This is for Tom Norris, who has nothing to do with Hollywood.
The class of 1962 of Montgomery Blair High School, the school that has been the center of controversy over busing and racial composition and dramatic specialities and closing, held its 20th reunion dinner in Bethesda on Oct. 2. Out of some 750 students who graduated from Montgomery Blair on a clear June day 20 years ago, almost 300 showed up to drink cocktails, eat rubber chicken, dance and learn.
That was my class. I flew in from Los Angeles with my wife. These are a few of the smaller things I noticed.
The same girls who were snotty and rude to me 20 years ago were still snotty and rude. The same boys who were violently competitive 20 years ago were still violently competitive (i.e., a professor from one Ivy League college telling the graduate of another what a two-bit place it was). The women were generally far better preserved than the men and often looked better at 38 than they had at 18.
But those were small things. What I basically came to see was what had happened to the generation of the baby boom, the generation that had redefined for an entire world what it meant to be young. We were the generation in American history that created Elvis, blue jeans, teen-agers with their own cars, teen-age prosperity, the anti-war movement, the drug culture, the counterculture, the housing shortage and mass physical fitness consciousness. Now we were all hurtling along the path to middle age. How had the journey treated us and how were we dealing with the super-shock of seeing youth in the rear-view mirror?
First, pretty damned well. Out of the students who came to the reunion and told the story of the inner Silver Spring group's transit, there came an astonishingly consistent testimony of continuity through the generations. The members of the class of 1962 were, almost without exception, now respectable adults, mostly married, mostly with children, almost all holding down solid but not glamorous jobs, taking up their stations in the American suburban middle class. From the college classrooms of the early '60s to the streets of the late '60s to the small apartments of the '70s to the suburban lawns of 1982, the members of the class of 1982 have now taken up their parents' places as part of the great American solid citizenry glue that holds the society together.
They have not advanced dramatically further than their parents economically or educationally. But that is hardly an indictment, since in 1962 Montgomery County was an extremely prosperous county and the parents at Blair were extremely well-educated parents. The ability of the students at Blair to remain solidly middle class and for some to move into the upper-middle class despite a decade of inflation and three years of recession is in itself a tribute to some powerful innate energy and desire, since few among us were able to maintain any particular income level except by hard work. In fact, a number of the class said that they believed they had to work considerably harder than their parents did just to stay even.
"We live about the same as our parents," said Cathy Farrell, a lawyer now living in Boston with her scientist husband. "But both of us work and only one of our parents usually worked."
"Blair Blazers never quit," a Latin teacher at Blair, Miss Bratt, told us 20 years ago. Apparently the class of 1962 took the advice to heart in refusing to accept less than the rough outlines of the American Dream. If the girls and the boys both had to work to have the suburban house, they would do it, and not complain.
Another major landmark of the class of 1962: as far as I could tell, my classmates had worked hard, worked steadily, but had not gone in for gambles or for the dramatic. We had no Goldie Hawn (class of 1963) or Carl Bernstein (class of 1961) in our class. We had no captains of industry and no titans of art. But we had a great many middle-level executives, professors, lawyers, doctors, coaches and policemen. If almost none of us was rich (a few had been born rich), no one could think of a classmate who was involuntarily poor. Almost without exception, our lives had none of the drama that would put us into People Magazine, but plenty that would put us into Family Weekly.
But the most affecting characteristic of the class of 1962, especially from my standpoint, had nothing to do with income or occupation, and everything to do with a quality of the human spirit.
The members of the class of 1962, their wives, their husbands, had about them a certain graceful honest unpretentiousness that is consistently lacking in the life I see in Hollywood or the life I saw as a myrmidon at the White House. No one at the reunion had a press agent. No one showed up in a rented Rolls Royce convertible. No one boasted about how much money he or she made. "We made it through to being a lot older," Tim Wagner, a businessman, told me, "and that's boasting enough."
Further, no one at the reunion seemed to me to be waging that particularly pitiful, particularly visible struggle against middle age that I see in Hollywood or Aspen or Southampton. A number of men and women exercised regularly and vigorously (including some certified chair dwellers like me, who are now running six miles along cold riverbanks each morning) and even more are obviously on continuous diets. But no women were there dressed 20 years younger than their age, which is a commonplace in the world of the BPs. No men tried to look like John Travolta as they slid into looking more like John Mitchell. The members of the class of 1962 were apparently taking their aging in stride, just as they took being young in stride, or being caught in vicious competition for college entrance in stride 20 years ago. To accept this kind of change with the evident good humor of the reunion is not a small accomplishment.
That is the real summum bonum that I could see in the class of 1962. The members of the class have about them a contentment, an acceptance of the fact that they will never be stars, except to themselves and their family and friends, an acceptance that time is flowing rapidly on, that all the welcome signs to middle age are clearly in view. Included in that serene acceptance of reality was a view of what is important that is an almost achingly moving understanding of what lasts and what is important. No one at the reunion told me how much money he made. No one told me how much he had given to charity the year before. No one had been hiring halls to congratulate himself on a string of successful television shows. No one had been working feverishly to self-promote himself into being a household word. Instead, Judy Blatt Warren told me about her daughters and the pleasure they bring her. Justine Brockett told me how much she enjoyed working as a nurse. Billy Matson talked about driving the highways of the Tidewater at sunset for his painting company. Neely Holmead told me about the joy of seeing old friends.
Toward the end of the dinner, Dana Beers Godbout, who had put the whole thing together, started reeling off who had come the farthest to the reunion, who had the most children, who had the youngest child, and no one paid attention. Then she announced that Tommy Norris, a shy boy who had sat near me in the Student Council, had won the Congressional Medal of Honor for uncommon bravery in Vietnam. Amy Schnapper whispered to me that Tommy had saved the lives of 10 men in an ambush. He had gotten the medal and then he had come home, then returned for another tour in Vietnam. He finally left after he was severely wounded. Dana asked Tommy to stand so that we could applaud him. But Tommy did not want to stand. Finally, after a lot of teasing, he half stood, half waved, then sat down, obviously embarrassed at the attention. The class stood and cheered.
When I think that, in Hollywood, anyone who gets a bit part on a sitcom buys a full page in Variety to brag, and that there are giant galas every night for the rich to congratulate themselves for being rich, and then when I think that Tommy Norris was too shy to stand to acknowledge winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, and that my class knew that was important enough for a standing ovation, I have to believe that out there in America, in the men and women of the class of 1962, Montgomery Blair High School, there is something fine, and that something is a future with decent values.
As I said, this is for Tom Norris. It has nothing to do with Hollywood.