Monday, August 23, 2010
Class Reunion, Part 3
My little girl started high school today. And I left mine for the last time 45 years ago.
I once told somebody that going to a high school reunion was a little like being stoned on acid. The faces look sort of familiar but the reality when compared to memory is somewhat skewed. One is taken aback by the gray hair (or lack of it), the wrinkles, the extra pounds. But underneath it all are the kids we went to school with. Some of them were friends. And some of them wouldn’t give you the time of day. Nevertheless, we shared a common experience and a common community. And what a fine little community it was.
I rolled into Los Altos midday on Friday after a speedy, scenic drive over the Sierras and a long slog through the smoggy Sacramento Valley. I was way too early for that afternoon’s informal gathering at the Alpine Inn so I spent my time driving old familiar streets, visiting the house I grew up in, trying to remember the names of all my neighbors back then. I walked around Los Altos trying to get my bearings back but, like the old acid trips, everything was skewed. The Los Altos Theatre with its art deco facade was gone. So was the big oak tree at the head of Main Street. Gordon’s Market was being demolished but some of the store fronts at the east end of Main still retained that early 60s look....like something out of Mad Men.
As the meeting time drew nearer I drove up into the foothills through forests of madrone and oak, past golden fields of dry grass and slopes of chaparral. Up Moody Road to Page Mill, past Joan Baez’s place. The summer heat was redolent of pine needles and eucalyptus. The poison oak was turning red. Eventually I turned on to Arastradero and followed it to the Alpine Inn, that rustic anachronism from the days when this part of the San Francisco peninsula was a bucolic eden, a mecca of apricot and walnut orchards, a hangout for Stanford professors, and a haven for the oddballs like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.
I was one of the first to arrive but in time others drifted in, bought beers, settled into an easy talk. Hawaiian shirts were predominant. Faces lit up in recognition. The guys who were not part of my high school crowd gave friendly hellos and handshakes but pretty much left it at that. Then there were the old reliables I knew I could talk and laugh with. And the crowd grew along with the conversation. And then some of the women began to show up. And the old voices mingled with the hum of cicadas in the hills around us. The timeless hum of summer.
The women who were not part of my high school crowd were much friendlier. Gracious. Open. Even effusive. As if time had leveled the playing field......had left us all with broken marriages, long gone parents, kids going through college, grand kids in many cases, and our own common infirmities. Arthritis. Hip replacements. Back surgery. The onset of age in an ageless setting.
I had been to other class reunions but this one felt good and right and affirmative. Here we were forty five years after the fact, made common by age and time. And through it all there was an acknowledgment of having grown up in a very special spot. A small town where we could take long walks along the railroad tracks, explore creeks that were not yet swathed in cement, ride our bicycles down Quinn Hill in a rush of youthful exhilaration. And enjoy the affluence and isolation of a community on the brink of great change.