“Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” These were the immortal words of Satchel Paige, and if you don’t know who he was, then you’d have to “look back” into history, which means you’d be ignoring old Satch’s advice, so you’re better off not finding out who he was which means he will remain obscure, and I guess that serves him right. You follow?
Looking back though is kind of what we humans do best. In fact I get down on my knees and thank my maker that we as a species enjoy looking at the past otherwise my career as a history teacher would probably come to an ignominious end post haste. It’s not just from a cultural or civics standpoint that we enjoy reveling in the past, we enjoy our own memories, and if there’s any opportunity to relive them, all the better. This is why for some, the chance to return to a high school or college reunion can serve as a most pleasant reminder of days gone by. Yet for others, it’s simply another email reminder to delete into the trash file. Why is this the case?
A friend of mine from my Oswego days whom I am still friendly with has a saying whenever one of us brings back a joke from our college days. He always says, “What do we need new jokes for, the old ones work just fine.” I most certainly concur, and I believe that is one of the reasons we enjoy going back to reunions and such. The easy laughs we get from thinking back on the old times when life was a little more simple, and work and children and aging parents, and our own aging bodies all seemed like the kind of problems that only other people ever had to worry about. I believe one also longs for the commonality of college that made it so easy to converse and relate to others, so when you return to those seemingly greener pastures, there’s a comfortable familiarity that one often misses in the adult world.
There’s also the ease of being around old friends. There’s something about visiting with old friends that creates a comfort level that is impossible to achieve with the friends you’ve made as an adult. This is not a knock or a slap at any friends that I’ve made since I’ve graduated college. These are people I truly cherish. However, there are certain things you can say and certain behaviors that you can exhibit around the people you knew when you were still young that simply won’t fly around those who’ve come to know you as a more mature and austere adult. However, it’s not just a child-like need to be inappropriate or politically incorrect, it’s that feeling, even if it’s only for a couple of days, of being young again that gives one the feeling that they’ve just dipped their toe into the fountain of youth.
This is not to say that everybody wishes to return to the scene of their crimes. There are plenty of people who only look forward. They like to bury their past in their behind so to speak. For some it may be vanity. They may not appreciate what age has done to them physically, whether it’s baldness, a spread around the midsection, or this damn keratosis that keeps growing on my head. Either way, some would rather have you remember them “the way they were,” as Barbara Streisand or “Babs” would say.
For others, college may not have been all that much of a seminal moment in their lives. They may have enjoyed their time, but perhaps they viewed it not so much as a coming of age experience, but more as a stepping stone. A means to an end so to speak. I do believe that the lure that pulls one back to the college or university from their youth is not the academic achievements or simply a chance to see how the place looks, and to see if it is how we remember it, instead I believe the hook that pulls us back has far more to do with the teams or organizations that we participated in. Those reunions call out to us in a different way. It represents a shared commonality that many find hard to resist. That’s not to say that if you didn’t play basketball, or weren’t part of the theater department, or belonged to a fraternity or sorority you wouldn’t attend a reunion, plenty of people do that. It’s just that if you were a part of an organization that acted as the center of your social activities, chances are you will feel more of a calling to return and relive the old days, until your heartburn begins to act up again.
For the weekend of June 8th through the 10th, I, along with my wife, another SUNY Oswego grad, attended the 50th anniversary of the founding of the fraternity I belonged to for three and a half of my four years as a college undergrad, Zeta Chi Zeta. (It doesn’t quite have the impact of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, but there were many brave souls whom I served with, and we lost a lot of good men out there….which is to say some couldn’t handle the partying and failed out.) The fraternity was started in 1969, and while I’m confident that there are many founding brothers still alive, I wasn’t all that sure that any would attend. Fortunately, a few did. One of my professors while I was a student at SUNY Oswego was a founding brother, and when I approached him one day to tell him I was a Zeta brother, he looked at me with not a little dismissiveness and said, “Oh, I left that far behind.” That would probably explain the “D” I received in his pointless “Modern Philosophy” class, although it’s where I met my wife by cheating off of her, so it’s kind of a wash.
We all met at Old City Hall, a venerable establishment located on Water Street in Oswego right on the Oswego River. A an old fraternity brother of mine, Tom Corrigan played a concert for us, performing his list of Grateful Dead, and Grateful Dead inspired tunes. It was an afternoon of adrenaline overload as one brother after another, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 30+ years made their way into the bar. The drinks were going down as if I was 20 years old and back in college. Unfortunately, the combination of all of these “bro-hugs” and significantly more potent beverages, along with the fact that I’m almost three score years old, meant that I would be reaching burnout faze pretty quickly.
Being on the verge of a hangover at 5pm is not a trip down memory lane I was looking to take, so we calmed down and went to the alumni bbq at Fallbrook. The serene setting allowed my friends, wife and I to gain a sense of recovery before we headed back to campus to check out one of those fantastic Oswego sunsets over Lake Ontario. An Oswego sunset is considered by those in the know as the second greatest sunset in the United States, only trailing the Grand Canyon. (And you don’t need to ride a burro down a steep slope to check it out.)
On Saturday we did something that I’m sure we never did in my four years as an undergrad at SUNY Oswego. My wife, myself, and four of my friends took a “power walk” along the Oswego River eschewing a trip to the world famous Wade’s Diner for their legendary omelettes, home fries, and cinnamon raisin toast. Maturity is a buzzkill. At any rate, we decided after a much more sensible breakfast to take a ride to a spot along Lake Ontario known as “The Cliffs.” It’s basically a picnic spot where you can relax and take in the views. In college it was a place to drag a keg of beer and do “funnels.” You can’t spell “funnels” without “fun,” but since most people puked after doing one, I’m not so sure. We took it a little easier though knowing there were many libations to follow.
From 4pm on we hung out with every Zeta brother in attendance at the Ancient Order of Hibernians which was located somewhere in Oswego, and provided us with the space and privacy to enjoy ourselves in all of our Zeta splendor. I’m not sure who began the ancient order, and I’m not versed in why it was created, but I’m pretty sure that somehow and someway, the idea of 150 fraternal brothers age 21-70 drinking it up to the sounds of solid 70s rock ‘n’ roll would have made them pleased. It was one of the four beautiful days of the year that Oswego, New York gets to enjoy, and the beer and the music all tasted and sounded a little better on a sunny 70 degree day.
The visit would not be complete without a pitstop at the Oswego Sub Shop, a place that literally exists to feed the tipsy. They also serve Sal’s Birdland’s famous chicken wings with its signature “sassy sauce.” There was another gathering even later in the night, but by that time, staring down at the barrel of 55 was beginning to catch up with me, and we were ready to call it a night.
As I stated, there’s something about old friends, as well as reminiscing about the common experiences that one shared with them in one’s youth. I know these things are not for everybody, but for those of us who enjoy these events, it provides a little reprieve from one’s typical existence, and reminds you what was special about a certain time in your life. Good job boys, I’ll see you at the 60th.