Old Friends

Miss Anderson’s first graders, 1941                     

One September morning when I was five years old, my mother pinned my name to my sweater and sent me down the long driveway with neighbor and “big sister” Marcella to wait for the school bus. I was so excited I couldn’t stop trembling.

What a day of firsts! My first bus ride. My first day in the big brick building that would be my second home for the next seven years. My first time to sit still for long periods of time until given permission to move. My first teacher. My first time to face more than forty little people my own age, some of whom, though I didn’t yet know it, would become lifelong friends.

Kids who lived in town shared not only school experiences but also out-of-school life as well. They grew up knowing everybody in town and all their stories. Bus kids like me missed out on small-town life, but after-school activities and sleep-overs with friends helped to fill in the gaps.

Because our school was small, our class moved in lockstep through the academic offerings until high school gave us a few electives. Boys and girls took separate physical education classes. Most boys took wood shop. Most girls signed up for home economics, although the good smells of cooking brought the boys clustering around the home ec door in hopes of handouts. We all went to the after-school ball games to cheer for our team, the Tigers.

Our twelve years as classmates flew by. Of the forty or so children who began first grade together, some moved away or dropped out. Others joined us later. Twenty-four of us made it to graduation together.

Then we scattered to follow different paths…some to jobs, some to marry and start families, some to military service, some to college. Many continued the friendships forged in school, although some of us reconnected only at high school reunions.

Now we are all in our seventies. Seven or eight years ago, Nancy retired from her paying job and decided it was time to do what she’d thought about for years. She began calling classmates, suggesting that those who lived nearby get together for lunch. Since then we have met on the 2nd Thursday of every other month for lunch. Spouses come too, as well as a few friends from other classes.

Death has claimed a few of us. At classmate Dick’s funeral last year, we came as a group to say goodbye. We’ve encouraged each other through illness and loss of family members. We ask after each other’s children. We tell stories of our lives. Of course we reminisce about our shared memories.

Some classmates travel elsewhere in the winter but come back to join us in the summer. Others live far away, but occasionally return to touch base. At our last luncheon, seventeen people came.  Of those, eleven of us had started first grade together back in 1941. Sixty-nine years, and we’re still enjoying each other’s company.

Sarri Gilman was talking about Baby Boomers on Facebook in a recent column in The Herald, but what she said is worth remembering, no matter what our age: “…if you do open yourself, you will find that restoring some of these very old friends from the past can be enriching. By the time you get to 50, life has leveled the field. Everyone has had enough reality to realize we are all tender beings, and life is short.”

There’s a lot of truth in the adage, “Old friends are the best friends.”

Classmates at 55th reunion, 2009

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