My wife Linda likes to say class reunions are like the last scene in “A League of Their Own.”
You may remember. The actress who played Dottie Hinson as an adult widow walks with trepidation into the baseball Hall of Fame, looking at the memorabilia from her time as a professional ballplayer during World War II, and peering into the eyes of the women with whom she’d played, hoping to recognize some. One-by-one, she meets up with those women from so long ago, and falls in with them.
This weekend was Linda’s 50th reunion at Saugus High. And there was a lot of that “League of Their Own” stuff going on at Kowloon Friday night. As the outsider in this equation, I sat and watched as waves of people came to our table and peered at Linda’s nametag. Then, their faces changed expressions, and they ended up chatting in happy recognition of each other.
And that’s how the night went.
As it happens, the day after the Class of 1969’s reunion, the school hosted “One Last Look,” a tour of the high school, which is slated to be razed next summer so that the new facility — which looms over the property like a skyscraper — can open.
There was more of the “League of Their Own” motif Saturday, too, not only with my wife’s class, but in general. The school opened in 1955, and anyone who ever attended was urged to go so they could see that homeroom one final time, or visit a lab, reminisce about games of donkey basketball in the gym, or maybe share one final laugh about a food fight in the cafeteria. It’ll be truly just a memory by this time next year.
Various classes decorated their designated rooms with relevant reminders of their year of graduation. For example, those from the Class of 1967 dressed up as hippies, hung love beads everywhere, and one woman sat behind a cardboard cutout of a “Big Yellow Taxi.” Marie (Inello) Adams from the class of ’69 proudly pointed out the giant poster of the moon landing that adorned the door of that classroom.
More than one Golden Sachem walked in and announced “I think this was where my homeroom was.” And one, perhaps with a hint of irony, said in mock surprise “did you know there was a library here? I never knew that.”
One of the interesting things about high school is that there is rarely any middle ground when it comes to how you look at those three, or four (depending on how your school system was structured), years. You either look back fondly or you view them more ambivalently. Opinion is generally split down the middle, depending, I suppose, on whether you were among the chosen few or the unchosen many.
“They are the best years of your life,” Adams said, “and when you’re going through them you don’t know it.”
Jo-Ann (Hatch) Venezia, while she doesn’t look back on her high school years as being torturous, offered a middle-of-the-road view.
“I had a lot of growth (in those years),” she said. “But I can’t say they were the best.”
Others, who perhaps hadn’t been back very often, or had seen the beautiful new schools being erected in areas that surround Saugus, weren’t really sure why there was a need to tear the place down.
“I wanted to know why they wanted to build a new school,” said Lucille MacLeod. “Then I came today. Now I know.”
In the early 1960s, after a spate of fires, junior high students had to go to the high school, and there were split sessions. Robyn Berry, in the seventh grade at the time, remembers vividly where she was on perhaps the Baby Boom generation’s defining historic moment.
“I was in the mechanical drawing room, and it came over that President Kennedy had been killed. I just remember looking up at the clock, for some reason. I was profoundly shocked.”
As of next year, Saugus will join communities such as Lynn, Marblehead, Swampscott, Beverly, Everett, Chelsea and so many others that have state-of-the-art schools. In this case, it’ll be a combined high school/middle school.
Selectwoman Debra Panetta did not graduate from Saugus High. She grew up in Malden. But she’s spent so much time in her public life advocating for a new school, both as a school committee member and now, as a selectwoman, that she feels a pull. Her children graduated from the school.
“Seeing the building going up, and knowing this is coming down, it feels kind of weird,” Panetta said Saturday. “It’s definitely been a long time.”
When we were going through the school Saturday morning, the place was mobbed. It was no less crowded later in the day, according to those who attended. And it just proves that whether they were the “Glory Days” of Bruce Springsteen fame or something much less than that, all of us feel the need now and then to take a step back in time and revisit our youth.