Friday, August 15, 2014

A Story Out In The 50th Anniversary High School Class Of 1964 Sweethearts Night


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman 

A while back, maybe in early 2104, I wrote a little sketch for those in my North Adamsville (Massachusetts) High School Class of 1964 who had met in high school (or in a couple of cases earlier, in junior high if you could believe that in those hormonally-driven days when we could hardly think straight never mind think forever thoughts) and remained sweethearts, through thick and thin, for the past fifty years. Our class, or the reunion committee of our class, had recently put up a class website and so I placed that sketch on the Message Forum section there as a heartfelt tribute for all to see.

I tried to honor those fifteen couples with that tribute to their steadfastness, and love, for all that time noting that my own marital status, three marriages, a fistful of affairs, and more than a few flings had ebbed and flowed like the tides and that even a recent affair that I really tried, by my lights, to make work had faded out without a flicker after a short while making me finally realize that I am not a forever man. But my romantic troubles are not what I am concerned with today. As part of that class sweethearts sketch at the end I placed a “challenge” to any of those couples which read like this: 


“Well I have done my part. I have written a tribute to the Class of 1964 sweethearts that are celebrating 50 years together here. So the ball is in your court. Now you have tell us all about how you met (your version anyway), or anything else you would like including those bumps in the road during your time together if you like. We have all been there so just write away. Later Frank Jackman”           


As such things go, and given that we were of a generation that was on the edge of the technology revolution as well as the vagaries of, ah, old age, I did not necessarily expect any response to what is essentially a private matter. But a few weeks later Jeff Turner wrote a little something using the points raised in my sketch as talking points. He, and his lovely bride Kate (nee Kelly), had been one of the couples that I mentioned that met in junior high school (North Adamsville Junior High) and so he wanted to say that he appreciated some of my remarks, and differed on others. But the big point that he wanted to make was that he was a “forever guy,” a forever guy even back then although he sympathized with my “plight,” my marital ebbs and flows. So here is what he wrote:         

Frank-Thanks for the nice piece that you wrote about some of your old fellow classmates who have stayed together since high school. Kate appreciated it as well (and my comments here reflect a little her own thoughts but mostly this is my slant). It seems funny to be talking now about how long we have been together since really the time went by very easily. I never could figure out, no disrespect to you or other classmates, why more guys didn’t find their fate mates early for it may have saved them a lot of heartache. I agree with you that those teen times, especially in junior high (funny how they changed it and now call it middle school as I thought junior high sounded more grown up like you were almost an adult) when you said those years were something unbelievable with all the teen distractions and anxieties.

That is why when I grabbed onto Kate in eight grade and we got along, found we liked each other I was ready to plan a future with her (liked and grabbed each other by the way partially because both of our home lives were so bad, her father a drunk, and mine skirt- crazy and gone before I was ten). We did survive those awful trials (mainly our mothers trying to break us up because we were “too young” to be serious, thinking we should see other people before committing to one person, etc., etc.), tribulations (me never having dough and worrying that some guy with a few bucks or a line would sweep her away), traumas (both of high school romance, high school Saturday nights down at the beach or up at the quarries, high school anxieties over the prom, graduation, and just how to survive in the world) which in comparison made us staying together for fifty years easy.

Funny about how you said a lot of guys, seventy-six other guys I think it was, hitting on Kate because I know that was true, maybe not seventy-six but a lot of guys were always around her in the cafeteria so I would go cruising in and sit right down beside her, even in junior high, and that tended to stop some guys, for a while. If I recall your best friend in junior high, Frankie Riley, tried to hit on her with his beatnik line of patter and his arcane knowledge of a million odd-ball facts but she was wise to him from the beginning. First of all she was wise to his so-called knowledge, probably knew more that he did and corrected his factual mistakes for him. But more important and this is where Frankie made his fatal error, all big king of the hill corner boy over you guys at Doc’s Drugstore up the Downs or not, Kate was best friends with Frankie’s girlfriend then, Janice Murphy, and so she duly reported his transgression to her as quickly as she could get on the telephone and he caught hell from her. If it had been me who found out though Frankie and I would have mixed it up, no doubt about it. So you can see why I grabbed onto such a smart girl early and held on for dear life.

