In the fall of 1972 I was an incoming junior at RHS. One of my classes that semester was Driver’s Ed with Mr. Longbardo. I was mildly excited about it in that my parents would stop talking about insurance premiums and good student discounts and some other things but I didn’t pay much further attention to their rants. I remember heading off to that very first class in one of the basement classrooms under the gymnasium. Thankfully, Mr. Longbardo did not put us in alphabetical order as that would put me in the back of the classroom again.
Now, if you knew me in high school, then you’d know that invariably high school teachers would ALWAYS ask me about my older brothers, Brian and Mike. They went to school there as well. They are 7 and 9 years older than me and they cut a swath through that school, taking no prisoners. They were football players and troublemakers in the highest degree. When teachers saw that another child would be in their classroom with that NAME, it was, “Oh, my God! Here comes another one! Hide the women and children!” and I would get the evil eye from each and every one of them complete with hand signs warding off the devil.
The joke was on them as I was a delightful child. I received good grades and conducted myself with poise and respectfulness. Yeah, right. Well, I did get good grades, anyway. So it came as no surprise that my Driver’s Ed teacher stopped at my name on his list and grinned. Oh, what a Grinch-ful grin it was. I thought, “Note to self: ask my asinine brothers just what did they do to this guy?”
Mr. Longbardo: “SmithJonesFakeName? Are you related to….to….”
“Here it comes,” I thought, “he’ll ask about TweedleDum and TweedleDee”, known to my family as Brian and Mike.
“Are you related to Dennis? How is he? What is he doing these days?” he asked, smiling and waiting patiently for my answer.
The whole classroom was waiting for my answer. The whole school was waiting for my answer. The whole WORLD was waiting for my answer because truthfully? This was the very first time anyone ever asked about my brother, Denny. Ever. Time stood still as I groped for a suitable reply.
Ok, take a deep breath. And again. Here goes. “He died.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry! When did this happen? Oh, God! How?”
“Can it get any worse?” I asked myself as I looked around to see how my fellow classmates were reacting to this conversation. Does the term ‘bug-eyed wonder’ mean anything to you? You could hear a pin drop in that room. Noises from the hall or bumps from the gym upstairs were all muffled now. All were holding their breath to hear the gory details. This was….scandalous!
So, looking directly into my Driver’s Ed teacher’s eyes I replied, “He died in a car accident in 1963.”
If I thought that it was quiet before, it was nothing compared to the silence now. Mouths opened, eyes got wider and the wave of sympathy not only for the loss of my brother but, Good Lord, the embarrassment for what I was going through. One girl who was sitting across the isle from me looked like she could cry for me. I wished that I could disappear immediately and then magically reappear for graduation. I don’t know what happened next or how long that class lasted that day. Teenage shock, I suppose. But that girl who looked like she cared so much? Well, we started talking to each other after that. And bit-by-bit a friendship was formed. We went to lunch a few times together. We went out on the weekends together. We became inseparable.
Fast forward to December 2010
And somehow, we met these two guys and dated them….
And much to our surprise, kids started appearing..
Suddenly, we need banquet tables for our annual holiday dinner because….
our dining room table just isn’t big enough for the growing families.
That one high school chance encounter blossomed into a life long friendship that now includes five children, two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law and four grandchildren. We’ve been through marriages, births, deaths, parties, diapers, anniversaries, HRT and we’re still going strong.