My sisters and I are each five years apart. It was a big deal when we were young. We had nothing in common except our parentage. In 1962, when my little sister was taking her teddy bear to kindergarten show-and-tell at Washington School, I was struggling with year two of New Math—that even my smart father didn’t get—and our big sister was starting high school. In the olden days, sixth grade was in elementary school and high school began with tenth.
The following year — when Rebecca’s and my school bus slid down an embankment and John Kennedy was assassinated—she was learning to read and Janice Wiester and I sold ice-cream at lunch time all year (we were so good that Mr. Bogen, the principal, didn’t want to switch off weekly like the popcorn sellers from the other sixth-grade class). Jo Ann was learning to drive with Leo Milanowski —one of the few teachers she and I would have in common — and gas was 25¢ a gallon.
Those were the only two years any of us were in the same school. When I got to junior year — the last year of the old Centralia High School — Mr. Richardson told me in front of the whole chemistry class on the first day of school that I obviously wasn’t as smart as my sister because she had been in advanced chemistry five years earlier and I was in the lowly regular class where none of us would get an A.
I hated chemistry and adjusted my career dream to be a nurse. Jo Ann was starting her last year of college, and Rebecca had moved up to junior high. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed that year, and The Daily Chronicle headlines screamed the number of deaths in Vietnam.
But that was then, this is now. Our 10-year spread in age has long been insignificant. We still have divergent interests, and sometimes we wonder about our parentage, but we are all aging.
That was driven home recently, when we each attended our class reunions on successive weekends. Rebecca and I both have — much to our surprise — returned from decades on the other coast to live in Centralia, and are local reunion goers.
Jo Ann came back from her East Coast home to attend her 50th reunion in the old high school gym — now part of Centralia College — where I despised running up and down the balcony bleachers in P.E.
That great old three-story, no-elevator school (I know there was no elevator because when I was on crutches following a skiing accident, my locker was on the third floor) had been torn down when Rebecca started senior high. My class was the first to graduate from the new high school. I still call it that.
It was good to see old classmates, even though we weren’t always sure to whom we were speaking; and odd to be in a room where everyone was 63. It’s startling to be reminded how much life has passed since graduation in 1970, the year “love meant never having to say you were sorry.”
From the Smith Corona electric typewriter with an erase ribbon I received as a graduation gift, to computers in watches, we’ve come a long way. Classmates have left the Earth; there are grandkids. Gas has topped $4 a gallon.
Reunions are where we remember the times we lived in, the teachers who taught us everything we know, and who we used to be—with people who will remind us, lest we’ve forgotten.
Gretchen Staebler is a Centralia native who returned to the Northwest in 2012 to live with her now 99-year-old mother. She blogs weekly about that experience at www.DaughterOnDuty.wordpress.com.