Roberta Kaufman, Class of 1958
We are three adults siting side by side in Hildebrandts Luncheonette in East Williston. All of
us rain soaked and attending a gathering from yesteryear in a place frequented by us and
hundreds upon hundreds of teens over the past fifty years. It is nasty out. The wind shield
wipers on our cars have worked overtime. And the defrosters. It's the kind of weather that
worms itself under my rain jacket, eeks through my sweater and shirt and invades its my
warmth. But it matters not. For today begins the week-end of our 58th year high school
reunion. Others are driving or flying in from different parts of the country to acknowledge and
hold fast to those of us still around to remember our graduation from The Wheatley School. We
were the first. The first graduating class. The year 1958. Ironic coincidence of numbers . Class
of 58; 58 years ago. I recently read through our our current class roster which circulates before
a reunion or when a class member dies . When the e- mails arrive, we respond "to all" with
individual memories and comments. I expect many of us wonder when our name will be on that
"dead" list. Okay, I probably shouldn't acknowledge this. It sounds harsh. It is harsh. But come
on. We are all between 74 and 76. I venture to say only 62 out of our class of 88 are still
alive. Well, maybe a few more but not many.
Before we met this morning, Ed and Bruce, who are now chatting beside me, braved the deluge
to visit the Northside Elementary School where most students in our class of '58 spent their
early school years. I did not. I joined the group in 8th grade at the new I U Willets Road School
when Northside closed to junior high school students.
My family made our upscale move from Valley Steam where we lived in a small two bedroom
brick house to Roslyn Heights and a three bedroom ranch with radiant heated floors, roaming
lawns and two car garages. It was a hard move for me. I was shy. Always. And our family's
relocation into this cashmere clothed community fostered my sense of isolation. We couldn't
afford what the other families could. I didn't own cashmere sweaters or coats; we didn't travel to
I made few friend and when Pat Lange, my best friend moved to Chappaqua early in the year I
was bereft. To feel less alone, I joined the girls school choir but when I couldn't recognize if a
note went "up or down" the choir leader suggested I join the science club instead. It was the
only other group offered. Not that I disliked science. I always found it interesting. But it was
known as the " boys" science club , and I was the only girl. I must admit though, I benefitted
by being with Howard Cohen each day for the entire 7th period. He was my first love all through
8th grade and even beyond. I never told anyone. I didn't think he knew I existed but when at
years' end it came to writing something in our 8th grade autograph books he looked around to
see if anyone was watching and quickly scribbled in mine "roses are red. violets are blue.
sugar is sweet. I forget the rest."
After 8th grade, my classmates and I shared an unremarkable two year layover at Mineola
High while Wheatley was being constructed. Then September of our junior year our collective
energy burst into halls of our new school.Unlike Mineola High which was a staunch three story
brick building dating back1928 , Wheatley was a modern glass and brick structure that rambled
along one floor. It had high ceilings, bright lights, wide corridors, and lots of windows that
overlooked 52 acres of fields, grass and trees.
After our lunch today, the three of us leave Hildebrandts and drive the few miles to Wheatley.
Stuart, another class member, arrives from North Carolina. He and his wife just moved there
after living in California, Colorado, Germany and Pennsylvania. They meet us in the hall in front
of a red and white hand painted sign "WELCOME CLASS OF ' 58". We await the school
principal for our scheduled tour.
"58 ?? Really? Honest?" one of the 10th graders we are introduced to in an English class asks.
"Yes, there were schools then," I respond laughing
"Did you have whiteboards?" asks another.
"No, but there were green boards. We never heard of white boards or computers back then ,"
replies Ed our formerly skinny and small nerdy classmate ( as he describes himself) who grew
to be over 6 feet and achieve a PhD in engineering. You just never know.
I talk about our classes' favorite teacher Miss Bodnar who wrote in yellow chalk on a green
board .She introduced us to the idea of metaphor with the words "The space between is but an
hour, the frail duration of a flower, " I say .
Stuart gives a soft aside ."Do you know she just died?"
"I knew she was in a nursing home . I wrote her saying how profoundly she influenced my love
of words," I reply. "Ed, do you remember she told us her fiancée died in the war?"
"None of us knew which war," Bruce chimes in.
The current Wheatley principal , a young man in this late 40's escorts us around the school. He
takes us into his office and pulls The Aurora 1958 year book from a shelf. It is first in a long row
of year books . I bend the red cover open and flip the pages. Images of our young, so young
faces pogo into the present . And it is these faces I see when I learn one of us has died. Jimmy
Swayback passed away this year and I clearly saw his square jaw and blond curly hair behind
my eyes. Eddie Kritzler, our class clown, and Steve Perlman, the class Romeo died years
ago. But I still hold fast their outdated Aurora images snapped at age 17 and frozen in time.
Those are the pictures I see in my mind when I think of them, and Charlie who committed
suicide, Barbara Becker and June Gittleson who died from cancer. Of course, they weren't
frozen.They lived lives, lived out their lives after our high board jump from graduation into to the
golden college years After that, bounced all over the map. We grew families. We grew wiser,
plucky, bald, gray, chubby, shorter and grateful. I saw a photo of Jeff Philipson last week taken
at the Hebrew Home for the Aged. I am tempted to e-mail him and ask if he remembers
dancing with me at one of our 8th grade Friday night dances . He held me close, so close I felt
something hard press against my leg. During a sleep-over in the confines and privacy of my
best friend Joyce Bingham' pink bedroom, I asked her what that was . She told me "It's an
erection! The penis gets hard like a stick." she said covering her laughing mouth.
