Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Power of Family

The more time we spend with people, the more we discern who we most enjoy being around, working with, spending good times with and who we’d go into the proverbial foxhole with. Today, the youth call it their “ride or die” friends and another variation is “ride and live” friends, depending. Most people just now say “they’re family.”

The word “family” has far too long been reserved for people your parents tell you that you’re related to. I remember hearing a young cherub say, back in 2001, “Our family goes to this church. We go here.” She wasn’t even old enough to name all the members of her family, but she knew that “our family goes to this church.”

A good friend and I often discuss “family” and who is part of our extended family, the people we regard as “ours.” Now, even Hallmark makes a greeting card, “For a friend who’s just like family,” and it’s meant to show the bond that exists between a group of people beyond whatever a birth certificate says, or doesn’t.

In the world of a private school, at least the one I went to, it was one of the most beautiful microcosms, or social experiments that you could ever hope for. We were about 300 strong, from 1st through 12th grades. Later, Keystone School would add a kindergarten, once they bought a building at the end of the block in which to locate it. And, I remember that we all knew one another, at least by first and last name and which grade we were in. If someone went to Keystone, for one year for all twelve years, we were a family.

When I was in first grade, my mother and I would be walking through the halls of Wonderland Shopping Center in San Antonio. Tall boys and teenage girls would greet me by name and I’d return the greeting, saying their name. My mom would look at me in wonder and say, “How do they know you, Dawn Lee? Where do you know them from?” and in my five-year-old voice, I’d reply, “Oh, we go to school together.”

Mom did her best not to drop her jaw and I didn’t think a thing of it until long after graduation when I’d greet those who were the first and second graders when I was in high school. I marveled at how beautifully they’d matured, but I never once felt a bit older. At Keystone, we were timeless.

Our mortality was never in question, save once, when we heard of a member of the class of ’63, Ernest Holub, who’d been caught up in a current when the Senior Class was on their Class Trip. Ernest died, and a memorial fountain was constructed on the front lawn of the main building in his memory, where it remained until most recent years.

Just as we the students considered ourselves as family, so too were many of the teachers who spent their lifetimes and livelihood at Keystone teaching all of us. The salaries were not competitive in the least, and many of our teachers “moonlighted” by teaching at area colleges simultaneously when they were teaching us. Interestingly our senior classes used the same books as the college freshmen, and that made college easier. It’s no wonder that when groups of us gather at different times during the year, depending on who’s in town, we include teachers to join us if they’re available.

After classes were done for the day, those of us with parents who worked would congregate in the school cafeteria, a large room in an old historical house that would come to be known as Keystone’s Founders Hall. There was a small television in the far corner of the room, with chairs arranged in a semicircle for children to watch “Captain Gus” host his “mateys” to watch cartoons, mostly Popeye. Then, KENS-TV showed “The Flintstones" and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” before parents arrived to pick them up.

At the other end of the cafeteria, atop long parachute-folding tables purchased from USAF surplus, the high schoolers were doing their homework or playing chess, and the elementary school children enjoyed their snacks within arm’s reach of the older kids, and the exchange of conversation was ageless. The senior kids didn’t talk down to the youngsters, who offered interesting questions and broad smiles as well as a few hugs. It’s fair to say we were one big happy family.

After graduation, for years Keystone hosted an annual holiday tea reception for alumni to come back and visit with one another. On the Friday before the holiday break, anyone in the cafeteria who wasn’t doing homework had to stop playing chess or pull away from gabbing to help out with arranging the furniture in the cafeteria. Everyone had chores and if you didn’t volunteer, there was no penalty. There was no reward or punishment if you participated in helping out but more often than not, few people sat around and watched others work. That element of family dynamics again, crowd influence by example.

It was only natural that people would collect around the school at holiday season as long as they were in college and still came back to San Antonio to see their families. But in years following that, time and distance kept the gatherings smaller and attendance faded. You have to remember that some classes were exceedingly small. By example, the class of 1973 had 10 graduates, the class of 1974 had 21 graduates (down from an initial freshman class size of 32), and the class of 1975 had 11 graduates, if memory serves. I’ll look it up later.

And yet, in the 1970s and 1980s classmates found a way to keep in touch. We wrote letters and made phone calls and stayed in active touch with many of our classmates. We drove to see each other as best we could when classes were out. In 1984 my “classmate” from 1963 (she was a senior when I was a first grader) and I worked almost a year, long distance before cell phones, to organize a reunion in 1985 and we had over 300 people attending one or more of three functions over a weekend period. In 1990, Lizzie Newman determined that as many from the 1970s of us should gather and she worked to make that happen. It did and it was lovely.

Poignantly, Lizzie passed away in 2013 and Tommye passed away in 2014, both of them far too soon with too many reasons still to be here and with many loved ones left behind in “our family.”

People react to loss differently. Some grow quiet and introspective. Others get on Facebook and write their memories. Others write far-too-lengthy blog posts. So, it’s time to get to the point of all this.

With each passing that we mark, with each loss we endure, we grieve. Our approach to grief is personal, but one thing is absolutely certain. For Keystone School, all who passed through those doors are part of a family, which actually began in 1948.

We were all impacted, for good for or bad, by our Keystone roots. Growing up in the Keystone family most assuredly defined our thirst for knowledge and our determination to pursue excellence, no matter what fun we might miss in the meantime. Others were skilled at balancing both. Of all the gifts that were imparted to us, our sense of family surely predominates as we are all today reflecting on the life of one we loved, one we knew, personally or just by virtue of knowing her brother and sister-in-law or her mother and father.

No matter where your family comes from, the ones your relatives gave you or the ones you collect into your life and keep forever, just remember to take every chance to tell people you love in your life that you love them—now. Don’t wait. Don’t assume they know.

For every opportunity you tell people in your life, “I value you’re being here,” “I cherish your friendship,” and “thank you for being my friend,” you actually see them, you hear them, and in that way they will be unforgettable. So that when, one day, that they are no longer with you all the time, your memories are rich, full and stay in your heart forever. The more love you give, the more love flows back to you. Live, love, laugh, and be grateful. That’s the best gift of family we all have to give one another. That’s the power of family.

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