Recently, I allowed myself to be dragged (not quite kicking and screaming) to my 40th high school reunion. The one friend I’ve kept up with since graduating from Hunter College High School then an all-girls school positively loves reunions. I, on the other hand, do not.
So I devised a plan to get out of going. I told her I didn’t want to go if everyone there would be happy (since, recently widowed, I’m not in such a good mood). She was not so easily deterred. "I promise you," she said. "Not everyone will be happy."
Lois (Kaplan) Goldrich in 1966, in a photo her husband called "nerdy."
She was right. Of the 80 or so women who attended (out of a graduating class of about 150), some women were not conventionally happy. But to their credit even the ones fighting cancer, or recovering from painful divorces tried their best to rekindle and project the youthful irreverence for which our class was known. We were loud, edgy, argumentative, funny, and caring. Apparently, we still are.
I had a wonderful time. Some women are doctors, some lawyers, some head nonprofits and NGOs. While most were somewhat recognizable (someone brought a yearbook and we compared the "before" to the "after"), some looked so unchanged it was almost scary. The ones who used to sneak off and smoke in the bathroom at the college next door or cut classes (one is now a math professor and one works for the New York City government) compared notes, while some of us spoke in hushed tones about a classmate who cannot be located and who many think hooked up with a bad crowd in college and died of a drug overdose. One, who dreamed of becoming an actress, was spotted somewhere in upstate New York; six others have died since graduation.
Meryl (Canetti) Troodler in 1966, whose "flip," though puffier, was shorter.
Hunter was a wonderful high school. Without boys around to mock our gym suits (bloomers and all a real treat for passersby when we marched out on Lexington and 68th Street during a fire drill), we excelled in sports, and those whose interests took them in other directions held the reins of student government, joined the drama club, composed the music for our annual "sing," and otherwise reveled in discovering our many talents and abilities.
I have some wonderful memories of my high school days, like learning how to talk without dentalizing (putting the tip of my tongue behind my upper teeth) and how to hold my own in a debate. I remember practicing my high-school Spanish in loud conversations with classmates on the E train (my commute was over an hour from Queens), no doubt to the horror and dismay of native Spanish-speaking fellow commuters.
If in my co-ed junior high school it was not cool to be an A student, at Hunter it was a given. But that was only one part of our student identity. We were encouraged to taste life, to enter the fray of the real world. John Lindsay, then running for mayor, came in to address my class. Some of my classmates became deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights and began to hang out with activists who later became members of Congress. We discovered and shared new kinds of music (one old friend at the reunion remembered that she introduced me to Odetta). And, of course, there were those dances with boys from Brooklyn Tech and Peter Stuyvesant high schools.
The reunion, dare I say it, was fun probably because our high school experience was fun and I got to relive it. So, to the friend who dragged me (and I know she will see this because her son and his family live in Teaneck), thanks.