Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Memory Board

I've been meeting with a few former classmates in preparation for our 30th class reunion, which is scheduled for later this month. I was signed up to help organize the gathering, but because the meetings began in earnest around the time my dad was very ill, I didn't pull my weight. So to make amends with the folks who have been working so hard and demonstrate my appreciation for their understanding, I volunteered a couple weeks ago to create and donate the Memory Board.

The Memory Board is a sheet of foam board onto which I've crafted a memorial to the members of our class who have passed away. The members of the West Des Moines Dowling Class of 1981 are all 47 or 48 now, and we've lost 10 people.

When you think of the raw numbers, losing 10 people in a class of 507 doesn't sound like many, but we're not all that old -- besides, I dare you to look into the faces of these people, as I've been doing the past few days as I've added some finishing touches to the board, and still maintain that losing 10 people is not a huge deal.

One person died before we graduated. Unlike many in our class, I remember him; Joe was very quiet, but we were in the same homeroom and for some reason, I always tried to draw him out. He was tall and sweet and from a small town, and he drowned on the fourth of July.

We had no deaths in the '80s, but in the '90s, they began, continuing until last year. Cancer, traffic accidents, suicides. Substance abuse claimed at least one member of our class. Another was murdered out of state.

There they are -- sweet Neil, whom everyone loved because he was just so darned nice. Susie, the grade-school friend I lost track of when we reached high school. Anna, who was beautiful and funny; in one of my yearbooks, she signed, "Why aren't we better friends? We seem like we're a lot alike. After all, we're both ITALIAN!" Indeed.

Cute Chris, cute Stephan. Mike, who had special needs; everyone cared about and tried to include him. Mary Pat, with her gorgeous wardrobe, somehow had even managed to make her school uniform look sophisticated. Kathleen, the band girl I never knew. Curt, who had always looked sad.

I look at the faces on the board, and kids look back at me. The photos are from our high-school yearbooks, black and white and grainy. Everyone is smiling. No doubt they all believed they'd be back for every reunion we ever held.

I imagine everyone at the reunion will look at the board and wonder how many faces will be added by our 35th. Statistically, as we all near and pass 50, our health risks will increase. We refer to ourselves as middle-aged, but if this is truly the middle of our lives, we'll be around till we're in our 90s, and that likely won't be the case for most of us.

With just a couple of exceptions, the people whose pictures look back at me from the Memory Board are not ones I knew well. I guess it's my goal, then, to make up for lost time later this month. Many of the 100-plus former classmates coming to the reunion are not close friends of mine. If we're adding their faces to the board in five years, I hope I'll be able to say that within the last few years, I had gotten to know them.

And if my own face is added, I hope perhaps a few more of my classmates will be able to say the same about me.


  1. When is the reunion? Wish I could make it!

  2. July 23-24 in Des Moines. Wish you could, too!

  3. Y'all were seniors when I was a freshman. I recognize a few those faces. Especially Mike who I grew up with. How we were in awe of you all. How together we all thought you were. I had crushes on Freddie, Steve and Ricky.

    And, of course, we couldn't wait until Fr Culver talked to us, like he did the Srs, and not just growl at us lowly freshman. (truth be told he had been my parish priest for awhile, so I was never scared of him. But, I loved to play along)

    Have a great reunion!

  4. 501? wow. sounds crowded. our class was 364. and I was glad that i attended our reunion for the class of 1989. almost didn't.

  5. I ended up quite accidentally in the group planning our 30th and it should be on everyone's Bucket List to help plan a class reunion. But not til after 20 or so. For starters, we kind of went with the approach of "well if people don't like it, screw 'em 'cause we did all the work."

    And also, because you know who is coming so there are no surprises

    But mostly, it gives you a chance to connect with people as grown-ups beyond just showing up at the reunion. You are glad for every body that shows up, if they were your friend or not and your biggest concern is everyone having a good time, not what your own personal hangups might be.

    And, unfortunately there are the sad invitations that come back to you with news that someone had died.

    I am now friends, I would say good friends, with people I went to high school with and liked OK in high school but we didn't travel in the same circle. But in planning this reunion we all realized we get along great and have continued to make an effort to get together.

    Bucket List, people. Forget kayaking Patagonia. Plan a reunion.