Many years ago, long before Facebook or Twitter, communities used to thrive when people ran into other people and chatted them up. Sometimes you learned something, sometimes the other person learned something, and sometimes no one learned anything, but everyone had fun. So it was this past weekend as I celebrated my 40th reunion with 250 or so of my Princeton classmates.
Never shy about Reunions, our class begins its activities Thursday night with a class dinner at the Springdale Golf Club. The cocktail party music is provided by a bluegrass group led by a former U.S. 1 writer, Richard D. Smith. Smith’s music starts a discussion of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, booked at Princeton in our freshman year by classmate Jim Floyd. He soon changed course and eventually ended up in psychology. But classmate and co-promoter Jon Taplin stayed the course. In 1969 he began his career as tour manager for Bob Dylan and the Band.
We head back to the tent for the first rock band of our weekend, the Rackett with lead singer Paul Muldoon, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet who is also an honorary classmate.
On Friday I join my friend Nell Whiting for a four-hour drive to her major reunion at Mount Holyoke College, home of what playwright and 1971 alumna Wendy Wasserstein once termed “uncommon women.” Unlike Princeton alumni, the alumnae of Mount Holyoke apparently do not need loud music to enjoy their reunions — wine, beer, pizza, and good conversation carry the day in South Hadley, MA.
The next morning the class salutes those who have died since graduation. A classmate who is a minister reads the name of each woman, and then asks the class to repeat it and say “we remember.” At the end the minister reminds us that “the spoken word can never be taken back.” But instead of cautioning us to say less she urges everyone to say out loud the name of the departed who have served as loved ones, friends, or mentors in our lives, and let that memory live on, never to be taken back. Names soon fly into the air, and there’s not a dry eye in the room.
At the end of Mount Holyoke’s alumnae parade, I hear a man’s voice call my name. It’s Rich Edwards, my Princeton classmate who married a member of Holyoke’s Class of ‘69 and is spending the weekend at her reunion rather than ours. Edwards has been retired from his banking career for a dozen years and now spends considerable time helping to sustain nonprofits in his beleaguered town of Oakland, CA.
OK, it’s a big world, and our reunion isn’t the only game in town. But it’s also a small world. Four hours later I’m back in Princeton, at the gathering of the Daily Princetonian alumni behind 48 University Place. There I run into David Zielenziger ‘74, a former ‘Prince’ chairman like myself. His brother, Mike, followed in his footsteps at Princeton and now is based in — should have guessed — Oakland, CA. Edwards, the retired banker, and Zielenziger, the journalist, have pretty much the same diagnosis of the city’s problems.
From there it’s off to the boathouse at Carnegie Lake for another class dinner. Catching up on old times are two leaders of the 1960s protest group, the Students for a Democratic Society: Jimmy Tarlau ‘70 and Doug Seaton ‘69. Tarlau is still fighting the fight, with the Communications Workers of America. Seaton is also involved in labor issues — as a lawyer representing management. The changes experienced in the 1960s were not the only ones in our lives.
A few tables away I run into classmate Bob Raymar, who reports that his son is undergoing parachute training with the Army, being dropped out of airplanes at 1,500 feet. Why so low? someone asks. Because the parachutist then spends less time in the air as a target for enemy fire and so the airplane dropping them passes more quickly over enemy positions.
Back at the tent later that evening, I take my two teenage sons to the performance of the Fab Four, the Beatles look and sound-alikes. The kids are unimpressed.
But Sunday morning, at the final event of the 40th’s four-day magical mystery tour, the kids are quietly impressed by a jazz combo headed by classmate Barry Miles Silverlight.
In our freshman year Barry Miles was already a nationally known musician. He had recorded his first album at the age of 12, and played drums with the Woody Herman Orchestra. Since Princeton he has served as musical director and keyboardist for Roberta Flack and has written the music for lots of television commercials. I introduce him to the kids. As we leave Barry’s parting words are to my kids, the aspiring musicians: “Practice, practice.”
Out on Nassau Street I think that one good thing about Reunions are the name tags — big enough so that everyone can see them from a distance. I stop by the Kiosk to pick up the Trenton newspapers and I hear my name called out again: Is that Rich Rein of U.S. 1 Newspaper? Peter Dougherty, director of the Princeton University Press, introduces himself and we chat all the way down Nassau Street to Sovereign Bank across from Thomas Sweet Ice Cream.
As the spoken words fly, never to be taken back, I think that, on either side of Nassau Street, Princeton is still a nice little community.