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Bittersweet Memories

Our SLHS Classes of the ’80’s Reunion

I hadn’t made time to attend one of our high school class reunions in quite a while. Folks made an effort to organize an ” SLHS Classes of the ’80’s” reunion last year, but not enough folks showed interest, so they decided to postpone it and try again this year.

I turn sixty this year. SLHS Class of 1981. To be honest, sixty is a number I never realistically thought I would reach. Now with that number staring me square in the face, I have lately been much more acutely feeling the framework of time’s window slowly closing around me.

We’ve already lost a fair number of 1980’s classmates, including several close friends and ’81 classmates of mine. As the second youngest member of my graduating class, I have of late felt a growing urge to connect. Never knowing what’s on the shelf in life’s store, I decided to make attending this year’s “SLHS Redskins 1980-1989” reunion effort a priority.

I RSVP’d and marked the reunion on my calendar shortly after it was scheduled: Saturday, July 8, 2023. The problem was, my brother Ray (SLHS Class of ’84) & I had already booked our family’s 2023 two-week Bull Rush Bay camping reservation; June 30th through Sunday July 10th. So, on the one hand, while I would already be in the area on the Saturday the reunion was scheduled, my “in the area” situation would consist of me being located in a lean-to on Middle Saranac Lake. Clearly, I had a conflict that would somehow have to be rectified.

As it turned out, the reunion was scheduled to be held at Saranac Lake’s Elks lodge. Coincidentally, my brother Ray is a member there. Also coincidentally, amongst his many other Elks Lodge duties, he also doubles as bartender. So, since my brother Ray & sister-in-law Patty (also SLHS ’84) would already both be at the reunion as attendees/bartenders, I decided to break camp a day early & canoe out on Saturday so I too could attend.

So, with joint class reunion/camping plans made, I packed accordingly. I picked out a nice navy polo shirt and grey pair of slacks. When I pulled into South Creek and loaded my Zen boat canoe for my trip into camp, I carefully laid them over my truck’s steering wheel so they would not be all wrinkled when I packed back out and got dressed for the reunion.

The camping trip went well. Aside from two rather brief but intense thunderstorms, the weather was great. I actually ran into a classmate of mine while in camp. My son & I were at the Ampersand walk-in beach, where we had boated over to stage my brother Ray’s Starcraft so he could walk in later that day and bring mores supplies into camp.

While I beached & secured Ray’s Starcraft by tying it off to a tree on the beach, two women and a man came down the Ampersand trail with their dogs. They clearly were interested in the spot we currently occupied on the beach. One of them inquired “Are you staying?” They seemed quite pleased when we informed them that we were not. I said, “No, we’re just dropping off my brother’s boat. He’ll be walking in shortly to pick it up. Fair warning, he too has a dog.”

At that point, one of the women stepped forward. She seemed to somehow recognize me. “Do you know who I am?” She asked.

I hesitated momentarily. “Umm…no. I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“I’m Karen Tomlinson. Do you remember me?”

Once she said that, I recognized her immediately. “Oh my God! Karen, of course!”

Karen and I were classmates in Mr. Fletcher’s 5th grade class. I had a big crush on her that whole year. She’s the one who hit me right above my left eye chucking a piece of frozen horse manure one winter while a group of us were sliding across the street from my house on Carpenter’s Hill. Her deadly aim sent me to the emergency room for five stitches that day. Plus a tetanus shot.

We exchanged memories for a moment. Her brother John was there on the beach too. We both carried Adirondack Daily Enterprise paper route bags back in the day. He and his brother were both several grades ahead of me. They had the Park Avenue route. I had Old Lake Colby & Trudeau Road. I remarked “Ohhh…Park Avenue. So you had all the rich people on your route.” That generated a chuckle. After our brief on beach class reunion, my son & I waved goodbye and shoved back off for camp in our Honda powered Lund Outlaw boat.

That was on Saturday, July 1st, my fifth day in camp. By the time Saturday, July 8th arrived, I had been in camp a total of twelve days and ten nights, the last ten days and nine nights consecutively. Ten hot, sweaty camping days of firewood procurement, bass fishing and dirty, barefooted, bug dope enhanced campfire smoke.

Despite my best daily lake water bathing efforts, after ten days and nine nights, as I boarded my Zen boat canoe to head back to South Creek and into town for my class reunion, my clothes stuck to my skin. I could smell myself. Even the bugs kept their distance.

“Good thing I planned ahead and have clean clothes laid out” I thought to myself as I rowed up the lake. Still, since I had several hours before reunion time, I decided to stop on Ship Island for a good honest post camp lake shower cleansing before donning my reunion duds and heading into town.

My Zen Boat canoe on Ship Island,
where I stopped for a badly needed pre-reunion Lake shower.

The wild roses were in full bloom along the shore on the island. I have never smelled roses anywhere else as fragrant as wild Adirondack roses.

