The years melted away as I approached Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park – walking down the familiar trail from Stanyan Street near Haight where I’d parked – carrying a brown paper sack with chips and salsa and my Beatles purse. I wore the orange and yellow tie-dye shirt that my son Stevie and his girlfriend had gotten for me in Thailand – no size on it, Stevie just guessed and he got it just right. Honestly, I’ve come to the realization that my own sons know me better than any guy I have in my life! I found myself wishing that Stevie and his girlfriend Liezl were with me now, as I walked past the dried up lake and through the tunnel past Children’s Playground which now breaks my heart because it’s now completely remodeled and no longer resembles the wonderful playground I remembered playing at all the time when I was a kid – the big round slide is gone and sadly the moon swings are gone as well – deemed as too dangerous. All that’s left are some lame play items designed for small children and not any kid I can think of past about the age of 6 or 7.
But the trees that surround the park still look the same and so does the historical Sharon Building and the merry-go-round, oh yes the old merry-go-round still remains thank heavens! So if I look in that direction, it’s as if 40 years have melted away.
As I looked around the area for a large group of people, I began to feel more and more nervous. It’s no big deal, I thought – it’s been 35 years after all…
I was looking for the big picnic next to Children’s Playground – the class of 1975 and other 70’s classes high school reunion picnic for George Washington High School in San Francisco. I’d never been to any of the reunions, so I had no idea what to expect – my first reunion ever…but I was glad at least it was in an informal picnic-like setting and I didn’t have to get dressed up and wear some weird cocktail dress or anything – I wore my tie-dye, the brightest shirt I could find – and jeans – cool-looking jeans for once, not like in high school when I didn’t always wear cool clothes…
Hey wait a second, I thought – you’re a grown-up now, who cares about all that stuff, like what they think of you, what you’re wearing and is it cool? I mean, really…
I had to laugh at myself as I looked over and Hippie Hill hearing some conga drums – a small group milled about there. I knew that group wasn’t big enough. Somehow I knew where they’d be – in the picnic area above the merry-go-round, the same area where I’d ride a skateboard down the hill as a kid so many times and the hill we walked or rode down to get to Children’s Playground from where we lived—and now for the first time ever, I’m going to see some of my classmates from high school, many of whom I haven’t seen for 35 years. I’ve only kept in touch with a small handful of people from back then.
I saw the large group of people and smelled the barbecue and the balloons, and I knew that was my group, the 70’s people – still so vibrant and ethnically diverse as they were in high school. I felt nervous, as if I didn’t quite fit in as I walked past people, some of whom nodded and smiled as I walked by. They all had sticky name tags on, “Ruth, 1975.” Yes, I recognized Ruth right away – she looked almost exactly the same as she did in high school – I think she was the “class clown,” and she still wore the same clothes she wore back then, it seemed. How cool – so many people…do I really belong here I thought? I’d always felt sort of like an outsider looking in while in high school, and this seemed no different.
It was warm, kids ran around with hula hoops, a group of guys played conga drums and barbecued chicken and hot dog smells floated through the air – everyone looked as if they were chilling and just having a good time. Suddenly someone yelled, “Group picture, c’mon everybody, especially class of ’75!”
That’s when I saw Mark a dude who had just befriended me on Facebook who had seen me at Woodham’s – he’s friends with some of mine apparently and I didn’t realize he was a GWHS alumni as well, class of 1973. “Hi, good to see you!” he said, hugging me. Wow, this is kinda cool – Mark wore his hair long – he looked exactly like the kind of guy I might have hung out with in high school, one of the cool, down to earth people. We talked for a few before being whisked off to a small hill to get our group picture taken. How would any camera fit in this huge group of people, I wondered, plopping myself down right in the very front – so I’d be seen…I had never felt seen in high school, and now there I sat front and center.
After the photos, I walked around, seeing people who looked vaguely familiar, others who didn’t. I bought my raffle ticket, paid my five bucks and went for the food --- so much amazing food and drink. Rita Marie, one of the organizers, looked familiar to me and she said, “Hey didn’t you sing in high school?”
“I was in the chorus, yes,” I said. “I remember you – you sang alto like me.”
“Yes! Wow!” Rita stood up and gave me a hug as if we were long lost friends – that was cool, especially since I was still attempting to remember who she was, feeling bad that it hadn’t hit me yet.
I walked around listening to the groovy 70’s music playing on a loud speaker, singing along with “Betcha by golly wow, you’re the one that I’ve been waiting for forever…” even though it was classified more as popular music than anything else.
Mark, the cool hippie musician dude, came back over and stood around with me, along with a guy named Tony who also looked really familiar to me – we all three talked and that’s when I saw my son Stevie and his girlfriend Liezl walking up the hill – yaaayy! They’d made it. I was so happy to see them. Stevie had his digeredoo and his drum with him, just like he said he did and his hair is long again – like when he was a teenager. He fit right into the rather diverse group of people.
Slowly but surely I began to recognize more people and they me – there was Bruce Jolly who totally remembered me from several classes – and wow, Julie. I remembered her.
But the right of passage moment, that special moment when I finally felt as if I’d done something I’ve been wanting to do for 35 years, but had never had the guts to do it, came a little later. In high school, I had just watched, on the outside looking in and I’d always wanted to do it.
When a group of my class of ’75 classmates started doing one version of the Hustle to disco music, I jumped in and did it with them – and then I danced the Soul Train dance and another version of the Hustle and well – it was fun and later one chick even said, “Wow you’re a dancin’ fool out there, how cool.”
And Carli Jones, the prettiest girl I remembered in high school, was there – still looking beautiful 35 years later. We immediately recognized each other because we had lockers right next to each other in junior high. “I always thought you were beautiful in high school,” I said to Carli as my son Stevie snapped a photo of us.
Carli smiled and said, “Well, you still have the hair that I remember – wow, did I want your hair!”
That to me was the ultimate compliment – me the wallflower girl hearing that from Carli Jones.