Saturday, July 17, 2004

That's my first Duchess...

I don’t recall how I got on this track -- my nocturnal Internet explorations quite often find me bouncing haphazardly from site to site as ideas occur to me in the moment, with a logic that can be impossible to reconstruct afterward -- but tonight I stumbled on a site aimed at people who graduated from Wagner High School.

Wagner was the high school on Clark Air Base in the Philippines, once the United States’ largest overseas military facility before a blanket of volcanic ash from Mount Pinatubo ended its career in 1991. My family was stationed at Clark for two years in the mid-1970s, and as an incoming freshman I attended Wagner High for the last month and a half of our tour of duty, in the fall of 1975 -- one of fourteen schools I passed through during my military-brat youth.

One of the prominent features of the site I dropped into was a set of photoscans of old Wagner High yearbooks. Out of curiosity, I opened the yearbook for the 1975-76 school year, the freshmen in which would have been my classmates. I saw several names I still recognized almost 30 years later, and even though I have a poor memory for faces, putting the names and photos together helped me recall quite a few kids I’d known, less at Wagner High than during the two years I spent in junior high at Wagner Middle School.

With great trepidation, I sought out one picture in particular -- the picture of the first girl on whom I ever had a serious schoolboy crush. (I can still recall snippets of the mushy goodbye letter I wrote to her the day my family shipped out for the States. Ah, the impassioned scribe even then.) The trepidation came from the fact that, three decades later, I had no real memory of what the young lady looked like. I was, therefore, a little afraid I’d spot her picture and recoil in horror, wondering what beauty I ever might have attributed to such a vile creature. “Maybe she won’t even be in this yearbook,” I murmured almost hopefully to myself as I clicked through the pages.

But no, there she was -- on the last row of the last page of freshman snapshots -- Diana. (Like the Greek moon goddess. Or Wonder Woman.) I was relieved to see that, in fact, Diana was rather cute, as 13-year-old girls go -- with wavy, shoulder-length hair and a cheerful, cherubic face -- and that I’d possessed a reasonably accurate pulchritude barometer, even in those callow days of puberty. I also noted with an inward chuckle that Diana to varying degrees resembled at least three other girls I actually dated in later years. Tastes, I suppose, are acquired fairly early in life, but the similarities were striking nonetheless.

Surprisingly, Diana’s picture didn’t trigger a lightning bolt of recognition. The smiling teenager in the picture remained as anonymous to me as if I’d never known her, much less been in “puppy love” with her. From her picture, though, I would suppose my first “fantasy girl” grew up to be quite an attractive woman. I hope she’s well and happy wherever she is these days.

I was saddened, though, to see a notation indicating that another girl who had been a member of our social circle -- the three of us were not only schoolmates, but attended the same church and participated in Bible classes and youth group activities together -- died a few years ago. “A victim of random violence,” reads the sobering note, without further explanation. It’s always jarring to see the word “deceased” next to the name of someone you know -- and who is your own age -- even if that relationship ended many years ago. I remember Patty as a bright girl with a strong personality, and as one of the leaders of our little group. I’m sorry to know that her life ended so soon. The older I get, the more people I know who are dead.

Amazing, the old memories you run into on the ‘Net in the middle of the night.

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