Saturday Single No. 501

The invitation came in the mail yesterday: In September, the 1971 graduating classes of St. Cloud Tech and St. Cloud Apollo high schools will gather for a reunion. That will, of course, include me, as I graduated from Tech that year.

Why in September and not in May or during the summer? I don’t know. Maybe because May and summer are busy months. It doesn’t matter. After forty-five years, a month or two of delay is small change.

And I’ll likely go. I’ll hobnob with my fellow Tigers and with the Eagles from the North Side, wander through the taco bar for dinner, drink a few beers and probably just stand and listen as a deejay plays what I assume will be music from our youth.

And I’ll miss my friend John. I’m not sure I’ve ever written much about him; he and I were pals in Sunday School from as early as I can remember. He lived across the Mississippi River, over on the North Side of town, and he went to Roosevelt Elementary, which was just half-a-block north of his house.

We’d see each other pretty much every Sunday during the school year and only a couple of times during the summer, at least during the early years. When the St. Cloud schools began offering summer enrichment classes in 1964 or so, John and I would see each other daily for the first half of the summer. Then, when we’d gotten through sixth grade, we learned that boundary lines dividing those students who went to North Junior High and those who went to South fell in our favor: John, like I, would attend South and then, for two years as Apollo was being planned and built, Tech.

But we grew apart, as friends often do. By the time we headed to Tech for our sophomore years, we were friendly but no longer spent much time together. We saw each other on Sundays, as we both sang in the church choir, but whatever it was that had made us close friends not that many years earlier was gone, and it had gone away so slowly that I never really noticed.

We graduated from our respective high schools and both went to St. Cloud State, where we must have played together in band at least one quarter, though I do not remember it. He studied the sciences and then went off to the University of Minnesota to study pharmacology; he eventually got his doctorate and taught at the U of M. I wandered into a career of reporting, editing and research. We saw each other at a couple of reunions and, after his mother passed in 2003, we spent a few minutes talking at the reviewal.

We talked vaguely during those few minutes about getting together, but nothing came of it. A little more than three years ago, he himself passed. I read that there would be a memorial service in St. Cloud during that summer of 2013, but I never saw anything more about that. And there things would sit, except . . .

Two years ago this month, Roosevelt Elementary School burned. Built in 1920, it was probably the most attractive of St. Cloud’s elementary schools, having an actual design instead of the functional blockishness of later schools (Lincoln included). Its location on a main traffic route across the North Side meant I drove past the school – and now drive past the location of what is called the Roosevelt Education Center, a blockish construction that incorporates some remainder of the old school – once every couple of weeks.

The first time I drove past the site after the fire – three years ago when the ashes were still smoking – I thought, “I wonder what John thinks about this. I should ask him.” And I recalled with a start that he was gone. And I now remember that moment every time I drive past there.

I had other friends during my schoolboy years; most of them are still around, I think. And I’ll be glad come September to chat with whoever remembers me kindly from those days long ago. But with no disrespect meant to the living, I fear that John in his absence will be for me a larger presence at the reunion.

So what comes to mind this morning is Jackson Browne’s 1974 meditation on death, loss and grief: “To A Dancer.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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