It was a good day for this writer. I spent time this afternoon talking to a college classmate. I’m the secretary of the class, and write the classnotes in the alumni magazine. I didn’t know this woman when we were in school together, but she welcomed my call.
“What have you been up to since graduation?” I asked.
Timing is everything. On July 9th, she’d received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit – one of the highest honors given to non-citizens by the German government. The award, generally given to diplomats and government officials, was awarded to her for the contribution to international goodwill accomplished by hosting 22 exchange students! Fifteen of the young men had initiated the nomination, given by the president of Germany. (It could only be given to one person, though her husband was equally praised.)
“On our 25th anniversary, my husband and I had a starter house, no children and a dog,” she tells me. “We decided to take in a foreign student.” She taught fourth grade, but neither she nor her husband knew a thing about teenagers. They now have 22 “sons” who have become family.
“Number 15 is coming back this summer to be married to his high-school sweetheart,” she says proudly. “He’s asked me to do a reading. Maybe I’ll wear the Cross,” she laughs.
Based on her “learn as you go” record, my classmate ran for mayor of her town (no previous political experience) after she retired from teaching. Now in her ninth year, she’s a great success. The town of 7500 is thriving, with shops and restaurants, an art gallery – and a movie theater that offers two shows a day for $2.50. Restoration of the town’s historic façade and streetscape is about to begin.
I haven’t always been so enthusiastic about my college or my class. I didn’t attend the reunions for a number of years. I did, however, check out the classnotes when the alumni magazine arrived. I was often annoyed by the lack of substance in the reports. “I’m the president of my trade association.” “I’m enjoying golf and my grandchildren.” “I’m tracing my ancestry.”
What happened to the teachers and social workers and ministers who graduated with me? We were politically motivated by the Civil Rights movement and John F. Kennedy. We were among the first to join the Peace Corps. What are my classmates thinking, I wondered. Where are the stories?
I went to a reunion ten years ago and declared that it was mandatory that the class secretary correspond via e-mail to maximize contact with classmates and expand the subject matter via more personal contact. I got elected. I started calling and interviewing people. I also sent out questions for discussion to people on my growing list of e-mail addresses — questions like: “Is your political affiliation the same or different from your parents? Why?” “What do you make of Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth?” “Do you participate in ‘lifelong learning’?”
What do people who were in the same place as I once was think and do now? Lots, I think as I write the stories.
About Annelise: Annelise is a writer who lives with her husband in a converted downtown Chicago storefront/building that used to be site of a legendary bar in the area. Her daughter, son-in-law, and their children live adjacent in a separate yet connected space.
Annelise says this about writing: I have never had any professional training in writing. My writing career just evolved. After organizing an ethnic cooking school, I wrote articles on the subject. That led to being a magazine food editor. I did a stint in PR, then spent 15 years writing health and nutrition materials for the general public and co-authored three books. Most recently, I have been “writer-in-residence” for a small company that does sensory-based food product development. I write articles, presentations, and promotional materials, plus I run the website. I also participate in what our company calls “innovation sessions,” where we do exactly that — brainstorm, generate ideas, innovate. Using those sessions as a launching point, I create concepts to move the company forward. You might say that I’m more creative now, in this phase of my life, than I’ve ever been before.