Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Persistence of Memory

I spent yesterday evening in the company of nine attractive, sympathetic, and chatty women whom I had not seen in at least twenty-seven years. They were all classmates of mine in elementary school. One of them, the most well-organized and motivated of the lot, maintains a Facebook page dedicated to Resurrection of Our Lord School’s Class of 1971, and every so often she schedules an informal get-together for those of us still in the area. Everyone is invited, of course, but the groups end up consisting of women, with the occasional token male. Last night, it was my turn.

We met for dinner at the Rhawnhurst Café, a bar and grille near my apartment that I was told has been there forever, but which I had never set foot in before. (I’d been missing out. The portobello sandwich was excellent.) Three of us Lisa, Susan, and I  sat at one end of the tables rehashing memories of nuns, lay teachers, games of spin the bottle (which I was never privileged to attend), and the trouble we inevitably got into simply by being children in a harshly disciplined environment.

It felt as though we were piecing together a single, collective memory out of fragments each of us has carried for years. Lisa claimed to remember very little, but what few memories she did have were vivid  like the time she and a girl named Maria made a dash for the school roof, only to be caught on the stairs by the principal. I would expect something like this from Maria, the principal told her, but not from a straight-A student like you.

Yes, we must beware of the company we keep  one of the endless life lessons drilled into us by Catholic education. Maria died of cancer a few years ago, and it hurt to learn that. Lisa has a Ph.D. in psychology, so I guess the adventure on the stairs didn’t undermine her character too much.

I was the only one who remembered the time we were herded in the gymnasium/auditorium for a performance by a pair of opera singers. Neither Susan nor Lisa even believed it had occurred until Diane, sitting nearby, confirmed my story. Lisa insisted she there had never been had never been introduced to an sort of culture in her entire eight years at Resurrection. (The music we were forced to sing at children’s Mass was insipid.) Diane didn’t remember the opera itself, but I did: it was the one about the marriage proposal that keeps being interrupted by phone calls. It was only years later that I put a title to the performance The Telephone, by Gian Carlo Menotti. A better first exposure for kids, I suppose, than Götterdämmerung.

All these years later, what I don’t remember is the accompaniment. Was it a recording or a live piano?

The talk went on from six-thirty until after nine. I stopped at Rita’s for a vanilla cone, which I enjoyed slowly as I walked home. It was the most beautiful, most comfortable night of the summer.

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