Sunday, July 26, 2009

Forty years afterward

Thunderstorms could not dampen the enthusiasm this weekend of members of the Fleming County High School Class of 1969 at their reunion parties. *

Before you continue, you should now have been tipped off that this post is even less of general interest than the usual ones. Carping about grammar and usage will resume tomorrow. I don’t want to spoil the account of the reunion by pointing out that The Baltimore Sun has referred in an article to two parties reaching “an agreement in principal.”

I arrived in Elizaville on Friday evening in time to sit outside with a wee dram (or two) of Woodford Reserve and watch the sun go don over the hills. The old Early place is at the crest of a hill just outside metropolitan Elizaville. It was on the road at the crest of that hill that a minor skirmish of the Civil War occurred, when a Confederate recruiting party marching in from Johnson Junction met a Federal patrol marching up from Nepton. Musket fire was exchanged, with no apparent injury to either party.**

That would have been about 1862, when my great-grandfather acquired the property. The farmhouse was built by my great-grandfather about 120 years ago, and my mother, the last of the Earlys, lived there until her death in 2001.

The first of the reunion parties on Saturday was at the house in Flemingsburg that my classmate Larry Johnson has been restoring and filling with antiques. We posed on the front porch for photos that are likely to show up in this week’s Flemingsburg Gazette — if a little hastily, because a thunderstorm was running through.

There were the usual exchanges: “Why, John Early, you haven’t changed a bit.”*** That was, of course, the polite lie that people exchange in these operations, and I reciprocated as often as I could do so convincingly.

In the evening, we repaired to the McCartney cottage, thanks to Sidney McCartney Day and Marsha McNeill McCartney, at Park Lake, a private resort, and sat through another thunderstorm while relaxing on the screened-in porch and waiting for the burgers to mature on the grill. People kept repeating remarks, many of them ill-natured, attributed to me. Fortunately, I was in possession of the formulaic response from my first news editor, the late Bob Johnson: “Did I say that? [beat] That sounds like something I would have said.”

The reason for attending a reunion is to see how time has marked one’s old companions, and to see how one measures up against them. Well, those of us who still have hair have gone gray, and some of us are still working and some of us are not, but the personalities previously in evidence are still recognizably there.

It was enormously moving to be greeted with affection and enthusiasm after this long lapse of years. Feeling the evening breeze rise over the hill at the farm, where I spent so many childhood years reading and watching the play of the shadows of clouds over the fields and hills, felt like home.

Seeing my old classmates was like the return of the prodigal, known and welcomed.

*Lord forgive me.

**I was not there.

***These are the only people who still know what my name is. I haven’t been called “John Early” this often for decades.