I recently had Dinner with a half dozen of my classmates from Struthers High School. Wow! What a flood of emotions and memories came back to me. Some of these folks I've known since Kindergarten, a mere six year old at the time. We're almost talking Ancient History here, given that I graduated one score and sixteen years ago.
Growing up in the hard-scrabble suburbs of Youngstown, Ohio, like it or not, we were in it together. Relationships evolved over the years. Those you became close to in elementary school or junior high, didn't necessarily remain in high school. On the other hand, I've had friendships with people that have been unbroken for almost fifty years, that I could never replace. I was reminded of that over Dinner.
Sure, physically we all changed and now look like our parents.(Gasp!) Inside, we're all pretty much that same kid you were in your formative years. Intelligent, humorous, mischievous, lethargic, or goal-oriented, I firmly believe you set your path before you ever realized you did. I'll bet at ten years old, you could have written down the names of five people in your class you thought would be successful. Pull that paper out fifty years later and chances are you would have most names right. Nobody is a better judge of character than your peers.
I've learned over the years that most of the people that attend class reunions are comfortable in their own skins. These were your classmates that loved to interact with others, enjoyed the company, and didn't harbor resentment towards someone for things that happened in their youth. I was fortunate that I mingled within all groups in school. I could relate to everyone equally well and never felt out of place. That was a tribute to the character of the kids I associated with. No one was aloof and acted like they were a cut above anyone else. It was impossible to "put on airs" in Struthers, anyhow. Chances are your Dad worked in one of the steel mills or supporting industries and we were all middle-class.
I certainly can recall a lot of triumphs and tragedies during my school years. Undefeated football teams and exciting wins in many sports events on the plus side of life, death of a classmate or their parent by injury, illness or accident, on the negative side. We endured these things in a simpler time. No one worried about staying politically correct. We genuinely cared about "our own" and it wasn't uncommon for a teacher to lead us in a prayer over some adversity.
Being from a small town had many advantages over bigger cities. Sure, everyone knew your business, but if you haven't done anything wrong, who cares? Parents kept an eye out on all the kids in a neighborhood and would actually talk on the phone to the mother of a kid who was misbehaving. I learned that lesson many times the hard way. I couldn't get away with anything! In reflecting back, it probably helped to point me in the right direction, knowing any wrong-doing would catch up with me, sooner or later.
Our teachers were great for correcting us. I had to write," I will practice acting more like a fourth-grader and not like a kindergartner.", five hundred times when I acted up in class. The teacher looked at my finished work, noticed I misspelled "Kindergartner", tore it up, and had me write the sentences all over again. In eighth grade, I led the class in number of swats with the paddle at twenty seven. I did eventually learn my lesson. Well, sort of...I had my moments.
What eventually has become very clear to me is the lasting memories of all the kids I went to school with, some for thirteen years. We shared so much together it like being of one mind on so many topics. We were like one big blended family sharing common values of our community. We developed pride for a cause we believed in, not realizing then that this would forge us into the adults we would become. Struthers...Thanks for the memories, I'm proud to call you home.