Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More from the Mailbag

Last week I got an e-mail through the contact form of my website. Not my new photography site but the tried and trusty JohnMcQuiston.com.

A woman named Michelle asked if I had attended Brookfield Elementary School in Chantilly, Virginia. She wanted to know this because she had attended that school several eons ago with a boy named John McQuiston, whom she remembered for once having won a class contest by correctly naming all of the U.S. Presidents in order. Could I possibly be her former classmate?

Indeed I could, though she didn't remember my elementary school claim to fame quite accurately. Loathe as I am to correct anyone who may have overestimated my intelligence, it was actually the state capitals I correctly recited before an assembly of the whole 4th grade rather than every president.

There was a time, maybe in late high school or in college, when I could go through the list of commanders-in-chief in order. In eleventh grade, I think, we had to know all of them from the 20th century, which at the time was still well underway. Now I can probably make it from G. Washington up to about 1845. After that I'm spotty until William McKinley, what with Grover Cleveland coming and going and then coming back again just to confuse things.

Give the girl a break, though, it was more than 30 years ago. And the Michelle that I remembered as the red-haired girl with gold wire-rimmed glasses who carried her burgeoning novel around in a three-ring binder is not a girl any more. She's now a contact-wearing, blond-haired single mother of a 22-year-old college graduate!

How do these one-time contemporaries keep getting older and try to drag me into adulthood with them? I bet someone from my high school graduating class is a grandparent now.

I have had regular contact with only a few people from high school. If Facebook friend requests -- yes, plural -- from people whose names I have absolutely have no recognition of is any indication, there were many with whom I had no contact while still in high school.

Contacts with elementary school classmates have been entirely absent since I left Brookfield in 1978 until Michelle's note last week.

I told her that I have stopped in Chantilly twice this decade while visiting, or returning from visits with, my brother Jim in Alexandria. One of them I detailed on a page on a former version of my website that included a section called "John's Journal." That was before blogs. Anyway, here is the link to that entry in case you're curious.

The other time, Jim went with me as we discovered that the then-occupants of our one-time home at 13603 Pennsboro Drive did not speak English. The pool five houses down the street was still there. I explained to the kid at the check-in window that I had learned to swim there almost 30 years ago, choking on the words as I realized that it had been that long, and he let me inside to take photographs. The high dive from which my youngest brother once fell was gone, replaced by a giant slide -- much closer to the ground and, I'm sure, more liability friendly.

Thirty years ago accidents still happened occasionally. It was not always cause for a lawsuit. There wasn't always someone else to blame for one's misfortune.

I still remember the times of the four 25-yard butterfly races I swam my first year on the team, and precise details of a couple of them, which I'll spare you, as I did Michelle.

It is interesting how the mind and memory work. Some things I remember clear as crystal. Like those races when I was 9-years-old. And Mrs. Blevins reading the state names for me to answer with their capital cities. When she read Rhode Island, I spaced. Couldn't think of it. She said, "we'll come back to it." After Wyoming, she said Rhode Island again. "Providence," I shot back. And I had done it.

Don't worry; not many other people my age were impressed, either. But at least one of them remembered it. Sort of.

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