Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reggie's Three College 25th Reunions, Part I: Yale Class of 1944

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa of the blog Privilege for dinner in San Francisco when I was visiting the City By the Bay during a business trip.  Over the course of the evening we hatched a plan to write guest posts on each other’s blogs about our 25th college reunions, hers at Princeton and mine at Yale.

Sheet music from the early 1900s
Image courtesy of Historic American Sheet Music

When it came time to write my essay, though, I decided to slightly alter my subject and write about the three 25th college reunions that I have attended over a forty-one year span, the first two at Yale and the third at Vassar.  I did so as I believe they illustrate how one aspect of life has fundamentally changed over that period for a certain group of us here in America.  And that change has been for the better—at least in my view.  I have since edited and slightly expanded that essay, and will be publishing it as a three-part series here at Reggie Darling.

Herewith, Dear Reader, is the first installment.

Part I: Yale Class of 1944 25th Reunion

I attended my first Yale 25th reunion in June 1969, when I was twelve years old.  I was there because my father, known as FD, was celebrating his 25th reunion that summer, having graduated from Yale in 1944.  My father’s Yale class was a pivotal one, because it was one of the last that enrolled there before America entered WWII, and was almost entirely populated with the types of men that had attended the university since it was founded in 1701—namely White Anglo Saxon Protestants, the offspring of this nation’s ruling classes, largely drawn from the east coast, and the product of its elite boarding schools.  When my father applied to college he did so only to Yale, since it was a foregone conclusion that he would be admitted there.  As he told me when I asked him years later, it didn’t even occur to him to apply anywhere else.

A postcard from the 1940s of Yale's (then) recently completed
Saybrook and Branford residential colleges

FD brought our family with him to his 25th reunion, including my mother, my three older siblings, and me.  I was pretty much odd-man (boy) out at the reunion, because I was too old to engage in the activities organized for children, not old enough to hang out with the teenagers, and too young to join the adults, whose primary occupation there appeared to be drinking and talking while wearing white tennis hats emblazoned with a blue "Y" and the reunion's blue-and-white striped jackets.  My older siblings didn’t want to have anything to do with me, since I was a “dumb twelve year old,” and my parents were otherwise engaged.  So I spent a lot of time on my own hanging around the Class of '44's reunion tent observing what was going on.  One of the attractions of doing so was it provided me—in stark contrast to home—with unlimited access to Cokes, bottomless bowls of peanuts, and endless cheese and crackers, since the tent was set up with a fully stocked bar continuously manned with a fleet of accommodating bartenders morning, noon, and night.  I was in twelve-year-olds' Heaven.

A postcard from the early 1900s, showing Connecticut Hall,
the oldest surviving building at Yale, built in the 1700s

My father's class at Yale was a particularly distinguished and accomplished one, and for a number of years bore the distinction of having made the single largest 25th reunion class gift in the college's history (a distinction that has long since and many times been surpassed).  One of the highlights of the reunion was when one of my father's classmates, John Lindsay, who was then Mayor of New York, spectacularly arrived with his wife, Mary, and their children by helicopter and landed in the middle of the Silliman College quadrangle, where the reunion was being held, much to the delight and awe of his classmates and their families.  Talk about making an entrance!

A postcard from the late 1800s showing the "Old Campus" at Yale where
most of the college's students live during their freshman year

As I wrote earlier, I spent much of my father's reunion hanging around the class tent observing what was going on around me.  I was fascinated by the bartenders working there.  I got to know a number of them by name, and I enjoyed speaking with them when they weren't all that busy.  One evening, while lurking around after my parents had staggered off to bed, I noticed that one of the bartenders was having an argument with his manager, and I sidled over to see if I could overhear what they were fighting about.  It turned out that the bar was understaffed that evening, and the bartender was complaining that he didn’t have time both to wash out the used glasses and also to man the bar (this was back in the days before plastic glasses were used at such events).

A postcard from the early 1900s showing the procession of faculty
and students at a Yale graduation

Having nothing better to do, I volunteered that I would be happy to wash glasses for them, and—much to my surprise—the exasperated manager agreed to let me do it (something that would never be allowed today).  I spent the next several hours happily washing glasses and delivering them to the bartenders, who were quite pleased for me to take this burden off their hands.  I had such a good time doing it, in fact, that I spent the better part of the rest of the reunion washing glasses behind the bar, and I became something of a mascot for the bartenders.  My parents were more than happy to let me do it, too, since it got me out of their hair, they knew where I was, and—besides—they thought it was a hoot.

At the end of the reunion, much to my delight, the manager presented me with a crisp $20 bill for my efforts.  Not only did I get to wash the glasses for my bartender chums, but I got paid for it, too!

Next:  Reggie's Yale class of 1979 25th reunion, and his observations on how much had changed in the years since his father's Yale 25th

All Yale postcards from Reggie's personal collection


  1. Reggie,

    I have such a hard time envisioning you washing glasses, even at the tender age of 12.

    My only association with Yale was the summer before college when I worked at the Yale University Art Gallery. What a hoot. I seriously considered skipping college and working there fulltime. My parents had other plans.

    BTW some of us with Google accounts are still having problems commenting on blogs. If you are one of us, under "comment as" click your "name/URL" rather than "Google Account". That's the only thing working for me right now.

  2. I am so happy to see this wonderful post see the light of day again here. With your audience having grown so much, deservedly, even more people will read this moving story.

  3. Loved this story on Privilege, love it here. And I suspect the manager of the bartenders was my dad or one of his co-workers. He worked in the dining halls his whole career; I myself spent hours hanging out and helping wash glasses too. It's a fascinating way to see Yale for the first time.

  4. Lindaraxa: The Yale Art Gallery is, indeed, a marvelous place, and I am not surprised that you fel in love with it. Methinks, though, your parents had the right idea...

    LPC: I owe you a debt of gratitude, m'dear. Thank you.

    Kristen: Thank you, I remember (and appreciate) your comment then and now.

    Blogger: Why must you be such a devil of a master? Not only are commenters thwarted, it seems, but so are bloggers themselves, at least when it comes to spacing in essays such as mine...

  5. Given the time frame of your father's class, I cannot help but wonder how your father and these men graduated in just four years during the war.

  6. Edward: You raise a perceptive point. My father was drafted during his junior year, and did not, in fact, finish Yale in the expected four years. Nor did many of his classmates. Many regretted their truncated undergraduate experience there, and were unfortunately deprived of the full experience of a Yale education and all that it had to offer. Regardless, many remained loyal to Yale (witness their class gift) and returned regularly, every five years, to attend their reunions, hoping to recapture their happy, bygone days in New Haven, before the clouds of war tore them from it.

  7. Reggie, what a wonderful story! Love your 12 year old self making friends with the bartenders and the voluntary glass-washing! Even at that tender age you exhibited some very laudable character traits. I can't wait for the next installment.

  8. RD - Charming as usual. Thank You Lindaraxa! I thought I was losing my mind yesterday, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't comment or reply to comments on my blog.

  9. What a great story, one which I understand as the youngest in my family.

    I dropped by to wish Pompey's dad a Happy Father's Day!


  10. Reggie,

    Thanks so much for this!
    Perhaps you and I met at this reunion. Or perhaps I was just enough older (14!) to want to be a cool teenager and ignore the 12-year-olds. We young teens hung out way up on the roof of Silliman, watching the quad below where the Big Names of 1944 were drinking up a storm.


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