FROM: Frank Eberling
RE: Reflections On Our 50 High School Reunion, One Year Ago This Weekend.
Don asked me to write some personal reflections on our 50th Reunion last year, so here goes. I hope it's not too personal.
First of all, thanks to Don and the reunion committee including Ralph, Steve, Jim, Angela, Joan, Linda, Ed and Don (Fenbert) who served to make last year a rousing success. Thanks, too, to big donors like Bill Beutel and Jerome Scally who added to the coffers.
Second of all, thanks to all the classmates who showed up and shared their time, their laughter, and their stories. I wish we had had more time to talk, but the conversations were brief due to the time constraints. I would have liked to talk to more of you and in a more meaningful way. Thanks to all those who wanted to come, but could not, but contributed their thoughts to us all.
Third, in the interest of full disclosure, (a caveat, as Mrs. Marks taught us in Business Law class), I have to say some things that prejudiced my feelings about what happened last year and its significance in the grand scheme of things.
I have been fortunate enough to have had a career that brought me to hundreds of places around the world and offered access to thousands of people, events, and locations not often seen by the general public. That being said, I've never really left New City. Although I've lived 1200 miles away for the past fifty years, I'm there every day in my mind and my spirit. This is probably due to the fact that my family goes back in New City to the 1850s and I enjoyed a highly idealized upbringing by an extended family, resulting in what can only be described as a perfect New City childhood.
More recently, for the past two years I have been writing a murder mystery novel set in New City. I wanted to just write a reflection on growing up in New City in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, but concluded that would probably not be of interest to many people. So I tried to tell that story couched in what I hoped was a more universally appealing murder mystery, DEMAREST KILL. It's a coming-of-age story similar to what some of us experienced growing up, but with a tragic ending.
DEMAREST KILL is the brook that runs behind the courthouse and also serves as the crime scene. To create this 550-page behemoth took many years of reflection and reminiscence and soul-searching in order to capture the place and spirit of the town, the friendships, and events, where we all grew up during those few perfect moments in history.
So when we all met up last September, I had already been poring through six yearbooks and old family photographs, trying to trigger memories of places, incidents, friends, classmates, teachers, weather, games, parties, and music, that had shaped my life. It was an emotionally exhausting effort to dredge up all those memories and I have to admit it becomes difficult to cope with the present when you are wandering around, filled with nostalgia, and wallowing, lost in the past. Because only a full-immersion in the wallow was sufficient for me to write such a book. You can't just put your toe in the water. You have to jump in.
Even as early as last September, before the reunion, this process had taken its toll. So I don't know where your “head was at” (to borrow a late-60s phrase), when we all got together in Suffern, and Saturday afternoon for a tour of the school, but I had already re-visited in my mind a thousand times what it was like to walk the hallways of CCHS during those six years we spent there.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don’t remember the smell of formaldehyde as you walked past Miss Fitch's biology lab, or of our gym lockers; the smell of the cafeteria during meatless Friday lunches, or of the clover on the football practice field in late summer.
During our tour last year, I heard the echoes of lockers being slammed shut, of the screech on the chalkboard as Mr. Hanley diagrammed sentences with dangling participles; echoes of medieval kings on their demesnes from Mr. D'Innocenzo; the sounds of Mr. Buerket raising the flag out front on a windy day with the clips hitting the metal flagpole; the sound of Doc Carney's trumpet solo at the beginning of our victory song; the sound of my voice joining my classmates as we recited the required Latin lessons conjugating verbs; of Mrs. McCarthy repeating “a-s-d-f-,” as my fingers searched the typewriter keyboard; or Miss Hicks telling us over and over that “the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides;” the crunch of my spikes on the cinder track on cold March afternoons; of Mr. Roberts reciting over and over again in his monotonous drone, the quadratic equation, that is, "X equals minus b, plus or minus the square root of b-squared minus 4 ac over 2a"; the sound of Tally running into study hall screaming “The President's been shot!”; the silence in the hallways in the moments that followed.
I could go on for pages with all these echoes bouncing around in my head, but you get the idea.
So with those disclaimers on the record, what are my personal reflections of our
Like the years that preceded it, the reunion all went too fast. I wanted to sit down and have hours'-long discussions with every classmate about their personal reminiscences about growing up in New City and going to CCHS. I wanted everyone's perspective, to see if it was as meaningful to them as it had been to me.
I wanted my conclusions about CCHS to be validated: that we were the luckiest children ever to live on the planet, to grow up in our town and go to that particular school with its giant oaks and elms and maples and open lawns surrounding a mysterious mansion.
That most of the teachers we had were truly committed to us and gave us their very best in every class. Why do I think they were so great? Because I've witnessed the education system in recent times, firsthand, and seen where it has gone. Because I can remember almost every single lecture by most of the teachers I had. Specific lectures about specific topics. I even stole their ideas when it came my turn to be a high school English teacher. I loved teaching Robert Frost because the CCHS teachers who taught me loved teaching Robert Frost. Their enthusiasm and passion for “mending walls” and “roads not taken” became mine, so I tried to pass that on to my own students. So I have concluded that the education we received there was a very precious gift given to us by our parents and the teachers and the administration and the community. So as I walked the halls that day with all of you, I was overwhelmed by an avalanche of memories of great teaching and reminded again where it has enabled us all to travel on our respective journeys.
Another thing that struck me was the quality of my fellow students themselves. I looked around during those few days last September and realized what a great group of kids we were. Yes, we did silly things and made adolescent mistakes like so many, but overall, we were a great group of kids. A really great group.
