OK, this is a personal one.
For decades I’ve avoided school reunions because I wondered what in the world I’d have in common with people I went to school with 40 or so years ago. Other than being in the same place at the same time simply by happenstance what have we shared?
But this past weekend something pretty special happened. Let me set it up for you.
When I went to college, the rather backward college administration of the time was completely against Greek fraternities and sororities. They simply weren’t allowed. Period. No matter how often the administration was petitioned, the answer was an unequivocal “no”. According to the thinking of the time, only degenerates were in fraternities. And, on top of that, the college was in a “dry” county – but that’s a story for another time.
As you might imagine being denied what they desired didn’t sit well with a bunch of rambunctious college kids who wanted fraternities. So in 1964 two “men’s social service clubs” were created by some brash young students ostensibly to “promote social activities on campus”. Of course as you might have guessed, they were very thinly disguised fraternities. Like, paper thin. Inventive folks adapt to the reality in which they have to live. They called themselves the Squires and the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, a tragic car accident with multiple fatalities ended the Squires a year or so later. But the Cavaliers survived and grew. Pledge classes came and went and with them new members and new stories. The group literally became legendary. I had to chuckle, because the most oft repeated remark I heard this weekend was something along the line of “it is a miracle we all survived.”
In fact, we still are convinced “Animal House” was written about us. If you ever want to meet the real Flounder, I have his phone number.
Anyway in 1976, with a new and more enlightened administration, Greek frats were allowed and the Cavaliers transitioned into an actual Greek fraternity (one with which they had informal ties for years). That was the end of the Cavaliers as a formal organization and the end of an era. But for those who were members it was such a unique and close knit bunch that it was only a matter of time, and frankly age, that drove a core group to decide it was time to find each of us again and bring us all back together – somehow, some way.
In 1994, word went out that we were going to gather at the college for a homecoming game and then we’d have a dance afterward. I couldn’t wait. Years had passed and I’d wondered about these guys a lot.
As it turned out it was, well … ok.
It was all too hurried. Because of the full schedule of events and the fact that everyone was staying in different places, I really didn’t find myself fulfilled in the way I had hoped. It was a “hi, great to see you again, bye” type weekend. There were wives I didn’t know and, well, it was just too civil and civilized for an old Cavalier. It just didn’t do it for me. And it sort of confirmed my theory about school reunions.
After that I concluded that you just can’t go back and had pretty much written off any further reunions. But I had to admit a certain disappointment deep inside. With that decision, I understood that I had probably seen a bunch of guys I had known well and who’s friendship I still treasured for the last time. For most us, our association in the Cavaliers was about as close as you can get to the bond between combat vets without the combat. Forged in the joys and disappointments of emerging adulthood, the hell-raising and partying of young collegians and in the shadow of Vietnam, it became a true brotherhood.
Unfortunately I lost sight of that the last time we met and my disappointment caused me to turn away from future attempts to gather the clan. But as I mentioned earlier, age has a way of changing things. The focus on making a living and the trials and tribulations of raising a family slowly subside and you spend a little more time reminiscing. Fond memories of people and times come unbidden to your mind. And you begin to wonder again how they are and how they’re doing.
To make this long story a little shorter, I finally decided to give it one more try. This particular event was in its 6th year in Gilbert, Arkansas where one of the guy’s family has a second home that he opens up to everyone for that particular weekend [thanks Billy].
Gilbert, as you can see by the sign and the pics, is a very small and rustic town on the banks of the Buffalo River that lives mostly off the dollars of fisherman and kayakers and canoers. Once the season is over, it’s pretty much deserted. And, gazing at Main Street, you might have figured out the season is over. The quiet there is amazing.
In that setting, and with just the guys, we had the time to sit back and let it rip. It was perfect. The weather was cold and gray, but the brotherhood, camaraderie and laughter was warm and sunny. I saw guys I haven’t seen in 40 years. And there was an immediate comfort level among them that I hadn’t anticipated given my last experience. It felt like I had seen these guys just last week. None of the awkwardness you might expect with the years that have passed. We slipped right into the kidding and banter that used to flow so easily back then. The jokes flew, the beer flowed and the laughter bellowed. In fact, my ribs cramped up from too much laughing. The characters of my youth still survived. The personalities that I so enjoyed back then were with me again, and frankly I reveled in it (and yeah the beer helped – get over it). The time – 2 days to hang-out with each other – made all the difference in the world. No schedules, nothing to hurry too. It gave us the time necessary to reconnect with our brothers and to meet and begin to bond with those we don’t know as well – the guys who came afterward, added to the legend and kept the brotherhood the great organization it was until the end.
But there was one clinker in the deal – I’m not 19 anymore and while the mind was willing the bod said “screw you, slow down and make sure you get some damn sleep”. Heh … the good news is I wasn’t the only one.
All-in-all though it was a fabulous family affair where we were fed like royalty (thanks guys for the fantastic brats and burgers on Friday night and the to-kill-for catfish on Saturday) and treated like kings. So Toma, put me on the list, I’ll be back for “Camp Cavalier VII”. Thanks to all of the unsung brothers who worked so hard to make it such a fantastic and fulfilling event. And now that I’ve taken “Rassberrie 101”, I and the other “Goldies” are ready for the more advanced course (for the regular readers, that’s waaay inside baseball).
Sometimes you can go back.