I thought for a moment, “Maybe I should do everyone a favor and rub some of these roses on me as cologne. Or, better yet, pick a whole bunch to stuff in my pockets as a cover scent before heading to the reunion.”

Fully lake bathed, I put back on my sweaty, sticky, smokey bug dope enhanced camp clothes and re-boarded my Zen boat. At that point even the deerflies & seagulls gave me wide berth. It occurred to me as I rowed; “I’m literally rowing myself out of the woods in a Zen boat canoe to get to my class reunion.” Chris de Burgh’s “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” streamed its way through my head as I completed the journey up South Creek.

I reached my truck around noon, unloaded my gear from my canoe, loaded canoe and gear on my truck, and prepared to head into town. My shirt and pants were laid out over the steering wheel, as I’d left them. Wrinkle free after ten days and nine nights in a sunbaked pickup truck. I dug my one remaining clean pair of underwear out of my camp kit bag and laid my reunion duds neatly on the passenger seat beside me as I drove into town.

It was nearly 1pm. So, I still had several hours to kill before heading to the Elks Lodge for the reunion at 6. Which was a good thing, because aside from my aroma issues, I badly needed a nap and some lunch. I had somehow miscalculated my feeding tube meal count coming into camp. I had shorted myself, and thus for the last three days had been living off of half meals and canned Starbucks rocket fuel coffee espresso shots. I at that point had two full tube meals left. My plan was to head into town, post up in a camp chair in Triangle Park across the street from the house I grew up in, hook up to my feeding tube, and snooze until it was time to get dressed for reunion time.

I love sitting in that little Triangle Park. My mom built that park. I mowed it for cash as a kid. It sits across the street from my old house. I can sit there, hooked to my feeding tube, and stare across the street at my boyhood bedroom window, reminiscing. Which is exactly what I did.

Refreshed by a full tube feeding and badly needed nap, shortly before 4pm I decided to shed my camp attire and get dressed. However, at that moment, I realized that I had one serious problem. I had pants, shirt, even clean underwear, but I had forgotten one important clothing apparel item. I lacked shoes. Or socks, for that matter. Okay, make that two apparel items. I was heading to my class reunion, to see folks I hadn’t seen in ages, with no socks or shoes, except the fish blood-stained camp shoes I’d been wearing for the past ten days, sockless.

I made a vain last-ditch effort to clean at least one layer of gunk off them. To no avail. No amount of scrubbing was going to clean that camp stank from those shoes. “Hmm, no problem.” I thought. “There’s still time. I’ll simply walk down to Blue Line and buy myself a cheap pair of sneakers or boat shoes.”

I then put back on my camp clothes and walked up Main Street into town. I crossed over to Blueline. Now, I would swear that as kid growing up in Saranac Lake, the upstairs of Blueline was always where Mom bought my brother and I our school clothes. The ones that didn’t come out of the Sears catalog, anyways. That clearly was not to be the case now, however.

I peered in the upstairs door of the Blueline. However, there was nothing resembling a shoe to be seen. It was all sporting goods. I then stepped next door into a clothing world I never knew as a boy; T.F. Finnigan’s clothing store.

All the cool kids in school wore IZOD polo shirts with the collars turned up. Those shirts with the little alligators over the pockets. I think they all bought them at T.F. Finnigans.

I never owned one of those shirts. Mom would not buy them for us. My school shirts all either came out of the Sears catalog, or had little penguins over the pockets. Penguins were cheaper than alligators on school shirt attire in the ’70’s, apparently.

Today, however, I was not in the market for alligator shirts. What I needed was shoes. Preferably a pair with about eight fewer layers of camp funk on them than the ones I was currently wearing.

I approached the salesclerk, a pleasant upscale young gal. I explained my dilemma. ” I just came in from camp. I’m going to my class reunion tonight. I will be wearing a navy-blue polo and casual grey slacks. However, I forgot to bring shoes. And socks. All I have are these roached out camp shoes. She quite readily agreed. I COULD NOT go to my reunion clad in those!

“What color were you looking for, black or brown?” she inquired.

“I was thinking brown, with grey dress socks. And a belt to match, while I’m at it.”

“Hmm…What size do you wear?”

“Ten and a half. I can probably go eleven, if I have to.”

She reviewed T.F. Finnigan’s in store shoe inventory. “Well, it appears we have one pair.”

At that point she pulled two boxes from a cabinet beneath one of T.F. Finnigan’s clothing displays. Each contained a pair of brown men’s casual dress shoes, one sized men’s ten and a half, one sized eleven. She pulled one of the ten and a half’s from the box. A nice leather shoe, not too overly dressy, a nice rugged looking heel. I liked them.

“I also need a pair of dress socks, grey preferably.” The salesclerk nodded. My foot duly dress sock clad, I tried one shoe on.

The shoe fit me well, It felt comfortable. I thought to myself, “At 4pm on a Saturday afternoon in Saranac Lake, New York, I’m unlikely to do better.”

