Classmates gone, but not forgotten

Published 12:29 am Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sitting on the floor, I pull the stack of yearbooks, (annuals we called them) off the shelf. There is a coat of dust across the top of each “Opptimist,” reminding me I need to clean better.

Opening the first annual stamped ‘65 on the front, I turn to the pages with pictures of the seventh graders. Sweet faces smile up at me. I laugh remembering how I struggled with my hair that day and how unhappy I was with the result of those struggles.

Flipping to page 51, I find the face I seek. A boy with dark hair smiles with closed lips and twinkling eyes. It is how I remember him and I can’t quite picture him any other way.

Near the back cover, I find where he signed my annual. I soon discover it is the only yearbook of mine he ever signed.

“To one of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met and blond too,” he wrote.

There are a lot of “to the sweetest girl” entries. Sometimes you wrote that if you wanted to be kind but didn’t know the person well. Anyway, it’s nice he thought I was sweet.

Closing ‘65, I open ‘66 and find photos of the eighth grade class. There are those faces again, and there I am still struggling to find a hairstyle I like. On the next to last row, I find him again wearing that closed-lip smile. I wrote his name over his picture, but he didn’t sign this book.

When I thumb through the Opptimist labeled Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Seven and find the freshman class, I see him with that same smile. This time a stray piece of hair rests on his forehead. It is the last time his picture shows up with our class.

The next year in 1968, he is with the freshmen again instead of the sophomores. I didn’t realize he wasn’t with us past ninth grade. How did I miss that? I wonder if they made a mistake and put his picture in the wrong place.

In the 1969 Opptimist, I don’t see his picture at all. I know we weren’t close, but I thought he was in our class right up through graduation. Did he move, change schools? How was I so busy with my own stuff I didn’t realize he was not around?

I’ve traveled this far backwards, so I open the brown 1970 yearbook. My name engraved in gold on the front is almost invisible, worn off by years of handling.

I turn to the senior class portraits and look into each face. Sadly, I note the ones who are no longer alive. There are more of them than there were the last time I looked at this book.

On the page before the senior section starts, there are the words, “IN MEMORIAM” and a poem by Kahil Gibran. Under the poem are pictures of two classmates we lost before our senior year. Cary and Norman smile in their pictures, teenagers forever.

The words near the end of the poem grab my attention.

“… For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind

and to melt into the sun?

And what it is to cease breathing, but to free the breath

from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand

to seek God unencumbered? …”

I close the Opptimists and return them to their shelf, vowing to dust soon. I think how quickly the years passed, and I remember the faces of classmates and teachers who are now free “to seek God unencumbered.”

The person who inspired my yearbook visit was Larry Whitehead, that dark-haired boy with the closed-lip smile who shared my journey through school. Last week, Larry left us to ride the wind and melt into the sun.

If I could speak to him, to all of those who were part of my Opp school years and are now gone, I would say, “We remember you. You live in our hearts forever.”

Nancy Blackmon is a writer and yoga teacher.