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Well, our vacation did continue, though our car did not continue with us. We had to rent a car and leave our dead one with the mechanics in Williams, Arizona, who seem to be doing more for us than any of our mechanics in LA have.
Though we did not get to go to Mesa Verde (I wanted to see what Willa Cather was talking about; I'm so disappointed!) we did see the Grand Canyon on a late afternoon:
After that, we did a great deal of driving. We found ourselves asking the same question again and again, especially the kids: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? With much, much, MUCH too much practice, now even our six-year-old son can recite this question extremely rapidly without tripping over his tongue.
Yes, we drove for 12 hours to Denver, where we met up with 150 of my dearest friends from high school last weekend.
Actually, I mean that, because I have a really warm feeling for the Overland High School Class of 1986. In a class of about 450, fully a third of us showed up for our 20 year reunion! People came to Colorado from far and wide: one from Holland, a number from California, others from the east coast of the U.S.
I wanted to see everyone's face, do some remembering, reconnect. I did not sense a particularly competitive spirit, just more a sense that we were all in something together, and together we keep a bit of that spirit alive.
I ran into at least 10 people that had gone to kindergarten with me. Whether we were good friends in school or not, whether we've spoken even a word in 20 years, we have a great deal in common: our entire youth! Everything we did as a class, the teachers, the place where we lived, the way it changed, the way the "real world" turned out to be different then the little universe we inhabited together from 1973 through 1986... we had a lot to talk about.
Twenty years is a bit of time, and people did look different! "I either recognize the face, or the name tag, but getting both is a challenge!" a friend said. But more surprising then how different people looked was how familiar everyone still was.
A friend who was "never having children" was the most beautiful pregnant lady I've seen. Our class clown Clarke was at the microphone most of the evening, and despite the fact that now he's a dean of students at a major university, he hasn't changed:
"I noticed, us men are all getting bald and growing hair in strange places," he said, "But the women of the Class of '86? Ladies, you are SMOKIN' HOT!"
A couple who went to prom together were still married, still handsome, and had four children!
Clarke made us a slide show, and when showed a picture of tow-headed Dave, smiling with big braces, big glasses and his head just a little big for the rest of him, everyone cheered wildly. There he was, sitting at his table, a well-proportioned and good-looking man. Today we were seeing ourselves and each other as cute kids, in the throes of adolescence. There's a kind of healing and forgiveness in that.
I talked until I barely had any voice left, to people I knew well, to others who I knew better than I had remembered, and to some I'd scarcely ever spoken with.
When I came home, I flipped open the blue booklet made by the company who planned our reunion. They'd asked everyone to write a little bit about what they were doing and about what they remembered from high school. I read about everyone, and it made me laugh out loud, and it made me cry. Here are a few things I found next to people's names:
"I think I'd rather leave high school in the past – yikes!"
Memory: "Riding GH's motorcycle through the hallways and then getting busted!"
"I like to decorate cakes and do crafts to sell at craft shows.... I remember riding motorcycles and raising hell..."
"Recently I learned to knit and became passionate about it."
"Our family lives in Nepal, where we are involved in Christian ministry.."
"I'm busy with my business."
"I spent two years active and saw the West Coast and the Pacific Rim, along with the Middle East."
"I moved back to Colorado after finishing up my MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago."
"I spent five years in the Navy, visited 22 countries."
"I moved to the Netherlands."
"Choreograph for NBA and WNBA teams and teach dance."
Memory: "High centering my mom's car on a snow bank and my efforts to hide it from her – she knows the truth now!"
"I am still a die-hard Denver Broncos fan!"
"I spent two years living in Vail, Colo., skiing and waiting tables before law school."
"Climbed a 14er."
"Living the dream. I've been married for almost eight years to a fantastic woman. I have three incredible kids."
"I broke down and got hitched last year."
"Took a 17-day trip to Maui, Hawaii to celebrate my wife's fifth year of being cancer-free."
Memories: playing on the soccer team (cool) and in the band (nerdy) were both a blast."
Occupation: stay at home mom
"I'm drowning in testosterone with my household of four boys."
