Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Goodnight, Janet Philhower

On the very left of the front row, stands Janet Philhower in our official eighth grade photograph.Next to her is Joyce Roesing, the most beautiful girl I ever knew through my first 8 years of school.Next to Joyce is Marion Smith, with whom I was madly in love as a fifth grader.I’m to the far right of the second row, looking goofy, with a big wave of hair gooed in place.There are so many kids in this picture with whom I wish I had stayed in touch. I adored so many ofthese girls and would have happily fallen in love with almost any of them; yet most of themterrified me so that I barely spoke to them. Now, on a winter’s evening, I’d build a big fire, put outa few bottles of wonderful wine and sit talking to them until the sun rose in the eastern sky.

I said goodbye 50 years ago and should get
kicked in the ass for the way I ignored her!
by Charlie Leck

This fifty-years reunion crap is tough! For those of you who’ve gone through it, I congratulate you for making it and, if you enjoyed it, I congratulate you for taking pleasure from it also. My two, older brothers go on and on about their reunions. They had a wonderful time. They probably didn’t have to do any of the organizing work. It’s kind of eating me alive. I’m going to help the organizing committee put together a reunion booklet and, so, I get some current photographs and little notices about my classmates. There are some laughs and warming smiles all right; but there are an awful lot of gasps and sorrowful moans, too.

The email tells me he is gone – passed on – no longer with us – dead!

“Really? Shit! Whitey?”

Other kids are probably not as emotional as I am, I guess, but a tear runs down my cheek and drops on my fingers as they play across the keyboard.

It shouldn’t have any effect, you know. I made no attempt to see him in the last five decades. I’ve only thought about him the few times I’ve picked up the yearbook and browsed through it, seeing the words he scrawled by his photograph. Yet, here’s how it is with all this. You haven’t seen him grow old. You remember him as he looked standing by his locker in the hallway with two or three silly, sophomoric girls panting at him and hanging on his every word as if he was the Dali Lama. Up here in this remarkable organ that contains more memories than I could ever jam into this massive computer that, off to my right, purrs softly in the early morning, I remember a guy who can’t possibly be among the twinkling stars.

So, too, has Frank McMullen made the glorious journey and I shake my head at the utter impossibility of it. He got that chemistry stuff so easily and he tried to drag me along with him, coaxing me to try harder and promising me that it would just, in one surprising moment, become so clear and simple. It never did! Yet, I remember his promise like it was yesterday. There are too many of them among the stars to scroll their names out here – too many memories that will choke me unmercifully!

As my eyes fly down the list, provided by a sympathetic staff at the current school, I stop on the name of Janet Philhower.

“Don’t pretend,” I tell myself. “Don’t mock her memory by shedding a tear.”

Yet, I do.

“For Christ’s sake, man, I’ve known her since I first wore long pants. She was a goofy girl who looked on with lonely eyes when all the other kids chose up sides for a game of kick-ball. She went to the corner of the rec-room in the church basement and watched forlornly from a distance as the rest of us laughed over the ping-pong and pool tables, or banged out nothing on the old, upright piano.”

Everything about her was good and sweet, but she was just one of those kids who couldn’t seem to let loose and join in, so we left her out.

Janet, out there among the stars, can you hear me? I wish I’d waved a hand to you and beckoned you in. I wish I’d gently slapped your back and been kinder to you. But, what does a young, shitty kid or dumb teenager know about friendship and thoughtfulness? You are there in the photos I’ve been looking at recently, from days even before we first entered Chester Public School. I walked up the little hill, along Main Street, with you plenty of times. Hardly a word passed between us because I was a stumbling, bumbling idiot – and not because you weren’t a special and good and lovely kid. Can you hear me, Janet Philhower? I think you were sweet and pretty and great to be with – and I was wrong to ignore you as I did.

There, I said it. I’ll go back to bed now and rise only when the light has broken through the dark night. I take one last, long glance out among the stars and I think I see you there, twinkling at me. Good night, Janet Philhower!


  1. Comment from Jennifer Miles: For me, it's Margaret Hall - Page Elementary School. I have no idea what became of her, but she was smart and kind and I treated her badly. I think about her often. I'm sorry, Margaret, for the way I treated you. I should have reached out to you as you did to me.

  2. It's probably not good to whip ourselves now for the transgression of silly children. Perhaps we should have known better, but we didn't.

  3. Hi Charlie
    I remember Janet (one of the two Janets) - from school and from church - as you describe, she seemed to be on the periphery - yet always a warm and friendly presence
    It is so strange to see the names of those classmates who are "deceased", when my last memory of them was graduation day or our senior class trip
    I have just discovered your blog courtesy of Marion Smith and will be sure to visit again
    Andrea (Gunnarson Hunt Chodin)

  4. Glad you visited, dear, unforgetable Andrea. Do, do, do come again. Enjoy the dickens out of the reunion. Wish I could be there.