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