Reunions, memories help put present in perspective

  • Thu Aug 23rd, 2012 6:21pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

It begins with two snippets of instrumental music — and instant recognition. The first is from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” followed by a bit of “Stairway to Heaven.”

We’ve all heard those songs a zillion times. They are timeless. For people my age, the years between the 1967 release of “Alice” and of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway” in ‘71 were the heydays of our teens.

Three weeks after going to Spokane for my 40th high school reunion, on Wednesday night I skipped CNN. I popped in the DVD that was handed out at the reunion to members of Joel E. Ferris High School’s class of 1972.

We were given four DVDs, one for each year of high school. I watched the one from freshman year, which started in 1968, a few nights ago. Wednesday, I looked back at senior year.

What immediately follows the opening music isn’t the screen version of my 1972 yearbook, which makes up most of the DVD. No, what starts it off, as a marker for sweeter memories, is a stark speech by President Richard Nixon.

“I am today ordering a freeze on all wages and prices throughout the United States for a period of 90 days,” a somber Nixon said in footage from the speech delivered Aug. 15, 1971, just before our senior year started.

Today’s political junkies might be stunned that such drastic government intrusion in the economy came from a Republican administration, but it did.

Nixon aimed to curb inflation, which in 1970 topped 6 percent. We know in retrospect that those wage-price controls didn’t work. By the mid-1970s, inflation approached 10 percent.

I’m no economics writer. The reason I really made myself watch that DVD on a nice evening was to slap a label on this summer — before it gets away. In the manner of 1967 being the Summer of Love, I’m personally calling this one a summer of memory.

Much of my summer of 2012 has been spent concerned with the vagaries of raising my youngest child, a process far from finished. This summer, though, fell between two memory-stirring bookends. Both were poignant experiences that hammered home the unstoppable passage of time.

First came my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary, which I wrote about in May. All their children, grandchildren and a baby great-grandson landed in Spokane. At a surprise dinner at my sister’s house, we each read from a photo and memory scrapbook we put together in my folks’ honor. My parents are about to turn 90.

We have pictures of that celebration: my mom in a bright coral jacket, my dad laughing next to her. The real pictures, of teenage grandsons stepping up to the task of sharing emotional thoughts with elderly grandparents, will live in my memory forever.

This season’s other bookend was my class reunion, a party on the rooftop of the Saranac Public House, an old building in downtown Spokane. I skipped the next night’s more formal dinner at the grand Davenport Hotel, opting to start my vacation at Priest Lake, Idaho.

Having been to class reunions at the 10-, 20-, 30- and 35-year marks, and with Facebook helping friends stay in touch, many faces at my 40th were familiar. What’s new are chapters being added to our lives.

In a terrible turn, we learned that one classmate — she had planned to come to the party, but didn’t — had just lost her son in a car accident. Only a few of us, out of hundreds, still have both parents living in the Spokane homes where we grew up.

Retirement was a big topic, but more than one person at the reunion said it hadn’t been his or her choice to leave a job.

Forty years past high school, everyone knows life is precious and full of surprise, wonderful and heartbreaking. At 18, who saw any of it coming?

That class of ‘72 DVD is full of great memories. Not all of it was great, not in my true recollections.

And seeing Nixon, in his grave economic speech, was a reminder of something else. It’s a lesson only the memories of many years can teach.

Things we don’t see coming will happen. But problems that seem intractable now — whether personal or global — won’t last forever.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,