A Retrospective of My Past
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 10:46AM
Cheryl Crotty

Every once in awhile an event will pop up that brings forth memories, emotions and deep thought that you weren't actually expecting..what you were expecting was to go to the event, see old friends, have a few drinks and a whole lot of fun...and this past weekend I did all of the above...but something unexpected has stayed with me for the past 3 days...it is an awakening, of my past, both in high school and even before .We don't often look so far back for many reasons...but for me, seeing some friends from well over 50 years ago, sharing those stories, remembering times and events of a more distant time...has got me thinking. Those of you who know me well, know that when something important to me,gets into my head and heart, it has to come out.  That's why I write..this is my story, for me, my family and for all of you who might walk a similar path. So my 50th class reunion brought me home, not only to my alma mater but to my neighborhood..my youth.

Salem, a small city on the north shore of Massachusetts Bay has a rich history..With it's safe harbor, abundant forests and fields, it attracted many settlers from Europe.  Perhaps though, it was most noted for is witchcraft hysteria.  The city is divided into what we called Wards...each ward was determined by where you lived, each having their own elementary school, park program and some elected officials, as well as a grocery store and gas station.  Elementary school was 1-5 in Ward 2, which is where I grew up...then we moved and merged a few wards together for grammar school..grades 7, 8, 9 and finally all wards gathered together for high school. It wasn't just about the schools either. The choice of which ward you lived in was determined by the financial resources of your family.  Ward 2 was a working class neighborhood.  Economics were very poor where I lived..but that really didn't bother me as a young girl..because we were all in the same "boat"...later when I got to high school I was more able to see the impact. 

I loved school, all of it.  Each September I loved getting my pencils and notebooks ready, as well as having new school shoes and a special "back to school outfit"..School was were I learned to gather my skills for a job after graduating.  I made friends easily amongst my peers for the most part, but not all who walked those hallowed halls were nice to me and truth be told I was not always nice to some others..they were tough times, hard times. I was not able to participate in after school programs because I had to work.  I missed being able to do that.  I think friends are more lasting and bonding happens easier within those after school groups. Nevertheless I had my circle...so to speak and to this day one of my very best friends was my friend in high school...and she wasn't from my ward.  I was fortunate as I made my way through those 4 years to build some lovely friendships..we had the same home room for 4 years, so I always sat between the same two people every day...we had lunch tables where we gathered and most often with the same friends...in most ways it was a wonderful time..and it still holds so many special memories for me..

The reunion committee that planned this event did a fantastic job...oh my, I can't say enough good things about them and the program that they put together for us to make this 50th event so meaningful...one of which was a visit to our old high school, which is now the middle school and you can imagine after 50 years that a lot of changes have taken place..can you believe the entire school is air-conditioned, yes we had that also...it was called "open the window"..but in the restoration and modernization, they did keep a few of the original classrooms and the hallways that we walked and the music room and such. This was the high school classroom of my day..Oh my gosh that chalk board looks so small and yet it seemed huge and daunting way back when..my name started with A...so I was up front in the first row...we all looked at this set-up in every room we traveled to...it brought back so many memories...

The front hallway, where you would enter first thing in the morning..principals desk still to the left of the door. I think my chair is still sitting outside the office.  These are halls I walked for 4 years, original.  It is sort of funny how 50 years melts away like a popsicle on a hot day, it was like I was there again, finding my locker and putting my books away...greeting my friends or on a late day, running (not allowed) to my home room. It goes on, I had a favorite window I would look out, still there, as I waited and watched for Mary to come up the steps...and we would go to class together..This tour was a wonderful gift that the committee offered us..like stepping back into a time capsule..

At the top of this page is my 1963 Ford Falcon Futura...it marked the spots this past weekend for classmates to know which door to go in at all the events...a flash back to the cars of those days...this car..it's red, is the exact same car I had in high school...mine was black..same year, same everything.  Actually the top photo in black and white reminds me of the original.  I came across this one owner car in 2000.  My younger brother knew how much I loved my car and when he saw this one, he immediately called me to come and see it..and of course I bought it...shortly after the purchase my brother passed away..so I consider this his last gift to me and what a beauty she is...Meet Stellar..a perfect reminder of my past.

