40 years

So here we are, summer winding down on the Front Range, cone flowers peaked,

 
wildflowers in the mountains a memory, and I’m coming to our 40-year Arapahoe High School reunion. Back then we’d come off a state championship in football in 1970. Unfortunately, we were far from state in the ’71 season—don’t I know. The summer of ’72 cruised in. Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals at the summer Olympics. Then he was asked to leave the Olympics early because he was Jewish, after our first big taste of terrorism, the Munich massacre, overshadowed the games with Israeli athletes kidnapped. It only took thirty-six years for Michael Phelps to beat that record. I got fat, got white hair, my football knee doesn’t bend, and my ear hairs are out of control. Okay, not quite that bad, though it feels that way at times.

In 1972 we worried about a scholarship to college, or would we get drafted to Vietnam. Some already had a scholarship: football to Colorado University or Colorado State University; academic to Notre Dame. Some knew they would not graduate from high school. But the rest of our lives would be on us soon. We had to make plans.

What has happened to the rest of your life? Do you want to share that with others? This reunion is a way of reconnecting, completing at least one circle of life. Funny how things come around. I remember a guy, who I fist-fought in grade school, then later he was a friend and a revered teammate in high school basketball. He passed the ball to me; I passed the ball to him. Maybe I’ll see him.

Do you remember your concerns in high school? Who would go to prom with? Would your zits ever go away? Would you pass the course in history? How could you ever finish that English term paper before the end of the week?

Times were different. I took the bus to school or walked a mile through the cemetery unconcerned that a madman would hijack the bus or a pervert would kidnap me. I could even take in the latest movie, The Godfather, or Jeremiah Johnson, and not worry that a guy dressed as a mobster would come in the theater and open up with his tommy gun.

Did you need thick leather gloves to come to grips with your life then; maybe now; or the in between spots? Can you remember? Do you care to? I have a medical school classmate who does not even know his son, and will soon die of Alzheimer’s. Remembering can be a good thing.

I knew a girl in junior high, but only tangentially as the pretty locker partner of my girlfriend. In high school I dated that pretty locker partner. Then, she became my locker partner for life, my wife. We’ve been married for 36 years, had children and now a grandson. My grandson will not likely go to Arapaho High School, but, if I live another thirteen years, I will reconnect with high school ways, through him. I will see him grow through things I did, or didn’t. I hope to have more time with my grandson than with my own children. I was too busy to really enjoy their high school experience. Friends, work, make money, all those things vacuumed my time away forever.

Now we have different worries. Will the fracking going on in what used to be a free space behind my house contaminate the best-tasting water in the world? Will my daughter ever be able to buy a home since the average price of homes has gone up ten times—$27,500 in1972 to $275,000 now—and the average salary of a elementary teacher has only gone up four times from $12,200 to $50,000 a year. Will my grandson see the mountains as my son and I did when we camped in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Now beetle-kill trees, almost beautiful in the fall with their rust-colored hews offsetting the apple-green and yellow aspen, and what’s left of dark green pine trees, are ninety percent of the forest on the Western Slope. Here, just north of Fort Collins, the High Park Fire consumed over 25,000 acres, racing through beetle-killed trees and drought-crisp forests. Subsequent rains flooded the hillsides and turned the Poudre River black with soot, killed thousands of fish and destroyed entire mountains. Is there global warming?

High Park Fire made for beautiful sunsets.

What the heck am I going to do about those darn aspen trees coming up through my lawn?

But, hey, some things don’t change. We still have wars that take our children’s arm, or eye, or even worse, their mind so they can never enjoy the world in any form for the rest of their lives. Vietnam just changed names.

And, if my fourteen-year-old Labrador retriever poops in the house again . . .

Awh. Look at that face! She won’t do it again. Honest.

So, I’m going to the reunion to escape the current worries, have a great meal, get drunk and . . . okay, not really. I want to reconnect to a time of less intensity, when you had time to think without a tweet or cellphone bleep interrupting your thoughts. Or, maybe I want to at least put those times in perspective. They were different, and in some ways much more joyful, easier, simpler. Though, at the time, those pimples and getting that certain girl to notice me seemed pretty damn serious. For God’s sake I might have never had a family. I could have been a lonely bachelor and lived as a hermit in a time machine like Dr. Who. Hmm.

I’d like to see you, talk with you, find out where your life has gone, what has happened with you, discuss and laugh at the old times and perhaps share your current hopes and dreams over a pint of Easy Street beer, or a wee dram of Glen Morangie Scotch, or maybe just a Diet Coke. All these things are what make life interesting and what make us human beings. Our social nature cannot be denied. We learn lessons from others, and who knows, others might learn from us. The collective will grow.

So give in. Have fun. Reconnect.

The summer of our life, just like the cone flowers, will eventually wilt and turn brown; the stems weaken, the petals fall. At the 50-year reunion things will look much different, if I’m even around. I might be sucking Ensure through a straw wondering when the next morphine dose will come.

But for now, the flowers are still blooming and my grandson is a joy.

I hope you have joy. I also hope to see you at the reunion.

 

Milt Mays

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