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It's OK when events of one's youth become the stuff of history

August 03, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

I attended my high school reunion in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago.

How many years?

Gulp. Forty.

Yes, I am old.

I'm still smiling about reconnecting with people I knew so long ago. I feel good that my choice of friends has been validated four decades later. I hung out with good, caring, smart and funny - oh, so funny - people during those four years.

We've had a few other gatherings, but this one was casual: pizza and beverages at a riverside community center.

We didn't need fancy food or dress. We just wanted to see each other, find out what and how we're doing and, of course, share a memory or two.

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Nametags were provided - in case we couldn't recognize contemporaries whose hairlines or hair color might have drastically changed.

I forgot my reading glasses, but I did pretty well, easily matching names to the faces of the more than 50 people - about a quarter of the Shore Regional High School Class of 1968 - who showed up.

We reminisced, of course. I am a happy person who laughs often and laughs heartily, but nothing can render me quite so helplessly hysterical as stories of high school antics told by friends whose shtick still is as sharp as it was in our glory days. Yes, dear readers, I managed to splutter most of a mouthful of pizza as I guffawed at one of Donnie's impeccably delivered tales.

"We had some good teachers, didn't we?" I asked Wayne, a classmate from kindergarten through grade 12.

"We didn't know," he said, shrugging his shoulders exactly the way I recall him doing so many times, so many years ago.

He's right.

We didn't know then. And neither did we know - or at least I didn't - that we were living in an amazing time.

It's only with the perspective of 40 years that I can appreciate that 1968, the year of my high school graduation, was a landmark year.

I'm not the only one looking back.

Last fall, The History Channel broadcast "1968 with Tom Brokaw." National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" is running an occasional series called "Echoes of 1968."

While in my hometown, I noticed a book on the shelf of my niece Amy's room. Judging from the underlining and margin notes, I'm assuming Charles Kaiser's "1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture and the Shaping of a Generation" was assigned in one of her college courses.

Yup, the events of my youth are the stuff of freakin' history classes.

The Web site (www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/rfk) for "RFK," a film made for Public Broadcasting's "American Experience" series, provides a timeline for the year.

January events included the first successful heart transplant in the United States, the founding of the Yippies and the beginning of North Vietnam's Tet offensive.

I celebrated my 18th birthday in March as Cesar Chavez fasted to protest violence against striking migrant farm workers. In the country then known as Czechoslovakia, "Prague Spring" began, marking the start of the liberalization of the Communist Bloc.

I vividly recall the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the aftermath of riots that shook more than 100 American cities, including some not too far from my Jersey shore home.

On June 5, when my clock radio woke me with news of Robert Kennedy's shooting, I thought I was dreaming and hit the snooze button. Five minutes later, when I heard the same report, I screamed, knowing that the nightmare was reality.

"There has never been a year like 1968, and it is unlikely that there will ever be one again," wrote Mark Kurlansky in the introduction to his 2004 book, "1968: The Year That Rocked the World."

Some might dismiss that statement as hyperbolic boomer navel gazing, but there's no denying that 1968 marked a lot of change.

It was wonderful to see friends who were part of my 1968 world.

It also feels pretty good to look back and see that world in context.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at katec@herald-mail.com.

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