The lovely and gracious Hawthrone Hotel..where the main event of the reunion was held.  It was the perfect place for us. Very grand, it's in the center of the city.  The food is just wonderful and it's a place that most of us growing up could absolutely not afford to enter..It was really bittersweet for me..because you see, I passed that hotel every day walking home from school.  Now I'm thinking that my walk was somewhere in the vicinity of 2 miles each way...so by the time I had to go "potty"...the Hawthrone was a good stopping spot before continuing on...well, the staff there didn't think so.  I can't tell you how many times I got tossed out of that hotel...so when we went this time and actually stayed over...I felt kind of proud that no longer could I get tossed out...LOL


Saturday night, the room was full, 105 classmates and 67 guests...wonderful speakers to remind us of where we had been, and where we should be going.  These speakers had a huge impact on me and two of them, in particular, got me on this thinking path that I am now on...one was (Dr.) Paul Caron who gave a speech on growing up in Salem..and then alluded to life after retirement...that we can go on and make new careers if we choose..he has since written Children's books...but the impact from him came before he started his speech..You see Paul has never attended a reunion before...and so right from the start he apologized to the class for all the hugs he had missed, all the handshakes, for missing out on all the stories and memories...at the 50th reunion he realized what the value was in gathering every 5 years...it was humbling to hear him voice the importance of why we gather as a group and it was heartfelt to hear that he now gets it...thank you Paul for recognizing and acknowledging your revelation.

And then there was Marlene Winokur Heiser..Salutatorian of our class...she did a retrospective of her speech 50 years ago, titled Threshold of Life...Youth.  After her speech I sought Marlene out, not because we had traveled the halls of Salem High School together, we didn't.  She was in the classical course, I was in the commercial course.  I did not seek her because of either of her speeches, although both were brilliant.  I went to find her because long before high school she was a friend and I had not seen her all these many years.  We both lived on Bridge St...both in Ward 2 and we went to elementary school together...It was a fleeting friendship and I remember going to her house for dinner. We talked about those days..and how even before high school our friendships matter, in a sense laying a foundation for what we might find to value in others along our path of life.  I cared about her, even now, wanting to know about her family and how she was doing.  She was a stabling force for me way back when and she probably never knew that.  In the same sense, when she knew she would be coming to this reunion, she also knew that she would seek me out...and I thank her for remembering our time together also... 

Just so you know, I also sought out my boy friends...LOl...really I am blessed to have so many friends of so many persuasion. These guys did not grow up on Bridge St...but every once in awhile we would cross the line into another Ward...Charming and handsome as ever...they make me laugh..such a gift of sharing they provide..and it was easy for me to meet boys...I had three brothers...


I had to include this group..my Bridge St. friends from forever ago, again first time seeing them in many, many years..and the connections goes deep.  We were all from the lower end of Bridge St...tough section sometimes but fiercy loyal...these girls are sisters, their Mom and my Mom were friends and even further back than that, our Grandmothers were friends...no cars for the woman in those days...just a club called the Ward Two Social Club where the ladies dressed up and played cards...so many memories and people remembered and stories told.  Some good and funny and some tragic and sad.  All a part of my growing up years...50 years and beyond.


So as I sat for several days and thought about this milestone in my life...I was able to make sense of the times I grew up in. They were not easy on Bridge St...but I look to what has helped heal me and make me who I am today...and it comes down to one word...Friendship.  In the good times, bad times, tough times and joyous days...it was all about friends.. They came into my life when I needed them, some left when our needs were met.  Others have stayed with me for more than 50 years..I learned that as we change and grow into our authentic selves...if we look back, we realize that each person that we spent time with in friendship is a part of who we are.  So like Paul, I owe you all a big thank you...My lower Bridge St. friends, my upper Bridge St. friends, my high school friends and all those that I am now friends with for attending every single reunion...our lives blend even to this day.

Sometimes it's good to look back..to shake the shame and regrets and to  realize just how fortunate we are and were. I now realize that my life  was a journey all these many years. A journey I was meant to be on with all of you. We connect with what matters in some way and it  impacts who we are today. Lastly  to those 59 school mates that are no longer with us..."We Remember." I would urge each of you, when the time comes for your reunions, whatever year, remember how Paul felt for missing so many of his and go...you'll be glad you did...true story....

The Fifties

by Barbara Crooker

We spent those stifling endless summer afternoons
on hot front porches, cutting paper dolls from Sears
catalogs, making up our own ideal families
complete with large appliances
and an all-occasion wardrobe with fold-down
paper tabs. Sometimes we left crayons
on the cement landing, just to watch them melt.
We followed the shade around the house.
Time was a jarful of pennies, too hot
to spend, stretching long and sticky,
a brick of Bonomo's Turkish Taffy.
Tomorrow'd be more of the same,
ending with softball or kickball,
then hide and seek in the mosquitoey dark.
Fireflies, like connect-the-dots or find-the-hidden-
words, rose and glowed, winked on and off,
their cool fires coded signals
of longing and love
that we would one day
learn to speak.

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