Memories of Wheatley's 50th Anniversary Celebration, October 2006
by Linda Berg Goodman, '68


“Come on, it will be fun. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime happening. If you don’t go, you will totally regret it!” Diane kept pressuring me without success. My determination not to go was fixed.  After several weeks of her irritating and stubborn persistence and my equally dogmatic refusals, the tide started to shift. What precipitated this crack in the dam? After getting nowhere with me, my sister said the one thing she knew would surely work – she played the guilt card. “Lin, I need someone to go with. What if none of my friends show up. I don’t want to do this alone. Please go with me, I’m counting on you.” Almost immediately, I felt myself weakening. Oh, the power of the old family script was sucking me in again, like a strong current pulling me to its source. I thrashed, flailed, and screamed, but to no avail.  The wave was bigger than I was. Despite many years of therapy, nothing had changed. I surrendered to the rip tide and was carried back to my functional role in the family. I was still the caretaker and protector. My sister needed me and that was that. I would be going to a celebration of my high school’s fiftieth birthday. I was going back no matter what. 

I approached the day with anxiety. Dreams of elementary school peppered my nights. I had forgotten my lunch; I was unprepared for my flute lesson; I hadn’t studied for the multiplication test. And the dreams about high school, Oh God! What if Jimmy Markay found out I had a crush on him, and why could I never find my chemistry class – the school really had only two corridors. In daylight, I thought about my reunion outfit and changed my plan about nine times. What would be slimming? After all, I must be about thirty pounds heavier. What about my curls? Nobody ever saw them before. I only let them out about three years ago. My hair in my high school yearbook picture was almost straight – remember those rollers made out of jumbo orange juice cans, and the radioactive straightening products?  

I became obsessive in my insecurities. I didn’t know which class to reunite with. I had skipped my junior year in high school and joined another class for my senior year. I knew about 25 kids from that class very well and would be happy to see them, but it didn’t appear as if too many of them were coming. I could join my old class, but I had abandoned them and would they even remember me?  Would they want to? 

I bravely attempted to keep my fears from surfacing as I dressed for the reunion. How odd to find myself searching through drawers for something approaching dangling hippie -looking earrings. I hadn’t worn those since 1968. But my reservations were not to be contained, bubbling to the forefront of my thoughts, like a rubber raft that can’t be kept submerged. But I fought back – diving into my closet looking for non-frumpy outerwear. Oh, why hadn’t I given this more thought? This jacket was gum-encrusted, that shawl was wrinkled. “This is hopeless!” I thought. “I’m committed to going. I can’t…but I must.  I have to stop fighting it. I capitulate! It’s all bigger than I am.” 

On the day of the celebration, I drove to the building so I could have some control of my destiny. I picked up my sister and her high school best friend and we soon found ourselves singing the Wheatley alma mater and chanting the cheers from the pep rallies. Wheatley was my home for five years and I hadn’t seen it in almost forty, and yet all the memories came flooding back. I suddenly became very excited. “Oh my god, look at the gym, it hasn’t changed a bit. I wanted to see my locker – number A-111, and room 203 - Mrs. Cooper’s Social Studies class. I wanted to see the seat I was sitting in when Mr. Wathey, the principal, announced that President Kennedy was assassinated.  I wanted to sit at the desks that would protect us from a nuclear attack and I wanted to see the Home Ec. room where I made the most hideous rust-colored dress in eighth grade, and I really wanted to see someone I knew from those years. But above all, I wanted to see someone who knew me. 

In the past forty years since high school, I have only bumped into one person from my high school. In contrast my husband has met hundreds of people he has known from his past, and I – only one. I would be so jealous as he reminisced with his buddies and relived his past. It was as if my past was a void – a black hole; it never happened. 

 Wheatley was a tiny district and all of us were together from first grade on. What’s more, we were tracked, so I was basically in the same classes with the same twenty-five kids since first grade. I never understood until now what a loss those missing ties felt like for me. Did I really have a past? Nobody knows me from when I was young except my family. Would any one remember me? Would they care? 

As I walked into room 203, Mrs. Cooper’s Social Studies class, many faces and names flashed and melded before me. There was Joel Blumenthal, Joan Edelstein, Joan Filler, Jed Berman, Janet Bernstein, and others. They screamed when they saw me. LINDA BERG, why did you leave our class? We hugged, and kissed, and laughed, and it felt so good! I finally had people who remembered Mrs. Flior pointing a cap gun at Philip Friedman. I saw my friend Joan, with whom I shared my first sleepover and Ranger game, and with whom I traded all the Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Cherry Aimes books. And Joel – how we were always passing notes to each other when we were bored to tears. And Janet – oh, how I envied her lunch boxes, (my mother made me take brown paper bags). We laughed and reminisced and remembered. We took a class picture, and I again had to sit on the floor – just like old times. 

Driving home that night, I became aware of some kind of internal shift. The tide was changing again. Something felt very different and noticeably better. I had achieved some kind of closure. I had wondered for so long if I would ever see my childhood peers again. Would Wendy Aibel remember I threw up on her in first grade? Would Larry Cohen recall when I finally beat him in Knock Hockey with the trick slap shot that he had taught me and to celebrate that feat we rolled down the stairs in a big cardboard box, over and over again - shrieking and laughing? 

And yes, they did remember and we laughed anew. And it didn’t matter if I had curls, or fat thighs, or if I was a millionaire, and I didn’t care whether they did either. What mattered was for that one night, we were back together again in our beloved school, yukking it up, and we could share that special time and know that it was still alive, if only in our hearts and memories. But if only for that one night, it was still worth it – no matter what. 

-- Linda

Two months after Wheatley's 50th Anniversary Celebration, Linda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She passed away in the fall of 2008.