We were 21 and 22 years old. It was our last semester at Brown University. There were 7 of us: 4 girls and 3 guys. We shared the left half of a duplex at 43 East Manning Street in Providence, Rhode Island. It was 1972.
Five of us got together on Cape Cod this past weekend for our 50th reunion. We came from Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. On Friday, we zoomed with the 2 missing classmates who live in New York and California. Although various combinations of us had gotten together over the years, this was the first time we had all been together since graduation day a little over half a century ago.
It was remarkably easy being together again in a shared living space. We brought photos and journals and letters we’d kept. We reminisced about how our group formed during the first 2 years at Brown, about our time on East Manning Street, and about the years since.
We shared memory after memory of our days together. Some of the stories were new to me. No one remembered everything. Some remembered more than others.
Some memories were pulled into consciousness from the deepest of slumbers. Others were made richer and more complete by hearing different perspectives of the same event.
There was one memory that only I of those who were there remembered. It was a sunny, crisp fall day during our sophomore year and we decided to walk to the Seekonk River which wasn’t very far away. On that afternoon, ripe milkweed pods were opening and the breeze was lifting the seeds out of their husks. Hundreds floated in the air all around us. It was snowing milkweed! I had never seen anything like that before, nor have I since.
I filled my pockets with the feathery fliers even though I didn’t know at the time what I would do with them. A few days later, I found a clear wine bottle and pushed them into it with a pencil. It was a sculpture…a work of art!
I kept that bottle through the years, brought it with me to the reunion, and told the story of how it came to be. As I sat looking at it, the Jim Croce lyric “If I could save time in a bottle” popped into my head and I realized that that is exactly what I had done.
I have no pictures from that period, so looking through the albums was, to me, astonishing. My visual memories were weak, faded, and in soft focus. Looking at those surprisingly unfaded color photos was like dusting off my own history, restoring it, and mounting it on the wall. I had forgotten how young we were.
Paraphrasing Hillary Clinton, it occurred to me that it takes a village to not only make a memory, but to preserve it.
In 2001—29 years after our time together and 21 years ago—I had occasion to try to capture our experience on paper. Here’s part of what I wrote:
“It was a time of passions expressed and passions denied; a time of independence, intimacy, intensity, and insufferable debate…but never, ever, indifference…Did any of us know that in that shortest of times we had permanently stitched ourselves into the fabric of each other’s lives?”
We toasted the good fortune that first brought our unlikely band together and we toasted the serendipity that allowed us to celebrate it a lifetime later. As we did so, we made more memories to carry with us to a future reunion: walking on the beach, avoiding poison ivy in the cranberry bog, making dinners, eating ice cream in an old schoolhouse, listening to oldies, doing a pot gummy, and visiting with 2 other classmates who were in the area.
And, of course, we took lots of pictures to share with the pair who could not attend and to fill an album that will help preserve these new memories for all of us.
I don’t think anyone wanted it to end. We joked about having a 75th reunion, but quickly realized we would be in our mid-90s, and so we decided we might want to do this again a little sooner than that.
In 1973, just one year after we graduated, Marvin Hamlisch wrote and Barbara Streisand sang ‘The Way We Were:’
Light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we?
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were”
But we didn’t forget the painful parts. It was a unique combination of laughter and sadness and youth and intimacy and time and place that created the unbreakable bonds that we still feel so strongly today.
And to answer the song’s question, yes…I would do it all again. In a heartbeat!