Every Thursday I get a copy of my home town newspaper, The Kenyon Leader, in the mail. It doesn’t take me long to read it. It wouldn’t in fact take long if I read it all through, but generally I just go to the back page and look at the obituaries, to see if any more of my classmates have died. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was reading about the deaths of my friends’ parents, but now it’s mostly us. Not that we didn’t lose some surprisingly early—a statistically significant number, it seems to me. There was the girl with juvenile diabetes who excelled at playing the piano (she was the first to go), and the most popular guy in class with the girls (whom I envied intensely); he died in Vietnam. And the foreign-born boy who was only with us the last couple years, and never quite fit in. I forget what he died of. The big, tall guy with the Czechoslovakian name we used to tease about being a “bohonk” (but admitted to our circle of friends, a group I personally consider the elite). I don’t recall how he died either. Another guy dropped dead of a heart attack in California, apparently without warning. All within the first decade. I may have forgotten some. Our original strength was only 68 people, mind you.
Come to think of it, I think the rate of death has actually slowed down in the last decade or so. Those of us who’ve made it this far seem likely to last a little longer.
No classmates died in time for this issue, but there was a death of sorts. Our old high school building suffered a major fire. Arson is suspected.
Reading between the lines, I don’t think the prognosis for the building is good. It was already a white elephant, despite including the addition they built around 1965, which I still think of as the “new section.” Our school district has been consolidated with that of a neighboring town (with the result that the proud sports team name of “The Kenyon Vikings” has been devalued to “The Kenyon/Wanamingo Knights.” Sic transit gloria mundi). Nobody wanted to tear the thing down (and there’s little incentive in these economic times), but nobody found a use for it either.
So I expect it’ll be razed one of these days, as what lawyers call “an attractive nuisance.”
So many memories. Not necessarily good memories, mind you, but mine own. It was there I learned to type. It was there I starred in two class plays. It was there I sat staring at a particular female classmate, whom I never had the nerve to speak to, let alone ask out. It was there that Mr. Maus, the guidance counselor, convinced me (I had not believed it) that I was in fact an intelligent person. And it was there that the physical education teacher, well known as a sadist, took me into a corner and hit me with a stick.
I sometimes think we don’t grow old and die because of nature, but because the places we have known gradually disappear from the earth, so that there remain fewer and fewer places we can point to and say, “It was there that I [insert reminiscence here].” Eventually all proof of our personal history passes from the earth, and we die of lack of corroboration.