Friday, June 13, 2003:  The phone rang at 6:30 a.m.  It was the Toronto School Board, the computerized voice, saying there was a morning  assignment in East York.  I pressed ë1í to accept ñ got up, threw on some clothes, had a quick breakfast, then went out into the gray light and made the long trek by streetcar, subway, and bus.  Got to school ñ put in the time, was released at noon.  Then reversed the ride ñ bus, subway, streetcar, and home.  Had a sustaining bowl of cereal.  Threw some stuff into a suitcase.  Left my dishes in the sink, they could wait.  Set out again.  Caught the streetcar, and the subway to Islington, and the bus to Terminal Three.  Checked in.  Bought a Globe.  Sat in the departure lounge.  Met dear Yael Brotman ñ was delighted to find weíd be on the same flight.  We chatted, then boarded and flew to Winnipeg.  Yael was met by her uncle ñ Grant picked me up, and drove straight to 10 Ruskin Row.  We went in the front door, through the hallway ñ over to the patio door and outside where the party was already in full swing.  I had not broken stride, had not even changed my clothes, since 6:30 a.m.  Suddenly I was amid friendly faces, some familiar, some not; in lilac-scented air, under a clear evening sky, a sky unknown in Toronto.  It was as if I had stepped out of a monochrome life and into one of pure technicolor.  Thatís when I knew that, like Dorothy, I wasnít in Kansas anymore.

Ironically, I had dragged my feet almost a year.  At some point in 2002, Iíd been ganged up on ñ by Grant in Winnipeg, Fran Darling in B.C., and Jane Bowden in Fredericton.  ìNick,î they said, ìwe want a reunion.  Youíre the one in touch with everyone.  You organize it.î  ìBut,î I whined, ìmy whole life is a reunion.  Iím lousy in crowds.  Why do we need a big event?î  Grinch-like, I went on in this vein.  Then Grant assumed the organizing role.  ìIíll be quarterback,î he said, ìIíll call the plays.  You be my wide-receiver.  Give me as many peopleís addresses as youíve gotî ñ which I then proceeded to do.  But I had no intention of being there myself. 

Yet, as it turned out, I was in Winnipeg this year in May, doing a play at the Warehouse and staying at Grantís.  Only then ñ hanging out with him, throwing the football around, singing our same three Beatle songs over and over ñ did I get a whiff of the event.  His house was vibrating with anticipation ñ I couldnít not come.  So with just four weeks left, I sat down at Grantís computer, got out my VISA card, and booked my flight. 

Could I pick a highlight ñ in addition, that is, to the moment when I first stepped onto the patio?  Hard to say ñ there are many. 

Craig Parks and I have known each other since the beginning, literally.  Our mothers were close pals, and they were pregnant together.  Craig is still one of my best friends (my seventeenth-best friend, as we say), and we both live in Toronto, but I speak to him just a few times a year and see him even less.  In Winnipeg, though, we re-connect. 

Ian Gemmill and Jonny Allen and I were in Mrs. Hubbleís kindergarten class at Sir John Franklin in 1956.  Kathy Moorhouse was in that class too, briefly, and I recall speaking to her once when we were five, though we havenít spoken since.  Forty-six years later, here we are, chatting. 

Susan Humphreys grew up on Lanark, nine houses north of me.  She looks great ñ either she has a portrait rotting in the attic, or sheís doing something very right.  To quote When Harry Met Sally, Iíll have what sheís having.

On the Sunday afternoon, a bunch of us re-convene on the patio, talking with Rudi Engbrecht.  Itís astonishing to see what an influence he had and continues to have over such a diverse group ñ this, despite his insistence that he wasnít the teacher then that he would later become.

Impressions are like potato-chips ñ you canít stop with a few.  But Iíll try for just one more.  Most of my moments involve people I knew well or was at least acquainted with.  This one is different:  Saturday night I get to the party, wander around, crane my neck to see whoís there.  I approach a woman I donít recognize.  ìHi ñ Iím Nick Rice.î  ìHi,î she says, ìI was Jo-Ann Solmundson.î  ìJo-Ann, you were a cheerleader.î  I recall her yearbook pictures.  She was very pretty, with short blond hair ñ ëpertí is a word that comes to mind.  I always knew who she was, but Iíve never spoken to her till now.  Do we talk much now?  Not really.  We chat for five minutes about families and jobs, then wish each other well and drift to separate parts of the room.  Yet, my last words to her are these:  ìJo-Ann, I wish Iíd spoken to you sooner.î  Itís true ñ hereís this nice person I never once said Hi to.  I suppose itís a teenage thing:  you find your own group (in my case the drama and music crowd), and you stick to it, because itís what you know, itís safe.  In school some circles just donít overlap. 

Thirty-five years have gone by, and I miss my clear eyesight, my strong back, my head of hair.  To be young was terrific.  Yet overall, now is better, and the fact that Jo-Ann Solmundson and I have spoken warmly at the party is proof of that.

A final thought.  Iím overwhelmed by how lucky we have been.  In the cosmic game of Guts, some people are dealt tough hands.  They find themselves in Soweto, Srebrenica, Gaza City, Beirut.  They pick up their cards only to discover itís 1939 and theyíre in Warsaw ñ that kind of thing.  Not us.  We got Winnipegís South End, 1969.  We got that abundance, that freedom, those teachers, that school.  And that music:  There are places I remember all my lifeÖ

Iím deeply grateful.

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