Cumberland Times-News

Columns

August 10, 2013

These are some of the spirits who haunt it

Old high schools aren’t like old battleships: You can’t tow them into a harbor, give them a coat of paint and hand them over to somebody for use as a museum.

My old friend Paul Barnett and I once went through the USS North Carolina, which was tied up in Wilmington. It was a memorable experience.

The last time I visited my old high school was several years ago. I was a bit sad and disappointed, and I’ve had no desire to go back.

Almost nothing was the same. The hallways, staircases and rooms had been closed in and remodeled for use as office space; necessary changes, all of them, for the building to have a new life. Once it was wide open and vibrant with people, but now it was a rabbit warren.

Parts of the place not in daily use were in various states of disrepair. The auditorium looked like the Goths and Romans went to war there.

To spend a night ghost-hunting in the USS North Carolina would be interesting, based upon what I’ve heard, but there would be little use in doing that in the old Keyser High School.

I live every day with its ghosts, including those of two men who died in Vietnam and other people whose lives once were connected with mine.

Many other spirits haunt that school, however, and they belong to those of us who still walk the earth.

The latest renewal of the Swingin’ Sixties was held recently, a reunion for everybody who graduated from KHS in the 1960s.

At 212 members, my class of 1965 was the school’s largest up until that time.

Each class had an in memoriam page in the reunion booklet. Ours contained 42 names, by far the most of any in that decade. And that’s just the 42 we know of. We began dying not long after graduation.

Only 13 of us showed up for this reunion, but some we hadn’t laid eyes on for years. One rode his motorcycle from South Carolina.

Here’s an example of what happens when folks like us get together. (I am using made-up names.)

Kathy, who is dear to my heart for a variety of reasons, walked around the length of the table to get to me.

I stood and we hugged for a few seconds.

Then, she asked me, “Have you seen Sally Smith?”

Wait a minute, I said, and turned to another woman who was sitting a few feet from me at the same table.

“Have you seen Sally Smith?” I asked.

“No,” said Sally Smith.

“If you do, tell her Kathy is looking for her.”

There was a band, and I got up to dance a couple of times. My knees didn’t like it ... but so what?

One of my dancing partners said her knees hurt, too. However, we agreed that the experience was well worth a small amount of pain. I wouldn’t mind repeating it, some day.

It seems to me that my old friends still dance the way they used to dance, but with somewhat less energy.

“Kinda like sitting in the old fire hall and watching the other kids dance, isn’t it?” I asked one of my buddies. He said it was.

The Keyser Fire Hall held teen dances and was one of the places where we used to hang out and be kids. Too many kids just don’t get to be kids, these days.

My friends and I had all sorts of places to go ... the Cozy Corner, Romig’s Drug Store and the Sugar Bowl, where I used to play pinball machines. My father was in the same Sugar Bowl, playing pinball machines, when he heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. (Dad and I were both forbidden by our parents to go to the Blue Jay ... but we did. So did Aunt Penny, but she got caught.)

The old fire hall was torn down a few ago. The process took several weeks, and I thought briefly about retrieving a brick from the pile of wreckage.

One day while stopped in my car waiting for traffic to move, I saw a man who was about my age standing there by himself, just staring at that mountain of bricks.

I rolled down my window and called out, “I know how you feel!”

He looked up, slowly shook his head and waved to me. I waved back and drove on.

It may be that the old Keyser High School building will face the same fate before long. I’m not sure how my friends and I will deal with that. We’ll see, when and if the time comes.

Funny, how it works. Even if you haven’t been a part of something for years, it still remains a part of you.

Death comes to buildings, just as it does to people, and the two have this in common: The spirit has left, but the shell remains, and it is through the shell that we retain something of the spirit — even after the shell is gone from human sight. This is one reason we have visitation at funeral homes.

After the second night of the reunion, a dozen or so of us went to breakfast. We acted for a while like the kids we still are.

Charlene Temple (not her name) revealed to us that Sally Smith has the old Cozy Corner sign and asked me to help “con her out of it” (as she worded it).

I remembered how big and heavy that old sign was and asked Charlene what on earth she wanted with it.

“I don’t know!” she said.

Like I said ... foolishness, mild carrying-on and private jokes that have meaning only to those who were there at the time. I hope there are people who have the same effect upon you.

Some of my old schoolmates, I haven’t seen for nearly half a century ... and never will again. Others, I associate with on a regular basis.

But like I said, we’re all ghosts by now, one way or another. We haunt our old school, just as it haunts us — an arrangement that will endure long after we have turned to dust and it is nothing more than a scattering of bricks.

When it came time to leave (one of my classmates who just retired picked up the check), Charlene looked around at us and moaned:

“I don’t want to say good-bye!”

Neither do I, I told her.

And there’s no reason we should.

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