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Aisle Seat: Remembrance of High Schools Past

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

By Naomi Serviss / New York City


The author in 10th grade
The author in seventh grade

My good friend Nona has been nudging me


to post on Cheltenham High School


Class of 1971’s


Facebook page.


She’d like me to pen


a reflective, recollected summation


of my life and career


so other classmates could catch up.

That is, if they remember me at all.


Nona and I have been buds for decades,


having met in second grade.


She’s extremely task-oriented


and knows how to make the wheels turn


on any project she gets into.


Except in this case,


I’d prefer not to,


as Bartleby, the Scrivener famously said


in Melville’s book of the same name.


A three-day celebration had been planned


for last month.


Nona and classmate Neil worked doggedly


to land a jazzy, cool place to gather


for a long Philadelphia weekend.


Covid-19 put the kibosh on good intentions.


The reunion is now scheduled


for next October


in an equally swell venue.


Nona’s been sweetly requesting folks


to recap a life in 400 words.


Not really my thing.


Nevertheless, she persisted.


I hate disappointing my loyal buddy.



Sidebar:


I really don’t belong in that group,


since Cheltenham was not technically


where I spent senior year.


For 12th grade, I attended


Philadelphia’s Parkway Program,


the nation’s first “school without walls.”

That non-structured “school”


may have been without a main edifice,


but there was a method to the madness


of unleashing self-motivated kids


onto the streets of Philadelphia.


No need for the particulars.


Cheltenham High School


was an overachiever’s dream/nightmare.


So many electives!


The school had everything:


excellent teachers (albeit a tad conservative);


a television studio, planetarium


and indoor swimming pool were icing.


Students overdosed on competition,


driven by grade-focused teachers.


Before Parkway,


I went to an inner-city high school


that was as awful as the ones on television shows.


I was randomly punched in the head.

And devastated by a friend’s heroin overdose.


Why did I go to dangerous Olney High


for 11th grade?


Because my mother moved us


from Cheltenham’s privileged school district


into Philadelphia’s jurisdiction.


When I won the Parkway lottery


to attend senior year,


I felt like a million bucks.


But for all other grades,


from kindergarten through 10th,


I was a legit Elkins Park resident.


So I do have every right to attend the 50th, if I


am so inclined.


At the height of the pandemic,


Nona played matchmaker


and suggested reconnecting


with my school pal Jane.



It was a suggestion I couldn’t refuse.


That led to a biweekly CHS Zoom group invite.


We share grievances, regrets


then move on


to current events and the like.


Lately we’ve been dishing


on our collective high-school romances


or lack thereof.



I’m grateful to Nona,


who is a powerful instigator, mover and shaker.


And a wonderful forever friend confidante.


If she wants a post from me, so be it.


But I’d rather not detail achievements


and career moves.

The thought of writing about them


bores me to tears.


Why should I subject fellow alumni


to my tedious employment history?


I’d much rather reminisce about being a mother,


of which I’m most proud.


Some of my playgroup’s moms


bemoaned side-tracked careers.


It was the ‘80s,


when women felt conflicted


about pausing a career


to raise kids.


I wasn’t conflicted.


Motherhood gave me the opportunity


to do the opposite of how I was raised.


And that’s virtually how my kids were parented.


They turned out pretty, pretty good.


As for my attending the rescheduled reunion,


If all goes well, I’ll be there.


It would be outstanding to see


high school Zoom-mates in the flesh.

And should a fellow alum need or want details


of my career path,


just ask Nona.



 






Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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