Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

Those boys from Long Island: SUNY@Geneseo, circa 1980

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Gazebo Geneseo, credit to Geneseo website and photoshop

Next weekend, I am going to a spa with four high school friends. My husband laughs at the planning, “You should have a TV reality show called the SPA GIRLS.”I started thinking about reunions.

Then, dozing during the film, Riddick, a guy film for sure, I thought about the education I received my sophomore year in college. I shared some of it with my husband over dinner. Not sure of the connection, maybe a combination of things: reunions, September 11, and he-man stuff.

I grew up in a small upstate New York town, dated little, and was thrilled to find myself packed onto a small floor with young men my sophomore year at SUNY Geneseo. (Thank you Kathy A.) The guys, many from Long Island, gave me an education far beyond political theory with Dr. Deutsch.

Their stories opened up a whole new world for me.

We went to Beatlemania, which I loved, and which helped me finally get the Beatles. They introduced me to Led Zeppelin and I have to say, I became a fan. And I felt touched by fame when I learned that one of our friends lived near Amityville and knew the horror house well.

This was 1980 and Jimmy Carter ran against Ronald Reagan for president. I saw a sad showing of citizen support when two of my friends and I went up to see Carter in Rochester. The crowd was as dismal as the rainy day and I remember nothing of what he said. I do remember that a younger Dan Rather stood in front of me as the event progressed.

In addition to lessons in music and life, I learned that there is a Stanley Cup and there really is only one winner that matters, I just can’t remember if it is the New York Islanders or the New York Rangers. I also learned I would never excel at broomball, but it was a lot of fun trying. It was even more fun singing We are the champions my friends and well keep on fighting to the end by Queen out the dorm window as the other team walked by. Today, one of those broomball players broadcasts for the New York Islanders.

I guess what struck me the most was how naive I was about the world. I felt I was living in a bubble surrounded by reality sound bites in The New York Times. These guys made it all seem real for me, finally. Something at that age, I searched to find.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot. December 9th was a day of mourning as his music blared out of rooms across campus. The day we returned from spring break, Ronald Reagan was shot and the day before school ended, another shooting, Pope John Paul II. I could never have seen the future coming but it makes sense now, how things start small and bloom out of control. In February that year, we had a week of very warm temperatures. Delighted, I felt hopeful about spring, not that we were on the brink of global warming.

Funny things happened. I stunned two friends when I asked “What country Albinos come from?” I proceeded to laugh so hard at their ensuing jokes that I turned to my right and shot a full mouth of dried dining-hall turkey into my friend’s face. The other friend laughed and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Senator’s been shot.” The senator is still alive and is, a senator.

My friend, Kathy, asked me that year what I saw myself doing after college. I had no clue. I knew that I liked college and thought it might be fun to stay there a long time, I guess that is why I have two Masters degrees.

Life worked out nicely for many of us, the people I hear about, the friends I keep in touch with. But there is one Long Island friend whose days were far too few, his name, Jimmy Kelly. A real Irishman from Long Island who moved into our dorm in the fall of 1981, and a sweet friend. Jim gave me sips of his soda and told me not to backwash. He called me Lilli for Lilliputian because I was so little he thought I walked out of Gulliver’s Travels.

I was often deep in thought. One day, Jimmy saw me sitting at a gazebo overlooking the Genesee Valley and ruminating. He walked over with his girlfriend, later wife, and said “Caught you Lilli, too serious.” He probably added, chill out and go have a beer.

I felt so sad when I heard he died on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center. Jimmy was a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald. He was on the 105th floor of the north tower on 9/11. Somewhere in my mind’s eye I always thought I’d see him again.

That is how it is, we spend time with people and we never want to think that we won’t see them again. In truth though, one segment of life morphs into another and in a blink, whole decades have gone by!

It will be fun to sit at the spa with my friends next week. Reunions, whether they happen in a liminal moment or in real life, recapture something magical.

©claireaperez@gmail.com

I found today a nice write-up about Jim Kelly at http://longisland.newsday.com/911-anniversary/victims/James-Kelly