By the way Kate says that you tried to hit on her in high school, well not hit on her maybe but you used to give some meaningful glances in her direction in class and in the corridors from what she said. Or from what Kathy Craven told her a couple of times when Kathy noticed that after you passed Kate you would turn around to see if she turned around. All is forgiven now though although you know I would have been swooping down on you if you did more that some foolish glances. Frank, what I can’t figure out is how you thought some sideways glances were going to get you anywhere with any girl then. You know you had to actually talk to them. That’s what I did with Kate after I stopped getting moony-eyed over her and realized that she was taking her peeks at me in class too. I don’t know if this information would help you now but I thought I would mention it just in case.     

I don’t know exactly what attracted me to Kate at first, those times when she disturbed my sleep before I talked to her. Or what attracted other guys to her, guys like you if Kate is right about that glance stuff. It wasn’t because she was beautiful although she was (and is) but she had (and has) such a pleasing personality, winsome smile and was (and is) smart as a whip that I think guys figured if they rode her star then she would do their homework for them or something. And in the course of that some spark would jump out, I really don’t know.

Funny, going the other way, Kate told me once in high school when I asked her if she thought a girl in our class was looking at me, you know, with the look, never thought that other girls would be bothering me.  Although one time later Kate said if they had they might have seen a very different personality that what they were used to in the class “Miss Personality” but mainly she would say when I mentioned some girl and I said a kind word about her and that maybe she was “hitting” on me (although we didn’t use that word then but something else that I can’t remember but the grandkids use it all the time and it sounds right) she would say “yeah, you wish.”

The worst thing though Kate said when we talked one night last week, after reading your piece on the website about class sweethearts,  about how we met and the stuff we went through was, you know, Sally Smith telling a tale to her about how she saw me looking twice at a certain girl in Math class. Sally was always doing that although she was going steady with Tim Conroy, the football player and expressed no interest, none as far as I know, in me. That night I am talking about I made her laugh when I remembered Ben one time telling me who Kate was seen in the school cafeteria, Jesus, the cafeteria, talking to over lunch. That is when I would do my thing and get there and sit right beside her doing my protective bit. We both got a kick out of that personal stuff you mentioned, you know the stuff like what to do about those grabby hands of my part, Kate had my number on that although more than once we almost split when I didn’t want to take “no” for an answer. Especially when she was teasing me too far just too far in the days when her hormones were jumping out of her skin.

Jesus what we didn’t know about sex then, how to do stuff without getting into trouble, how and when not to do stuff, you know. We were both brought up to be Catholics and nobody, nobody even came close to giving us any information about what was going on. Kids today know by about ten what we didn’t know until we were married. I don’t know about you, although I remember seeing you and Frankie sneaking into the side chapel for Sunday Mass since that was where I was sitting too so I didn’t have to sit with my mother and two sisters in the main section, but I learned everything I knew about sex out in the streets from guys who said they knew stuff. I am glad I didn’t listen to half of their spiel because it was flat-out wrong although one thing that Kate and I used to do down at Adamsville Beach proved to be exactly right. Like you said we survived the tough parts of high school. 

To answer your question even though you really did not put it as a question who knows when or where it started for others. I know for me it was that first fresh-eyed glance in Mr. Forrester’s dreary English classroom looking at Kate until my eyes got sore. Kate said for her it was spying me while waiting, endlessly waiting, for the always late bus when I would be walking down the street after track practice (you remember Mr. Lewis the gym teacher who used to be the junior high track coach I think) and she went weak-kneed. (I swear that is what Kate said back then after we were “going steady” and she said that was what she said when we talked it over last week. For us it happened with big bang hearts, we were all over each other from the beginning.