Again, why? Again, the answer lies in our parents and the forces of history that shaped and molded them; the Depression, the Holocaust, WWII, the hardships they faced. It was as if they had all privately vowed to themselves that their kids were not ever going to have to face the harsh realities of what they had had to endure, not matter what they had to do, and so they committed to making our lives better than theirs had been. As beneficiaries of that endowment, we grew up sheltered, protected, indulged; our parents standing behind us, their hands on our shoulders, pointing us in the right direction in life.
Through some fortunate accident of fate, we grew up in what I consider to be a perfect town, a perfect school, a perfect place, in a perfect time. A story book childhood. None of it anything we deserved, none of it our own doing. Just the lucky recipients of a precious legacy that enabled most of us to have happy, fulfilled lives; to go to college and pursue our dreams, to raise our own happy families.
So as I looked around at my classmates, the thing that struck me the most was how truly lucky we all were.
I was also struck by the amount of affection, a sort of sibling love, I felt for people I have not seen in years. In some way, during those school years, you all gave me something in the way of friendship, a kind word, some inadvertent gesture that maybe you never ever realized, but that I remembered over the years. We struck up conversations as if the last time we spoke was the day before, not fifty years earlier, in some cases. I was able to rekindle friendships with grammar-school heart-throbs and laugh about it. And the quiet friends who never had much to say, I tried to speak to them and find out how their lives had turned out. Without exception, it seems we have all done all right, and I'm not talking about money here. We have lived full lives, adventuresome lives, lives devoted to travel and family and academic study and achievement. It seems most of us “made it” on our own quest for happiness because of the foundation provided to us by our community, our school, our teachers and our parents.
As for those who didn't make it as long as we have, I'm not sure I'll ever understand why. I spent countless hours laughing with Sandra Hofmann, Bob Doscher, Erich Goerditz. They went on ahead far too many years before they were supposed to, and I'm still in mourning over our collective loss.
I went to the prom with Sandra, we double-dated with Sue Wiebecke, and all our days and nights together were filled with non-stop laughter.
I spent countless days with Bob and we never stopped laughing whether we were fishing the Demarest Kill or riding our bikes all over town or driving to Bodnar's in Stony Point for a fifteen-cent draft beer. The laughter lasted from second grade all through our early college years and I still miss him and his vast, boundless, artistic talent. Our grandmothers had been friends as young girls.
I met Erich in fifth grade when he loaned me his baseball glove and we were friends until I went off to Florida. We double-dated and had crazy adventures and laughed.
Our three friends endured their own lives of some private emotional pain I will never understand, living tragic lives until the end that seem more indicative of our country's woes today than when they left us years ago; almost as precursors to what we could expect. So many happy memories for me. All that lost potential.
Laura Fishberg: Laura was with us from kindergarten, her father was my dentist, and our parents were friends. Laura lasted the longest of our departed friends, but still left us far too soon, from illness. Laura and her surviving twin, Barbara, were special people. When I saw Barbara last year, I could not comprehend the pain she must feel.
As for those who did not attend, and could not make it due to distance or scheduling, I'm happy to report that some of us have had mini-reunions over the years in Las Vegas. From the east coast, Ken Conners, Jim Damiani, Richard Liebowitz and I have flown out to Charlie Pape's house to join up with west-coasters Ken Barkin, Rocky Levinson, and Vinny Burns. We've all stayed in touch over the years to varying degrees, and when we meet in Vegas, it's 72 hours of laughs.
So, what are my final reflections on last year's reunion?
I'd like to meet again, with every surviving class member. I'd like to spend my final days taking classes with our original teachers in their original rooms, hearing their original lectures, and go through the entire day with the same attendance rosters for each class, walking the halls over and over again until the end. I'd like to meet in the cafeteria for lunch and go to a basketball game in the gym on Friday night and afterwards dance to the sounds of Doc Carney's Sophisticated Swingsters in the cafeteria. The following weekend, everyone would show up for an encore performance of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, starring the original cast from November of 1963. How many of you still remember your lines?
I would like to hear from every graduate the answer to the following question: What were your first few months of college like, having left CCHS and moved to strange territory? For me, it was the most emotionally painful part of my entire life. I arrived at the University of Florida with 18,000 other students and was overwhelmed. I was heartsick and homesick because I missed New City and my classmates at CCHS. Did you experience the same, or did you move on, as I, apparently, have not been able to do?
I would like you to write a 25,000 word essay entitled, “What I Learned at CCHS That Helped Me Later in Life.” (Note: on essay titles, only capitalize the important words. On full-length titles, like novels, capitalize all the words. I learned that from Mr. Hanley). Note: the period comes after the close parentheses.
So, share your thoughts with Don and me. (it's “Don and me,” not “Don and I,” because it is the direct object, not the subject of “share”. Thanks again, Mr. Hanley).
And if you check out AMAZON after early November, look for my mystery novel set in New City, DEMAREST KILL. You will recognize thousands of familiar things from our days in New City in the 50s and early 60s. You will learn some long-lost New City secrets. You will learn of a profound loss-of-innocence regarding what happened to some of our peers in our generation.
Some caveats: DEMAREST KILL is relentlessly nostalgic and you might find the ending extremely controversial. It may anger you so much you may never speak to me for another fifty years.
Book reports due after Thanksgiving break.
See you at the next reunion, or hopefully, before.
Below is a mock-up of the book cover for DEMAREST KILL. As Frank indicated in his article, it will be available on Amazon early this November. In addition, if you would like to check out Frank's first two books, here are links to them on Amazon: ENSUENO and SWEET CITY BLUES.
Left click the image to enlarge.