It was one of those seminal moments that unknowingly shaped my young heart. I have carried my version of the memory with me for over 50 years.
I saw my recent high school reunion, held last weekend, as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go back in time and set my emotional record straight— and to let Carol, whose nickname is Charlie, know how significant her seemingly insignificant attention meant to me.
Charlie was one of my classmates from the 1968 graduating class of South High School.
And although the year was 1965, my hope was Charlie would still remember the place, song and with whom she was dancing during “Under the Boardwalk” by the Drifters. How could she possibly forget the jasmine-like floral fragrance of my Tres Flores Brilliantine pomade and how it literally shaped my freshly cut glistening hair?
And at a minimum, she had to recall the sweet aroma of my Jade East cologne, used by all the 1960 action heroes and movie spies.
It was one of many magic moments that were the pillars of my evolving, complex and developing young image of self. After all, dancing with Charlie would be my first time dancing with a female who wasn’t my cousin, sister, aunt or grandma.
Going to your 50th high school reunion allows you to go back in time. You can validate, confirm and blow the dust off memories of a long ago time.
And yes, Charlie was going to attend the reunion. But would she dance with me and would she remember?
I was nervous about attending. I still haven’t gotten used to going to social functions alone and without Susie, my bride of 40 years, who we lost to cancer. All my insecurities of not fitting in, not being liked and my lack of self-confidence came back to me and increased with each step I took alone toward our reunion, held at the Bakersfield Eagles banquet hall.
As I walked into the banquet room, I was overwhelmed at the smiles, hugs and animated conversations simultaneously taking place throughout the hall. The huge smiles of former Rebels — and my table mates for the evening, Rita, Rosie, Fred, Greg, Carol and Ronnie — were all I needed to relax and feel the love.
One of my goals for attending the reunion was to tell people how much I appreciated their friendship and their service to our country. My graduating class of 1968 was the first group in the nationwide Dec. 1, 1969, Vietnam draft lottery. Exactly 366 blue capsules containing birthdays were randomly picked. If your birthday landed on the top 10 list, after graduation, on Dec. 2, you were saying goodbye to family and friends.
Thank you to the reunion committee for paying homage to our many classmates who proudly served.
One of the challenges of going to a well-attended high school reunion is having the time to circulate and say hello to all your former friends. As I walked around the room and greeted my friends, I saw her. Charlie’s hair was shorter, but her smile was just as I remembered it and she was just as beautiful. I approached with trepidation and introduced myself to her fiancé. I asked if a dance together would be OK. She laughed and said, “Yes.”
I tipped the DJ and he played “Under the Boardwalk.” And just like 53 years ago I walked across the room and asked Charlie to dance. As the song played, I really wasn’t listening to the music or seeing the hundreds of people in the room. It was just me and Charlie dancing and reminiscing.
Did she remember her house party and our dance together 53 years ago? She looked at me with her big brown eyes and with her signature crooked little smile, shook her head and apologetically whispered “no.”
My heart broke, but only for a minute. It made me realize how many “incidental” contacts classmates at my reunion have had with other people that, without their knowledge, helped shaped who they would become.
Unbeknownst to Charlie, she was one of those people in my life. I am happy I had the chance to tell her so.
Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work normally appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.