Into Memory

June 30, 2005

A word of advice to the home-alone husband, on what not to say to his wife who has been on an aircraft or in one airport or another for eleven hours and has just called to say that her flight out of Chicago will be delayed another two hours: 

“Oh, by the way, the garbage disposal broke. I don’t really use it that much. I don’t think we need to replace it.”

I got back from my odyssey to Wyoming some time after midnight last night, but my body had finally adjusted to the time difference, and I felt as if it might only be ten or so. Of course that would be a 10:00 pm after a wearying day. I wasn’t so much ready to leave Wyoming as I was ready to be at home again, and I spent several hours reacclimating myself to my familiar surroundings. I reinstalled my computer in my study, found a box for all the picture packs and maps and brochures I’d picked up along the way, determining to create a scrapbook of my trip before I leave for Vermont in mid-August. It was past two when I went to bed, but I got up before seven when Lynn did.

So it was in an early morning more humid than I’ve been experiencing that I opened the newspaper and learned that the Class of ’65 of Bishop McDevitt High School would be burying its third member this month. (The other two had both had chronic illnesses. One died a few days before I left, the other I learned about while I was away.)

Thomas “Bubbles” Williams and I sat near each other in homeroom all four years of our high school life. He was a jolly, energetic kid who always had a smile and a good word even for me. I was shy and uncertain in those days (in a lot of ways I still am). A lot of people claim that they experienced high school as a living hell where their real selves were squashed by unimaginative teachers and their true personalities vitiated by the ridicule of the popular kids. I still say that high school saved my life, that it was the support and acceptance of my teachers and my peers that gave me what I was not getting elsewhere. Bubs was among those whose care of me remains a cherished memory.

Bubs became an elementary school teacher and worked for a long time in the city schools. My last memory of him is as master of ceremonies and general cheermonger at our reunion in 1980.

But that was twenty-five years ago. Had I seen him since then? I certainly hadn’t called him nor written to him nor invited him to any of my gala Christmas parties. Had his name come up in planning for last fall’s reunion extravaganza? Why was I so gripped by a sense of loss at opening the newspaper to discover that he’d left us much, much too soon?

I arrived at the funeral service with my head still back in Wyoming. I hadn’t fully recovered from the trip, and I felt as if I had one foot on a cool mountain slope above a rippling sea of grass in the Tetons and one in congested and steamy Harrisburg. I saw a lot of classmates. Bubbles had cancer, I heard. Someone remarked that she’d seen him a few months backed and he looked ghastly, a thin shell of his robust self. The pictures and memorabilia on display in the narthex showed me the Bubbles I remembered.

Bubs had never married, but he had nieces and nephews who seemed overcome at their loss. His father was there in a wheelchair. His mother was too infirm to come. This was the second adult child they were burying. That just shouldn’t happen.

Even though the burial was in the cemetery across the street from the church I didn’t go. It was just too hot and suddenly I felt too worn out. At home I got out the yearbook. “To Margy,” he’d written, “a real sweet girl. Remember homeroom and P.O.D.* and maybe me.”

My sweet classmate has passed into memory. I wish I’d paid more attention to him, told him that he was part of a past I value more the more I move away from it. My long-dreamed-of trip to Wyoming has passed into memory as well. I can’t stop to mourn either. Instead I move into the future, ready for the next big thing.

*P.O.D. = Problems of Democracy, the name in the 1960s for the state-mandated senior civics/citizenship class.

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