Monday, August 17, 2009

the ship that has sailed

I’m not beyond writing in clich├ęs. And I admit it: it's difficult to take uniquely original photos when the day is filled with work.

But, on my ride back from campus, in addition to seeing the sky unfurl its great gray masses of cloud over the lake, and watching the summer sailboats take off from the UW sailing club, seemingly indifferent to the iffy skies, I thought for a long while about boats in general. Metaphorical boats – the once that take off with your past and never come back.


My kids stayed in the same public school district their entire elementary/middle/high school years. Most of the kids they knew in second grade were still around for the high school graduation. And so it does not surprise me that they should now keep tabs on who’s doing what.

My sister and I had quite a different and confusing educational trajectory. I did first grade in a Warsaw public school, second through seventh in New York, eighth nowhere at all, and finally ninth through eleventh in two different public schools back in Warsaw. I’ve been able to trace two friends from my New York school, and I’ve been in contact with one kid from my first grade.

But these are exceptions. Most of my school classmates have sailed off and I would not be able to locate them if I tried.

And maybe that’s a good thing. I thumb through photos of my end of Warsaw first grade school party (the year: 1960) and I don’t feel any special pull toward the girls I’m standing next to. (It could be that the pain of not being dressed like the others – in lacy fairylike stuff – is still coming through; I can hear my mother now – oh just wear the dark tights. They’ll be fine. That, and the unfortunate reality that I appear clueless on how to daintily hold up a dress corner.)


I write about this because I heard from my sister (who lives on the other side of the ocean) just today. She writes about a meeting she had this week with her best friend from first grade. Imagine sitting down to coffee with someone you haven’t seen for fifty years…

I wonder if connections we make at an early age can be significant -- more meaningful than we would like to believe. As a parent, I didn’t give much thought to the possibility that either daughter’s first grade playmates were anything more than, well, playmates. Relevant to that hour, not beyond.

So I’m biking along the lake shore path and I’m wondering: does something profound happen in that hour of play between very young friends? And therefore, discoverable again after many decades? Or is it that the early friendship is only an excuse to have a coffee later? Creating a platform from which you can ask someone their life story (because people are otherwise reluctant to open up about themselves)? (Except, apparently me, here on Ocean.)

Big clouds outside now. Who knows – it may even rain.