I've always believed that our past is a like a window that should never be completely closed. Our late teens were the years when we came of age, became responsible and began our trek toward adulthood. Those times were actually our Genesis, or our beginning. It was a time when our decisions meant something and our thoughts were strictly geared toward the future. After all, we didn’t really have that much of a past at eighteen considering our parents dictated most of our life at the time. For many of us, complete freedom came after we happily gathered our diploma, shook the hand of our high school principle and walked off that stage thinking that we can now change the world and, but at the same time, not allow the world to change us. We all remember that moment for different reasons.
Some do not hold it as anything special but, for others, it was an awakening. A realization that we are on our way to becoming who we were meant to be. It was our own personal Declaration of Independence. Looking around at our friends as they tossed their square hats with golden tassels in the air, the wonder of where they will be in the next forty years was barely a thought. We vowed a lifetime of friendship to the people who were closest to us, and to others we simply wished them well. We thought that we would end up marrying our high school sweethearts and that our friends would be just a phone call or a small walk away. Soon, we found out that time and circumstance conspired against such young thoughts. As our parents did, we found out that the harsh realities of growing up worked in unison with the joy’s of life to make us more like them than we care to admit. Marriage, work, bills, children, moving were now our primary concerns and our reason to breathe everyday.
However, there are events that bring us all back to rejuvenate our soul and allow us a brief reminder of our youth and our passion for life. When we were young we all wanted to grow up and now that we’re fifty, we long for just a taste of what we once were. I was lucky enough to be invited to an event designed expressly to make it happen. The event was dubbed "The End of the World Reunion" at the Dulles Holiday Inn on October 13th. It was a Broad Run High School reunion that covered the graduation years of 1970 through 1979. It was named so mocking prognosticators saying that the world would end October 21st. Fitting that if it were to occur, that they wanted to relive their memories with the people who meant the most at a time when limitless laughter carried no serious overtones.
Joe Law (class of 1972) came all the way from Michigan. I didn’t know Joe but everyone else certainly did. He donned his white cowboy hat and he wore it well. He was the co-Master of Ceremony of the event with Danny Ford (Class of 1975) who was and is a Sterling Park resident. Together, they pulled this task off with apparent ease. However, most know that the logistics of such an event was monumental in scope Three hundred friends from all over the country attended with very little thoughts of schedules or distance, many of who this writer knew and were friends with during his younger days. Never heard so much laughter in one room in my life.
I didn’t go to Broad Run High School. I moved to Sterling Park in its second decade of existence in 1973. Exactly 4 months prior to my own graduation from Marshall High School in Falls Church, I, and my family, moved to Sterling Park. I wanted to go to this party because I grew up with many of the people who were attending. There were a few who I wanted to see again, talk to again, and reminisce with. Before the party really started, Joe Law took to the microphone and asked for quiet to read the names of the classmates who have died over the years. One-by-one he read ten years worth of lost souls. As each name was read, the attendees gave out a cheer and raised their glass to their fallen friends. The cheers were louder and longer for some but all were known and missed. Sadly, few names from my past were read as well. Some, I knew had passed but a few of the names read were a shock and I raised my glass and I remembered their faces as they were. I grabbed a beer and set out to find some of my friends. I came to the event thinking that I could recognize them easily but that proved futile, as time and my memory conspired to slow my easy gait toward them. They and I changed physically but the voices and the laughter pointed me in the right direction. Well, the nametag’s helped.
Over at a big table, I saw Vici Gray Hamilton whom I have to admit had a huge crush on back in 74 or 75. I remember she had a pale brown Chevrolet Corvair which she affectionately called "Li’l Albert Monza Corvair Gray". I’m not sure why she called in that but it didn’t matter to me. To her and others it had personality and deserved a name. She lived in the house behind mine and would always drive me to work when my big muscle car broke down and it was broken a lot. Truth be told, I could have walked to work as it wasn’t that far away, I just wanted to be with her during my five-minute ride to work. She told me something that I completely forgot. She told me that she had the first book that I wrote back in 1976. I didn’t write my first book until September of 2009 or at least that’s what I thought. God, I hope she doesn’t find it. There’s no telling how many writing rules I broke. I already have an idea of what the subject matter was. Her and her sister, Irene Rochefort, were very well known in Sterling and both are just as wonderfully stunning now as they were way back then.
Another very special set of sister’s are Sherry Baldwin and Shellie Crowder (Ransome). They were easy to recognize as their faces have not changed. I was amazed that I could easily spot them out of a crowd. I didn’t know Shellie as well back in the day but Sherry, I knew well. She and I danced the night away many times during those dreaded disco years. There was another event that endeared me to the Ransome family. One night I had an altercation with my father. He was drinking that night and he was a mean one when he was drinking. I could hear him ranting to no one before I walked in the door. I entered the door and gave him a person to scream at. He attacked me and to this day I don’t know why. I struck him one time and knocked him out. I thought I killed him. My mother came down stairs and told me to leave because once he woke up, he would’ve got his revenge. He was twice my size and I know my mother was right. I went to Sherry’s house and she told her parents what happened and they took me in for the night and for that I’m eternally grateful. My father never bothered me any more after that. He stopped drinking and smoking and for the last twenty five years of his life, he was the most wonderful father a guy could have. I’ll never forget the kindness of Sherry and her parents for allowing me to calm my nerves that night. I guess not everything in our past can or should be remembered fondly.
I also saw Peggy Waters whom I dated for a few years. She still possessed that beautiful personality. Always happy and smiling and still very pretty. She and her mom and dad will always be special to me. Hard to forget them. I brought about ten books with me because I always bring them wherever I go and happily signed and gave them away to some of the people who attended. I just wish I had a few hundred more.
All in all, as the drinks flowed and the hugs got tighter throughout the night, I noticed that the time had flown by, just like the last forty years. It was sincerely nice to tell the old stories to people who would listen and understand what it all meant because the stories always involved them. It’s kind of funny, that when you’re eighteen, forty years seemed like an eternity but at fifty-seven you look back and wonder why did it have to go by so fast. To me now, it was like yesterday, but to a longhaired eighteen-year old lanky mechanic younger me, it was kind of magic that would take me forty years to completely realize what a great time I had. I guess our past is always with us. It’s like a dim bulb that forever flickers in our subconscious just waiting for us to revisit the people of our youth and allow that bulb to shine as brightly as it once did. This fantastic event will be remembered for the rest of my days. Did I say I had a good time?
Gary D. Henry