Beaconsfield High School Reunion, laughs & tears down Memory Lane
After a week of Montreal art and culture, it was time to take the bus out to West Island and get ready for a weekend of hilarity and shared reminiscing at my Beaconsfield High School Reunion, a homecoming for the entire school, not just our 1973 year which had about 300 grads itself.
My trip back east for this event had been planned since the last one in 2003. Many out-of-towners stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Trans Canada Highway, just across from Fairview shopping center which had been perhaps the largest in Canada. I did walk over there one morning just to take a look at the scene of some minor crimes of my youth and was actually surprised that I found it not as impressive or large as I had expected. Quite ordinary and underwhelming in fact but then I’m not a big Mall gall at all. In my 24 years around Vancouver, have been to our largest Metrotown Mall only twice. I had a little French toast breakfast for old times sake at the Delicatessen, bought a little t-shirt for $16 bucks, walked the entire length and headed back to the hotel. I’m really not a shopper.
I had hooked up with a roommate through facebook, someone from a year below our class that I’ve been chatting occasionally with on facebook and we were a nice match. The reunion took place at the high school and spread from Friday evening over to Saturday. Luckily we all wore name tags because there too many names from the distant past to ever remember! Some school chums had also been elementary school chums or neighborhood playmates. Some were siblings of friends made at college and there were even some teachers but I don’t think any of ours turned up.
In snips of conversations, we shared quick snapshots of our lives and it was great to connect and reconnect with these people who have a shared history with us in a very undeniable way. We all went through the same high school experience, the same Petri dish of success and failure, adolescent hormones, shyness and bravado, awkwardness, orthodontic braces, zits and bad hair.
Some had not strayed far from Montreal and some were just back from years abroad. Several have just recently retired and others were far from it. We remembered some great friends who have already passed on from our class including the very talented guitar playing Rick Gunn who was the most recent member of this sad but small group and my dear friend Christine Patton who passed on just after our last reunion 10 years ago.
Over Friday night dinner and drinks at The Manoir, many people told me they had been to some great parties in our nicely finished party basement over the years where my brother and I had some great joint parties… uh, did I say joint? Oops, I meant shared parties but have to admit some were a little perfumed by some rather aromatic stuff.
Unfortunately the theater auditorium was closed during the reunion. Those of us who had the very meaningful experience of having been under John Whitman’s drama teaching would have loved to have seen it again, the scene of so many good and powerful memories. When we did drama, we gave it our all and left something behind on the stage, our souls. Seriously, we could remember some very moving pieces we pulled out of ourselves in improvs, no script, just a concept and go!
We didn’t get to see the art room either. Back in grade 8, Christine and I used to stay behind every day until the janitor threw us out at 5:50 when we finally cleaned up after throwing pots of the wheel and playing with clay and other great messy stuff. A wonderland, an outlet, a sanctuary, a breeding ground for imagination and skills.
I met my old friend and neighbor Wendy and we walked around our old neighborhood which was right next to the school. Westchester Estates was a very elegant little couple of streets with beautiful homes and gorgeous trees and gardens, pretty darned nice by any standard, for the most part quietly unique and personal and hardly the grotesque McMansions being built today. The word that sprang to our lips was privileged. We were very fortunate. Maybe the people in their gardens thought we were a little odd, pointing and taking pictures of the homes, the park, the trees but we had name tags on lanyards around our necks and didn’t seem to pose much of a threat. On our way to our class dinner at Jill’s house (thanks Jill!) on the other side of the tracks, we drove down my other old street and around my old elementary school.
Here’s a bunch of us at Jill’s place including a former Prom couple with their old Prom photo! Too funny and no, they’re not still together. Many of this group had been in Band together and had lots of shared Band memories.
Loosing our rubbers boots to the wonderful natural swamp that became Sherwood and having to galump home in one boot and one muddy sock, the fields where we used to smoke little sticks of wood and dried grasses and think we were so cool, Westcroft Road which used to be home to riding stables, apple orchards and a friend of my brother’s who had a small pet monkey. The driveway down from St. Paul’s school where we used to ride home-made go-carts and think it was so wild and fast. Climbing trees where there are now only ghosts of trees. Peter whose dad used to be a chauffeur (for the mafia?) who later went to jail for a very violent murder. Ballet classes at the United Church…
In our Westchester neighborhood, Tina falling on the little skating rink in front of our homes and breaking her arm in grade seven. Coming home for lunch and playing ball on the roof. Being almost the only non-Jewish home in our neighborhood and having a Christmas tree when others didn’t. (That’s funny actually because it took me a couple of years to even realize that we were a minority of any kind there.) A rather chaotic family next door whose furniture got repossessed and who used to let us tramp through the house in our winter boots to slide out of the 2nd floor bedroom windows and down a huge snow drift that reached the roof. Mothers who seemed to be out socializing too much, mothers who didn’t get out enough, a mother who fled her stressful family to probably save her own mental health, a mother who drove to a Pointe Claire hotel and didn’t wake up from a bottle of sleeping pills, a girl whose father apparently did work for the mafia… and on and on….
The super cool girls practicing their cheer leading songs and routines in the lower foyer on the way to A Gym and high kicking their lovely legs in their snappy short tartan mini-kilts. Boy, we never fit in with that sporty girl crowd! They were super cute and cool and we were… not.
