Cathy Hamilton: Invitation brings back memories of sisterhood

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The invitation read: You are cordially invited to attend the Class of '69's 40th reunion!

"Wait just a pea-pickin' minute," I said to myself. "Class of '69?"

"I'm not THAT old. They must be thinking of another Catherine Marie Johnston Hamilton from Prairie Village, Kan. I'm sure I graduated four years later. Sure, it was a purple haze-y era, and my memory's not what it used to be, but it was 1973. I have the ring to prove it!"

Then, I looked closer. This wasn't about high school. This was an event planned for the evening of June 6 in the St. Ann School cafeteria.

"Elementary school? WHAT? They want me to reunite with people I haven't seen since Nixon took office? Since Neil Armstrong taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk? Since Mom scarred me for life by forbidding me to hitchhike to Woodstock?" (Seriously, Mom, how much trouble could I have gotten into?)

The thought of it boggled my amnesiac mind. I can't remember the middle names of my children, let alone the 98 kids in my grade school class. Besides, it was parochial school. We all dressed alike - navy blue uniforms, white shirts, standard-issue brown or black shoes. I don't know how our mothers managed to take the right kids home after school every day.

It's a miracle someone like Mrs. Doyle wasn't constantly finding strange children at her dinner table, tucked among her own brood of nine.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who are you?" she'd shriek. "And how'd ya get into my kitchen?"

"Thomas O'Reilly, ma'am. And I was just standing by the parish hall when you came along and threw me into your station wagon!" the sniveling kid would answer.

This was the Baby Boom, Catholic style. There's no way I would remember more than a handful of my fellow alums. And, besides, aren't high school reunions ample? It's bad enough reliving awkward make-out sessions, bad hair and tragic prom dresses. Do we really have to revisit lost teeth, playground politics and training bras?

Then, I did the math. I figured I spent twice as many years in that school than in any other institution in my storied educational career.

I tried to remember my teachers' names, grade by grade, and was astounded at how easily they came to me: Mrs. Sommers, Sr. Mary Cleophus, Sr. Anna, Mrs. Kilmartin, Sr. Frances Joseph : I could visualize their faces and the method of corporal punishment each teacher preferred. (Anna Banana was a devoted knuckle-rapper; Frannie Jo liked a good yardstick-to-legs whacking.) I amazed myself!

Before I knew it, I was waxing nostalgic for the cafeteria, where we sat at long Formica tables, eating "hot lunches" of greasy pizza and fruit cocktail, sipping whole milk from little red cartons through flimsy paper straws. Nuns monitored the tables, ensuring we spoke only in hushed tones and cleaned our trays before running to recess.

("Children are starving in Africa, don'cha know?")

The cafeteria is where all fourth-grade girls and their mothers were mysteriously summoned one spring night. The sisters silently drew the Venetian blinds, blocking the light and the view of curious fourth-grade boys gathered outside. Pink pamphlets were distributed but, before we could open them, the old projector began to whir, and we were treated to a Disney-esque film, sponsored by Kotex, about the wonders of menstruation. Afterward, we spoke not a word as the nuns ushered us out to the dark night, stunned at what we had just seen.

I remembered my mother had the flu that evening, so I attended the movie with my friend Kimberly's mom.

Whatever happened to Kimberly, I wondered? And what became of little Thomas, who was plagued with those horrible nosebleeds? Where in the world is Betsy, the tetherball queen? And Terrance, the poor kid who threw up on the Archbishop during Confirmation practice?

I dug out my old first communion picture, and the memories rushed back, along with the names of 70 percent of my classmates:

"Look! That's Mary Ann and Mary Agnes, Mary Frances and Mary Jean, Kathleen K. and Kathleen B., Linda, Susan and Nancy, Pamela, Betsy and Eileen. There's Thomas and Terrance, John and Paul, John, Michael, John, John and John."

Suddenly, I couldn't wait to see them all. I circled June 6 in red on my calendar, and uttered a little prayer:

"Dear Lord, in the name of St. Ann herself, please let them have nametags!"

Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at BoomerGirl.com.

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