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Now is as good as then

October 05, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

I've heard that high school reunions are unpleasant ordeals for some people, but I've enjoyed the few my Shore Regional High School class of 1968 has celebrated every few years in the - gulp! - nearly four decades since our graduation.

We've had fun catching up and dancing to songs that now truly are "oldies."

At the most recent gathering a few years ago, friends Donnie and Jimmy wowed the crowd in the trivia contest: They not only easily identified every song the disc jockey played - they also effortlessly named each recording artist.

I like the walks down memory lane, but learning new things about old - oops - I mean longtime friends is much more fulfilling.

I've recently reunited with other West Long Branch, N.J., schoolmates - Nancy, who lives in Waynesboro, Pa., and Dale, who last year bought a house in Hagerstown - not five minutes from my own.

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We have laughed together over choice photos from my middle-school scrapbook, but we really don't spend a lot of time in the good old days. The early connections add depth to our friendships, but we're much more about where we are now and what's next than the way we were.

Reconnecting years later with people you knew as a kid is fun for a couple of reasons: You can get a glimpse of how you were viewed by others, and it can confirm that your early instincts in choosing friends were valid.

I had a phone call from another kindergarten through high school classmate this summer. Bruce, who lives in the Washington, D.C., metro area, was going to be in town for a Hagerstown Suns game. His daughter Julie was an intern with the team for their 25th anniversary season.

Nancy and I met Bruce, his wife, Dot, mother, Ruth, and Julie's twin sister, Marci, at Municipal Stadium for baseball and fireworks. Despite the home team's defeat and inconvenience of conversation over a couple of rows of bleacher seats, it was a fun evening.

Bruce and I had lunch when he came to town again a few weeks later, and oh boy, did we talk.

I reminded him that my first after-school play date was at his Virginia Terrace home. Second grade.

I was surprised to hear him say that I was "intimidating" in high school.

I recall that Bruce, nicknamed "Scoop" by the aforementioned Donnie, was editor of The Beacon, our school newspaper. I did not remember that he also wrote occasionally for the Long Branch Daily Record, as did his father, or that in 1964 they covered the Beatles concert in Atlantic City, N.J., attending a press conference and writing side-by-side pieces for the paper.

Bruce met the Beatles! He asked a question! He got their autographs!

Sadly, his dog, Happy, whom I also remember, chewed and left several tooth marks in that priceless souvenir book.

My friend's passion for baseball started long before this summer's Suns game. Bruce wore long-sleeved shirts even on warm days if a Yankees game was being broadcast. Transistor radio in his pants pocket, he'd run the earphone wire up his arm and rest his head on his hand so as not to miss a minute of play during school.

This worked well until the teacher noticed that Bruce's attention to mathematics seemed to have wavered a bit.

"What's happening?" he barked.

"It's the fourth inning, bases are loaded and Mantle's up," was Bruce's reply.

Detention.

Bruce played baseball freshman year in high school and managed several of the school's teams, but he was not considered, by any stretch of the imagination, a jock.

He confirms this.

I marvel that this guy now is an avid bicyclist, who regularly rides from his suburban home to his federal government job in Washington, D.C. He's completed, along with his triathlete daughter, Marci, several 100-mile/100-degree rides in Texas, where he and his family lived for a few years.

I'm amazed, but it's the strength my friend has exhibited in the arena of real life that really impresses me.

Alan, Bruce and Dot's first child, was born with severe disabilities. Although he "always was a baby," the boy lived almost 11 years. Alan rode on the back of his father's bicycle, and he died in his father's arms.

Bruce wrote the words on his son's gravestone: "He taught us more than he could know."

Bruce and I were not part of each other's close circle of friends during our high school years. We can look back now at what we were and what we thought we were and know that much of what we thought was wrong and unimportant, he said recently.

It's nice to reconnect and learn that one of your first friends turned out to be someone whom you respect and admire for who he is today.




Kate Coleman's column appears in the Lifestyle section on the first Sunday of each month.

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