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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Gray Matter: What if ?

Monday, February 13, 2006

A question that faces many of us, as the years go by, is what to do with all the things we have tucked away.  Recently I have been going through some of my mother's things.  I had been through all of this before - these are just the remnants of scads of stuff  left by an inveterate "pack rat". 

This time though, I have discovered a story that I had never quite pieced together before.  There is evidence here that a special high school friend of my mother's was probably more special than any of us ever realized.  High School, in the early 20th Century bore little resemblance to today's institution.  The strenuous courses and dedicated extra-curricular activities were accompanied by equally interesting social events.  The array of  teas, galas, and the like, surrounding that 1907 Graduation,  was impressive.  In all of the accounts, assiduously detailed in the local press,  the name of one fellow classmate was always paired with that of my mother. . 

I knew she had desperately wanted to go on to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  Her widowed mother, however, refused to let her youngest go off so far alone.  So the dutiful daughter taught the local rural school, as she had earned her Normal Training certificate in high school.  Later she attended summer school at Kearney State Normal, as it was then known.  There she obtained  the degree required to teach in a town school, which she did  before her marriage to my dad.  Kearney was closer to home and she was a bit older, of course.  Be that as it may, the post cards from her three male classmates at the university, including that special one, were kept in a special place in her old trunk and, I suspect, in her heart. 

Fifty years later, that gentleman was invited to give the commencement address at their alma mater.  By that time, he was president of one of Chicago's major banks and had also been featured in a LIFE magazine story about his leadership in a citizens' movement to stifle some of the corruption then rampant at City Hall. 

He agreed to return to give the address only if all of his classmates were also invited back for a 50-year reunion.  Mother was working as the receptionist in a regional hospital at that time, after Dad's untimely death.  I still recall what a highlight it was for her, and now I find all the letters, clippings and further memorabilia of that event carefully preserved.

All of this leads me to thinking of "what might have been".  I learned, too, after my father's death, that there had been a special girl in his life before he and Mother met.  In fact, my aunt, his sister, told me that this lovely woman had never married, having said that if she couldn't have the man she wanted, she didn't want a man at all.  Interestingly, she died just a few weeks before he did. 

But back to "what might have been".  I know, of course, that  this is idle speculation, because if either of them had gone down Robert Frost's  "Road Not Taken" I wouldn't be here to conjecture.  Still it is intriguing, and it leads me to remember the earthy bit of wisdom attributed to country icon, Willie Nelson, who is supposed to have said,  "90% of people don't marry the one they really wanted to; else, what's a jukebox for?"

Don't misunderstand, my parents had a good marriage.  I wasn't raised in a "dysfunctional home" or anything like that. This has just been a bit of convoluted thinking about all the twists and turns life takes of which we are often unaware.  Then, too, how about the way  I managed to quote  Robert Frost and Willie Nelson in the same paragraph?  I sort of like that "stretch", don't you?