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Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
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Ruth: A 50th high school reunion brings perspective

Time is a funny thing. It has a way of creeping on you like little crow’s feet. And it can melt away at the same time.

Fifty years. It was in June 1968 that I graduated from St. Vincent High School in Akron, just a bit removed from the institution’s most famous alum, the NBA’s LeBron James.

A reunion was in order.

And so last weekend about 60 of us got together to reminisce and look back over the past half century of our lives. It was also an opportunity to return to my hometown after decades of staying away.

Fifty years ago, we were the ones sitting in church getting our diplomas and enduring the obligatory speeches about how we were the future, to reach for the stars and yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

Now the future has come and gone. At least some of us are still around to have had a future.

When I was growing up, Akron was still very much an industrial city. I used to joke that for the first 18 years of my life I assumed air smelled like a Goodyear polyglass tire. The odor of burning rubber wafted across town. It was inescapable. It was also the perfume of money.

Then Akron hit hard times. Tires are now made elsewhere, and the city struggled to find a new identity. And it has. Akron has become a sort of mini-financial hub. Craft breweries are everywhere, a sure sign of something.

And in the middle of downtown a lovely stadium is home to the Rubber Ducks, a minor league baseball team.

I gave the Bombshell of the Balkans a tour. The familiar site where my grandmother and Uncle Claude ran a family business, Horning Lumber, is long gone, replaced by a large home improvement complex. But the original office building my Nana and uncle worked in is still there.

So, too, is my late father’s office building, long abandoned and seemingly now a haven for the homeless. He died in 1977. But his business sign still survives — Associated Products Since 1960.

On Orlando Avenue, we stopped by the house I lived in as a child. The owner graciously invited me inside. Memories. The staircase where I anxiously peeked around to see what Santa had brought. A closet in the back of the house where I tried (and failed) to hide my dismal F and D-laden report cards. The stove where I cracked my head open as a 6-year-old while dancing about in my slippery Dr. Dentons.

There is an odd chemistry to reunions. We are all pushing 70. We’re all on Medicare and collecting Social Security. The word "prostate" cropped up more than once.

Even though it had been 50 years since many of us had been together, it was as if five decades evaporated. For two days, we were 18 again, sharing recollections of sports glory, school plays, stupid jokes and nicknames that will not be revealed here.

Awkward events were recalled, including the almost-not-to-graduate senior who, due to a case of unfortunate aim, dropped a water balloon on a nun’s head. She was not amused.

There have been triumphs and tragedies, families in crisis, setbacks and joys. Children and grandchildren. And there are those who never made it, who died way too young.

Some of us couldn’t wait to escape Akron, who saw a life there as being stuck on a treadmill of overcast sameness, who wanted to explore other worlds and other opportunities. There had to be a better plan.

I’ve never regretted leaving Akron. Tampa and Chicago, where I have spent much of my adult life, have been very good to me.

But perhaps it has taken 50 years to also admit that there are far worse places to call home than Akron, Ohio, especially if we judge a city by the people with whom we shared a vital chapter of our childhood.

Most of my classmates stayed in Akron. A good number of them married almost right after high school and are still together. They raised their children together, provided support to one another in moments of grief, attended the same churches and still socialize together. They are the success stories of the class of ’68.

On the last night we took group pictures and relived some of our finer and not so finer moments. There were hugs. Copious amounts of adult beverages were consumed. It’s Akron, a drinking town.

You can’t hold back time. It is possible the 50th reunion will be our last.

I already miss these people, my classmates.

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