"Trying to be Martha Stewart when hosting kids' birthday parties"
"For the last eight years I have worked, raised my two children without help from their father and took care of my elderly parent."
"I love being a dad and spending time with the family."
"Expecting our first baby"
"I am single with no kids."
Memories: "Insta-nachos. Valour shirts. Album art. Laughing until soda squirts out your nose."
"I remember the day the Space Shuttle blew up."
"How in the world could it have been 20 years ago?"
"My favorite memory has to be the night that we loaded three trucks full of horse manure only to unload it in front of the entrance to the school... we managed to pull it off with the classic sign, which read, "For four years we have taken your s**t," now here's some of ours. Class of '86."
"I think we were all as close as a class of 500 could be."
My six-year-old son was telling me how to pet a porcupine yesterday morning when I realized that a family vacation is not necessarily about where you go.
I say this because we were walking to breakfast Monday in Williams, Arizona, instead of watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, which was the scenario we had been planning for months. We were walking because our car broke down Sunday, stranding us short of our destination.
"Don't you get prickled if you pet a porcupine?" I asked him.
"No, Mom, you have to do it the right way," Brian replied patiently, as we headed toward the railroad tracks that run along this small tourist town. He pretended one hand was a porcupine and demonstrated with the other. "You start at the top, then very gently move your hand down. You don't get prickled at all that way."
Sunday afternoon, as we were just ready to turn off Interstate 40 and head north toward the south rim of the Grand Canyon, something went funny. We were going up a hill, so I turned off the air conditioner, then it seems like a gear blew out. The car shook and just would not accelerate past a certain speed.
I drove slowly to the next town, Williams, where we scrambled for a bit in the pouring rain on a late Sunday afternoon. We could not find a mechanic, but we checked into the Holiday Inn, and they recommended a shop that was a bit farther down the highway. Sure enough, there was a mechanic there. So Robert stayed with the kids at the hotel while I drove the sick car (the Chevy Prizm) to the shop, going about 40 mph in the pouring rain with the hazard lights on.
I don't know if anyone has seen the movie "Cars," but there I was on Route 66, and it seems that I met the characters, right there. I was greeted by the owner's grandson, who was pretty young. Another was an Iraq war veteran who "just wanted to be here, away from people" in this quiet and beautiful part of Arizona. I also met someone who was a dead ringer for "Tow-Mater" in the movie.
It was 'Mater who drove me back to the Holiday Inn in the big tow truck he himself had assembled from various, extremely used car parts. He was from West Virginia, had an ashray packed with cigarette butts, lung cancer and a wife who'd up and left him. He told me all this in a nice friendly way, though I could understand only a small percentage of his words. Nonetheless I had faith that I would indeed get back, and as we drove back the sun came out and I observed a rainbow over the Holiday Inn.
Yesterday morning, while awaiting word on our car, we walked along old Route 66 to "Old Smoky's Pancake House," where we ate giant pancakes while sitting in the very booth where Elvis Presley ate a half-century ago. In honor of the King, we tasted all four kinds of syrup sitting on our table: maple, boysenberry, pecan and strawberry. My daughter's love for Elvis won out over her reluctance in front of the camera, and she agreed to pose in the very chair where Elvis sat, that is, before he retired to the booth. (Despite the fact that our waiter appeared to have been born in about 1988, he seemed to know the precise details of Elvis's every move from back when He visited the pancake house, a half-century ago.)
As it turns out, the car's injuries are quite severe, and we'll be making our way down the road in a rental. But for now, the kids are extremely thrilled to be watching cable TV (which we don't get at home) and the hotel's swimming pool is also a big treat for them. We probably will not get to do all we'd planned, such as a visit to the Four Corners, then on to see the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado. But we hope to make it up to Denver for my 20th high school reunion this weekend.
Nonetheless, we're having a fun adventure together, no matter.
Brian's right, it's all in how you pet the porcupine!
Violinist Frank Almond tells the life story of the 1715 Lipinski Strad in his new recording, "A Violin's Life."
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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