Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Reunion

There was a time in everyone's life when they've had to suffer through the maze of awkwardness, painful highs and lows of those youthful hormone charged days.....yes, I mean High School. I, like many others from time to time, have reflected upon those High School days of classroom antics, disappointments, stuttering romantic interludes, football games, Homecoming and the teachers you loved and hated. A sometimes irrational time, when looked at from a distance, makes you wonder why those times remain such a huge part of us. I would argue that those years, like a mile marker, defined us and made us, more than anything else (baring personal loss of a loved one or military service), the people we are today.

So, as most of us try desperately to distance ourselves from those days and events, every 5, 10, 20, 30, or, in this case, 40 years, we agree to return to those times and places to rejoin those of our class to renew old ties and relive old memories. There comes in the mail (yes, it was an email) a chilling reminder from the Reunion Committee.You know, those eternally ebullient people consisting of the usual suspects from the ASB, Honor Society, various social clubs and those Yearbook members who always volunteered to hang those Pep Rally banners and diligently typed those cute captions under your group or action photos that have followed you throughout the years like a felony rap sheet.

And suddenly the fragile fabric of your reality fades away and draws you inexorably back to that locker hallway near the Social Studies Building as you walk toward your Homeroom as the smell of cigarette smoke envelopes you as you pass the Boy's bathroom....and, like a time traveler, you're there. Tiny flickers of moments dart around you, faces and places flash by and then it's gone. And you know you have to go and attend so you sign up.

And why do we do this? Well....mostly to see who is left.... hey, most of us have arrived in our sixth decade, yes the vanguard of the dreaded post-war Baby-Boomers...or now, in a kinder, gentler world, known as Mid-Century kids. After all...these were the people you spent more time with than your own family for much of your formative years. Eschewing the occasional embarrassing flashback, there still lies an unrelenting, nagging underground need to reach back to those times, back when our only real concerns revolved around getting to school on-time, getting enough credits to graduate and what we were going to do this weekend with our newly minted driver's licenses.

Now, in a world of taxes, mortgages, bills (like paying off student loans for our kids), home improvement and waning careers, we are still inexplicably haunted by the specter of those times. Wanting to meet those people and, in essence, asking ourselves, "What if....?

Football legends and Cheerleaders are no longer the hard-body images of the future success many of our teachers and counselors fostered in us but the grey-haired older shells of our former selves. Don't get me wrong, many of us did go on to college and successful careers but many didn't and just lived the middle-class life that many of our parents prepared us for.

We were also there as distrust in Government thoroughly bloomed with the Nixon Years, the tragic "exit strategy" of Vietnam, the widening of the social classes and races and as the sexual revolution rode stupidly into the AIDS years. We began the overspending, credit card, "creative financing" mortgage and economic disaster of the 90's which ultimately led to the crash of 2007. Perhaps, in our sometimes futile efforts to make the world better for our kids, we have reneged on our parents promise of a better life for us and our children after their sacrifices of the Great Depression and World War II.

But, I digress. Back to the Reunion. Dianna and I had attended and met at Stephen Watts Kearny High School. The school was named in honor of General Stephen W. Kearny, a leader in the Mexican-American War. Kearny High opened its doors in 1941 the school mascot was the "Komet" (seriously, even in my formative writing years, the misspelling always bugged me). A former military base, Camp Kearny, was near where the current campus is located

The original school was a temporary building in the neighborhood before moving into what is now Montgomery Middle School (then Montgomery Junior High) located at 2470 Ulric Street in San Diego. The Class of 1943, was the first graduating class. In 1953 the high school moved to its present location at 7651 Wellington Way. Notable Alumni are Richard Alf, Class of 1970, Co-founder and former chairman of the San Diego Comic-Con International, Cliff Hicks, Class of '82, played in three Super Bowls during his 9½-year NFL career and Cleavon Little, Class of 1957, actor, Blazing Saddles. As well as my personal friend, Randy Rogel, Daytime Emmy award winner class of 1972.

The "new" Kearny High was an answer to the large increase in the military's presence and aerospace industry employment in San Diego. At that time, there were several military housing developments in and around San Diego, one placed in the then new found community of Linda Vista, north of Downtown. Linda Vista was home of the very first mall-type shopping center in the United States, which was dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1942. Linda Vista Plaza was home to the Safeway grocery store and the Linda Theater. Shortly thereafter came the Bank of America where Dianna opened her first bank account. There was the Linda Vista Department Store which became part of the Walker Scott chain of department stores. A new bedroom community in the midst of several military facilities in Kearny Mesa.