Did you used to hang around in the boys “lav” on the second floor back at North Adamsville Junior High? Probably not if you were one of Frankie Riley’s corner boys because you guys, Frankie anyway, hung around the “lav” next to the cafeteria. The reason I ask is that before Kate I used to be, well, all over all the girls whether they liked me or not. And I would brag about it in boys’ lav. Lying like a crazy man, lying worse than Frankie Riley, that this girl or that did everything known to mankind with me. But with Kate I was like you said in your piece “formerly full of boasts and bravados in that mandatory Monday morning before school boys’ “lav” talkfest about who did or did not do what with whom over the weekend fell silent, would not speak her name in such bluster.” Kate said you hit her right on the nose too except I know you had never been in the girls’ “ lav” when you said “She, she in that mandatory Monday morning before school girls’ “lav” talkfest about who did or did not do what with whom just smiled, a private smile, she had her man.” We  laughed, laughed about that one night down at the beach once we settled (kind of settled) that issue of what was, and was not, appropriate when we were watching the “submarine races.”  That was the first time we said we would stay together forever. Forever being, I think as such things went, maybe the next year, or until the next best thing came along            

As it turned out the next best thing was sitting right next to each of us and so we, maybe a little fearful, maybe a little worried about whether we would last or not tied the knot right after high school. I went off to the Vietnam War not long after and then to school on the GI Bill and then got that job in the research department of Gillette. All along Kate though would wait and worry, worry about how we would provide for the coming children. They came, the three of them, Janice, Kenny, and Claudia. They made our time a little easier (mostly).

Jesus you should have been a marriage counsellor or something, what the heck with three marriages you would be a natural, since you hit the point about the “bumps in the road, he, getting a little thicker around the waist, looked off in the distance and she, well, she went on an exercise regime as they both wondered in the night what had happened.” Both of us, once the kids were older, almost, almost I said, had affairs with people who were our friends, in my case a close friend and colleague at work, and let me leave it at that, okay. We did not, believe me we did not talk about that last week, but I know I then I was feverishly tossing in the night with thoughts about leaving, thinking about after twenty-five years what would do I without her (and maybe her me), about where would I go and how when we were young we had loved each other so. Those fevers passed, although we lost good friends and it was hard sometimes at work when I would see the gal looking kind of forlorn when I came near her office. Funny later after the kids left the house and had kids of their own and we became “empty nesters” I took up golf and Kate shopping, shopping until she dropped which she used to hate, for the newest grandchild and we both would have those night sweat dreams we had when we were thinking about having our respective affairs. But those moments too passed, remembering back to our old time pledges.        

I, we, Catholic forever married or not, could never figure out why in the modern world where everyone is supposed to change spouses, partners, lovers with the changing seasons, we had to almost defend ourselves because we decided to spend our time on earth together. Now we know we marked our love with the flow of time.   

I couldn’t understand in your piece who that woman was up in Maine that you mentioned, other than that she was a classmate of ours, do you know her, was she one of your affairs or flings it seems like you knew a lot about her, Couldn’t understand why on a cold December night she stood against a frosted window in a lonely dark room looking out with a vacant expression at the swirl of the ocean before her. Couldn’t figure out her being there alone while she stood thinking about that first marriage gone wrong when that first husband went chasing after a younger woman. Also about that second foolish marriage to some charming chameleon who had used her as a meal ticket. And couldn’t understand why she thought about that short recent affair that had held so much promise in the first days, felt like maybe he would be her forever man but you see he was married, married all along to some other idea. I (and Kate too) did understand why she sighed though.

Couldn’t understand either that classmate, was that you disguising yourself as somebody out West when I know you live near Boston, down in some Southern California town changing companions with the seasons? From the sound of it and what you said in your piece it sure sounded like your situation. There he was thinking about how he had raised holy hell in his first marriage, had married out of fear, fear of being alone when the hammer of his life went down. How he blushed at that horror of a second marriage where he let his every addiction, affliction and predilection destroy whatever good instincts he had left.   Or when he wondered if that short splendid recent affair that he had tried to make work, make work out of a different fear, a fear of being left alone in his old age when the hammer went down might not have worked out because he could not commit, could not risk the return of those addictions. And about how he smirked as he thought about that, thought about how his whole life revolved around two women, the one that he was with at the moment and that one in his head, and in his dreams just beyond his grasp who he wanted to be with. Sounds like he was not built for forever stuff kind of like you.   

We, Kate and me, think people should stand in awe, definitely stand in awe of our steadfastness like you said. And our love.  So thanks for agreeing with what we made of our lives and sorry, very sorry, Frank to hear that you didn’t fare so well.  Your old classmates, Jeff and Kate Turner       

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