“I’ll take them.” I said.

“I will also need a belt. Belt should match shoes, right?”

The salesclerk nodded agreement.

“My camp belt does not.”

We quickly found a brown leather belt to match the shoes. Socks, shoes and belt in hand, I approached the counter and handed the clerk my American Express card. “I assume you take this?” She nodded.

She rang in my purchase and looked up. “Your total comes to four hundred twenty dollars and seventy-two cents.”

“Excuse me? What? Four hundred dollars?! For a pair of shoes, belt and socks?!” I just stood there a bit incredulous for a moment, then burst out laughing. She took it well, but I don’t think the salesclerk quite understood what I found so amusing.

“So, just how much are these shoes!?”

“Three hundred dollars. The socks are twenty-seven, and the belt sixty-six. Plus tax.”

So, do you still want the shoes Sir?”

“Young lady, I don’t think the sum total of all the shoes I’ve bought in my adult life comes to three hundred dollars. Let me call my wife.”

I dialed my cell phone. “Hun, you won’t believe this, but I was getting dressed for my reunion and realized I’d forgotten shoes, and socks. I’m now in downtown Saranac Lake preparing to spend four hundred and twenty dollars on a pair of shoes and some socks.”

“What?! No. Just go to your brother’s house and borrow some shoes.”

Sometimes women just don’t quite understand how men things work.

“I am not going to my class reunion wearing shoes I just borrowed from my little brother.”

She laughed. “Okay then, go ahead and buy your four-hundred-dollar shoes. By the way, I need a new cell phone. (Which was true. Hers was a camp casualty.) I’m pricing them out now. Don’t be surprised if a new cell phone is seven hundred dollars. Have fun at your reunion. Call me before you head home.”

Okay. Then again. Maybe they do.

So, I completed my purchase. Four hundred dollars’ worth of shoes, socks and belt later, I walked back down to Triangle Park, donned my reunion gear, drove into town and parked across the street from the Elks Lodge, by the carousel.

The reunion started at 6pm. I walked in shortly after. A nametag with my name on it was waiting at the sign in table. My brother Ray and sister-in-law Patty were already there, bartending, along with a small group of SLHS Redskins 1980-89 reunionites.

It was clear from the decor where the evening’s event attendees stood on any residual SLHS team mascot name issue.

A comfortably small crowd evolved. There were two of us from my class, most everyone else was from classes after us. It’s strange, but one thing I realized is that, during high school, we tend to know the kids ahead of us far better than those behind us. Many of the folks who came, I didn’t ever really know them. I knew who they were, but went through school with their older brother or sister. That bittersweet realization somehow made me feel a bit old.

Several attendees who I talked with commented on my stories. One guy in particular said “I love your stories, Rich. I’m just glad I’m not in any of them.” That made me chuckle. I won’t mention him by name, but he lives in SL, coaches rugby at Paul Smith’s and his mom was our bus driver.

Then my little sister-in-law Patty chimed in and said, “Yeah, lucky you! I’m in almost all of them.”

“Yup, you are Patty. This one too. Now just wait for next year’s winter carnival! Another Lawn Chair Lady photo shoot extravaganza’s a comin’!”

Folks chatted and ate. The Elks Lodge is a nice comfortable venue. The Band was Bitter-sweet. A perfect choice for the event. Three guitars, drums, a little saxophone action.

Their lead singer was entertaining, energetic, and had the right voice for their song choices. I played in high school band with their lead guitarist, John LaFebvre. Jeff was in my class. They’re either brothers or cousins. I can’t now remember. Anyways, the band played a great cross section of songs from the eighties, and even took some requests. Very enjoyable. They were great.

I sat listening to the band while I hooked up for the last full feeding tube meal left from my camp inventory. People danced. Well, mostly the women danced. Sitting listening to the music and watching people dance took me back to those high school days, when we had school dances in the gym.

Sometimes we had bands much like this one. On special occasions, we had Double Axel. Other times, we had DJ’s. No matter who played, it was always the same. The girls sat huddled in their little posse groups in the bleachers. The boys stood along the walls, nudging each other to go up and ask somebody or other to dance. Some guys did, others just stood there along the wall all night wishing.

I always liked to dance. I still do, sometimes. I chatted with several folks after I finished my tube feeding. I even got to break in my new shoes with a couple of dances.

There was a moment where the band paid respects to several of our 1980’s classmates who have passed. I knew some of them myself. Others I did not. Then those in attendance all took a group picture together.

With my sixtieth birthday coming up this October, there are a lot of folks who I’d love to see again. Maybe next time.

Thank you, Terry Brown Buckley, for putting this reunion together. It was a great, relaxed evening, filled with music and memories. For me, some of them Bitter-sweet.

But hey! At least I got myself a new pair of dancin’ shoes!

For what I paid for them, I’m sure hopin’ they last awhile.

With me in ’em.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: