Reconnecting people is what I do by (4 Stories)

Prompted By Reconnecting

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It seems that reconnecting people is what I do.  For thirty years I’ve been the co-secretary of my college class (1971), and every five years I track down missing classmates and harass all classmates into writing an essay about their lives for the Reunion Red Book, the huge book we produce.  I also cajole them into attending the reunions.  Plus, on a continuing basis, I produce the Class Notes every other month where classmates send in news about themselves.  As another example, I was the chief instigator in reuniting twelve women who were freshwomen in the same small dorm, and as a result, every 18 months, at least until Covid-19 came along, we would rent a large house somewhere in the US or Canada for a long weekend of talking, laughing, support and good food.  We have become the closest of friends and have sustained each other through the many ups and downs of our lives.

I guess I’m just curious about people who have been important to me through different phases of my life.  I went to three high schools and always stayed in contact with people from my first school, but just recently, I searched for and found a girl I had known at my second high school.  We had not communicated since 1966, but she was delighted to hear from me.  I’m also one of the people who works to keep the kids from my third high school in touch with each other.  I help find people for the reunions, and I have an email group for close friends so that we can interact with each other frequently.  We even Zoom now.  Perhaps it is because I did not have a happy family that I seek to reestablish relationships with old friends.

Hands down, though, my best reconnecting project was, at age fifty, finding all the kids who were in my sixth grade class.  I grew up in Shawnee, OK, a small city with a stable population with the result that most of us went through grade school with the same group of kids.  In fact, a large proportion of the kids went on to middle school and high school together.  A number of them are still in Shawnee.

Sarah

The project got started because I tracked down Sarah, a girl who had been my good friend but who had moved away in middle school.  Back in those days, when someone moved away, all contact was lost unless the people were committed letter writers which most of us were not.  When I found Sarah in Little Rock, I happened to be planning a road trip across country, so we got together and reminisced and wondered what had happened to all those kids we had been so close to for so many years.  An idea popped into my head, and on my way home to Canada from that trip, I stopped at my mom’s house in Maryland and asked if she had saved anything from my grade school years.  She said she thought there were a few things in the crawl space beneath the house.  That was an understatement.  There were a bunch of boxes with every piece of paper that had my name on it plus tons of souvenirs of all kinds – all my crayon art, my chemistry set and microscope, my Visible Man and Woman, my clarinet, and my Blue Bird hat and Camp Fire Girl vest among many other things.  Even one of the wreaths we made out of dry cleaner bags was carefully preserved. Most important, the little PTA booklets that listed all the students and their father’s names, the things I had been hoping to find, were all there.  I took all the stuff home with me and set to work on finding people.

Hands down, though, my best reconnecting project was, at age fifty, finding all the kids who were in my sixth grade class. 

 

This was during the early years of the internet and there were free “people search” websites or “white pages,” so I started searching.  The reason I wanted the PTA booklets is because I thought many of the women would have married and changed their names.  Having the father’s name, and in some cases, brothers’ names, gave me a better chance of finding them.  I had luck at first because some people were still in Shawnee or in Texas which narrowed down the search.  In other cases, there were multiple people with the same name, so I sent postcards asking if they were indeed my classmate.  I made a lot of phone calls too.  Eventually I found all but two kids in my sixth grade class plus four of my teachers.

        

I sent everyone a questionnaire to fill out asking what were their best memories and worst memories of grade school.  That produced a lot of funny stories, but surprisingly only one really bad memory which had to do with a family situation, not anything to do with school or classmates.  I also asked them to send an essay on “What I have been doing since sixth grade” and noted that neatness would count.  Almost everyone responded enthusiastically and a few people sent souvenirs they had saved – a Junior Police badge, newspaper clippings – and everyone sent current photos.  I proceeded to scan or photograph all the souvenirs my mom had saved and sprinkled them throughout the book I produced.  Each person had an entry with their answers to the questionnaire, their 6th grade and current photos, their essay, and copies of the valentine they had sent me and the letter they had sent my mother thanking her for providing the punch and doughnuts for a class party.

I sent the book to everyone including our teachers.  I had been amazed to find them and surprised that three of the four remembered me.  (OK, I admit I was always the teachers’ pet). My first grade teacher, Miss Rainbolt, even called me from her nursing home, and one of the other teachers wrote to me.  All of my classmates were thrilled with the book, and one wrote to say “Thank you for giving me my childhood back.”  A number of us have stayed in touch and are friends on Facebook now.  It was a sweet project and brought back memories of a kinder, gentler time in our lives.   

The book I produced for my classmates.

 

Profile photo of Cynthia Blanton Cynthia Blanton
Walter Johnson HS, Harvard undergrad, Harvard MBA, corporate strategy consultant, bank VP, jewelry designer, photographer, retired. Lived on a farm in Oklahoma; Granada Hills, CA; Bethesda, MD; Cambridge and Boston area; San Francisco and Bay Area; Incline Village, NV at Lake Tahoe; Westport, CT; Pelham Manor, NY; Toronto and Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and now I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico! (In my photo, I am dressed for a Great Gatsby party)

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Tags: reconnecting, friends, elementary school
Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Cynthia, how delightful, and what a talent you have for connecting and reconnecting. That’s awesome that you found all your sixth-grade classmates. And, I got the biggest laugh from that Kotex ad, I remember those well.

    • That Kotex ad was really a whole booklet given to us during 5th grade, I think. All the girls went into one room to learn about this weird thing that was going to happen to our bodies while the boys went into another room. I’m not sure what the boys were learning. I was thoroughly grossed out at the idea of getting a period and announced that I “wasn’t going to do that.” While some of the girls were thrilled because it would mean they could have babies, something I was not interested in, I thought those Kotex things would interfere with sliding into home plate or playing football. I was right.

  2. Suzy says:

    Cynthia, you certainly win the prize for the most reconnections! I made a similar search for everyone in my high school class, which I described in “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on the prompt Tracking People Down, and those early people-search websites were invaluable. But the book you made for your elementary school classmates is beyond my wildest dreams! Amazing! You were lucky that your mother had saved “a few things” in the crawl space beneath the house. Great story!

  3. Wow! Cynthia! You are amazing! What an inspirational story. The older I get, the more I want to know what’s up with all the people whose paths I’ve crossed. You have found a way to do that. Good job!

  4. Wonderful Cynthia, what a labor of love was each one of your reconnecting projects!
    Reunions can indeed be magical and life changing, and what a tribute to be told you’ve given someone back her childhood!

    Here’s to many more once this crisis is at an end!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Cynthia, this (and you) are amazing! How helpful that your mother had saved so much of your childhood, but still, it took great determination to go through everything that you did, track everyone down, then actually stay in touch with so many. Kudos to you!

    I chair my college reunions (four of them now, though have worked on more), and was the original class correspondent for 11 years; Brandeis is only 73 years old with an under-developed alumni base and Development Office. They seem to do everything wrong from my perspective. They recently did away with the Class Correspondent position, just asking each of us to send our comments directly in, which of course doesn’t often happen and disenfranchised our really excellent Class Correspondent. We have, by and large, a disengaged alumni base. I want some of your enthusiasm to bring into my fold! I think I’m going to email your story to our head of Alumni Relations just to show her what can be done!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Cynthia, your story blew me away. I love how you tracked down not only your classmates but also their memorabilia and memories. Having done a couple of these books on a much more minor scale, with people in my extended family and a friendship group, I know how hard it is to get people to respond and share their their memories. You are indeed the queen of reconnecting, and I am in awe of your ability to put together the book.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I am so glad there are connectors like you in the world, particularly on behalf of all of us who don’t take that on. And reassuring to know there is good reason to hang onto all those ephemera from childhood that are lugged around in boxes everywhere after all.

  8. I’m so impressed, Cynthia! What a wonderful project you created. I have a lot of similar memorabilia…including that Kotex brochure, and something called a “slam book” where one of us would pass around a little notebook and each of our friends listed our favorite this or that…color, song, movie, movie star, our pet peeves, and then it got a little more personal. They were definitely against school rules and would usually get confiscated.

    You and Dana inspired me to search for some classmates and lo and behold I found some. Today I got this message from one of them: “Just want you to know…that two people searched for you for over 25 years.” It brought tears to my eyes…I had no idea anyone was looking for me. Of course it’s not surprising they couldn’t find me since I’ve had three name changes. So thanks for not only a great story but the inspiration to reach out!

  9. And your school HAD to be named Will Rogers, didn’t it! Truly, I am appreciative of all you do for HR ’71 and I’m glad you haven’t limited your sleuthing and your connecting to those you knew in college.

    • Thanks, Dale. We were known as the Will Rogers Ropers. Yippee kai yay, Yippee Kai Yo, Rogers Ropers, Go Go Go.

      In addition to Will Rogers, I went to Walter Johnson HS, named after a baseball pitcher. Our newspaper was The Pitch and the yearbook was The Wind Up.

      • That is too much! Walter Johnson was one of two pitchers–and five MLB players overall–who were inducted into the Hall of Fame the year it first opened. (Don’t ask me to name the year.). A good trivia question for your peers back in OK; who was the OTHER pitcher? (Shhh. Christy Matthewson of the NY Giants, before they were the SF Giants.)

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