By Laurie Einstein Koszuta and Kent Paar
I am Laurie, and I had a scrapbook, and because I did, I found a friend. Scrapbooks can do that. The pages were just old high school memories from another era, now all faded and brown, tattered and torn and worth nothing to anyone but me. Or so I thought. But then, COVID-19, with its shelter-in-place orders heard around the world, changed everything. While others were cleaning baseboards and binging on Netflix, I wanted more than fluff, and something made me think of that 45-year-old scrapbook of teenage memories I had put together long ago.
I finally located it, stashed in a closet, under items that should have been discarded long ago. The scrapbook itself probably should have been thrown away with all the other seemingly useless things, but something had always held me back. I probably kept it for a rainy day. COVID was no rainy day, but it did give me an idea.
My high school class of 1975 had been planning a reunion in late 2020. And, as it happened, I was leading the charge for the event. Like so many other planned gatherings, the coronavirus forced us to cancel. But what was once teenage nostalgia possibly might make the same people, now adults, laugh, smile and reminisce. It was so apparent to me. What would happen if I photographed all the items in my scrapbook, categorized them into grade levels and posted the pictures on our private, closed Facebook page?
As it turns out, a lot can happen.
I am Kent and I am that friend that Laurie found and one of the classmates who saw those posts. I was really touched by her scrapbook. She first posted one picture and another the next day and the day after that until she was posting pictures regularly. They seemed to follow a pattern of academics, sports, the arts, music and community involvement. I found myself looking forward to the near-daily postings. Like everyone else, I was trying to figure out how to keep busy while being home because of COVID-19.
Our class Facebook group of over 120 people seemed to come alive as a result of those posts. The strange thing is that Laurie and I didn’t know each other very well during high school. We had a huge graduating class of 504 students. I was startled at how each successive scrapbook post brought back long-forgotten memories, not just for me but for the many classmates who responded. I found myself nodding “yes!” to comments from classmates I didn’t even know or remember.
One of the first posts was the playbill from ‘Sugar,’ our staged high school musical. I was in the “Sugar” pit orchestra, where I played the trombone. With just a few photos and a few decades of age under my belt, I recalled many talented classmates and their varied roles in that fun production. All of us were carrying teenage baggage and stress, so putting on a production of that size required excellent herding skills from the fine arts faculty. I recalled those things, but perhaps it was more amazing to read that my classmates felt the same way. We were loving these posts and it seemed that we couldn’t get enough.
Laurie’s Turn: With each passing day, I too looked forward to posting something new from my scrapbook, things that had not been seen in decades. Some posts garnered no comments or very few simply because no one remembered the subject matter. “What banquet?” said one commenter about a post. “Did we have a banquet?” which clearly told the entire story. And some posts obviously made classmates search inward and respond. “I was more about pleasing others than myself,” noted one classmate, “but you wouldn’t accuse me of that behavior now.”
Kent’s Turn: The sports memorabilia that was posted made me recall just how proud I was of our teams and our classmates. In one post, I remembered how proud I was that the basketball team competed on a historic basketball court in our town with our school’s name emblazoned across their jerseys.
Then there was the post about the winning state track championship, a pretty big event for the school and the town. Unfortunately, my memory of that event was clouded by getting into a fender bender during a celebratory car caravan. The car ahead of me had minor fender damage, but I totaled my sister’s junker after borrowing it without asking her permission. Those photos brought up all kinds of memories!
Laurie’s Turn: The comments on those posts were interesting, reflective and were both positive and negative. “I wish I didn’t remember the yellow walls of the hallway,” noted a classmate, “now it just looks so 70’s.” “I’ve forgotten so many chapters of my life,” wrote a classmate in one post, “school experiences leave an indelible imprint on many of us.” “This stuff is gold,” noted another.
Kent’s Turn: But a scrapbook like this and it’s magic doesn’t always bring old classmates together. Some don’t want to look back, avoid these gatherings, ignore invitations to a class Facebook page and want to be left alone. Maybe looking back is too painful and the past is best left behind. That’s okay. An important lesson learned.
The thing about scrapbooks, and yearbooks too, is that they are usually neat and tidy and filled with smiley “gosh-how-nutty-was that” photos. They report on happy and remarkable past events and achievements. In fact, we know that life doesn’t always play out the polished yearbook or scrapbook way. It certainly didn’t back in high school and it doesn’t now.
Laurie’s Turn: But for many, when the last entries were posted, there was disappointment echoed by many classmates. The memories that had sparked a lot of discussion had come to an end. But it really wasn’t the end. The angst of those teenage years was obviously gone, but it was evident from the weeks of posting photos of high school memorabilia that my classmates wanted to remember. They tried to rekindle old friendships, forge new ones and reminisce for a few minutes.
It was a simple scrapbook I made years ago. Still, because of a canceled reunion and a worldwide pandemic, the miles between friends narrowed. It was the connections that counted and still do.