by Steve Gaines

part I – The contemplation of an event

somehow, somewhere over the distant hill of time
four and a half decades have fallen off the calendar
forty-five years!
that cute crowd of nineteen fifty-four is about to resurface
painted in all the white hair, spreading waist lines, hip replacements,
tummy tucks
you name it, all the curios of aging worn like their new uniforms
a curious crowd of sixty something
relics celebrating the passage of time
about to come together to tell lies and remember a distant past that
never was

of course I have changed not at all
still the strangely handsome, oddly talented, incipient success
still poised on the starting line just about to head out on the great
adventure
still waiting to “grow up”
still waiting to claim my due….

who are all these “old folks?” waiting for me to show up
so fragile and fanciful, mere shadows of their teenage promise

surely they will wonder at my own Dorian Gray miracle
my still brown hair and firm abs
the spring in my step and all the great promise still preparing for the
denouement
while they slide down the long hill of old age
retirement homes and great grandchildren in their immediate plans…

myself, I’m ready for another go round
ready for the rest of my life in the fast lane
forgotten, the by-pass surgery
forgotten, the back surgery
forgotten, the legs that no longer work correctly
I have not forgotten that past halcyon experience
hey! nineteen fifty-four was the perfect year
eighteen years old and armed for the future like a gun ready to go off
the future nothing but coming up roses
the past merely a beginning

and this strange moment gathering on the winds of the millennium ending
and a brand new century around the coming December corner
waiting for us all like a hole in the ground
waiting to trip us all in
and cover us up with all our exaggerated memories

in May nineteen fifty-four I launched myself over the great precipice of
adulthood
I still haven’t hit the bottom

and now here I am about to mingle with all these echoes of my past
fellow adults from that distant yesterday
here I am with my failing eyesight
about to do battle with name tags I can’t read and faces well beyond the
flush of youth

hope I remember!
hope I am remembered!

hope I live to see the fiftieth!

7/13/99 – Part II The experience of an event

it started out innocently enough
some balloons outside the second floor suite
at the Mid-town Holiday Inn

Grand Island, Nebraska…September 10th 1999
a long way down the road for all of us…

the balloons were purple and gold
the old school colors
something we would all recognize probably

that was it…nothing else!
no streamers or blinking lights
not even the sign in the lobby we had been promised
to steer us toward the festivities
forgotten by whoever was assigned that task
what could you expect from sixty something organizers?

so we all ended up in a casual search
up and down the random hallways
looking for our journey’s end
not unlike the other journey we were about to embark on
seeking our lost youth

in the end everybody had to ask at the front desk

the room, it turned out, was just a room
identified only by the simple group of balloons bouncing lightly beside
as the room

inside there was very little else designed for celebration
there was a single copy of the 1954 school annual containing all the
once-teenagers
full of what activities we had partaken of
what clubs and teams and other academic groups we had joined
what social cliques we had been members in
all moments designed to carry us back
to remind us who we should remember…and why

also for our perusal and elucidation there were the forms returned by
those contacted
and pertinent information:
where they were currently
how large a family they had gathered over the years
what they were doing, if anything
why they couldn’t come
why they were delighted to come
couldn’t wait to come…though some didn’t come anyway
probably having found something more important in the present
something requiring their best excuses to forgo therefor inescapable

and there was also a total listing of the entire class, all two hundred
and thirty some
including their last known address and whether they were still alive

some, of course, weren’t!

there were also adult beverages and diet sodas
and pretzels and chips distributed in the most even manner around the
room
and a couch, a card table, two comfortable chairs, a television set,
and one long table to sit around

and so we sat there looking curiously at one another
asking tentative questions
giving reasonable replies
asking about families
asking about future plans
asking innocent questions pointed at our own exaggerated and well
prepared answers
obviously hoping to be asked about our “great successes”
and how satisfied we were in our comfortable retirement
what important position we still filled academic or corporate
from architecture to the lumber yard from the boardroom to the farm yard

how the years had been so “kind” to everybody else
how many wildly successful children there were in our wake
how many lovely grandchildren…maybe even great grandchildren
when was the last time we had seen anybody else
wasn’t it interesting that there were so many portly figures
so much white hair and wrinkles…hidden or apparent
so much “old age” among the rest of us, the one’s who hadn’t changed at
all?

