Monday, October 10, 2005

It was their year and what a year it was


Elvis Presely made his first TV appearance. Ray Kroc started McDonald's. The US performed nuclear tests in Nevada and the Pcific Ocean. Disneyland opened its gates. The Mickey Mouse Club premiered. James Dean dies in an auto accident. Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. Emmett Till is murdered. West Germany becomes a sovereign nation.

This is only a brief glimpse into 1955. So much happened during the time of poodle skirts, hot rods, Ike, rock and roll, and sock hops.

In the middle of this amazing year and even more amazing decade, a group of women graduated from West Catholic High School - Girls. At one time, Catholic high schools that were co-ed had a strict division between boys and girls. I honestly don't know if that is still the rule.

There were 835 in the graduation class. Holy cats! I don't think my freshman class had that many students. That's 835 women who were ready to take on the world or, which was usually the situation, a husband and family.

I know this because Geo and I were at their 50th reunion working his photography gig. I was there as his assistant.

Of the graduates, 245 were in attendance. No husbands were permitted. One lady on the reunion committee told me that was so the women could all relax and gossip without having to feel like they needed to also entertain their spouse. Good call. And I swear they all came at once. There were no early birds or late stragglers. It was like someone passed around a secret note in class saying when they all should get together regardless of what the invite said. I kept looking out the window for a bus or something. Nope, no bus. What I did see was a parade of cars in all makes and models, just like the women.

The reunion was held at Drexelbrook Catering and Banquet Facility in Drexel Hill PA. Not a bad place. Quite impressive from the outside. They had completed a major overhaul of the facility in 2000. It went from looking like a country manor to Tara from Gone with the Wind. As per their web site, they have had many select guests grace their grounds including President George W Bush. And they catered the inaugural party for PA Governor Ed Rendell. The only other thing I know is that it is a tres expensive place to have any kind of gathering (but you won't see that on their website).

Geo and I showed up at 10:30AM - two and a half hours before the festivities. We went through the service entrance (actually it was a loading dock). It was your typical loading dock in the rear of a catering place. Nothing really jumped out as interesting. The only thing I took note of was a couple of columns about four feet in height of empty Amoroso cardboard delivery trays.

We walked through the kitchen and oh man, did it smell good. We had only eaten two little breakfast sandwiches from the WaWa and were splitting a 20 ounce cup of coffee. And we didn't bring anything with us to snack. No, the place did not feed us; it wasn't their obligation.

Through the kitchens doors we made way across the North Ballroom. This thing was HUGE! It more than comfortably fit the expected guest list with elbow room to roam. There were beautiful crystal chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and crystal sconces adorning the walls. One of the walls actually folded so as to allow two of the rooms to become one massive friggin room. And on the folded wall were meticulously painted copies of the crystal sconces in near perfect depth perception. I blinked twice before I realized the sconces were two dimensional and not three.

From the North Ballroom we made our way to the lobby and that was where we stayed until 5PM. My gosh, that was a long day. it was us and another gal who took the pictures for a "reunion yearbook". It's a cute little thing with portraits of the graduates and a few candid shots from the reunion. It's something a person going to their first or, as in this case, their 50th would want to purchase. And the process was simple: pay, smile, shoot, and done (please allow eight to twelve weeks for delivery). That was our day.

As the women were getting their photos taken, I would eavesdrop on their conversations (like I had much else to do). Some couldn't believe the turnout. Several couldn't believe who passed away. Many promised to "keep in touch". That phrase was high on the word abuse list. Others were "I didn't know that" and "you're kidding". I wanted to hear some of the women talk about their younger days in school. Oddly, no one really talked about the 1950's. I mean, sure there were plenty of "Remember that time ..." stories and the story always ended with the group laughing hysterically. But nothing about Elvis or Ike or the Russians etc. It got me wondering if everyone lives out their lives the same way in each generation and history is used as a buffer from the boredom.

Part of my job was to check the addresses on their photo cards for accuracy to insure the proofs were mailed to the correct location. As I checked, I would take note from where each woman had traveled. Almost all still lived within fifty miles of Philadelphia. A few were from out of state. One woman ventured all the way from Ireland.

"It's not everyday you get to go to your 50th high school reunion" she said to me with a smile and touch of the hand.


I got the chance to people watch more than Geo. I saw many looks of shock and joy on the faces of people who hadn't seen in each other in decades. Some were moved to tears. Some belly laughed at how each other looked. Many had to do double takes. Pictures of children, grandchildren, and even great children passed among crowds. Five decades of life were swirling in the air as each woman told her story.

There was one group of four gals who requested Geo take their picture. The four couldn't have looked any different (one was a nun). We found out the four women went to the senior prom together in the same car. They were the best of friends until time and obligations separated them. They were thrilled that all four were alive and had the chance to socialize together one last time.

As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared. I swear, all I did was turn around to start breaking down the photo shoot area and when I turned back, the ballroom was practically empty. I checked the parking lot. I was able to see more blacktop with lots of empty spaces. There was no traffic jam. I did catch one group kibitzing in the parking lot. They were still there even after we left.

I can count on one hand how many people I have seen after my high school graduation in 1986. I've never been to a reunion and I honestly have no intentions of ever doing so. But high school to me was different. I saw it as my four year sentence I had to serve before I was free to go to bigger and better things (i.e., college). Then again, who knows? If I'm still blogging 31 years, from now, my post might start something like this:

"Today, I went to my own 50th high school reunion. Damn I'm old ..."


mdmhvonpa said...

Attitudes change over time ... we've become really quite impersonal, havent we?

PissedOffPencil said...

There's no such thing as age! That's only a state of mind, that age-thingy-bla-bla.

Hell, I'm still in my twenties and had two reunions... ;o)

Virginia Gal said...

What a nice blog - this is my 10 year reunion year for high school, don't think I'll go, unless I'm guaranteed that some of the jerks who I had to go to public school with are miserable in life :-) That would make it worth it!

Maidink said...

MDM - I don't know. I never had any nostalgic feelings for my high school. College, yes. High school, no.

POP - LOL! That was funny! I see your cold must be clouding your memory. ;)

VG - I'm quite sure a good portion of those I graduated HS with have the same attitude I do. I know some would love to go (of course they're also probably incarcerated so anything is better in their situation).

Rowan said...

wow, that is a lot of women, there were only 1000 or so students in my entire HS!!!

Your 50th???? Surely you are nowhere near your late 60's???? Or, does that mean your SCHOOL is now 50 years old??? In that case, I get it....I am so looking forward to a reunion, I hope my school has one....I'm approaching 10 years now!

Maidink said...

Rowan - Next year is my 20th reunion (if they even have one).

My graduation class was, at the time, the smallest ever. We were also considered the dumbest in relation to overall grade point average. Now there's something you want on the back of a T-shirt!