Thursday, August 25, 2016

*****Remembrances Of Things Past-With Jeff Higgins’ Class Of 1964 In Mind

An Encore-Remembrances Of Things Past-With Jeff Higgins’ Class Of 1964 In Mind
From The Pen Of Bart Webber

There was always something, some damn thing to remind Jeff Higgins, Class of 1964, a fateful year in his life and not just because that was the year that he graduated from North Quincy High School down in outer edge of the Southeastern corner of Massachusetts. He had recently, well, let's call it 2014 because who knows when some iterant reader might read this and because that as will be pointed in a second has significant for why Jeff Higgins thought that it was "one damn thing after another" when dealing with that class issue. If you did the math quickly in your head while I was pointing to the significance you would know that year represented the fiftieth anniversary of the his graduation from high school, then as now if less so a milestone on the way to serious-minded adulthood, and furthermore had  gone through something of a serious traumatic experience which left him numb every time something came up about that year, some remembrance.

If you knew Jeff in 1964, and even if did not you knew somebody like Jeff since every high school class had  a Jeff case and moreover his experience was not that uncommon, then you know form whence I speak. Hey, let's say you didn't know him back then in 1964 but only in  2014 that would tell you the same tale, with his three messy divorces and several affairs from flings to some more serious relationships along with scads of children and grandchildren now from the marriages not the affairs. Guess what you would know that it was about a woman, always about a woman, he eternally afflicted as old as he was from coming of age time to coming to the end-times.

So about a woman this time, this eternally afflicted time, named Elizabeth Drury whom  he had had a brief puff of air affair with in that same 2014 but which had seemingly vanished in his dust of memory until he went up in the attic to clean up some stuff. (By the way Elizabeth not Liz, which would show a certain informality, a certain good sport and not standing on ceremony or Betty, a nickname which conveyed continued childhood in those days as old as a woman might be, so no way she was not anything but a proper Elizabeth-type, who held maybe Queen Elizabeth I, you know the so-called Virgin Queen, the one who ruled England for a long time and had more lovers than you could shake a stick at but all we knew then was that she was the Virgin Queen, as her model, even in high school.) 

Yeah finally getting rid of most of stuff which had been gathering dust, maybe mold for years, in anticipation of selling his house and moving to a more manageable condo, down-sizing they call it in the real estate trade, and found a faded tattered copy of his class’ remembrance card. You know those time vault cards that card companies like Hallmark, the source of this one, put out so that people, or this case the whole class by some tabulations, can put down favorite films, people, records, who was President, and other momentous events from some important year like a high school graduation to be looked at in later years and ahhed over.
That yellowed sheet brought back not just memories of that faded long ago year but of Elizabeth in the not so faded past. So, yes, it was always some damn thing, always some damn woman thing.      

Maybe we had better take you back to the beginning though, back to how the year 1964 and the woman Elizabeth Drury had been giving one Jeffery Higgins late of North Quincy nothing but pains. Jeff had been for many, many years agnostic about attending class reunions, had early on after graduation decided that he needed to show his back to the whole high school experience which was a flat-out zero once he thought about every indignity and hurt he had suffered for one reason or another, and to show that same back to the town, a small hick town anyway which needed to be fled to see the big old world.

A lot of that teenage angst having to do with his humble beginnings as a son of a “chiseler,” not meant as a nice term, a father who worked in the then depleting and now depleted granite quarries when there was work for which the town was then famous and which represented the low-end of North Quincy society. The low-end which others in the town including his fellow classmates in high school who were as socially class conscious as any Mayfair swells made him feel like a nobody and a nothing for no known reason except that he was the son of a chiseler which after all he could not help. Of course those social exclusions played themselves out under the veil of his not dressing cool, living off the leavings of his older brothers, living off of Bargain Center rejected materials not even cool when purchased, you know, white shirts with stripes when that was not cool, black chinos with cuffs like some farmer, ditto, dinky Thom McAn shoes with buckles for Chrissake, just as his younger brothers lived off his in that tight budget world of the desperate working poor, of his not having money for dates even with fellow bogger’s daughters, and hanging corner dough-less, girl-less corners with fellow odd-ball bogger outcasts. So Jeff had no trouble drifting away from that milieu, had no trouble putting dust on his shoes to get out and head west when the doings out west were drawing every wayward youth to the flame, to the summers of love.

And there things stood in Jeff’s North Quincy consciousness for many years until maybe 2012, 2013 when very conscious that a hallmark 50th class reunion would be in the works and with more time on his hands as he had cut back on the day to day operation of his small law practice in Cambridge he decided that he would check out the preparations, and perhaps offer his help to organize the event. He had received notification of his class’ fortieth reunion in 2004 (which he had dismissed out of hand only wondering how the reunion committee had gotten his address for while he was not hiding from anything or anyone he was also not out there publicly since he did not have clients other than other lawyers whom he wrote motions, briefs, appeals and the like for, until he realized that as a member of the Massachusetts bar he would have that kind of information on his very publicly-accessible bar profile page) so via the marvels of modern day technology through the Internet he was able to get hold of Donna Marlowe (married name Rossi) who had set up a Facebook page to advertise the event.