it was a strange dance circling the room in quiet debates
about the current world problems
about the disintegration of the family
the sorry state of politics and who might “save us all” in the coming
compaign
about the football team
obvious patterns of conversation broken by an occasional obnoxious
arrival
making sure he or she was noticed and accounted for immediately!

we were none of us who we had been
success or failure not with standing

we were strangers making up games to move the day along

later the contents of the small frig and the row of bottles
brought their effects into the game and things rolled along more
salubriously
for those partaking at any rate
then, eventually, in spite of modern sensitivities and hotel
regulations,
those inclined to, lit up the odd cigar
and smoke filled the air along with the lies and other stories
and the stuffy atmosphere chased me away
unable to breath
and unable to keep up with the songs and laments so redolent on the air
unable to add my own exaggerations to the boiling cauldron of yesterday
unable to exorcise the little guilts
wondering why I also had to play at that empty rite

I had lived too quiet a childhood those forty-five years ago
I could not mount my own fanciful past to the yesterday wall
I had been both invisible and too easily remembered back then
insignificant outside the mainstream but obviously enough in my idiot
disguises
having always lived on the cheap laughs
not just a little bit sorry in my various false faces for the
misunderstandings I had caused
too easily and accurately remembered…even all these years later
so the past I was preparing seemed all too transparent to attempt
I would have been limited to the sad truth…alas
I went back to watch the football game in my room and wait for the
banquet
hoping the formality of that affair would ease my apprehensions and make
unnecessary
any more comparisons or competition

the “formal affair,” was, in the end, much too loud and, once more, much
too smoky

we ate our buffet meal, unenthusiastically
some few of us ordered sparingly from the bar
we worked at being social and polite
composed a few more quaint and forgotten myths
to warm the evening past the meager other entertainments
like the dancing I still couldn’t manage
bad legs and a bad memory of the once familiar steps haunting me like a
ghost of the past

the evening quickly ground down to table hopping and picture taking
uncomfortable in our dress up clothes and disintegrating past postures
unable to hold our breath infinitely and all the “trim” waistlines began
spreading before our eyes

then one last little reminder from a longer ago time…
a fourth grade class picture passed around in which many of us were even
smaller and more impossible…and where I was buried in a dark corner
smallest of the small
towered over by even the girls
where I stood, an unlikely prediction of my wonderful future
where the timid dark haired little ten year old held his secrets behind
the locks of his uncut hair
and unpretentious demeanor…(I still remember the secret smile)
where the class bully still stood hovering menacingly over me
where the dark hair beauty stood in the middle of the back row
totally unaware of my long ago and unrequited love
but dead in the present
a last sad answer to the too many years we all played with now

not a well practiced good bye maker,
I managed a completely invisible departure from that simple bedlam
I flew slowly out of the past and back to the motel room circa 1999
and willingly packed up for tomorrow’s trip back home
the experience was benign in total, nothing to write home about
nothing to make me want to repeat the trip on some not too distant
weekend
and yet it was not unpleasant
it was not something to wish away

I had had that stilted look into the past
and touched quietly the shadow of our common history without fear
and I had remembered just enough to make me glad I had come
shared one or two accurate episodes from so long ago
the fight on the playground
the confrontation on the football practice field
long ago impressions still indelible enough today
common yesterdays brought soundlessly back into the present
it was two days of opportunity to demonstrate to each other that we few
had survived intact…more or less
that we had come down the days in one piece
…a few pieces missing or diminished perhaps
that we could look each other in the face…like a mirror mildly distorted
in the twisting years we had survived
and beyond any great success or riches gathered, in spite of the benign
failures
we were still here and still moving toward that great mystery of
tomorrow
proving that time had not conquered us entirely
that we had brought enough energy to the struggle to get this far
that we had shared this simple ritual in celebration
that we had all helped define time and space somehow
by our passing through it
and that all the time under the bridge added up to no flood but simply a
continuing…

we departed on a more or less positive note
wished each other well
with only tentative hints about the next one…the fiftieth!
and under our breath wondered how many could climb that hill

1 Comment

  1. I love this – both parts. My 50th high school reunion is next year (didn’t go to the 45th, did we even have one? what an odd number..almost seems like it’s a “just in case” people aren’t around for the 50th – that’s what my college class did last month. I didn’t go.)
    And the seemingly compulsory “casual Friday” and “more formal Saturday” events. I remember a high school reunion of mine at a Holiday Inn where when I asked for white wine they said “we have white zinfandel”. That was all. I stayed very sober.