come back up to the room, get totally undressed again and take a shower – and, not insignificantly, since my more conventional darling of a wife is not with me – I instead throw on the hotel’s complimentary bathrobe, pad my way down the hall barefoot to the elevator, and I press the button.
The elevator arrives; the doors open. Standing inside the elevator are two passengers, a man and a woman, dressed in identifiable business attire, and carrying briefcases.
I, as you will recall, am wearing a bathrobe. And I am barefoot.
I step onto the elevator, the doors close, and we proceed down to the lobby.
There I am, an unshod man in a bathrobe, riding in an elevator, in the company of two fully clothed, adult people.
Who are Canadians.
Which is important, and here’s why.
While I am standing there, a kind of a joke pops into my mind. It is a silly joke. Which makes things worse. Canadians are not famous for appreciating “silly”, making me concerned that, were I to share the joke that has popped into my mind with my elevator companions, there is the risk – the very substantial risk because they’re Canadians – that they would not laugh at it. And we would thereafter descend to the lobby in uncomfortable silence.
I crazily determine to take the risk.
I turn to my elevator companions, the two of them professionally attired, me, in bare feet and a bathrobe, and I say to them,
“I forgot to pack clothes.”
One passenger explodes into uncontrollable hysterics. The other one stares at me, her incredulous expression conveying,
“What are you talking about?”
The lesson for today is simple. Never say that Canadians have no sense of humor.
An unscientific survey reveals that at least half of them do.
Coming Tomorrow: The lead-up and the reunion.