By Evan O'Brien
EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of Whittier School's class of 1969 reunion on Saturday, Oct.16, alumni submitted memories and photos to Wednesday Journal. If you are a member of Whittier School's class of 1969 and would like to submit your memories and photos, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"...the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain. They know our infantine dispositions, which, however they may be afterwards modified, are never eradicated; and they can judge of our actions with more certain conclusions as to the integrity of our motives." -- Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, 1817
Seventy-six names are listed on the Whittier School Promotion Exercises program from Wednesday, June 11, 1969. Last weekend, 25 of us named in that program, along with our beloved music teacher, Mr. Butcher and revered Principal, Mr. Neil Sheehan, traveled from across the U.S. for various, perhaps similar, personal reasons to celebrate that event. As some of us acknowledged, we also came to honor the broader foundational experiences we shared that brought us together on that long-ago Wednesday.
On Friday evening we met at Cucina Paradiso -- somewhat stunned to see one another in a way that made our own aging, mirror-reflected image more intelligible. On Saturday afternoon we were driven in our trolley shaped tour bus past the houses, one by one, that we had each once inhabited, calling out loudly to any hapless and puzzled present-day resident, "THAT'S THE HOUSE I GREW UP IN!"
In the midst of our trolley tour, tearfully and joyously, as my classmates looked on I was able to reconnect with someone very important to my childhood. Mrs. Virginia Harris, Billy Harris's mother (along with most of the rest of her family), had cared for me before and after school from kindergarten through my 5th grade year while my aunt, sister of my estranged mother, lovingly single-parented me in the home we two shared on Mapleton Avenue. She supported us by earning some $50 to $100 per week as a low level bookkeeper, leaving at 7 a.m. and returning between 5:30 and 6 p.m. every weekday. She died when I was 17 years old.
So when the trolley driver stopped in front of Billy Harris's house, with Steve Boland's house right next door and Vince DePinto's house just three doors down the street, the 94-year-old Mrs. Harris stood, smartly dressed and waving, on the porch where I first set foot in 1960 on my first day of kindergarten. Curiously, Mrs. Harris, once her five children were all out of Whittier, took a job serving meals there, a job she held for 33 continuous years after which, at long last, she retired!
Postscript: I later learned from another classmate that the Gold Star service banner in the window behind the U.S. flag in the photo honors Billy's son who gave his life in Iraq.
"We pick up chalk to write our names and be remembered 'til it rains." --Charlotte Csakai Mesimore
Class of 1969, Whittier School