Taken Down A Peg (Second Chance)
Chance Keegan was amused when his daughter Annie informed him that her friend Elsa's parents were hosting a St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School reunion before the group headed off to college.
The core class of twelve kids had been together at St. Joe's from Pre-K through sixth grade and most of the parents met through their involvement with both the kids and the school. The class became a close knit group of friendly kids and many of the parents formed similar bonds of friendship. Several mothers rotated as Home Room Parent. Most volunteered at the various school fundraisers and other activities. The parents were present for assorted school functions. There was playground duty and other volunteer opportunities to participate in. There were also the continuous birthday parties and holiday social gatherings so the parents mingled together several times throughout the school year.
Some parents were closer than others and the same was the true for the kids. Each set of parents had their own interests, their own priorities, their own skill sets, and their own involvement, but the entire group got along pretty well through the years.
St. Joseph's ended after sixth grade graduation and the kids went their separate ways, returning to their hometowns spread throughout Blue County. Some went to the public middle schools in their home towns, or to St. Anne's Catholic Middle School, or to one of the local charter schools or private schools but there were still opportunities for the alumni to see each other – at the movies in Greenville or the various area sporting events, for example. Annie, her good friend Karen, and former classmate Rhonda – all St. Joe's alumni - were at Step Up! Dance Studio together.
Many of 'The St. Joe's' (as both the students and the parents called themselves) showed up at Annie's mom's funeral Sophomore year and they gathered again a year later when their classmate and friend Rhonda died from a Heroin overdose at sixteen. Now these same kids who met as pre-schoolers were high school graduates about to venture to different colleges throughout New England and beyond. Why not get together one more time for old time's sake?
Chance hadn't kept track of the group after his wife Nellie died except for what Annie told him. He saw Annie's St. Joe's friend Karen the most but not even her so much once Annie got her license and was off on her own. Still, it might be fun to see the old gang again in a happy setting instead of the last two funeral gatherings.
Elsa Dickerson lived with her parents and six siblings in an old farmhouse in North Greenville. Most of the original farmland was sold off but the property still featured a huge red barn and plenty of yard space. The fourteen room house was big enough for the seven Dickerson kids and a great place to host a reunion party.
"Thanks for coming, Dad," Annie said with an appreciative smile when he drove the car into the Dickerson yard.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Chance smiled as they climbed out of the car and he carried their potato salad contribution toward those gathered in the back yard.
Most of the parents were in their mid-twenties and early thirties when their kids started Pre-K together. Now they were in their late thirties and early forties and their kids were young adults gathering to toast the end of their childhoods while looking forward to the promises of an exciting future. Chance could see that the other parents – like him – had aged as he approached the gathering but they were still young at heart and spirit - at least on this day.
And the kids - well, they weren't kids anymore! The young adults were standing in the yard chatting, excited to be done with high school and looking forward to college in September. Chance was impressed seeing the former classmates together again. Each of them had grown into attractive young adults and all had done well (with the sad and tragic exception of Rhonda, felled by her addiction demons).
There were cheers and waves of welcome as Chance and Annie reached the collected group. Annie was enveloped by her friends while Chance brought the potato salad to the food table where he was greeted by the smiling mostly mellow parents. Chance was surprised to see Rhonda's mom Mary among the adults and the two exchanged a silent hug, each dealing with their own loss.
"I'm not staying long," Mary told him when Chance let go of the embrace. "I just wanted to be a part of this for a few minutes."
"We understand," Chance replied knowingly.
The mourning Mary had aged a decade in the two endless years that had passed since her daughter's tragic and unfathomable death. Most of the gathered parents couldn't imagine the sense of loss and grief their friend was suffering through while at the same time praising God that it hadn't happened to them.
"Rhonda didn't believe that the rules applied to her, Dad," was how Annie put it when they first learned of the girl's drug overdose death.
"We think we've given our kids the gift of time but time is the one thing we have no control over," Mary said with a brave smile as she glanced around the yard at all the memories represented. "Don't lose sight of the time."
Chance mingled with the other adults, briefly catching up on news and family while acknowledging the sympathy expressed for Nellie who was fondly remembered by all. There were plenty of jokes and kidding around mixed with reflective sentimental remembrances about the kids, and life in general. Most of the adults picked up where they left off when they were together as parents of St. Joe's and Chance was amused at how easy it was to slip back into the norm even after so much time had passed.
Tom Byrne's plumbing business had taken off in recent years. Dannielle Klein was now her father's Vice President running the family business. Mark Molloy had left politics and was basically a stay at home Dad these days. Callie Williams was abandoned by her husband years ago but she had lost nearly a hundred pounds and was now a successful and confident business manager. Glenn and Salli Colson ran the Boston Marathon together the previous year. Mario DeMello opened a second pizza shop.
Life had turned out pretty well for most of the group, except perhaps for Mary Nelson who lost her daughter and Chance who lost his wife. But then Chance caught sight of Peggy Franks chatting with Molly Molloy and he was reminded that every family has their trials and tribulations.
Peggy divorced her husband Lonny following the public scandal of Lonny being charged with embezzlement, caught stealing cash from the Greenville coffers in his position as Town Transfer Station Manager.
Chance never understood how the Franks lived in a brand new $300,000 house they built in Greenville on Lonny's town salary. Peggy was wrapped up in her image as the perfect mom in the perfect family with the perfect kids in the perfect house which rubbed some of the parents the wrong way listening to "Perfect Peggy" go on and on about her perfect life. The group wasn't sure how to react when Lonny was so publically busted and it was revealed that he had a gambling problem, a drinking problem, and hadn't been paying his taxes. Turns out things weren't so perfect after all but none of The St. Joe's gang was cruel enough to take satisfaction in the downfall of the Franks family.
Peggy was still an attractive woman at forty, enough for Chance to take notice of her from across the yard. She was never one of his favorites because of her incessant talking (bragging as Chance saw it) but now he almost felt sorry for her as he observed her among the group. She looked defeated in a sad way, as if the spirit had been sucked out of her.
Peggy glanced up and smiled weakly when she caught Chance looking at her. Their eyes met briefly before she looked away and Chance was stunned to realize that he felt a zap of emotion he hadn't experienced since Nellie died.