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San Pedro High School (photo: John Mattera Photography)

You can only fool yourself for so long.

My wife, just a few months younger than I, says – when we’re having one of our rare differences of opinion – that I was born old. My son has called me “old man” since he was a teenager. Some have even had the temerity to accuse me of being a curmudgeon.

Personally, I’ve never had an issue about getting old – I’ve said many a’time, it beats the alternative – but sometimes it takes something like a 50th high school reunion to make you realize, you really are old. That’s what happens after having people you grew up with but haven’t seen in decades not recognize you until they’ve looked at your name tag with your high school yearbook picture on it.

A well-known adage posted by classmate Cheryl Gilbert Piazza said it all: I hate it when I see an old person and then realize we went to high school together.

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With that in mind, and not having been to a class reunion in 45 years, I approached my 50th with some trepidation. Those feelings disappeared, however, the moment I saw the first classmate I hadn’t seen since 1969. The whole reunion experience was like traveling back in time, starting with the afternoon tour of San Pedro High led by Principal Jeanette Stevens and teacher Pete Manghera, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the school both he and his parents attended. Our alma mater hasn’t changed that much; the major difference was the 17- and 18-year-olds known as the Classics were now nearly 70.

At the reunion banquet that night, Nancy Jacobson (her maiden name) saw me and cried out, “Steven Paul,” a use of my first and middle names that I hadn’t heard in 50 years. Batron Black, who I spent many a Saturday with at the Strand and Warner’s as kids, reminded me of my long-forgotten junior high ambition to find Sasquatch. And Luis Maciej’s first remark to me after 50 years was “How’s the static?” Something else I hadn’t heard since high school. A result of sharing the same name as the inventor of the wireless radio.

Considering how small our winter class was, the turnout was remarkable; the reunion committee pulled off a near miracle in just two months. There were just a little more than 200 in our graduating class, more than 40 have died, and we still had nearly 100 show up. That’s a percentage most summer classes and today’s giant all-year classes can’t achieve. And they had so much fun, almost half of them showed up at the picnic the following day at Friendship Park. My major takeaway from the reunion that was quite unexpected was how life-affirming it felt to be with all these senior citizens, aching joints and all. Perhaps it was partly because so many of us have passed, and there was no escaping the realization that many of us may not see each other again. But there also was the rare joy of reconnecting with people from my youth, who shared so many memories. Many of these old high school chums were the same “kids” I went to elementary school with more than 60 years ago.  

The feelings must have been mutual because we’re already talking about doing it again in five years, and many who couldn’t make it this year have expressed a desire to join the next one. It’s a result of something millennials couldn’t possibly imagine, but those who’ve lived long enough to celebrate a 40th, 50th or even 60th reunion know so well: The old ones are still the best. Old jeans, old boots, old friends, old movies, old tunes, and old times.

My bad back kept me off the dance floor this time – not that I can dance any better now than I could in 1969 – but, God willing, I don’t plan on being a spectator next time. 

HAIL TO THE CHIEF AND HER MATE
One of the more annoying characteristics of aging is forgetfulness. Like, when writing last month about my daughter-in-law making chief mate, I forgot some of the minor details, which my son was quick to point out. For one, Liz graduated in 2003, and my son already had graduated from Chico State and was working as a substitute teacher for L.A. Unified when, while in the Bay Area for a Raiders game that year, they met for the first time.

I also was forwarded an email from San Pedro’s William Michael Cochran, a supervisor with DLA Energy Americas West. 

He wrote: “I have the privilege of knowing both your daughter-in-law, Liz, and your son, Matt. Both are synchronized citizens and proud parents, contributing to the success of the San Pedro community. Although their relationship may be unconventional, their love and respect for each other, along with a commitment to excellence with their children and family, proves that unconventional does work. It requires flexibility and resiliency. I am awfully proud of Liz’s recent accomplishment.

“One addition to your article: Matt actually graduated from THEE Chico State University.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. spt

photo of san pedro today author Steve Marconi

Steve Marconi

San Pedro native Steve Marconi began writing about his hometown after graduating from high school in 1969. After a career as a sportswriter, he was a copy editor and columnist for the News-Pilot and Daily Breeze for 20 years before joining the L.A. Times. He has been writing monthly for San Pedro magazines since 2005, and in 2018 became a registered longshoreman. Marconi can be reached at spmarconi@yahoo.com.

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