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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: July 25, 2019

Jane Thibodeau Martin

My high school class recently gathered to observe our 45th reunion. Mike and I had a good time, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about the reunion since.

My high school class was, at the time, the largest graduating class ever at Peshtigo High School, at about 109. (A few took advantage of early graduation in January, the first time that was ever allowed.) But Peshtigo (and us "country kids" from the surrounding area) is a small town. And in many ways, that is probably responsible for many of the good things about my classmates.

Of the 109 classmates, 34 attended (many with spouses or significant others in tow.) A tribute during the reunion was held to remember the nine who have passed away, along with a display of their pictures, so a little over a third of the remaining classmates came. I know from talking to other people that some high school classes never have reunions, so I feel fortunate our attendance is so good. I think I have been to all but one of our every-five-year gatherings, and we consistently get decent turnout. Two classmates planned to attend, but unfortunately one classmate lost her mother that morning, and another lost his father. There was palpable sorrow in the room when this was announced, and I know many of us acted on the suggestion we pray for the bereaved extended Swiatnicki and Behnke families. Ron and Sue; you were missed and you have the sympathy of the entire class of 1974 on your losses.

But one of the themes at the reunion and in chatter on line since, was sorrow and regret that more classmates did not attend. We watched our senior slide show, and many commented on classmates that everyone has lost touch with-and we miss them. We are a group of men and women who grew up together, and we don't feel whole without them at the gathering.

This new, older version of those young men and women is more outgoing and inclusive. Those of us who may not have been close catch up with one another and the talk is about pets, hobbies, grandchildren and especially, aging parents. We knew many of our classmate's parents and siblings, and there is genuine interest in who is in poor health, who has passed away, and who is holding their own. People inquired about my sisters and brother, asked about my Mom and expressed sympathy about my dad's passing. And I did the same, because in a small town, you know not just your classmate, but their families.

We are very fortunate because Robin Dohr Swiatnicki is a powerhouse organizer. With the help of classmates John, Sue, Lori, Nora, Colleen, Helene, Duane, Phyllis, Mary and Carole, we enjoyed frequent communication about the upcoming reunion, a welcome and prayer before dinner, and an enjoyable after dinner speech from our former teacher Mr. DesJardin who attended with his wife Jan. They came all the way from Colorado to be with us, and there were a lot of laughs during his talk. Then our classmate Nora shared a reflection on some of the things we did not have in 1974 " like cell phones. It was a good contrast between then and now, and we know we were lucky to be growing up when we did, since our poorly-thought out high school antics were not recorded for posterity. (Whew!) Colleen narrated the slideshow of the entire class pictures, and Mary P. actually baked cookies for dessert after dinner for the entire group. They were delicious, and talk about going above and beyond for your classmates!

But there was a little bit of melancholy too. The fact that nearly 1 in 10 of us have already passed on. The losses suffered on Saturday by Susan and Ron. The missed opportunities with classmates we remember fondly not joining us.

If you are lucky enough to belong to a class from any school and someone bothers to try to get a reunion together, go. Time waits for no one, and someday you may regret not reconnecting to the people who shared your timeline.

And if you are one of my classmates who did not attend, you were remembered with affection and you were missed. Our next reunion isn't until 2024. By then, chances are good we will be permanently missing a few more classmates. The gathering will be moved that year from our normal summer schedule to fall, to allow us to have a class of 1974 float in the Peshtigo Fire Days parade to celebrate our 50 year anniversary. I am positive it is going to be a lot of fun, with a lot of kind, interesting, salt of the earth people. Please come join us. We aren't the same without you. And while the most popular song of 1974 was "The Way We Were" by Barbara Striesand, I think you will find that, like me, you like us all better the way we are now.

Song stuck in my head: "Glory Days," by Bruce Springsteen. It's about people who look back constantly and believe their best days are behind them. I don't get the feeling from my classmates that they are living in the past; rather they are enjoying life, making the world a better place through their volunteer efforts, and looking forward to the good times to come.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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