Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Going Home Again

     Lois Flatt and Dick Brown (Roxbury H.S., class of 1958)
     cut a rug at our 2013 reunion.

Can one go home again? Thomas Wolfe says “no” in the title of his 1940 novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. As for me, I’m not so sure.
by Charlie Leck

If I had to put a chapter title on the last 5 days of my life it would be: Going Home Again!

It started with a Thursday night performance of A Trip to Bountiful* at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in Manhattan that starred Cicely Tyson. I don’t mean this to be a review, but I give the play lots of stars and Ms. Tyson all the acclaim I can muster.

Tyson was marvelous – marvelous! She received a standing ovation during the curtain call. The Horton Foote play is quite extraordinary. It appears to be one of those “you can’t go home again” stories that disproves the thesis. Bountiful is our history, our homes, our memories (whether distorted or enlarged or not). Vanessa Williams co-starred and she was also splendid.

I was happy that Jeremy Cohen (of the Minneapolis Playwright Center) had recommended we see the play. Anne, my wife, and I saw it with our youngest child and her boyfriend. After the play, we heard a sad tale from that boyfriend about his grandma. The poor woman, sinking into dementia, had tried to return from her new home in the Bronx, where she lives with one of her daughters, to her former apartment that she obviously dearly missed. In the process, she got lost and confused and ended up in a hospital. The former apartment has long since been rented to someone else. It’s a complicated story and too personal for a blog, but our hearts bled for the poor young man and his grandma – and for his mother as well.

All of this happened while I was on a trip home again to my 55th high school class reunion – and to a little tour for my wife of the town in which I grew up and of the little store that my dad ran for that part of his life in which I played a role. The living area above the store was our home and I always feel strange yearnings and memories every time I see it. It (the store, the town, the school) is not me anymore, however, and I find no strength from visiting there. It does bring back a flood of memories, however, and I shared many of them with my dear, patient wife. She listened again to all tales I've previously told her. I’ve also written about so many of them here on this blog in the past.

I loved seeing so many of my old classmates even though I approached the gathering with both a degree of excitement and quite nervously. There were some old mates who could not be there and still others who have gone to the stars, to dwell in eternity, who I would also have dearly loved to see and with whom I would have loved to talk.

It was a wonderful time. Geez, I’m here to tell you, when I held and hugged and kissed a few of them, it was like it had been only a brief moment since we last touched and talked and laughed. I was stunned how, when I got focused, these school chums looked just as they should have looked and, oh, how I remembered their young faces as well.

I forgot how wonderful my high school class was – how many caring and deeply loving classmates I had at that high school in New Jersey.

I feel lonely this morning, thinking and writing about them. How much I would have liked our conversations to go on and on for a much longer time.

Roxbury High School, Succasunna, New Jersey
It was a wonderful place. I had some incredible teachers there who changed my life. I told one of my classmates that and he looked at me doubtfully. “Name two,” he said in a rather challenging way, testing me!

“Easy,” was my reply. “Mae Call is one. She taught English and drama and speech and debate. She taught me to read intelligently and virtually made me whatever I’ve become. Jean Haven is another. She taught me how to study and to love history and I carry a piece of her in my life even today. Esther Guerin is yet another. She didn’t give up on me even when I gave up on myself. She was so patient and she worked so hard to prove to me I could learn things I’d given up on.”

I could see in his eyes that I’d met his challenge. He nodded approvingly and reviewed a couple of his favorite teachers for me. In fact, I could have named several other teachers who also made a significant difference in my life.

Among the attendees were a couple of the first girls I ever loved. I never had the courage to date either of them or even to approach them about a date (they probably would have turned me down); but here, at this comfortable and friendly reunion, they were wonderfully affectionate and caring and, perhaps, even loving.

I’d gone successfully home and it was a wonderful trip. And now, here, in this home that is everything in the world to me – my castle on a hill, from which I rule over my quiet, gentle kingdom – I think of all those lovely and kind kids and feel renewed, young and hopeful inside. It was a wonderful trip, but I’m glad to be back here where I belong.


*A Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote, 18 July 2013, at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre (West 43rd Street, Times Square). The play starred Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vanessa Williams, with Tom Wopat and Adepero Oduye. It was directed by Michael Wilson. Miss Tyson won a 2013 Tony Award for her performance in this play. She also won a Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critic Circle Award.
Ms. Tyson has talked about a permanent retirement when this production closes.

     Nancy Wallace and Charlie Apostolic (Roxbury H.S., class of 1958)
     pose for me and my camera. I was always insanely nuts about Nancy
     but never had the courage or nerve to ask her out. Charlie I admired
     so very much and wish we had been better friends. I've tried to make
     up for it by getting to know him better now. We were in a couple of
     high school plays together and members of the drama club.

     Larry Morgan and Ronny Post (Roxbury H.S., class of 1958)
     pose for me and my camera. Ronny played on our high school
     baseball team with me and was a helluva player. We also played
     some semi-pro baseball together. Larry was a water guy and nuts
     about the big, beautiful lake near our school.

     Marion Smith and John Hopper (Roxbury H.S., class of 1958)
     were class leaders and dated in high school. They remain
     dear friends to each other and to many of their classmates.
     Marion lives in Georgia now and John in California.

     Valerie Chew was a beauty then and remains one now.

     Gene Kline has that same remarkable and devilish smile
     he had in high school. "A fun loving guy," our '58 yearbook
     said of him... "likes to chase girls!" Nothing has changed.

     At an afternoon picnic on July 20, some of those attending
     the reunion gathered along Horseshoe Lake (only 3 or 4
     miles from the old high school).

     That's me on the right, with my arm around Judy O'Brien, with
     whom I attended school from kindergarten through high school.
     With us is Paula, Gretchen and Julia.

     And that is I, on our way to the airport, in Chester and in front
     what was the old general store my father ran when I was but a
     wee boy.

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  1. Really great memories. Thanks!
    Jack Chase

  2. Thanks for adding a great deal to the reunion.

  3. Thanks for covering the event, for the very kind words, and perhaps most of all for being there. I'll expect to see you at the next one!
    --Charles Apostolik