Just like we used to do

We shall walk again down along the lane
Down the avenue just like we used to do
With our heads so high smile at the passers by
Then we’ll softly sigh…

Everyone, Van Morrison

This past summer, I had one of the very happiest experiences of my adult life. It confirmed once again that – for myself – along with love and discovery, one of the  paramount joys of living is reunion — meeting friends and loved ones after being separated by time and space.

In August, more than twenty people gathered in Missoula, MT, who were friends at Hellgate High School between 1978 and 1982. One person came who went to Sentinel High. Most but not all of us had worked on the staff of the school newspaper, the Lance. We came from Portland, Seattle, Tucson, Oakland, DC, New York, Juneau and Saudi Arabia. Many of us had not seen each other in over thirty years.

We honored our journalism teacher and Lance advisor, Wayne Seitz, who recently retired. For many of us he was the best, or certainly one of very best teachers we had.

We strolled the streets of Missoula, visited some old hang-outs, and recalled some that are now gone or changed. I remembered skim-boarding the Clark Fork, hiking up Mt. Sentinel to the M, playing pinball and Space Defenders in the University Commons, parties until 2 am, all-night Risk games, putting the Lance “to bed,” walking and driving the eerie, ash-covered town on the night of May 18, 1980, cycling up Pattee Canyon, cresting Strawberry Ridge and looking down on Missoula with its Dome of Smog created by temperature inversion; standing in the warm summer rain, knowing the sun would be out to dry us in a few minutes.

I was struck by how deeply affected I was by living less than three of my 49 years here. I reflected how fortunate I had been, recalling my friends, a few now gone from this world, the cast of characters we saw every day at school, the truly wonderful teachers I had (and a few awful ones), and the best and the worst of being a teenager in what I still regard as a pretty awesome town.

We walked the halls of Hellgate, which were remarkably unchanged. A friend and I got the custodian (also a classmate) to let us into the room that was the Lance office back in the day, and into the old journalism class room.

A few of us went to the Western Montana State fair, and found it just about exactly as it was in the late 70s.

We did a lot of reminiscing, and told a few secrets. I was fascinated to see how we had changed, and how we were the same. Most delightful of all was the proof that no matter how much we may change and grow, our personalities are essentially the same. This reunion came after  doing a lot of blogging, yet to be published, about my teen years. I wondered if I would look back on them differently after seeing the people I spent them with. I think so, but I’m not yet sure how. But seeing them and hearing their voices does make the old times seem fresher in my mind.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I am one of those who consider high school the high point of my life and it’s all been down hill since. That was not in the least true of me, nor do I think it could be said of my friends. It was pretty rough going for a lot of us, and some have few fond memories. But as always, it’s the friends you remember, and who matter.

When I was 16, and I was getting ready to go to a party with my friends, I would get rather excited about it. There was hardly a thing in the world I looked forward to more than spending an evening with these people. And for a few days last summer, I felt the same way. It foretells to me of a day when I am reunited with those I have lost to death: the ultimate reunion. It’s a little taste of the joy to come.

I could hardly contain the joy I felt at seeing and talking to these old friends, some of them very dear to me. In four days I drove the majority of 1200 miles, only slept about 17 hours, yet felt like Iron Man. I probably seemed a little giddy, but not as much as I felt. What a gift it was to have them come together. Thank you, friends.

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