Or Can You?
When I was in grade school, my classmates and I watched one afternoon as a small horde of fragile-seeming former students creaked their way into our elementary school and down to the cafeteria. Most had canes as I recall. All had white hair and wrinkles. Oh the wrinkles: I could see them from the staircase.
“They’re going to their 50th reunion,” our teacher told us. It was then I decided that 50 years must be a really long time. Those people must be really old. I did the math. They were more than SIXTY. Oh my!
But those of us thinking about, going to, or remembering our fiftieth reunion — whether of grade school, high school, or college — aren’t so old. Not anymore. Times have changed. So has our health. So has our attitude towards our health.
Wrinkles are in. We’ve earned every one. We don’t use a cane, unless we’re getting used to our new bionic hip or knee. We don’t necessarily even have white hair.
Heck, many of us sport our new Fitbit on our wrist.
The adage that “old” is relative is not news to us.
What is news, at least to me, is how I have been drawn to looking back, seeking what was once so familiar, comparing my past to my present. Have you found that too? It’s fairly recent for me. Maybe the past year or two.
And each time I do, I’m struck by how different everything is. How much smaller things seem. How much busier, faster, more complicated. And oh, those trees!! — those that are still here.
This past weekend saw the 50th anniversary of my first college graduation — an associates degree in “pre-nursing” from The King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, New York. And, for my brother Gary, whom you met last summer in He’s My Brother, it was the 30th. Same college. Different majors.
Sometime over the winter, we decided we’d go back together, relive the memories as best we could. I knew the college had moved years ago. I knew there was no formal reunion planned. That was OK. I just wanted to walk the land.
It wasn’t to be.
From the police car stationed by the Do Not Enter: Construction sign, to the policeman sitting inside it who couldn’t have cared less that I had driven so far to simply do a little reminiscing, our walk down memory lane didn’t look good.
Fortunately Gary, who had spent more years there than I, and more recently, knew the back roads. Here’s where those roads brought us.
Thomas Wolfe famously said we can’t go home again.
Knowing this, I’d been curious how I’d feel being back in Briarcliff Manor. I knew I’d changed; the college had too. The buildings had been razed in the early 2000s. There was no formal reunion planned. I’d not even heard from the college for over forty years. I wasn’t going back to see former classmates.
But we could walk the grounds, stand on the same spots, I thought. Reminisce.
I would show Gary where I’d made out (with what’s his name?) under the tree by the famous outdoor pool — at one time the world’s largest outdoor pool, swum in by none other than Johnny Weissmuller himself (the original Tarzan, fyi).
I’d show him where I had parked my car that never started in the cold morning — on the top of the hill so I could pop the clutch as I coasted down to my part time job at the nearby IMB. I was the only sophomore to be allowed to park in the seniors’ area.
And, I wanted to climb those rickety wooden steps that led nearly straight up from the chapel/gym below, near the pool, up to the Lodge — if they were still there. If not, what were they replaced with?
See that hill there? It was steeper fifty years ago, but that’s the one I’d wanted to climb again.
Again, a chain link fence prevented us from getting closer.
Gary had lived off campus during his later student days.
So, off we went to Lyndhurst, in Tarrytown, where we took selfies. Of course.
That’s Lyndhurst castle in the background. That’s not where Gary lived, mind you, but it was attached to the aqueduct, also a fixture in my memory as I once rode horses on that aqueduct — another story for another time.
Do you know about the aqueduct? It’s the huge pipe that has brought Manhattan’s water from the Catskills and a few Delaware River tributaries, mostly through gravity, since before the Civil War. It now services all five boroughs and is maintained by the city with annual inspections. There have been no interruptions of service.
See, old really is relative. It’s still good, useful, purposeful. And oh, so serene.
But I digress. We were walking the aqueduct so we could get to Shadowbrook — where Gary had lived in the carriage house or the servants quarters or, given his love of music, the music room. It was the home at the time of jazz legend Stan Getz and his wife. Again, another story for another time.
I got 6,107 steps in that day, says my Fitbit.
Enough touring. We went for lunch at the railway station in nearby Chappaqua — the scene of another memory, which I’ll keep to myself, thank you.
The entire building had stood vacant for years after the Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt in the 1970s. Fortunately for me, it had been renovated during the ’80s with the dark wood panelling I remembered, though the configuration was “all wrong.” Still, the food was great.
And isn’t that really the trick? While you can’t go home again, you can go back — to enjoy what is there now.
And enjoy I did, especially the next day when we all (with Gary’s husband Carlos) went into the City where I walked 18,816 steps, says my Fitbit.
Memories of my years at King’s grow dimmer each time I dredge them up. In a way, I know that even if the campus had been the same, I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have seen it in the same way because I’m so different.
The life I have TODAY, even with the saga of our ongoing disaster, which you’ll read about later this month, is what is foremost on my mind. My Here, my Now, is what I cherish — even when it sucks.
As I celebrate this reality, I also celebrate my new Fitbit. It tells me I walked 9,650 steps today and 9,234 yesterday, yet my hips don’t hurt, my back hasn’t spasmed, and my plantar fasciitis has truly gone away. THAT is cause for celebration.
How about you? What are you celebrating these days?