17 January 2012

Forever Young with High School Classmates

The young who may stumble upon this article, make no mistake! What you read hereafter will happen to you! It is this natural phenomenon which those who have gotten to my age laughingly refer to as ‘senior moments.’ Not that I am officially enrolled in the society because I am still seven years short of the required age…

But I have jumped the gun again…

I met up with classmates from my senior high school class the other day, something I had not really done for some time. The term ‘some time’ here is relative; and probably means a few decades. I occasionally met up with two or three of my closest high school friends down the years; but the others I just sort of bumped into once in a while here, there and everywhere.

Things are a little different for contemporary high school students, we all agreed. They are networked – i.e. in social media – even before they graduate and say their goodbyes to one another. Staying in touch will be easier for them.

We, on the other hand, graduated way back in 1975. That is almost 37 years ago. To put things in perspective, personal computers were only just starting to make an appearance in the American market. Most of these were large ugly household appliances that had intimidating dark screens. To operate these, one needed to memorize a plethora of text instructions. Social media would not make an appearance until decades later.

In other words, while we loosely kept in touch with some of our high school classmates, there were those who we completely lost contact with. That was why, standing in front of a blurred high school picture that our host thoughtfully had printed on a tarpaulin, we looked and sounded like participants of a game show called ‘Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?’

“Where is Vergel?” somebody wanted to know. “There is Vergel,” I pointed. No, that’s somebody else, was the reply. It was Vergel though; I was sure from my Facebook albums.

Some classmates we identified quickly. Others were not as easy. “There’s Arnaldo Garcia,” somebody pointed at a classmate in the picture. “Who is Arnaldo Garcia?” I wanted to know. I had this feeling that I knew the name; ditto the person. At the moment, though, the processor was failing.

Yet, when Arnaldo Garcia joined us an hour later, arriving as he did with another classmate who I had not seen in decades, I immediately knew that it was him. I will never cease to be amazed by how memory works. I could not even remember him an hour earlier. The sight of him, however – eye bags and slight wrinkles and all – triggered instant recognition.

We almost solved a puzzle that had caused a lengthy discussion on Facebook: why some of our classmates were caught in Laguna on the day Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. Some, in our Facebook discussion, remembered being with the group. I and a few others have no recollection of the incident.

Somebody volunteered that the field trip was the second of two Biology field trips for the year; following as it did our disastrous Puerto Galera marine ecosystem trip. A lull in the discussion seemed to suggest that all considered the explanation very plausible. I did, too; except that something did not quite seem right with the dates.

Martial Law was declared September of 1972. When we had Biology, we were high school juniors of the schoolyear 1973-1974. What that trip was when Martial Law was declared, therefore, remains a still-to-be-solved puzzle. Not that I can even help because I have absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever.

Remembering our colourful Biology teacher Sir Cris, all I needed to do was to prompt everyone around the table with “kasalanan ng isa…” Everyone finished the line in chorus, “kasalanan ng lahat!!!”

What about this Speech substitute who everyone unflatteringly called Bankay-lista because of his dark eye bags and who once flew into a rage and hurled his Speech manual across the classroom? Or the tomato plants that mysteriously moved to the next plot on the day the Agriculture teacher was due to make an inspection? Or the Religion teacher who flew into a rage and said he wanted to murder us, the complete story of which I told in the article The Our Father?

We all laughed when talk became raunchy; but the one who cracked the green joke sheepishly said that he could only joke as such because our two classmates who are in the priesthood were not around. On the contrary, I laughingly told him, those two lose their priesthood when in the company of classmates!

Looking around the table, I could not help but be proud of my own classmates. One was a successful local doctor; the next a Metro Manila-based endocrinologist; and yet another a teaching doctor in an American medical school. There were two successful businessmen; a proprietor of a multimillion peso electrical engineering company; and a successful DPWH engineer. The Brothers – or, at least, those of our generation – did a good job with us.

Walking away from the get-together after talking and laughing for all of five hours, I could not help but think to myself that memories, after all, do not really get erased. They just get buried underneath a landslide of more memories as we get on with our lives. All it takes is a trigger – a name, a face, the mention of an incident – to bring everything all back. Well, probably not everything; but flashes of having been there, of having been young once.

When you meet with classmates after decades of not having seen them, the memories instantly rush back in a flood. In our case, we became high school boys all over again.

Perhaps, in our respective workplaces, each of us around the table put on staid and respectable faces particularly when meeting with younger co-workers. Amongst ourselves, though, the staid faces were shed, replaced by our laughing, joking and youthful personalities. Our true personalities, as a matter of fact; and if there is one thing that a reunion with high school classmates can bring, it is the realization that inside, everyone in fact stays forever young.





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