That connection led to Jeff drafting himself onto the reunion committee and lead directly to the big bang of pain that he would subsequently feel. Naturally in a world filled with social media and networking those from the class who either knew Donna or the other members of the committee or were Internet savvy joined the class’ Facebook page and then were directed to a class website (as he found out later his generation unlike later ones was on the borderline of entering the “information superhighway” and so not all classmates, those still alive anyway, were savvy that way). On that website set up by tech savvy Donna (she had worked in the computer industry at IBM during her working career) each classmate who joined the site had the ability to put up a personal profile next to their class photograph like he had done on many other such sites and that is where Jeff had seen Elizabeth Drury’s profile and a flood of memories and blushes.            

In high school Jeff had been smitten by Elizabeth, daughter of a couple of school teachers who worked in the upscale Marshfield school system  and therefore were stationed well above the chiselers of the town. But in things of the heart things like class distinctions, especially in democratically-etched America, are forgotten, maybe not rightly or fully forgotten when the deal goes down but there is enough of façade to throw one off if one gets feeling a certain way, gets the love bug, and sometime in the  genes makes one foolhardy. That had almost happened to Jeff in Elizabeth's case, except his corner boy Jack Callahan had put him wise, had kept him from one more teenage angst hurt.

Jeff and Elizabeth had had several classes together senior year and sat across from each other in English class and since both loved literature and were school-recognized as such they had certain interests in common. So they talked, talked in what Jeff thought was very friendly and somewhat flirty manner (or as he thought later after the youthful lame had burned out and he drifted west maybe he just hoped that was the case) and he had "formed an intention" (that is the way he said it the night he related the story to me so forgive the legal claptrap way he said it) to ask her out even if only to Doc’s Drugstore for an after school soda and a listen to the latest platters on Doc’s jukebox which had all the good stuff that kids were dancing to in those days. He figured from there he could work up to a real date. But sometimes the bumps and bruises of the chiseler life left one with a little sense and so before making attempts at such a conquest Jeff consulted with Jack Callahan to see if Elizabeth was “spoken for” (Jeff’s term if you can believe that like this was some 17th century Pilgrim forebears time).

See Jack, a star football player even if he was also a chiseler's son got something of an exemption from the rigid routine of the social structure of the senior class just by being able to run through defensive lines on any given granite grey autumn afternoon and so had excellent “intelligence” on the whole school system’s social network, in other words who was, or was not, spoken for. (By the way that “grapevine” any high school grapevine, maybe middle school too would put the poor technicians at the CIA and the spooks at NSA to shame with the accuracy of the information. It had to be that resourceful and accurate otherwise fists would fly.) The word on Elizabeth, forget it, off-limits, an “ice queen.” So Jeff saved himself plenty of anguish and he moved on with his small little high school life.

Seeing Elizabeth's name and profile though that many years later made him curious, made him wonder what had happened to her and since he was now again “single” he decided he would write a private e-mail to her profile page something which the website was set up to perform and which the reunion committee was recommending the still standing alumnus to do. That “single” a condition that he now considered the best course after three shifts of alimony, child support and college tuitions made him realize that it was infinitely cheaper to just live with a woman and be done with it.

Jeff wrote a short message asking whether she remembered him and she replied that she very well did remember him and their “great” (her term) conversations about Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway and Edith Wharton. That short message and reply “sparked” something and they began a flurry of e-mails giving outlines of their subsequent history, including the still important one to Jeff whether she was “spoken for.” She was not having had two divorces although no kids in her career as a professor at the State University.

Somehow these messages led Jeff to tell her about his talk with Jack Callahan. And she laughed not at the “intelligence” which was correct but not for the reasons that Jack gave (her father was an abusive “asshole,” her term for her standoffishness and reputation as an “ice queen”). She laughed because despite her being flirty when they talked in English class, at least that was what she thought she was attempting to do because she certainly was interested when they would talk Jeff had never asked her out and then one day just stopped talking to her for no known reason. Damn.                    

They say, or at least Thomas Wolfe did in the title of one of his novels-you can’t go home again but neither Jeff nor Elizabeth after that last exchange of e-mails about the fateful missing chance back in senior year would heed the message. They decided to meet in Cambridge one night to see if that unspoken truth had any substance. They did meet, got along great, had many stories to exchange and it turned out many of the same interests (except golf a sport which relaxed Jeff when he was all wound up but which Elizabeth’s second husband had tried to teach her to no avail). And so their little affair started, started with great big bursts of flames but wound up after a few months smoldering out and being blown away like so much dust in the wind once Elizabeth started talking about marriage. Jeff was willing to listen to living together but his own strange marital orbit had made him very strongly again any more marriages. So this pair could not go home again, not at all, and after some acrimonious moments they parted.           

Jeff knew that was the best course, knew he had to break it off but it still hurt enough that any reference to 1964 made him sad. As he took a look at the sentiments expressed in that tattered yellowed document he had a moment reprieve as he ahh-ed over the information presented. Had he really forgotten that there was no Vice President then since there was no Vice-Presidential succession when Lyndon Johnson became President after the assassination of home state Irish Jack Kennedy. That My Fair Lady was a  popular Broadway show then as now. That the Beatles had appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Show and done a film, that Chapel of Love had been a hit that year as well. That 1964 was the year the Mustang that he would have died for came out into a candid  world. That gas was only about thirty cent a gallon, and that another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor, married one Richard Burton for the first time (although not the last). And on that sour note he put the yellowed tattered document he had accidently come across in the trash pile with other tattered documents. He would remember things past in his own way. 

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