I arrived at Newark Airport on a dark and stormy night. It was cold and rainy as I eased the rental car onto the turnpike, carefully following Siri’s directions. Luckily it was after rush hour and the other cars were going appropriately slowly, forty miles per hour. Siri got me to the hotel in Teaneck safely but did not direct me to the toll booth. I went where there was a green arrow, the EZ pass lane. I’ll probably get a ticket in the mail and a surcharge from the rental company.
I settled in my room and headed downstairs for dinner at the hotel. There were several people my age at the bar and at tables. Were they also here for the reunion? No one looked familiar.
The next morning, I drove around my home town. It has weathered the fifty years better than me, looking no older than when I left. Teaneck. a suburb a few miles from New York City, has tree-lined streets and brick houses with neat lawns. Only a few businesses remained from my day (Bishoff’s and The Butterflake Bakery) but most of the storefronts were occupied. I could see the influence of the influx of Orthodox Jews by the kosher signs in many of the restaurants and the two Judaica stores on Cedar Lane.
My elementary school, Bryant, looked the same except that some of the playground had been paved for a parking lot and solar panels hovered above the parking spaces.
I met my sister in downtown Englewood for lunch at Baumgart’s, a café that still has homemade ice cream but now serves Asian food, not café fare as in the olden days. I had a hard time finding a parking space as the ones on Palisade Avenue had meters for only an hour. I parked on a side street but didn’t have two dollars in change to plug the meter. Instructions on the meter directed me to download an app, establish an account, and pay via credit card or PayPal. I could do this but marveled at the technology.
Palisade Avenue and its side streets host high-priced boutiques and jewelers. The Woolworth’s where Linda and I had a five cent Coke, browsed the aisles, and took our pictures in the photo booth has been gone for a long time.
My sister and I opted to share dumplings so we’d have room for mini-sundaes, which were the best I had all weekend. We went by our old houses. The one on Hubert Terrace looked quite different due to a new façade. The huge hill, Shoemacher Road, where we skated and sled on didn’t look quite so big. The one on Briarcliffe Road looked the same.
Friday evening was the informal Happy Hour. I saw friends I hadn’t been in contact for fifty years and heard their stories. Most have had good lives. Since there were over six hundred people in my graduating class, there were many I still didn’t know but I was interested in their stories too. My opening line was, “So what have you been doing for the past fifty years?” I’m including these photos and you’ll have to zero in on the name tags to see who is who.
I already knew that most of my “egghead friends” would not be attending. And the two friends I still see all the time were also not coming. I was on my own.
A few people had canes but most of the sixty or so people who showed up at the social hour were in good shape.
I got to tell Nathan Fishkin that all the girls had crushes on him in junior high. He seemed surprised.
Debby Heller looked amazing! She has certainly kept her looks. It’s perfect that she went into interior design. We spent two summers at Dartmuthe, a summer camp for the arts on Cape Cod.
One of my classmates wants me to write his story about being a drug kingpin. I suggested he send me a digital recording of the first two chapters that I would rewrite. I’m doubtful it will arrive.
I hardly knew Valerie Metcalf in high school, but I give her the award for having the same beautiful smile that can brighten anyone’s day.
And I didn’t think I remembered Sue Zeliff, who was in my homeroom class, until I looked up her photo in the yearbook. Of course! And she seems like she’s as sweet and self-deprecating as ever. And she looked fantastic, not our age at all.
I encountered Danny Davis and reminded him that I wrote up his “divorce papers” from my friend Linda when we were in fourth grade. He had no recollection of that.
Another classmate, Holly Frankfurt, has a Chihuahua as a service dog. He is trained to get her medication and recognize a TIA (commonly known as a mini-stroke) and get her assistance.
I was quite surprised that I only met one other writer. He works on devotional books and I think he does well. I brought my books to sell but no one bought one. A few people had read one of them. I gave one to a friend I hadn’t seen for many years.
The next day we met at Teaneck High School for a two-hour tour. The “castle on the hill” looked the same as in my day. About sixty of us were ushered into the library. The Deputy Mayor, an Orthodox Jew, welcomed us and told us a bit about the town today. The Mayor is Muslim and the other Deputy Mayor is African American. Talk about diversity!
The current principal, who’s been in the job for twenty years, spoke. He is a former football coach so when he said the school was still competitive with surrounding communities I wasn’t sure if he was referring to academics or athletics. He pronounced library “libery” and had nothing academic in his office. He had some relics of the high school’s history and many photos of students he’d coached. He said one day they heard a crash in the supply room and found a shelf had fallen. They discovered Miss Hill’s files. She was the principal during my tenure at Teaneck High. He said he read through the discipline files and shared them with his faculty after he redacted the names. That’s the premise of the full length play I wrote and plan on revising after this trip!
