Reunion "Photograph"

A Written Photograph
Mark Placey

    Sometimes you have to take a chance.  You have to step outside your comfort zone, in order to recognize people and moments that matter.  My little essay is something that would probably be better written by other, more capable members of our class.  I’ll count on them to somehow fix my out of focus prose, and edit my little attempt at a written photograph of our recent grade school reunion. 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending two “too short” evenings with the most amazing individuals I’ve ever known.  PhD’s, physicians, scientists, a United States Navy Admiral, writers, business people, nurses, teachers, mothers and fathers, ugly men and very pretty women.  It seems like only a whisper ago that I was watching these faces smile, cry, laugh, sharpen pencils, finish an SRA, pass notes, get a detention, and experience their first love.  All were brought together on this beautiful June weekend, because forty years ago they attended a small Roman Catholic grade school in suburban Chicago.   

I must admit I was apprehensive when Jim Marolda and Tom Cahill told me of their plan to bring our class together again.  Grade school was not the best of times for me.  I was short, fat, socially inept, and found out Friday night I suffered from sweaty palms…..sweaty palms!…man…..another bad visual for my already bruised ego.  But ole Tommy’s got a way of pushing this red head’s buttons and sure enough I was soon in with both feet.  Defenses came down and my fingers began to author moments I hadn’t considered for decades.  As the weeks rolled by, and more classmates signed on to tell their tales; my apprehension turned to expectation.  

I decided to show up to Jeannine’s Friday night cocktail party late; hoping to slip in the door and go unnoticed.  No such luck.  Peggy, Barb and Karen were at the front door and let everyone know I’d arrived, “Mark Placey’s here”.  Great…busted…my “swift and silent” techniques have gotten rusty.  I’m sure I entered the kitchen red faced; looking just like I did when asking a girl to dance at Coach Zientarski’s “social”.  Although everyone looked a little different, the voices and faces were the same.  It was easy for me to drift back to indoor recess, on a cold winter’s day, a long time ago, at the little school on Arthur Street. 

Jeannine has a beautiful home.  The food was great and the conversation was outstanding. But time would prove to be an adversary.  I didn’t get the opportunity to speak with everyone that night.  Before I’d finished my first drink, it was late and time to leave.  As I walked home, I hoped to catch up with everyone at dinner on Saturday. 

I have no idea what I did the following day.  My thoughts were preoccupied with distant times.  My wife Jill asked me how things went, who was there, and did I have a good time.  I tried to tell her everything that happened; to whom I’d spoken with, but frankly Friday night was a dream.  Short memory clips from our school days were mixed with conversations in the present; a film strip on steroids.  I’m sure at times people found me a little distant.  Truth is I was like a little kid going to Disney World for the first time…maximum sensory (memory) overload.  I found myself falling far short of explaining to Jill just how good it was to see everyone.

On Saturday evening, time was once again the adversary.  More old friends seemed to appear from nowhere.  I felt if I spent too long speaking with one classmate, I might miss another.  I had to hurry.  In many cases I failed.  Greg, Bobby, Murray, John, Theresa, Steve and Colleen had me laughing out loud during dinner.  I had wonderful conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Sible, Chris and Tina, DJ, Phil, the “other” Marks, the two Mary’s, Laura, John and Liz Anne, and my fellow Panamanian ex patriot Mary Louise.  I also had a wonderful geo-political discussion with Anne Marie and Mr. Nash. 

Mr. Nash will forever be an educator.

Finally there was the world famous Timothy Herlihy….laughing and bringing good humor to everyone around him.  Timmy’s “self portrait” will bring millions when Renee brings it up for auction.  Move over Andy Warhol!

It seemed like the blink of an eye and the post party clean-up started.  Time to go home.  I’d missed my chance to speak with everyone.  The opportunity to thank so many wonderful people for having been; and becoming the people they are slipped away.  I found myself regretting I hadn’t managed my time a little better.  To everyone I missed, I hope to see you soon.

When my time comes, I’ll know the Good Lord has been merciful and allowed me to enter Paradise if my family is around me; my fellow Marines are guarding Heaven’s streets; and I can spend some time in Heaven’s classroom with all of you.  I can’t wait to see my “permanent record”.

You are now and always have been my heroes.

Your friend,


P.S.  I’m the guy who asked Jim to put the “Almost Famous” video on the site.  It reminds me of spending time with all of you (I’m quite a bit more the “free spirit” than I let on.  It’s just protected behind a huge maze of Jarhead hard ass).  I saw “Almost Famous” the weekend I retired from the Marine Corps.   Tommy, his ex-wife, Jill and I went to see it at The York Theater on a Friday evening.  Sitting there reminded me of times when we’d all go to the movies together on a Friday night.  Fic and I used to sing “Tiny Dancer” over and over again at his house on York Street.  I’m sure we wore that album out before its time.  As I sat through the show; in familiar surroundings, listening to the songs we grew up with, I realized I’d made it home safe.