STORIES FROM OLD JOE
Reflections on My 55th High School Reunion:
A couple of weeks back, I had the privilege of making it to my 55th Clover Park High reunion. These things are always fun, but they honestly get more fun as you get older. First of all, everybody called me “Joey,” which I was called in my school days. It gave me such a comfortable feeling because—heck—I’m with kids who have known me for 60 years or more. That’s a long time! I sat in first grade with a bunch of them 66 years ago, eating paste out of my paste jar, which was one of my pastimes then.
And it was comfortable even for the army kids (the high school was near Fort Lewis) or others who were only part of our class for a few years. It was friendly. “Cool” had been tossed out the window a long time ago, and any perceived unlevel ground was all level. One of the highlights for me was hosting a guy, only one of three black kids in our class, who I had found on the Internet (I had the assignment of trying to find classmates with whom we’d lost touch). He’d flown up from LA to attend. He had left in 1959 two weeks after graduation, seen no one since, and he had a great time at the reunion. That was a kick.
Another obvious thing is that everybody looks old. Not older, because we don’t just look older—we look old! Average age 73, unless you’re one of the ones listed on the happy handout called “deceased classmates,” a list with a growing appetite. So nametags were vital. Most of us wear bifocals now, so, unless you’ve seen someone recently, you lean over to look through the bottom part of your glasses at a nametag to see who someone is. And that’s always fun, because you get some great surprises. “Oh, of course, ______, I recognize you!” When, really, in all seriousness you are thinking, “That’s ________! Oh, my gosh!” And you know that they are probably thinking the same thing about you!
A strange thing—I’m now taller than a lot of the jocks in the class. They’ve shrunk, except for a few. Now, I’ve shrunk, too, which my wife will tell you, but obviously not as much. And I was always short, until I grew two inches in my freshman year of college. So I got a lot of, “Joey, I didn’t remember you being that tall.”
And this next observation displays my prejudicial nature. My wife, Cherry, is always one of the prettiest girls at these functions, if not the prettiest girl. And there I go again . . . I call my classmates “kids” and I call her a “girl.” At 71? But my dementia is only in the early stages, so you can forgive me. (Cherry doesn’t know I’m writing this; she always attributes my compliments to poor vision.)
Three of our high school teachers were there. Two of my favorites, and one of my least favorites. The latter was a PE teacher who had given me swats with his paddle twice in the ninth grade. However, you’d be proud to know that I held no animosity toward him and even went over to say hello and shake his now quivering hand. I had long since forgiven him for my black-and-blue behind from one of those occasions when I had been given six swats with his paddle instead of the usual three. Did I mention, of course, that the swats had been highly undeserved? (Maybe I still do hold a little animosity? Nah, not me.)
One of the teachers there taught the required “Current Events” class in my senior year. He was a really good guy and I liked him a lot. Mr. Peterson. Early on in the semester he had given each of us a weekly TV program to watch and told us that he would give us a pop quiz some time during the semester which would be a third of our grade. My program was on Saturday nights at ten, which turned out to be a problem. I was usually not home on Saturday nights at ten, and always forgot to watch even when I was home. Anyway in December he pulled the pop quiz on us. I got extraordinarily creative and wrote three pages on what the program had been about, and what it meant to me personally. As I handed the paper in, I told all my pals around me, and we all had a good laugh. Two days later he let us know that the papers were graded, and that most of us had done well. He also mentioned that one of the papers was really outstanding and he wanted the author of that paper to come up front and read it out loud to the class. He said, “Joey Kempston, would you come up here, please.” As my pals around me booed, I went up and read it to the class. (And I should say here that I did confess this indiscretion to him at our 50th reunion, and that everything was ok between us!)
As the reunion progressed through the afternoon, I couldn’t help but reflect on God’s kindnesses to me through the years. I kept remembering sitting on my back porch early Monday morning after Friday night’s graduation 55 Junes ago. That morning I was feeling more than a little scared and apprehensive. I was 17, the rest of my life was staring me in the face, I was headed off to college in the fall, and I hoped I could do okay with it, but I wasn’t very sure.
In church the day before, I had heard a beautiful song—the words of which were a takeoff on what Jesus had said in Matthew 10, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” Those words came to my mind as I was sitting there, and they were a great comfort. So I prayed sitting on those steps, “God, I’m scared, and I don’t know what’s ahead, but I give you my life. I will really try to seek you and trust you and I know that that means loving you and loving people.”
Fifty-five years later I look back and I see so clearly that he has done that wildly beyond any expectations: Almost 50 wonderful years of marriage to someone I admire and remain deeply in love with. Someone who has been a great partner, and put up with all my stuff. Many seasons of leading Young Life clubs, loving kids and telling them that life is meant to be lived inside of a relationship with God. Having four great kids who also love God and give their lives away to others. Honest kids. Kind kids. Between the four of them, they have been married to their spouses for a total of almost 80 years. 11 grand children and counting. Many incredible friendships spanning the years which are deep, meaningful and lasting.
So I drove home from that reunion with a grateful heart. Jesus really meant it when he said what he did in Matthew 6:33. “He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern” (The New Living Translation).