My first high school dance which I may have gone to with my older girlfriends before I was actually at BHS. I wore a navy Pauli dress from my dad’s factory with juicy rainbow colored ¼ inch stripes, a mini dress that zipped up the front to a tall turtleneck. Think Twiggy, think 1968 or 69. Very hip! Wore that with orange chunky knit pantyhose. We danced in the darkness in a small circle of girls thinking we were pretty hip and by god, I think we were! Someone’s hard (expensive and the only kind) contact lens popped out and we all crawled around the dark gym floor trying to find it before it got danced on and we did! Many great bands came through our school including Rush and the Bee Gees as I am told by one of those tall slim Peters brothers twins and he would remember as he’s quite the guitar player himself.
Some of our collective grade school and BHS memories…
Playing dolls and Dinky Cars, playing Barbies, playing doctor, riding bikes and pretending they were our horses, roller skating with skates that clamped onto your shoes with a key, playing tag and running around the yards and hedges until our parents finally called us home or it was time to go inside. Watching TV in real time because that was the only way to see it, trading comics and baseball cards and then in older years trading kisses and more…
Going up to the cottage for hot steamy summer weekends or cold crunchy winter ones for skiing. Driving too fast in cars as small children before seat belts came along. Reading our fathers’ Playboy magazines which by the way really DID have excellent writing as well as the pretty women. I didn’t believe my dad at the time but have since come to realize that they were actually a thinking man’s magazine and not just a girly rag.
Parents who were great, some who drank too much, smoked too much, womanized too much (think Mad Men and you’ve got the picture for some families in those years), parents who screamed at each other and threw things and others who never said a peep at all, parents who set a pretty table and ate dinner at 5:30 each night as opposed to our family which ate late at 7 or 8. Families who went to church, kids who sang in the choir, going to summer camps from YMCA (before it became a campy dance hit!) day camps in Ile Perrot to riding camp like Little Buckaroo Ranch or Liers and gymnastic camp at Elgin. Walking across the top of the crunchy icy crust of snow and over the back field to get to the library instead of taking the much longer route by the street. We HAD to go to the library to do our school project research unless your family had the very popular and bulky wall to wall Encyclopaedia Britannica, which we didn’t.
Babysitters who were nice, wild and crazy or abusive, babysitting kids when we got old enough to do so and make a little pocket money. Neighbors who had a litter of collie puppies and we went every day to help with the clean up and to snuggle with these tiny mewling pups. Being pulled along the icy streets on smooth boots by bigger dogs as if they were an Arctic dog team.
Teachers who rapped our knuckles with rulers in French class. Wearing school uniforms all the way through elementary school, in grade 7 and then by grade 9 they were gone along with a certain amount of respect for teachers. Wearing our mini skirts up to “there” and our long flat center parted hair down to our waists. Buying our first training bras, wearing bras, going braless, then back to wearing bras which the poor bewildered guys had to figure out how to unhook to get to first base if they were brave enough/lucky enough to try.
Playing with your mom’s old make up, making up your mom and seeing the great before and after, wearing too much make up, figuring out how much was just the right amount of make up, zit creams, shaving legs (girls) and shaving chins (guys) and lots and lots of long wavy hair on most of the guys in our grad year. Shirley Wolfe trimming my long hair for the first time ever in grade 9 as I was not allowed to cut it. Boy, it felt great to have a nice fat chunky bottom on a pony tail instead of it trailing into a wispy pointed paint brush!
Smoking in the bathrooms…
The BHS gym teacher who got into hot water as she was also a part time successful bra model. The guys could go and see her in her bra on the bra boxes at The Bay or in the Eatons or Sears catalogue. Eatons, Simpsons, Woolworths, even the great Pascals hardware store at Fairview are all gone now and replaced by a coast to coast to coast sameness.
Best friends, sports teams, science labs, English essays, sharing secrets, laughs and tears… Your basic childhood Petri dish.
All in all, it was a wonderful reunion weekend and sure a walk down Memory Lane. Too bad some other great friends just couldn’t get away this time and join us but maybe next time.
Back in those days, the girls had to wait for the guys to ask them to the Prom and many guys were too shy to ask. It was all rather uncomfortable and things are SO much better today when kids can go to their own damned graduation with their true friends and not as a “couple”. My kids can hardly believe it when I tell this story because they sure went to theirs as a group of friends. My closest friends didn’t quite feel at home with the whole Grad picture so we had our own small party instead of experiencing the whole fancy gown, limousine, hotel ballroom thing. I never did have the big poofy dress, for grad or my wedding, maybe I’m just not a poofy gal but my grad class did vote me Snappiest Dresser! I wish I still had the funny little hat they presented me with back then!
Other memories from John Abbott time, riding my bicycle to Deborah Holland’s wedding and getting knocked off of it by a car, getting home, changing and just carrying right onto the wedding. Enjoying the studios at John Abbott College satellite campus on Hymus Blvd where we could use the many of the workshops at almost any time of day or night.
On Sunday after brunch, I met up with my old college boyfriend Rob from Ottawa who was in town too for his Dorval high school reunion. We’ve kept in touch over all these years but this is the first time I’ve seen him probably since 1979. Pretty funny!! I drove back to Ottawa with him and we traded stories all the way. Phew, so much to share, the good, the bad and the ugly.