"Ado Annie" showed up. So did "Kind Rat." And Eric, the beautiful, the artist's son, who drove a moped to school. So did the kid who flunked out of senior year and had to repeat to graduate. He went on to become part of a Pulitzer-winning reporting team, mostly because he speaks French like a Marseille thug.
The children of America's post-war incursion into Europe gathered this weekend at the Carter House Motor Hotel in Alexandria in what was billed as a grand reunion of all the students who ever attended the 32-year-old American School of Paris (ASP). In fact, about 150 ex-students made it, but many more were there in spirit, to be recalled and talked about.
These weren't the Army brats. These were the creme de la creme - the sons and daughters of the affluent Americans who crossed the ocean over the last 30 years to promote the American way of life via IBM, Xerox, Pepsi and Coca Cola, the State Department and the embassies.
And what they discovered about each other and themselves was that despite the memories, the cultural impact, the distance from the United States, despite the easy fluency with which most still speak the language, basic Americanism has a way of asserting itself to cloud even the strongest foreign influences.For all the enduring memories of a France recovering from the beating of the war, for all the years steeped in history, and the dipping into the decadence of expatriatism a-la-Fitzgerald, the crowd Saturday night could have been from any high school in the country.
And they also learned that the children of the affluent, in this case, have themselves become the affluent.
Bandy Johnson (who, as "King Rat" led a high-school rock band) now sells John Deere tractors in North Carolina, a job his father held when the family lived in France. Christy Walker Woodward (who played a memorable Ado Annie in the high-school production of "Oklahoma") lives with her husband and small child in the Tiber Island apartments in Washington.
Eric Miller, still handsome after all these years, took up his father's grape-growing hobby and turned it into a successful wine-making operation in the Hudson Valley.
Chuck Colmar, '64, abandoned the wild life he'd grown accustomed to on the streets of Paris to follow in his father's footsteps in the business world (Colmar senior worked for Chrysler) and now has an enormous real estate operation out of Chicago and pilots a plane on trips for himself and his friends.
They honored one of ASP's first teachers and early promoters, Cecily Robertson, who, in a halting, raspy voice, unchanged in 30 years, brought the ex-students to their feet and tears to their eyes with a touching, emotional thank-you.
They listened to Doug-McKee, informal dean of students and also an old hand at educating American children in France, recap the history of the school. He tracked its meanderings from the early Occupation years on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne to the storybook beauty of the Du Barry pavilion outside Paris, to its present location in what was the American military school in St. Cloud, a Paris suburb. His low-keyed voice brought memories ofthe long spring days in mirrored and paneled classrooms, the marbled halls and great, whispering chestnut trees of Du Barry, with its unending views of the Seine River in the middle of the land that Monet made famous in his paintings.
"There were some pretty bad times," McKee recalled. "Like the year that one of the teachers went to Switzerland to ski and forgot to come back. And the early days when fuel was so short that a freezing fog rose to the ceiling and the students had to wear gloves at midyear exams. in the first three years, the school saw 17 governments."
The reunion shook memories and parted some of the cultural cobwebs. Ex-students was briefly where they had been in those days. For an evening, the talk was of Paris, the Sixieme, the class trip to Rome, the proms on the Eiffel Tower, the lunch breaks at the local bar, the velos , the mopeds and Tiger, the only girl in school who owned her own car - an American Mustang at that.
For the majority of the gathered ASPers, the time spent in Paris was like a ripple in otherwise tranquil and predictable lives. For a brief time, they were people without a country, part of an old world and a different country. And then they came back home. And the rippe was stilled.
Today Chuck Colmar will fly back to Chicago and plan the next charter trip on his plane. Randy Johnson will go back to his house in North Carolina with the pool and the two cars. Eric Miller will return to the Hudson Valley to make French-tasting wines in a very American wine-making area. The ripple has left a small mark on many, but essentially, they are returning today to the same American way of life that their parents took to France 15, 20, 30 yeears ago.