'Perhaps they are with us now'

Franlin Mason

July 17, 1991|By Franklin Mason

HE ALWAYS put everything off until the last minute, and now it was.

It was the day of the night of his reunion, the 60th reunion of his City College class, Class of 1931. Could he face it? Would he know these faces?

City College for him lately had been a bag, a canvas bag he'd bought some time ago. The bag on the outside showed City College, its tower standing tall; the address, 33rd Street and the Alameda, and the date, "Erected 1928."

That was the year he had first climbed to the "Castle on the Hill." Three years later, somehow he had come down and out into the world.

So he opened the bag and went back over the years. There was the annual Green Bag, City's yearbook, which strangely had a maroon cover. There were pictures all over the place. He looked long and thought hard. All those faces. Many he remembered well.

But would he remember now, would be tonight? Time, he knew, could change much, take much away. Would he know any of those left?

Or could he expect to? With trepidation he turned to his own face, his own photograph. Did he recognize himself? Well, yes. That was his name beside the photograph; it must be he. But the face was so frail, so weak, so long ago.

He got up and looked into the mirror. The mirror was today's photograph. He couldn't believe the two photographs were the same person.

And there were other things in the bag. There was the graduation program, June 16, 1931, at 8 o'clock. And where? In the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute auditorium! He laughed and shuddered at once, remembering the deadly City-Poly rivalry. And there was the menu for the banquet at the Southern Hotel the same night, beginning at midnight, with songs and the finale set for 3:30 the next morning.

And what was this in the bag? Something that surely wasn't his. The orange felt letter, the big "B," standing for Baltimore City College. It was the symbol of athletic prowess.

Surely it wasn't his. He couldn't chin himself, couldn't climb a rope in gym, couldn't throw a basketball from the foul line as far as the basket.

Yes, he remembered about the "B." His brother's wife had given it to him decades ago when she'd married his brother, a Poly man. She'd garnered the "B" from a former flame and now was well rid of it. He'd saved it all these years, and it wasn't even his.

So he looked at the Green Bag again and the long-ago faces and then put them all back into the City bag. He wasn't sure he was ready for the real world and the real faces that were awaiting him.

City Forever! We'll praise her to the sky,

We'll fight for old City, until we do or die;

Dear Alma Mater, your sons we'll always be,

City Forever, and for Victory!

Yes, the day has passed into evening and the 60th reunion is in swing. He can't quite believe 100 septuagenarians are in full voice in praise of old City.

They've settled in, the food put away but drinks still available, and there's the song.

But it isn't food or drink or song they've come for. Yes, that's part of it, that's fine, but they've come to see the others. They've come to see what septuagenarians really are, what they look like. No one quite believes that he himself is a septuagenarian.

Yes, there are those he remembers well and those he knows not at all. (He thinks of those who are not here, who can't be here.)

Of those here, there is no doubt of the change. He looks and sees and thinks they all seem prosperous enough -- their clothes, their appearance, and certainly not one seems wanting. And yet . . . And yet it doesn't buy time, prosperity doesn't. He leans across the table and asks a question: "Where are the boys that were at City College?" He isn't sure just what he means, but still he asks.

They hear him but aren't sure just what he means. The septuagenarian table becomes somehow quiet, almost still. Then after a moment, someone speaks up quietly. "Perhaps they are with us now," one classmate says, "are with us still."

Yes, he thinks, that may be it. Perhaps there are other answers after 60 years, but that one seems the best.

Franklin Mason, whose Green Bag photo is above, went on to become a copy editor for The Evening Sun.

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