What are the odds?
Planning for the 50th reunion of the Great Neck North (GNN) Class of ’67 involves tracking down classmates. Finding high school friends after so many decades involves Google searches, networking with mutual contacts and scouring the alumni directories of the colleges they attended; obviously, obituary listings are not good sources for potential reunion attendees. But, I never thought that pure luck and a blast from the past would play a role.
While attending GNN, I had a buddy named John Levin. John was generally a serious fellow but, when not in school, he would tool around town in a 1964 powder-blue Pontiac LeMans. We took the car on a couple of ski trips together. I heard that after we graduated, John had a part-time job at GNN, but I basically lost touch with him when I went off to college.
Fifty years later, as part of the reunion-planning process, I made an appointment with the principal of GNN this past January to arrange a luncheon and tours for the class. As I entered the high school, a guard stopped me, asking me to sign in. After doing so, on a whim, I asked the guard if he had ever heard of John Levin, someone I thought had worked at the school. The guard, a longtime employee of GNN, squinted at me, thought for a moment, and then said that he had not.
Following my meeting with the principal, I took a 10-minute walk to the Great Neck Post Office to secure a postal box for the reunion reservations. Crossing the Village Green for the first time in almost half a century, I was struck by how little it had changed. Much had changed in Great Neck over the years, but the park seemed very familiar. After completing my business at the post office, I asked the postal clerk if there was a photocopy machine nearby that I could use to make copies of reunion reservation forms. He told me that a stationery store was just a block or so away.
As I approached the stationery store, I passed a parking lot. All of a sudden, I remembered riding my bicycle in that lot as a kid in the mid-to-late 1950s. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I used to park my bike by the brick wall on the north side of the lot. As if in a time warp, I looked at the front of the two-story building and remembered the Weiner’s sign that had once hung above the entrance to one of the stores, a magical candy shop that had once inhabited that space.
Entering the store, now called Twiggs Cards & Gifts, I approached the counter and asked the stationer where the copy machine was located. He told me it was out of order, but that a pharmacy just a few doors down had one.
As the stationer began to give me directions, my mind wandered; memories began to flow. I distinctly remembered wood-frame, glass-front display cases lining one side of Weiner’s, and the way the boards of the uneven, dark and worn wooden floorboards creaked as I walked down the shop’s narrow middle aisle.
The cases were filled with marvelous penny-candy selections—including Dots, little colored sugar drops lined up on strips of paper that you could peel with your teeth and tongue; long cherry licorice strings that you hung from your mouth and sucked in a bit at a time; and Tootsie-Pops that you licked as long as you could before chewing the soft sweet core. I would press my face against the glass cases, trying to pick up a hint of the candy scents. As I vaguely listened to the stationer finishing his directions, I remembered having just two pennies in my pocket and having to choose which candy I wanted.
Exiting the stationery store, I proceeded to the pharmacy. Upon entering, I saw the copier right by the front door. An older man stood by the machine, as if about to make a copy. I squinted and looked hard at him. “John?…John Levin?” I asked. Looking up at me, his eyes widened. “Who…who are you?” he hesitantly asked. “How did you know…?”
After identifying myself to him, John told me that he was only in Great Neck for a few days. He lived in South Carolina, his mother had passed away recently and he was just in town briefly to settle her affairs. After several minutes of sharing memories of old times—of course, he remembered the LeMans!—we exchanged contact information and promised to stay in touch. And he said he would try to come to the reunion.
During 50 years, many memories fade; yet some remain. Imagining what someone you have not seen in decades might look like now is one thing; bumping into him, just after asking if someone else knew him, is quite another. What are the odds?
But recalling, almost 60 years later, how two pennies rubbed against one another in your pocket as you debated which candy to buy…well, that’s something else altogether.
The GNN Class of ’67 50th Reunion will be held at the Inn at Great Neck from June 9 to 11. Request information or email pictures and memorabilia that will be displayed at the reunion to firstname.lastname@example.org.