Friday, April 29, 2011

There's No Place Like Home-Room

By B. Stuart Noll
All Rights Reserved
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This story comes to you with love, from me to you, but not on my own. How it came about is almost as interesting as the students who make up the 7th grade Mayfair Elementary School class which this story is about. (More on that later) I don’t know where all of my classmates are or what they are doing 45 years after the photo below was taken, but this photo survived somehow and, at least for some, there was a memory attached to it that lives on beyond it. What follows is just the memory, opinion and imagination of one person, intended only to reminisce, enjoy and excite fond recollections of a moment in time shared, even if unconsciously or in some cases unknowingly, by all of us.

Mayfair Elementary 7th Grade

Maria Koba, Janice Booth, Heather Titus, Barbara Kaufman, Janet Steffa, Pat Faulkner, Linda Killen - 2nd Row - Robin Zablin, Jan Swartz, Mike Monti, Bob MacMath, Mark Campbell, Gail Roat, Joey Defeo - 3rd Row - Neil Freeman, Howard Williams, Aliki Seremelis, John Jaskill, Randee Cohen, Rich MacDonald, Steven Rosner, Tom Bradley, - 4th Row - Bob Tomkus, Rebecca Bishop, Susan Terkanian, Bruce Noll, Karen Wexler, Patti Cleveland, Warren Dickerson, - 5th Row - Frank Canter, Joyce Szekley, Steve Antol, Frannie Borzi, Jerry Walsh, Patti Kozub, Ed McCool, Pat Thumma

The life of a 7th grader is different for everyone; some better than others, some more difficult and some hardly noticeable in the grand scheme of things. We all received different conditioning then, and since. The one piece of undeniable evidence about our commonality is produced by the picture itself. We were all there together for at least one moment, the click of a camera shutter, documenting the process of growing up. It’s as if we were sitting for a hand painted portrait for posterity or a well choreographed snapshot of the part we’d play in enriching each others lives and our world, past, present and future!!! Who knew?

I opened up the black foot locker that contained the ancient memorabilia before and after each new address. Each time I moved, I would gaze at the photo. I've lugged “us” from place to place because these faces (and that moment in time) were a part of me, a great metaphor for the real connection among us as human beings. Admittedly, I thought “why am I keeping this?” Sometimes, I just couldn’t decide what stuff stayed and what went; what would survive another day, month or year in the archives of my life and what would be discarded, never to be viewed again, not even on special occasions – like the next move! The fate of this Mayfair Elementary School photo of 39 7th graders was destined to travel to the next station of life, somehow reminding me I actually existed back then, along with some really, really cool kids who couldn’t escape that day either!

It dawned on me as I wrote this piece that if you’re anything like me, we’ve been carrying each other around for more than 45 years! And frankly, some of us are getting a little out of shape! (Chuckle, Chuckle) Really, have you ever wondered why we do this? If any of you have input, I’d be happy to listen, because I’m running out of things to tell my therapist and its expensive time and I just don’t want to sit there on the couch and twiddle my thumbs!

This 1965/1966 photo made the trek from Philly to Panama to Philly to Virginia Beach VA to Richmond VA and finally to Asheville, NC and a bunch of other short stops in between. It has survived a lack of education (dropping out of college), continuing education (learning from the school of hard knocks), hurricanes, floods, a defunct marriage and more address changes than I care to admit. I write this knowing I may be abnormal in many respects but I also know that I have much in common with my classmates in this photo. It seemed that each new home beckoned that I open the trunk to see if my past was intact and this photo always seemed to call out, “Hey Bruce, it’s okay, we’re all here together!” How about you? How or what tumult has your photo survived?

I would visually and sensitively scan the photo in general and then I would look at each face wondering where they were now and what they’re doing. I would wonder if life were treating you well and what changes you had experienced since that time in the mid 1960’s. I wanted to know if the aging process had treated you more gracefully than it had treated me. I know it’s goofy, isn’t it? We can’t change a thing, but we get curious about those whom we once knew, those we associated with academically, socially, and in some cases intimately in the innocence of childhood friendships.

Sadly, over the years many of the memories became more obscure or just seemed to be overwritten by another circumstance of our current lives - good, bad or as indifferent as they may have been. I’m referring to the successes, the failures, the joys and the heartbreaks of ordinary living. We all have them and with each new experience or new episode of present living a little more of the past is eaten away. So going back to the foot locker every now and then somehow reinforced that inside we were essentially the same people now as we were in 1965.

Well, that brings me to the now of it, to how this story came to be. Regardless of how you feel about or experience social media, many of us would still be wondering how the others were doing if it were not for Facebook, MySpace, Linked In or other similar communication phenomena.

