The Dean of Cromwell

Dean Cromwell became motivated to change his life when he unexpected received an invitation to the 30th Reunion of his high Hillsboro High School class.

It was a surprise invitation because Dean didn't actually graduate from Hillsboro High, moving away during the summer prior to his senior year.

The invitation arrived in the mail four months prior to the scheduled reunion date with a personal handwritten note attached to it.

Dear Dean,

The reunion committee decided this year to track down students who were part of our class but didn't graduate with us - those from elementary and middle school who transferred to Sun Rise Lake School for Boys or the Tech School or Catholic School or moved away prior to graduation.

Helena (Morris) Labelle is more covert than the FBI and CIA combined when it comes to intelligence tracking and she was able to find you for us.

We haven't seen you in a long time and we'd be thrilled if you could join us at our next reunion.

We'd love for 'The Dean of Cromwell' to hold court again!

With Warm Regards,

Cathy (Lewis) McCallister

Dean hadn't thought about Hillsboro High in years. It had been traumatic to move a year before graduation but Dean adjusted fairly quickly to his new school in Virginia and he felt like a part of the graduating class when he received his diploma the following June.

Dean went on to attend Virginia Tech and he had been an Information Technology employee with the Federal Government for nearly twenty-five years.

But his twenty year marriage ended a few years earlier and the current political situation had made his job less than enjoyable. He had enough time in to consider retirement from federal service and doing something different.

The reunion invitation got Dean to think about his roots and maybe returning to a place from his past wouldn't be such a bad proposition.

He spent the next few months following the job market in the greater Blue County area and he applied for a couple of opportunities as the reunion date got closer. He scheduled a few interviews for the week of the reunion - a Computer Programmer with the state and a Chief Information Technology Officer position with a private firm in nearby Springdale.

If he was offered a tempting package by either agency, Dean would retire as a federal employee and move to Blue County even though he hadn't been back in thirty-one years and had a hard time remembering specifics about his youth as a Hillsboro resident.

Dean recalled his Hillsboro years as happy and content and his high school experience was rewarding and successful. He was good at sports - earning 'The Dean of Cromwell' moniker as a quality basketball player, though he played baseball too. He had friends, he was a good student, and he had nothing but fond memories of his time there.

Leaving was sudden and hard and he didn't tell anybody about the move until the day the moving van pulled into the driveway and he was gone before most of his friends had time to say goodbye.

Now he was returning for the 30th reunion almost as stealth although he sent in the invitation RSVP with a check for one attendee. He thought about bringing his daughter Julie to show her where he grew up but she was busy in her new job and couldn't afford to take the time.

Dean flew into Bradley International Airport on Wednesday morning. Renting a card, he drove north to Greenville and checked into the Ramada Inn by the rotary which he didn't remember being there when he was a kid.

He interviewed for the state job on Thursday and for the private firm job on Friday. Both went well but he was hoping for the state position because of his familiarity with government work.

In his spare time, Dean toured the area trying to jar his memory with familiar landmarks and other reminders. It was sort of like being in a dream because some of the stuff he saw looked different in reality than he remembered it in his thoughts and mind's eye.

Hillsboro High, for example, looked much smaller than he remembered it. It took him a few minutes to locate the house he grew up in - it was a different color now and the front porch had been removed so it looked different. Dean wondered if he actually ever lived there.

He had lunch at Johnny C's Diner even though Johnny C no longer owed it. He checked out Johnson's Book Store where he was informed Mr. Johnson had died. There were other businesses he didn't recognize and some he remembered. Fontaine's Family Grocery Store had expanded and he almost got lost as he wandered through the aisles remembering his teenage job stalking shelves and bagging groceries.

Dean remembered the neat old ballpark and the huge bridge across the river. He drove past Colleen O'Brien's old house which was in a different neighborhood from his and he wondered what became of her.

It was a warm mid-September day with just a hint of the leaves changing colors and it felt good to be back in New England again. It reminded him of his days of youth.

Whenever he saw someone around his age, Dean wondered if it might be someone he used to know but no longer recognized. And when he saw someone in their seventies and eighties he wondered if it was a former teacher, or friend's parent, or some other adult figure from his former life.

Now that he was wandering around the streets of Hillsboro for the first time in 31 years, Dean was feeling like he might be more likely to accept one of the jobs if offered. Julie was older, out on her own, dating a guy, and she wouldn't need her Dad around quite so much. His ex-wife Betsy was already involved with someone new and Dean didn't need to subject himself to that reality close up.

Maybe showing up at the reunion would give him the opportunity to bump into old familiar faces again, reconnect with people from his past, and give him even more incentive and interest to make a big change in his life as he approached the magic age of fifty, now only two years away.

Dean went to a movie at the Greenville Cinema that evening to avoid the loneliness of a strange hotel room. He had seen many a film there in his youth and the theater had undergone a face lift since those days.

He saw an older guy walking with a cane that looked a lot like Mr. Garrand, the longtime butcher at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store but Dean didn't approach him - afraid he might be wrong or - even if he was right - that Mr. Garrand might not remember him as a former Fontaine's bag boy.

Maybe he should have contacted some of his old pals before he came to Hillsboro. Guys like Bomber Albright, Auggie Morrison, and Legs Harrold who were among his closest friends from the old neighborhood to avoid having to go to a movie alone but Dean wasn't comfortable making a call out of the blue to guys who had basically become strangers to him after all these years.

The reunion didn't start until 4:30 on Saturday afternoon with a social hour so Dean had most of the day to kill. He slept in, went to breakfast at Johnny C's Diner, and then walked the Main Street of Greenville on a pleasant autumn day.

Dean had forgotten about the neat timeless department store in Greenville - Donovan's, a throwback to the old days long before the chain Targets and Walmarts. He was roaming through the aisles looking at the various items when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a woman doing the same thing.

At first he didn't pay much attention but something in the back of his mind started to rattle around, opening up his internal memory file drawers and he realized that there was something familiar about the woman although he couldn't quite place it.

Dean stealthy followed her through the store for a few minutes and suddenly the light bulb went off in his head. What were the chances? There was Colleen O'Brien, the girl he was obsessed with his entire Hillsboro life.

Dean never revealed his true feelings to her but here he was, 31 years later, following Colleen around Donovan's Department Store experiencing the same giddy sensations that used to plague him in his youth. Seeing her again after so many years was like stepping into a time warp.