Thirty years just passed in a heartbeat

By David Fong TDN Columnist

The six of us stood just inside the door of St. Patrick Elementary School last Saturday, shifting nervously as we awaited the arrival of the rest of our group.

We glanced around furtively, occassionally making perfunctory small talk … asking one another the sorts of questions you ask someone you haven’t seen in 30 years.

Where do you live now? Are you married? Do you have any kids? How are your parents?

All the while, what lay in wait at the top of the staircase seemed to calling out to us, begging us to ascend her steps as we had done thousands of times before so many years before … a lifetime ago, really. Slowly, we began making our way up the staircase — and back in time.

As we reached the top and began looking up and down the hallways, it was a full-on assault on the senses as all the memories of our time spent inside the tiny school come flooding back to us, as palpable as they were three decades prior.

We could still hear the sound of Mrs. Grubb’s heels clicking on the tile as she marched down the hallway, looking for someone who had run afoul of the school rules. We could hear Mrs. Gallagher pounding on the side of her desk, demanding our attention as she was about to dispense with a valuable lesson.

We could see Mrs. Mitchell standing sentry at the front of the classroom, showing us the lost art of properly diagramming a sentence.

We could feel the worn pages of the green bibles we used every day in class — and, apparently, still are being used at the school.

The school even smelled the same.

It was all so real, so raw, so emotional. The memory of it all — and the emotion some of it brought back to us — was, for some, overwhelming. But we did what we did 30 years ago before we left St. Patrick Elementary School for good — we got through it together.

This past weekend, the St. Patrick Elementary School Class of 1986 celebrated its 30th reunion. To most of you, the thought of an elementary school reunion sounds odd at best, ludicrous at worst — and to be brutally honest, you’d probably be right. But the best way I could sum it up would be, “You had to be there.”

I went to school with basically the same 30 kids in my class every year for six years. Not only that, but we did it in the disciplinary blast furnace that was the old-school Catholic education atmosphere.

We weren’t always the best-behaved class of kids — in fact, I’ve heard some describe us as “the worst class ever to come through this school.” After reliving some of the capers that took place this weekend, I’m not sure that’s an entirely inaccurate assessment. It seems like not a day went by when we weren’t getting lectured as a whole or disciplined as individuals.

And things weren’t always easy for us outside of the classroom, either. Some of us had to live through unspeakable tragedies that no child should have to go through. Some of us grew up facing conditions at home — financial, emotional or otherwise — that we probably didn’t recognize or empathize with back then, but certainly do now as adults.

But we dealt with all of that, frequently by leaning on one another. As we adopted an “us against the world mentality’ — probably as much a means of survival as anything else — bonds were forged there 30 years ago that, judging from what I saw this weekend, are as strong as any I’ve made throughout my life.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. I didn’t realize it back then, but I certainly do now. My classmates at St. Patrick Elementary School became like a second family to me those six years. It was a loving, nurturing environment that I wouldn’t find again in my life until many years later.

Following our graduation from St. Patrick, many of us went our separate ways as some of us moved away, some of went to Troy City Schools, some of us went to Miami East schools and some of us continued our Catholic educations at other parochial schools.

I don’t know if any of us found that sense of family that we had at St. Patrick again in our scholastic careers. For some of us, moving away from the close-knit environment bordered on absolute culture shock. Even those of us who went to the same junior high or high school often became just faces in the hallways. It was a special time and a special place … recapturing that sort of magic is never easy.

But no matter where we went in our lives, we still had one another — it would just take us many years, and probably more than our fair share of both happiness and heartbreak, to realize what we once had.

When my father passed away last November, one of my classmates, Sarah — whose own battles with tragedy would serve as an inspiration to me as I was going through that time in my life — reached out to me on Facebook. We began chatting about our elementary schools days on a frequent basis. Those conversations were filled with memories, laughter and, for me at least, more than a few tears.

At the beginning of the year, she suggested we have a reunion and get the class back together again. I never thought anything would come of it — I thought I was the only one who would appreciate such a mawkish endeavor — but as word spread on social media, we began to realize just how many people were in love with the idea.

And that’s how, this past Saturday, more than half of our graduating class reunited first at our old school, then at various restaurants and watering holes around town, followed by a mass the next morning. We caught up on one another’s lives, but also filled the night with our favorite stories from our time there. The room was thick with laughter both at old yarns we had all heard before or new tales we either had never heard or had forgotten with the passage of time.

It was, as someone remarked, as if we had picked up right where we had left off 30 years ago.

I guess that’s the thing about families. No matter how much time passes, you are just that … family.

Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong

By David Fong TDN Columnist David Fong TDN Columnist
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