There were plaques in the auditorium vestibule to honor the students who died in World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnam War. One of my classmates, Alan Atarian died in Vietnam. There were also plaques to honor faculty who had died while at work at the school, including Linda’s grandmother, Helen Russell, our nurse.
Student “ambassadors” conducted the tours. They were sweet and looked at us blankly when we asked about violence and gangs. They said there weren’t any in the school. The inside of the school was bright and cheerful with many photos of students on the walls. I’m sure the lockers have been replaced at least once in the last fifty years. The school is huge and the current students reported that they, too, had to run to make it in five minutes to their next class. They pointed out the gender-neutral bathrooms like it wasn’t any big deal.
After the tour, I went to Bishoff’s with two of my elementary school friends, David Haxwell and Danny Davis. We rehashed the old days and shared our life stories. We all went into education, so we told many funny stories. I’m so glad to see my old friends happily retired. The small ice cream sundae was too large for me and the homemade double chocolate ice cream tasted okay but not stupendous.
David Hawxwell and me
I went back to the hotel and dressed for the dinner dance. Since the dress I’d chosen was very low-cut, I wore a scarf that covered my cleavage. I walked around in the new patent leather low heels I’d bought for $14 at Last Chance. They seemed okay. (I took them off after only an hour and my feet were screaming at me and threatening to sue for pain and suffering.
Alan Weissman (no relation,) Judy Chromow, and me
At the check-in desk, I got my name tag with my high school photo. Judy Chromow was helping so she can put a reunion on for her class next year. I’m sorry I didn’t make more of an effort to talk with her. Our mothers were best friends in their later years.
I was nervous so I bought two drink tickets for drinks. I got a glass of red wine and immediately lost the other ticket. I wasn’t nervous about going as a single person to the reunion. I figured many of my classmates wouldn’t bring their spouses. How boring for them! I was nervous about whether I would recognize people or remember what others did from our high school experiences.
I did see people with whom I had strong bonds in school. I wondered why we didn’t stay in touch. I guess we all went on with the next stage of life, college, and didn’t look back.
Wendie Eisen has managed to be as enthusiastic a person as she was fifty years ago. She brings a breath of fresh air wherever she goes.
And I apologized to Susan Silber for writing something snarky in her yearbook. She truly didn’t remember it, for which I’m grateful. Except I’m sure she’ll look it up as soon as she finds her yearbook.
One of my elementary school buddies, Stanley Leibowitz, is a roller skating dancer. He and his wife complete nationally and internationally. I was amazed because the last time I donned roller skates was in 2979 and I fell backwards on my driveway and knocked myself out.
There was a preponderance of lawyers. And most people had stayed in the northeast, many in New Jersey, although there was a large contingent from Florida.
There was a board of names of those classmates who had died. The directory listed about sixty but the board had about eighty.
I was ecstatic to see Andy Kosloff. He and I were buddies throughout high school. We’d seen each other a few times during our freshman and sophomore years of college, but didn’t after that. He couldn’t explain it and neither could I. He said he had college roommates who lived in New York and he got together with them over the summers. I remembered that I wasn’t even in Teaneck after I finished my sophomore year because I waitressed out in the Hamptons. Although most of the people at the looked appropriately older, Andy didn’t. It made me wonder if there was a portrait of him somewhere that was aging. I waxed nostalgic on the days when I had many male friends. In high school and in college. Somehow after that, I never developed anymore and I didn’t hang on to the ones I had.
At dinner, I sat with Ellen Einhorn and heard a bit about her life with the circus, but I regret that we didn’t have an in-depth talk.
There was a professional photographer but I didn’t get my picture taken until a group of Bryant School posed.
There was great sixties’ music played by the DJ but I was too busy talking to dance. The food was quite good and the desserts to die for.
I was surprised at how many people who lived in the area did not chose to attend. Does this mean only the people who have had good lives came and that skewed my experience? You may have to zero in on the following photos to read the nametags o you’ll know who is who.
I went back to my room to ponder whether the experience was worth the more than one thousand dollars to make it happen. For one thing, it will be easier to rewrite my play. And these past few days makes me more hopeful about the future as I age.
Thanks to Beryl Goldbaum Tobin and her hardworking committee to put this reunion together.