Way, way down Memory Lane
This past weekend I attended a reunion. During the last couple of years of high school, I became involved in the senior high youth group in my church. It's sort of hard to explain what this group really was like, and what it meant to all of us. "Church youth group" doesn't come close. We were about music, and there were some extraordinarily talented people. (That's three of the very talented musicians below - Don Mackenzie, Lisa (Peck) Prokopowitz, and my older brother, Mark Palmieri) We were about the time - the late 60s and early 70s and all that went with that era - "the War," as if it were the first and last and only and needed no further identification - and all the political and social pressures of an age that broke old rules and made new ones. It was also about religion, but nothing was shoved down our throats. I know that the roots of my own belief system were sent down during those days, and took firm enough hold that through the years something strong, and powerful, and enduring grew from them. A faith that surprises me has always been there to see me through some very difficult times, though I'm pretty sure the church wouldn't recognize most of what I believe.
Our church had been named by the Presbytery as one of a few "teaching churches." Our youth group leaders were students at Princeton Seminary. For me, the first two were Don Mackenzie and Greg Meister. Then came Paul Debenport and John Pohling.(That's me with Paul. Seeing him and Nona again was an amazing feeling - proof that years can melt away.) Following them were Bob Saxby and Rich Fennig. Don was the first to bring the music, and the youth of the town and surrounding towns followed. Our group grew. Mushroomed. It was my first experience of the dynamic made famous decades later in Field of Dreams. "If you build it, they will come." They came, in the dozens. There was, of course, a small core group. Many of us traveled down to Princeton frequently to visit with Paul and his wife, Nona, and they became, as Steve put it, "PaulnNona," an entity that was nurturing and safe and loving. To us, they were adults. What was a huge difference in our ages back then became funny when Nona and I talked about it this weekend and realized there's only 5 years between us.
It was my first experience of true community and what that can come to mean in your life. It remains, to this day, something quite unique in my experience. Still, when we scattered, despite our ties, we scattered widely and lost touch with one another. So, when my brother, Steve, mentioned to me that he wanted to plan this reunion my first thought was that it was an undertaking unlikely to succeed. Immediately following that thought, I also knew that if he were to pull it off, I would have to attend.
Thanks, Steve. This was an enormous undertaking. It required energy and focus and determination to pull it off. And it was worth it for all of us who came. I hope it was worth it for you.That's Steve with Don Purkey. Perk was the minister of the church from 1963 until 1976. He was the one who shepherded all of the student ministers through the program.
It was a wonderful weekend. It rained the whole time - poured, in fact. The hour's drive from home and back again, made Friday night, Saturday, and again on Sunday, wasn't easy. By the time I was driving home on Sunday I was nodding off with my eyes open. But it was well worth the effort. I reconnected with people I'd been so close to, but whom I had lost over the years. Beyond that, I forged new, deeper connections with people I hadn't really known very well at all back then, and discovered shared interests and more in common with some than I ever could have guessed.
Memory Lane is sometimes a foggy road, with blurred images rushing past, details lost in the mists of time. Sometimes, it's a hazardous road there's no reason to travel down again, and I turn back quickly. This trip down Memory Lane was one with unforeseen dividends. Shadowy memories took the sunlight well, and as I came back into the here and now, I was able to bring back with me tangible, valuable gems from the past. Solid now, with all the detail clear and their facets refracting accurately, their value can be active again in my life. I will place them prominently, keep the dust off of them, and let them work their miracles.