This Saturday my wife Sue and I will go back to my home town of Woodstock for Alumni Day and my 54th class reunion. Woodstock does things different than most towns, holding reunions every year. It diminishes, I suppose, the shock of change, just a bit.
I began high school in 1956, at old Woodstock High School, tall, stately and brick, overlooking South Street. I graduated in 1960 from the new Woodstock Union High School, all flat and institutional, every classroom about the same.
My Father Wallace Coffin, WHS class of 1927, was a founder of Alumni Day and it was the day of the year he loved most. His class always entered a float in the parade, usually comical, which he helped create. After the parade some of his schoolmates, like String Jones and Alice Leonard, gathered on our front porch for a cocktail. Then they’d totter off to their class suppers, Poppa returning far into the night, smiling, with the trace of a tear for another Alumni Day passed on.
Saturday, hundreds of Woodstock grads will line the parade route, to watch others in the procession. The oldest classes ride at the front, and the parade progresses numerically all the way to a hay wagon bearing the Class of 2014. My class is now well toward the front.
On the village green I’ll greet old friends, talk of long-ago days, laugh, and lament the passing of schoolmates. I’ll see an old girlfriend or two, now possessed of a different, gentled loveliness. Sometimes at Alumni, old romances again catch fire. One high school couple that met at reunion some years ago fell in love again, and headed west. Somewhere around Detroit practicalities prevailed. The one without the car had a long thoughtful bus ride home.
Saturday morning I’ll visit my parents’ grave, and tell them I wish they were here. Then in the park at afternoon, as a brass band signals the parade’s approach with the car bearing the oldest present grad up front, I’ll look ahead down the empty, lined street, and believe that in the lead are the ghosts of long-gone classes, my father smiling in the light of another century’s June sun.
I’ll again give a hug to Judy who helped me with my senior play lines, to Tim I built a fort with on Mount Tom, to Fred with whom I once played cowboys and Indians, and to brother Bruce who loves Alumni Day as much as my father.
Sometime before afternoon wanes I’ll hear the Woodstock Alma Mater:
Our strong bonds can ne’er be broken, formed in Woodstock High,
Far surpassing wealth unspoken, sealed by friendship’s ties
Too soon, night will come down, on my little town.