Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Band of Brothers

We interrupt this life to go back to college. It's not the old dream of having to complete History (not having shown up in class for years) so I can finally graduate. I graduated. I'm sure of it. It says so on my resumé. It's because it's a big round number since I graduated. 40 years. And when that happens, it's customary to go back. Why? You'll see why when you get there. So I did, and I did.

It wasn't so much because of the place. Colgate University, picked out of the College Boards catalog, was nice enough to accept me, so I returned the favor, and found myself in this beautiful campus in a remote valley in upstate New York, having spent the previous five years among the roadrunners and chaparral in El Paso, Texas. Colgate seemed a bit like Hogwarts, minus the owls and robes. I didn't love it. But I gained a sympathy with the old granite institution. Enough that there was a class or two; a teacher or two; a gold and blue day in October; and political and cultural events that dragged the 19th-century graybeard protesting into the late 20th.

A bigger reason to go back was history, which that "I never graduated" dream was probably getting at. The history of going from age 18 to 21. Also the zeitgeist: From "Snoopy and the Red Baron" to The Doors. We changed, at least a little. It's not like we discovered who we were and what our life's path would be, although some of us may well have. But we definitely fledged, like those red-tailed hawks I was writing about last week. (In my case, I fledged enough so I could drop out of graduate school, move to Boston, work in a warehouse, hitchhike around the West, hop a freight train, get arrested for drunk and disorderly in Ann Arbor, and end up as writer-in-residence in Philips Exeter, all in 1971.)

The real reason to go back (naturally) was the we. The guys. Not that I'd been totally out of the loop. I've stayed in touch with maybe a dozen classmates over the years, first by letter and visit, then email, occasional phone calls, and a once-every-few-years dinner. But there's a difference between being in touch out in the world and going back to the scene of the crime. Maybe passing sixty creates a bigger gap that it's easier to bridge if you get back to where you were 21 together the first time. And if you do so with enough people, a quorum, who will always be as young and as old as you are, so the age ceases to be relevant and the evidence of it soon disappears into the familiar.

There were lots of events spread over three days. Several were edifying presentations involving guys from our class. That was a different kind of revelation, which I already knew: the class of 1970 includes extraordinary people, some downright famous.

The more elusive revelation was the degree to which we all matter to each other, still. You don't fully appreciate that until after several days of talking and listening, eating and drinking, remembering and advising, comparing and reassuring, being a little 21, a lot 61, and variously in between. Some of this evolved in the class tent; some at the class banquet; and for many of us, at what came to be called the White Eagle Nightowl Drinking Club and Debate Society (see above, courtesy of Rick Clogher). It's true that this is bound to be the payoff for a self-selecting group of returnees. But this reunion felt different from others I've been to. More necessary.

On the post for February 4, I proposed that two days of the year—2/4 and 6/8—be enshrined as Who Do We Appreciate? Day. 2/4 offered a variety of strangers on the subway, my dental hygienist, and Garrison Keillor, among others. For 6/8, I drink another toast—Irish Breakfast tea will have to do—to the band of brothers and their significant others. In appreciation—the still alive and kicking kind. Looking forward to gathering again.


  1. I, for one, appreciate Hal, aka Old Hatch, and these musings, observations, reflections... a nice way to slide into the day. Ray

  2. Hal,
    I've been remiss in visiting the blog. So nice to stop by and catch this post. I promise to miss being remiss.