I absolutely love Whidbey summers. The long, sunny days fill island residents with enthusiasm and energy. I thoroughly enjoy seeing people bike around town, rock a pair of shorts with glowing white legs and throw Frisbees along the course at Fort Nugent Park. Classic cars come out of hiding and boats make their way to waters filled with crab, salmon and shrimp.
This week, I ate my first serving of fried oysters and stirred locally grown Pioneer blueberries into pancakes.
What’s not to love about the absence of bugs, comfortable sleeping temperatures at night and the opportunity to open windows around the house to let afternoon breezes in?
It’s also reunion season, and if the summer of 2014 will be remembered for anything, it very well may be the afternoon I spent talking with a small group of devoted friends who met at the home of Caroline Williams. While a few of the participants were spouses, a couple were members of other classes, and one cherished classmate was unable to attend because of declining health and the challenges of travel, Oak Harbor High School’s Class of 1944 met to celebrate their 70th class reunion.
And what a gathering it was.
The women outnumbered the men eight to three, and the event ended early enough for participants to get home before it was too dark to drive. The years when their celebrations spanned a weekend and included dinner parties and family barbecues have come and gone, but present that sun-filled afternoon was Wildcat pride, abiding affection for each other, appreciation for their teachers and gratitude for high school memories that add balance and understanding as they continue to live into their late 80s.
When you celebrate your 70th class reunion you sign in with your best signature because it’s important to record attendance. You thrill at the chicken casserole and side spinach salad with Bell’s Farm strawberries. And you finish your meal by sipping decaf coffee and diving into cake decorated with purple, gold and white frosting.
You even sing your class song.
Lingering around a table where you can see everyone, you scoot your chair back and tell stories, the same stories your spouse has heard a thousand and one times but is willing to hear once again because the telling brings you great pleasure. You talk about responding to changes World War II brought to the island and missing classmates who left to serve their country, never to return.
You talk about childhood adventures when you narrowly escaped physical harm and the disapproval of your parents.
You laugh a lot and cry some, too. You look into the eyes of those who have seen about everything life can hand someone, and there is understanding staring back at you. There is tolerance. There is also strength and wisdom and gratitude.
And there is patience. “I see a lot of discussion about Growler noise,” one man commented. From there, stories were told of classmates who had to move off island during their sophomore year. It was 1942 and the U.S. government was busy purchasing land and farms from Whidbey residents in anticipation of building a new Naval Air Station. Families took a patriotic stance and gave up their homes.
One classmate recalled armed Marines standing nearby as family friends packed up their belongings before bidding good-bye to their brand new home. As sad as they were, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was fresh in their minds.
They waved at the young Marines as they drove away to a new home, school and life.
Here’s to the Wildcats, OHHS Class of 1944. They have lived remarkable lives during defining times for our nation and contribute great joy to family and friends today.
We salute them all.