My father used to say you can tell when you’re getting old—members of the generation just before you begin checking out. Next thing you know, your peers aren’t far behind. That’s about the time you actually do check that small print on your insurance policy. Up until then the obits are always for folks much older than you…a little easier to handle than the ones that come later.
For me, a tough one was Dick Clark. My generation grew up on American Bandstand. My first job out of college was in his old office area in the studios where the show originated. What a thrill. It was sad watching him after his stroke. His death stirred an even sadder moment for me.
2012, meanwhile, has been a pretty brutal year for similar departures of people I spent time with. No, I didn’t know any of them personally, but as each one’s passing made news I felt a slight ping in my engine. There were lots of popular entertainers among them: Andy Griffith, Andy Williams, Larry Hagman and Sherman Hemsley, to name just a few. Newsmakers included Neil Armstrong and George McGovern. Wow, weren’t these people just our parents’ age? What happened during the break while I was out taking my low dose aspirin?
Then there are pets that die. Goldfish don’t count unless maybe you’re five years old. You’ll have lots of dead goldfish to flush by the time you grow out of them. Hamsters take on a little more grief. We once had a hamster roaming around all night in those plastic tunnels you think they think are really cool. Dagmar–that was our hamster’s name—she, ah, over-indulged one night; got her cheeks all puckered out with an extra stash of food and, unbeknownst to us, got stuck in the tubes. We didn’t notice for maybe 2-3 days. A weird odor eventually sent signals.
Now dogs and cats—okay, I’ll give you that argument—they count. I didn’t own a dog until I was in my thirties. Nicki was our golden retriever. After six years we had to put her down rather than watch her suffer any longer with an incurable growth in her throat. I took her death worse than I did anything or anyone up to that point, even my grandparents. I could not believe how much that dog had meant to me until she wasn’t there jumping up like a wild orangutan when I got home each night. It took me forever to get over her loss.
Now, I could move on up the grief chart if I chose. I haven’t gotten to parents, siblings, etc. But I think you get the point; no need to proceed any further, except…
Is it possible to mourn a building? The Philadelphia school system has announced that my high school is being closed. It’s been pumping out graduates since it opened in 1914. The announcement caused quite a buzz on the e-mail circuit frequented by my classmates. I suspect we are a little hyped up right now since we just polished off three tables of food at our 50th reunion back in October. A lot of nostalgia reeked about the room and the revival of the old green and white school spirit had everyone energized. Or maybe it was just the vitamin supplements we’d all been passing around. I have to admit I was hesitant to attend a reunion after so many years. All those people are old now and I just didn’t know whether or not I’d fit in. But I did have a good time and everyone enjoyed seeing each other. In fact, for many of us, we enjoy just seeing.
Everywhere we go,
People want to know,
Who we are.
So we tell them.
We’re from Germantown,
Mighty Mighty Germantown.
That’s one of the cheers I remember at the football games. Germantown High School was mighty mighty then. But that was then. I left there in 1963. I’ve never been back. Some of my memories have. Okay, I admit it—I do feel a wee little itsy teensy bitty ripple of regret that its grand old halls will soon be silent. The empty stairwells will echo with the pitter patter of mice (maybe no change there); the locker room in the boy’s gym will slowly lose its special aroma…and the clappers on all those classroom bells, those God-awful bells, will have atrophied.
Already some of my classmates are circling and wanting to descend on the corpse. One person suggested we attempt to retrieve a historic plaque that I have absolutely no memory of. I’m told it had something to do with the Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War. A better story, I think, is that the plaque pays tribute to all the students who succumbed to food poisoning from the cheese steak sandwiches we used to get at the sleazy eateries along Germantown Avenue.
Another in our group suggested we bid on the letter to our class written by one of the original seven astronauts, Scott Carpenter. Personally, I was thinking it’d be nice to have one of the old desks. I doubt they are still there. We had those old immovable rows of desks with the wrought iron legs–the kind you’d see in old Norman Rockwell prints. You know, the ones where the back of the head of the person in front of you is practically in your face and if it’s a girl with long pigtails they’d be dangling down all over your algebra. Try to explain that to your parents when you bring home a D-.
Oooh, I just remembered—I’d also want that pair of gray gym shorts that I threw behind the lockers in the lunchroom. Yeah, I’d take them if they’re still there. Doubt they’ll still fit.
I don’t know what the future plans are for the building. Maybe they’ll convert it into something profitable like a casino. Maybe they’ll tear it down and put up a new Target. Or, maybe they’ll just board up the windows and the old gal will slowly wrinkle and wither away until some future generation thinks it’s really cool retro. Then, they’ll hold neighborhood fundraisers and beg local politicians to provide money for restoration. It will rise up out of the ashes and ragweed to thrive once more, perhaps as a special school for electronic quilting, or maybe even a museum of school artifacts. The person responsible for this spectacular rejuvenation will be featured on the Friday edition of the network news as someone “who made a difference.”
Actually, I’m not optimistic. My money’s on the Statue of Liberty. I think she’ll be around much longer than Germantown High School. All this brought to mind a very short Simon and Garfunkel ditty called “Bookends.” It’s kind of fitting for when things gone by, go by for a final time…
Time it was and what a time it was, it was.
A time of innocence, a time of confidences.
Long ago it must be; I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories…they’re all that’s left you.
Marc Kuhn is the author of three books. Recently published is an adult historical novel, THE POPE’S STONE. The other two books are for children: NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE…And a bunch of other things you should never do!; and ABOUT A FARM, lessons for life regardless of where you live.
All three books are available at amazon.com and each has its own .com website under its title.
Photo of Germantown High School by NewsWorks