Sunday, October 22, 2006

Crossing Paths

Sometimes you run across people that you never anticipated seeing again. That happened to me yesterday.

Susan and I decided on the spur of the moment to drive up to Blue Ridge, about an hour or so north of here, to pick up some apple bread and a distinctive blend of coffee--appropriately enough, it's called Blue Ridge Blend--from a small shop that we've frequented over the years. The shop also has a selection of antiques, folk art, and decorative items, so we always browse while we're there.

As I was browsing, I saw a nearly pristine oak school desk. Unlike most of the desks of my childhood, which were metal frame desks with pressed wood seats and desk surfaces, this desk was solid oad, with a hefty 2" x 2" support attached to an oaken top. Beneath, it had oak slats to hold books, and was open on the sides. It was a larger sized school desk, intended for high school or college students, and had no markings, carvings, or other surface marrings that are so common on school desks.

Alas, it also had a "SOLD" sign taped to it.

I asked a woman who worked there if there might be another, and she suggested I check upstairs, as she thought she had seen one not too long before. I checked, and found only two desks: a small one, elementary-school sized, with metal frame, and one of the same type as the one I wanted... but the top had evidently been damaged somewhere down the line, so someone had simply sawed through the 2" b 2" vertical support beam, transforming the desk into a wide oaken chair instead.

Disappointed but still optimistic that another desk might show up, I decided to leave my name with the woman at the register. I had scarcely said three words to her, though, before she said, "Are you Cliff?" Now, Blue Ridge is about seventy miles north of where I live, and it's about ninety miles away from Rome, where I grew up, so I was taken by surprise that anyone would know my name.

"I'm Lynn," she said--and then I actually looked at her face and realized that it was Lynn Amspoker, a girl I had known since we were in class together in junior high school, who was standing before me. Lynn was always a remarkable person--beautiful, with a hint of a Mediterranean complexion that gave her a distant, sort of exotic appeal. Her smile was broad and engaging, and she smiled with her whole face, not just with her eyes. Lynn was a cheerleader, energetic and vital. She was also extremely intelligent; we were in dozens of honors classes together through junior high and high school, and because her last name began with an A and mine with a B, we often sat near enough to one another that we would speak. I can't say that we were close friends; I wasn't athletic, and my group of friends rarely interacted with her group of friends outside of class. That's not to say that she was snobbish at all; I never got that impression, although I'm sure that I rarely made any impression at all on her.

Lynn dated Randy Hatch when we were in high school, and they continued to date after graduation, eventually getting married. They had children, and though an odd coincidence, I crossed paths with Lynn again almost a quarter-century after our high school graduation when her daughter, Katie Hatch, came to North Cobb High School as a freshman. It seemed uncannily odd that the daughter of someone I knew in high school would end up attending the school where I taught--a school located fifty miles away from West Rome High School, where Lynn and I graduated.

And now, almost ten years after that, my path and Lynn's had once again crossed.

She was still the same Lynn I had known before: friendly, engaging, with that same smile. She told me that they had moved to Blue Ridge after her daughters graduated (I knew that Katie had a sister, but I didn't know her). Katie is in her third year of veterinary school now. Lynn's selling some antiques--she mentioned that she had a couple of booths upstairs--and obviously was working at the sales counter of the store as well. Taken by surprise, I didn't take the time to ask the many questions that have come to mind since then; I hope that I cross paths with her and we get to speak again.

I was surprised that Lynn even recognized me, to be honest. Thanks to heredity, I have far less hair than I did when we were in high school; thanks to exercise and a more careful diet, there's about seventy fewer pounds of me than there was when I met her while I was teaching at North Cobb. I also had a beard and much longer hair when I taught at North Cobb; now I'm clean-shaven and my hair is shorter (ironically, almost exactly the same length that it was when I was in high school!). We often deal with people without truly looking at them; at my store, I must ring up a hundred people a week without really studying their faces to see who they are and what they look like. Oh, I recognize many of them, but I rarely scrutinize them; thus, I don't know if I would recognize someone with whom I had attended high school thirty-five years ago.

There are all too few people from high school that I've heard from over the years. I am in e-mail contact with Sven Ahlstrom, one of my best friends from school; I crossed paths with Greg Carter once, several years ago, but have heard from him only once since then; my contact with Gary Steele went from occasional to non-existent when Gary moved and gave no forwarding address or phone number. I saw a photo and article about Judi Harwell in the Rome News Tribune last year; I heard from Debby Ezelle a couple of times more than a decade ago; I exchanged a series of e-mails with Lon Rollinson a decade ago as well. I speak to Mrs. Astin from time to time and ask about her daughter, Pam, who I knew very well in high school; I haven't actually seen Pam in about fifteen years, though.

Seeing Lynn inspired me to pull out my West Rome High School yearbooks (alas, I no longer have my senior yearbook; I kept it in my classroom at North Cobb, and when I was forced to retire after my heart attack and heart surgery, it was one of those things that fell through the cracks and didn't make it home with me); there were many familiar faces and names, and I wonder where they are now and what they're doing. People moved around much less back then, so the majority of the people who were in my seventh grade class at West Rome Junior High were in my senior class at West Rome High School. I see them in the pages of the Watanyah and I can still remember their voices, their expressions, even where they sat in some of the classes that we shared. I'd like to know what paths their lives have taken; chances are, though, that I never will.

I can only hope that life has been as kind to them as it has to me, and I hope that they held on to their grace and charm and vitality in the same way that Lynn has. One can ask for little more than that...