Well, Mike Monti had this photo on his Facebook wall. I saw it and it struck a nerve within me. I could do nothing else but comment. Then Joyce Szekley Marcalo commented as well. Mike remembered a remarkable number of our classmates. This started a cycle of bantering that led to Rebecca Bishop-Walkup’s naming of each and every classmate. I remembered some, Mike remembered some, Joyce remembered some, But Rebe had them all; every last one of them! Funny, I never pictured her as a librarian or historian.

I was amazed; simply amazed. I now knew every name again. I can’t say I ever knew everyone personally, the people within each name, but I think we all knew the names. The memories I had lost through use and abuse I had now regained through the kindness of three people I hardly knew, except for a 45 year-long long distance relationship maintained via a picture locked away in a foot locker.

Seriously, I was and am very grateful for the reconnection. Again, there is a bit of sadness. It occurred to me that I perhaps, no…I did, miss the opportunity to know another human being more deeply. Most of us wound up going to Lincoln High School. Sure, we made new friends along the way, but I now wonder what I could have done to develop stronger relationships with those in this and other classes. Granted, there were those who wouldn’t have wanted to know me any better and that’s okay. My point is as I look back I didn’t make the best use of what I had to help others. Oh, how selfish!

Part of the answer for me at least is that I wasn’t a very nice kid to many of the people in this picture. Please accept my long overdue apology! It took me a long time to figure out the world didn’t spin on the Noll axis. I still carry with me some of the ugliness of my childhood behavior. Hey, I know we were only kids in the 7th grade, but much of what I remember about that picture has to do with the feelings associated with my behavior at that time. It wasn’t all bad, of course, and I believe it worked out for the best yet, I have to ask myself what could it have been if we were a little more aware of the impact each of us would have on the other?

Knowing that hindsight is 20/20 isn’t much of a consolation when you figure out you may have hurt someone’s feelings and that’s the last impression they have of you! Oops just doesn’t cut it. So, to those whom I may have hurt, I beg your forgiveness.

Every now and then I publish articles hoping to share experiences with young men and women with the intention of helping them through the delicate issues of life that can be confusing. It has been said that “experience is the greatest teacher,” but those lessons can also be more exacting in terms of the consequences than we originally anticipated. I suggest they do have a choice. One of the choices I encourage them to make is to consider the potential outcomes of their actions. Part of the motivation for that philosophy comes from this 7th grade class.

Some of the outcomes were simply fabulous. I can remember playing basketball against Solis Cohen and track meets with other elementary schools. It was just plain fun! Mr. Freeman’s gym class was a hoot with the boys in their white gym shorts and tee shirts and the girls with the short blue faux prison uniforms. Then there was Mrs. Wooley and Mr. Kubel and Mrs. Kaine and Mrs. Kradoska and a host of other good teachers.

I can remember almost falling asleep watching Bob MacMath’s sleepy eyed stares and almost imperceptible snickers that would start everybody laughing. I can remember thinking how the heck did Frank Canter, Warren Dickerson and Tom Bradley get that big that quick. At that point in time I was just starting to notice girls and the interactions on my part were very childish. Sorry girls, and I didn’t seem to have learned much more growing up either. Feel free to share some of your favorite stories, quips, anecdotes, etc., because they may jog the memory of a classmate who could use a laugh or maybe a heartfelt minute of joy! They may also help somebody know that life is good and we can choose many of our outcomes. If not, we can at least make them a little more bearable by sharing them together.

I included another photo below of the place where we used to play at recess hoping you too, can recall some of the warm moments provided by learning, playing and growing up with each other. For those of you I got to know as friends I say Thank You for being an integral part of my life experience and to those whom I didn’t get to know I say it’s not too late unless we say it is. I remain speechless!

Mayfair Elementary School

Princeton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19149-1496

So, thanks Mike, Joyce and Rebecca. I pray that you will be as richly blessed as you have blessed me. So many times in my youth I can remember my mother saying “it’s the little things that count.” I now know what she meant! What a treasure one moment in time can be!!! I’m glad I didn’t miss it and I’ll keep the moment and the spirit in my heart always!

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes about friends. A wise man once told me whenever you deliver a message, make sure it includes hope. This one does and it is for you!!!

1. Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.—Anonymous

2.      "Your friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you." -- Elbert Hubbard 
3.      "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." -- Unknown
4.      The greatest value of anything, including friendship, is its capacity to stand the test of time. – B. Stuart Noll
5.      Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value. – Albert Einstein
 Feel free to pass this on to someone in our class you know.
Peace be with you and be well my friends,