"No, I don't believe it. How do you know?"
"I saw it. Bob showed me.
"Oh oh, so that what Jeff had In his pants! "Wow!"
I don't remember what I want to forget. For a moment I forget Joyce died last year. The last we
spoke was 35 years ago. She had moved to Arizona. She wanted to know what it was like to
get divorced. I answered the phone in the yellow kitchen of my newly rented house, the one I
was sharing with Mal after leaving my husband a year earlier. I never found out if she and her
high school sweetheart, Bob, divorced but I suspect they did.
I am amazed how moved I am to see the energetic kids in Wheatley as we wander the pristine
halls with their new red metal lockers. How easily the boys and girls greet their principal. I
watch his comfort with pleasure . His talking with them. Teasing with them. My eyes tear
seeing the organic garden growing outside the cafeteria as one of the students' choices for a
special activity. How joyous I am when we approach the sculpture of three heads that to this
very day remains the hall mark of the school as it was at our opening celebration. How
delightful to see the Wheatley's In-house TV studio. I never realized the pride I have in this 61
year old school. Our school. How proud I feel for the legacy of accomplishment bequeathed by
It is now early evening. I have moseyed around East Williston for the rest of the afternoon. Had
a manicure and then found a local library to review an essay I am writing. And now all of us
Wheatleyites who are in town are meeting at a small local restaurant . I have decided to attend
only today even tho our reunion goes through Sunday. I am still isolated from my classmates.
And shy. I realize the cliques that existed in high school rekindle each time we meet again. I
was not in a clique. My boyfriend was in a different school and I hung out with him. So at
reunions I often struggle for things to say.
It is pouring out and the wind tears the umbrella from my hand. I cross the dark street, Rush
under a drenching sky to enter to the door, " Use other door," the sagging sign reads. Where? I
plod through puddles, walk around the corner looking for T.R. Restaurant. The entrance looks
like a bar. It is. But to the side, up a long staircase is a room. And there we gather To meet
each other after years of changes. Retirements. Moves to different states. Grandparenthood.
Arthritis. Hearing aids . Gains and losses. Beginnings. Endings.
Louise,, Manuela, Bruce. Stuart. Faces I knew so well from the halls of Wheatley, from home
rooms and solid geometry, from English and world history. Those old familiar and not so familiar
faces greet me. So much the same and so different. Like so many of us who have moved
from Long Island, Janet's high school side kick, Linda has not come up from Florida. But
others are arriving tomorrow. Another six. A small group this go around. Joel Gold is among
them . His new kitten peed on me the first time I held her. I was thirteen. I screamed loudly.
Dramatically for effect.
Other classmates in rain gear,dripping umbrellas, boots climb the steep stairs. Barbara,
Manuela, Ed, Louise, Janet. I notice Lance is having difficulty negotiating the steep risers He
manages. I am embraced by arms and more arms. Held close. I remember how rich it was.
How rich it is. My fellow graduates discuss events of my life I barely remember, and I theirs
"Hey, what ever happened to your boyfriend, what was his name, that guy from Manhasset? " I
"Babs, how were you able to win the homemaker's contest in 10th grade." I ask. " What
contest?", she replies.
"Does anyone remember whose house we went to after the prom? We necked all night.," I
query. No one remembers. I can still picture us sprawled on couches, on each other, a tangle
of limbs. Heads under arms, under armpits, arms around necks. Legs twisted over legs. The
lights so dim and my lipsticked lips no longer red from lip paint, but red and sore from too much
I am surprised to feel so at home with this group. Louise puts her faded copy of The Aurora
on the table. I shout to Barbara "Look here we are on in the Yearbook Club." And to Janet
whose maiden name was Hart "Look at the flyer. The one that says Kaufman and Hart direct
Kaufman and Hart. Do you remember the name of the play? I sure don't ," I say ..She shakes
her head and laughs. I have forgotten so much.
"Look! A picture of us in the Thespians, " Janet points out and adds " Stuart, I didn't remember
you were also a Thespian!"
All of us. Here. Now. Almost but not quite strangers. Not quite friends Almost but not quite
family But walking up the stairway into this warm room with the freezing rain beating at the
Tudor style windows is like entering a warm house billowing the smell of fresh bread where we
all sit around an old planked table to gorge .large slices swathed with butter. We are talking
non-stop. We are laughing. Some of us are giggling We are 75 going on 17.
Bobbie Kaufman. 10/07/15
Kleban, Donald M. – Grew up at 3 Oakley Lane, East Williston. Graduated from Alfred U. and NYU School of Law. Was a corporate lawyer and investment banker in NYC for 40 years. In retirement, his passions turned to his Florida home, golf and poker. Died of lung cancer July 23, 2014. Survived by children Daniel and Matthew, daughters-in-law Janet and Rosa; grandchildren David, Abigail, Lillian, Esme and Aaron, and significant other Deborah Wecker. Writes classmate Bruce Richardson: “Don and I became friends at North Side when he moved to East Williston in the 50s. I recall that he graduated about 86th in our class of 87. He was not really into studying. I remember the last day of classes at Wheatley and he had to pass chemistry in order to graduate. Don and I went in to see Mr. Mills. Don pleaded with him to let him know if he had passed chemistry and Mr. Mills told him he had gotten a D. Don was elated and went up and shook his hand (I think was a time when we never touched a teacher!) and thanked him. Don joined the Navy and he told us that about three weeks later he had his regrets.”