What’s Going On
This past weekend was the 52nd reunion for Richmond, VA’s Thomas Jefferson High School Class of 1970. Tee Jay’s Class of ’70 turned 70. Friday night we gathered for hors d oeuvres at Mekong, a Vietnamese restaurant famous for its beer collection. My brother-in-law, Jerry Bayer, DVM, used to sit behind me in English class junior year joined me. His family moved away our senior year, so he didn’t graduate with us, but it was a delight to get to spend time with him with old friends. Several friends were there Friday night who couldn’t attend Saturday, so I was happy to get to see them. It amazes me how many still live in town, but our paths rarely ever cross.
Saturday night we gathered at Westwood Racquet Club. Marie and I stood around the bar and talked for a good hour before retiring to a table in the back corner with the crowd I hung with at school. Ronnie Terry and Celeste Armstrong discovered they live four blocks from each other in Honolulu. I didn’t catch the name, but they discovered another classmate also lives on the big island as well.
Ronnie’s dad grew up in the same neighborhood as my dad and we’ve arranged to Zoom so I can ask him questions about my dad’s childhood. It will be 30 years May 19 since Daddy died. I’m looking forward to filling in some gaps in my family stories.
Ronnie and his wife, Max, have visited 60 countries around the world and he regaled me with stories of Africa and Tibet.
Three of us at the table have been married three times. Two of us won T-shirts for this dubious distinction. The third didn’t own up until later in the evening.
Marie said she had a great time listening to the stories and joining in the gales of laughter.
Much of which was provoked by Jonathan Austin. Jonathan is a local busker/juggler/magician who charmed the room by walking from table to table doing close-up magic. I remember Jonathan juggling on his unicycle as a young man in the 80s. He would put his hat on the ground outside the fashionable hot spots in Richmond’s Shockoe Slip entertaining the folks waiting in line to get inside. His banter was hokie, but his magic was first rate.
For me the gathering was somewhat subdued by the loss of my high school song and dance partner, Albert Sherman. Albert passed away the Sunday before the reunion. He had a successful career as an opera director in New York and of equal importance directed me in the show where I first crossed paths with Marie. Granted she was only eight years old at the time and I don’t remember her from then, but she remembered me 10 years later when we met as adults.
None the less, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Reuniting with old friends was joyful and while many people didn’t recognize me with my white whiskers, heads turned when they heard my voice, and many shared their memories of my performances in school, and some even shared they follow me on Facebook and a few even subscribe to this newsletter.
Those were golden years, and I am so thankful for the friends and the memories.
Two people were missing. Betty Davis, our choir teacher and our class sponsor and Betty Griggs, our drama teacher. Those ladies were the two most influential educators of my life. I owe my theatre career to them.
Sharing Our Stories
I heard a lot of great stories this past weekend. But I didn’t get the sense my former classmates tell those stories often. I encouraged everyone I spoke with to capture their stories and to share them. Our stories are our culture, our heritage. I encourage you to share your stories. Work on them, craft them, don’t let them be lost. Remember, we are the primary sources for tomorrow’s historians.
“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” –Walt Disney
An American Dream
I was sitting at the table at my 52nd high school reunion. I was aware that a lady had slipped in behind me and was sitting on the windowsill. I thought she was there to speak to Sandy who was sitting to my right. I glanced at her name tag and I realized it was Anna Diez Bell. I jumped to my feet, and I hugged her and told her what a delight it was to see her.
I apologized for not having responded faster. I hadn’t known her when we’d been in school. She and her sister were both very quiet, I got to know Anna in the 90s when she and her husband, Mike, ran a print shop down the street from an ad agency where I worked. I asked about their business, and she said they’d recently sold it.
Somehow in the conversation she said, “You knew our story.” And I said, “No.”
I had known she was Cuban, but I’d never known her family had fled Cuba when Castro came to power. She was in 3rd grade, her sister was in 4th and her brother in the 5th when they came to the U.S. None of them spoke English. As a result, all of them were held back. As Anna said it was easier for her, but they all learned the language and went on to lead productive lives. Her sister taught Spanish in the Chesterfield County Public Schools until she retired, and as I mentioned Anna and Mike had a successful printing business.
I’m not doing a great job of telling this story, but I think it is a great story.
And in a time when people are demonizing immigrants, I wanted to share it.
A lot of my friends are immigrants. They live courageous lives. They’ve left their native lands and come to a country where many have had to learn a new language. And they have prospered. Our country is richer for their being here.
The next time you hear somebody suggesting that immigrants are ruining our country reach out to me and I’ll be happy to introduce you to my friends and colleagues from France, Belgium, Nigeria, Cameroon, Argentina, Nepal, Cuba, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Korea, East and West Germany, Australia, Russia, Denmark, Israel, and England.
My wife’s family is from Ireland, and they can testify to the discrimination their ancestors faced. NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs were openly posted in windows.
Many people seem to forget we’re a nation of immigrants. It’s our strength. I think Anna subscribes to this newsletter. I’m going to reach out to her and hopefully she’ll consent to telling this story better than I have. But as lame a job as I have done, it’s obvious her family are shining examples of the American Dream. God bless them.
Lelia is a mime, an actress, a director, a stage manager and a non profit executive who blends her fascination with mythology with her passion for making our world a better place. Check out her story, Faith in America.
The title, Once More Upon a Time, caught my eye at my local library. It’s a lovely fairy tale. Short, sweet, and engaging. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. I encourage you to check it out. And Roshani Chokshi as well. The subhead of her home page is: For Those Who Wish for Wonder.
I Want to Hear from You
I’d love to hear your stories about people you know who’ve immigrated to our country.
Drop me a line or two at [email protected] and tell me what you’d like me to write about.
Til next time,