The Spouse's Reunion
For more than fifty years my dear spouse has endured a lifetime of my reunions, high school and college. Few greater testaments are there to a life companion's forbearance than that she attend gatherings of people at least half of whom are on a first name basis with her husband, people who initially seem to be inattentive to her, who she is, where she comes from, what she does, so caught up are they in sentiments and memories she does not share. God bless Barbara! Of course, being the congenial soul she is, after one reunion she is at succeeding reunions one of the family. Like I reflexively explain when congratulated on our reaching our golden years together: "She's a patient woman."
This June it was my turn to be a patient husband, standing off to the side as Barbara's classmates of yore greeted her like a long lost friend, expressing gladness and surprise at her while casting occasional and indifferent sidelong glances at me.
Barbara matriculated at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, in the late summer of 1952. She studied there for two years until she was whisked away by a seminarian to New York City where Barbara completed her undergraduate education at Barnard College. She left behind, it became obvious to me fifty plus years later, a class-full of friends, a boyfriend, and a beautiful campus. Oh, what we do for love!
We drove north from West Hartford Wednesday, June 7th, stopping along the way for a personal tour of our niece's new home, still under construction, in Exeter NH. The following day, a very rainy day, we followed the bay out of Portland, arriving in time for a picnic lunch under a tent on the lawn of a Colby '56 classmate. That's where the oohing and aahing over BJ (Barbara or Bobbie Jean) began. The sod was soaked. Our shoes made puddles in the grass. But the lobster rolls delighted the palate of my Long Island crustacean-loving spouse.
After a quick side-trip to LL Bean's store in Freeport, we sped (or should I say "surfed," as the rains continued to pour) to Mayflower Hill in Waterville, Maine, where Colby's red brick building campus is situated overlooking Johnson Pond and the broad expanse of Maine lake country. We checked in and got our room in the same dormitory where Barbara was a resident fifty-two years ago. The mattresses on the narrow beds were plastic covered. We wondered if that provision was in consideration of the potential incontinence of seventy-two year-olds.
For the next four days we were wined and dined and celebrated, all, it should be noted, dear Williams friends, on the house. The only money I needed was change for the 75¢ soda machine in the dorm.
Saturday morning the traditional parade of classes was washed out. More rain. The alumni assembled in the gym and received reports, the most loudly cheered, of course, being the class donations to the college. Barbara's class with a total gift of $11,000,000 far surpassed everyone else, thanks to a five million dollar bequest and, I suspect, generous gifts from entrepreneurial classmates (shoes, luggage, and real estate). Amid much deserved self-congratulations, the Class of 1956 posed for its reunion photograph.
We then repaired to the field house for a lobster dinner, complete with corn on the cob. I dined instead on a roast beef sandwich. That afternoon we sat in on a presentation by a recent graduate, on investments. My spouse was royally put off by a group of younger alums who arrived at the classroom with a twelve pack of Milwaukee beer and guzzled suds until their bladders made a visit to the restroom necessary, parading out of the classroom all smiles.
The culminating event for most of the 1956 reuners was the Class Dinner on Saturday night. Barbara's old beau, Dave Sortor, referred to affectionately by classmates as their "class magnet," gave a PowerPoint presentation, complete with slides of way back when accompanied with music of the "special years." A couple of slides showed a teenaged BJ. Even I felt a twinge of nostalgia and a hint of a tear when the final frames faded to the strains of "The Way We Were." When the dinner concluded we were urged to gather around the piano in the hallway to sing college songs, played, of course, by the aforesaid old beau, a retired dental surgeon, yachtsman, airplane pilot, and restaurateur. That my spouse should choose me over him makes me question her judgment.
Sunday morning, you guessed it, we went to church, in Lorimer Chapel, a venue of high personal significance for Bob and BJ. It was a memorial service led by the class' unofficial chaplain, an Episcopal priest, Frank Huntress. We sang "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" before posing on the chapel porch to honor an evening in May 1954 when a small diamond was slipped onto a twenty year old's finger.
Moments later Bob and BJ slipped away headed south, just as they did once a long time ago, only then the trusty chariot was a Hudson Super Six not a Ford Taurus.
Herewith are a few observations, some of them impertinent, on the weekend at The Spouse's Reunion:
1. College alumni are indiscriminate in their use of superlatives for their college and their class.
2. New England small colleges (NESCAC) are in a fierce competition for quality students. We were shown at Colby, would you believe, a new dormitory sporting a "gourmet" kitchen. I would recommend, however, a more urgent improvement, replacement of the plastic-covered mattresses with ones that don't scream with every midnight turn in the bed.
3. Life, even at a spouse's reunion, can be serendipitous. See my "discoveries" in cameo above, a "cousin" and a cabaret singer. But I also, stumbled upon other uncameo-ed serendipities: (1) a high school French teacher still holding forth in Darien CT, one of my childhood haunts, familiar with headline stories about her town, stories that had captured my attention; (2) a psychiatrist from Waterbury with a voracious appetite for sports, keeping me current on baseball, golf, and soccer scores; (3) a PH (preacher's husband) with whom I shared unvarnished recollections (and admiration) of a mutual friend from Brooklyn days; (4) an Australian lawyer now a judge in Maine; and (5) a blue blazer, the preppie uniform, grabbed off the J. C. Penney rack (at a 50% reduction in price!) after a last-minute search in downtown Waterville, following a last minute discovery I forgot to bring with me any formal clothes.
4. My spouse's willingness to assure me that, all things considered, she made no mistake in letting that seminarian whisk her away to New York City in 1954. Her daughters unanimously agree.