Back then it was primarily an all-white community which brought prosperity and middle-class values to the coastal plains graced with the beautiful Southern California weather and the Sunshine Equity it brought to home values which attracted big business and ultimately seeded the future high-tech cellphone industry which burgeoned companies like Qualcomm among the scrub-grass plains.

But by the time Dianna and I got there in the early 70's, white flight had taken hold and after the military housing developments had been privatized and sold as low-income housing, African-American families, in a vain attempt to get their kids away from the gangs and violence of the inner city (they didn't take into account their children's mobility with the advent of buying cars for their kids...the gang affiliations just moved north with their kids) they moved them to the new "projects" around our school. And then came the end of the Vietnam War and the influx of the "Boat People" Southeast Asians the government resettled among us. Young adolescents stumbling our way into adulthood thrown into this new world of race relations.

We flew in to town on Friday and the pre-reunion mixer was that night at Filippis Pizza in Kearny Mesa. I must admit that, even though we knew there would be classmates we knew there, I was a little nervous about going. Here I am just turned 60 and concerned about who I might bump into and what they might think of what I've become. I know....irrational, but remember the words to "You're Always 17 In Your Hometown" by Cross Canadian Ragweed?  It really rings true. But once there and the first drinks hit the table, it was old home week. It really struck me how, once the surprise of those sometimes awkward first signs of recognition passed, the conversations flowed as though the years had never separated us. Let the reminiscing begin! Discussions rapidly moved from shared key High School moments to kids and grandkid stories and pictures.

The reunion was being held in the old neighborhood at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel by one of my old stomping grounds, Montgomery Field, a small commuter airport. When we arrived, not knowing the layout, Dianna asked how we would find the meeting room. I told her we just need to locate some old folks and follow them. Dianna dismissed my statement right off but, just then, we observed an old grey-haired couple in front of us, followed them and.....found the Reunion registration table!

Now although this was technically Dianna's 40th Reunion, it was being held as a joint Reunion for other classes as well. Of the 900 classmates who graduated on the football field with Dianna, about 250 showed up for this one. This would be my 42nd Reunion and I did run into several of my classmates as well. My reaction was best captured by one of Dianna's classmates we ran into, as he looked around for a familiar face, "Who are all these old people?"

As we visited around, I remarked to Dianna about a man I saw wearing a bright red suit jacket in amongst several alumnus. She off-handedly replied that it was our Drama Teacher, Jack Winans. I looked back and could now see the familiar Winans profile, much thinner than I recalled but still with a thinning head of white hair. I quickly went over to him and he immediately recognized me and greeted me like we had never been apart. The man had always been deeply entrenched in dramatic arts and had been active in the theatre in San Diego for many years. As we spoke he related to me that he was still working in the business and had recently been doing one-man shows reciting Shakespeare monologues at various events. The guys still going strong at 90. Amazing.

Sally Rogel-Kaufman and Jack Winans

We were able to bring together the usual suspects from our Drama days where we rehashed performances, after parties and budding romances with some new revelations of who may have had a crush on who which left you another "What if....?" paradigm to consider.

The night all too quickly passed and soon we found ourselves, Reunion Warriors, huddled around a patio table in the cooling darkness as the hotel staff began cleaning up around us. The darkness was often pierced by the glow of an iPhone as newly awakened friendships coalesced and contact information was transmitted. No one seemed motivated to leave but we all began our goodbyes and promises to Friend in Facebook, text and email each other in the near future.

There was one last hurrah of sorts, a breakfast for some of us at The Broken Yoke the following morning  in Mission Valley Center where many of us had stalked in our Mall Rat days. I had the Tiki Toast, two big slices of King Hawaiian Bread drizzled with caramel and loaded with fresh fruit. Wow

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear from friends I hadn't seen or thought about in many years and I promised myself I would try harder to keep them closer to my heart and in my thoughts from now on.


  1. Well written Nick. I once went to my class reunion and probably won't go again. There WERE a whole bunch of old people there. It's funny how you don't see yourself as old, but man those folks looked old.

  2. Hello it is a late comment i was searching alum sites and saw this . I remember all of my years at kearny I was a transplant to san diego attending in 1972 and 1973 very active in drama and enjoyed the photos of all can't tell faces but we all change.. do you have updates on reunions. I live in Connecticut but go to San Diego often. Do you remember me heather derwin lived on marlesta drive long red hair .

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