The last time I saw John Reed – the sharp-dressed guy you see below right with his wife Lisa, my wife Kay and me – was almost 48 years ago. I was a 10-year-old sixth-grader at St. Matthew Lutheran School, on Main Street on the outskirts of downtown Houston. John and I had been classmates and good friends since first grade – and it was only by crazy chance that we’d even ended up in the same class.
When I started kindergarten at SM in fall 1966, the teacher, my parents and the principal, Mr. Schaefer, decided after several weeks that I should be bumped to first grade. I was bored and, they thought, too smart to be spending days playing, taking naps and learning stuff I already knew, like ABCs and how to count. So I was moved into Mrs. Carnitz’s first-grade class, where I became friends with awesome kids like John, Paul, Julia, Camille, Julie, Marianne, Michael and Liz, and later, with other students like Nancy, Alison, Kirk, Perry, Curtis, Debby and Leslie, who enrolled over the next few years. We had a tight-knit class, and when my parents decided in 1971 to build a new home in Oak Ridge North, 35 miles north of Houston, I was distraught. My brother Isaac and I didn’t have friends in our neighborhood in southwest Houston, so I hated to leave the only real friends I had.
But that December, halfway through sixth grade (for Isaac, it was seventh), I said all too many sad goodbyes. Paul Sweitzer and I had been the closest, spending much of our non-class time talking about the Astros, the team we were fanatic about. The following month, I rode a school bus for the first time and stepped inside a public school, also for the first time, as Isaac and I started at Booker T. Washington Junior High in Conroe ISD. The campus had opened in the early 1950s as a K-12 school for African-American students before desegregation.
As I went through junior high and experienced things I never had at St. Matthew – mainly bullying – I slowly made new friends and even more slowly outgrew some of my shyness and geekiness. Our mother Olga never allowed Isaac and me to use the phone, but that didn’t keep us from sneaking in calls from Dad’s upstairs office as we got older. When I was at Conroe High in the late ’70s, I decided to get in touch with some of my old St. Matthew friends and, using something called a phone book, I looked up a few and gave them a ring. But John wasn’t one of them, and, like everyone else in my St. Matthew class, I never saw him after we moved away just before Christmas ’71.
A recent Google search stroke of luck led me to John, who I came to find out had been living for decades in Fort Worth, neighbor to Arlington, where we live. But I couldn’t find a current phone number online, so I decided to do the only logical thing: A few weeks ago on my way to work on a Saturday, I drove out to his house. At least I tried to: I arrived to find a gated subdivision with a guard station. Even though I’d wanted my visit to be a surprise, I now knew that probably wasn’t going to work out. So I explained to the guard that I was trying to visit John Reed, a friend I hadn’t seen since childhood (likely story, huh?). He called John’s number, and when John answered, the guard explained the situation and asked if he knew me (all the while, I’m thinking, “Please let John remember me!”). Thankfully, John said he did, but he and Lisa had just hit the road for a trip. So John asked the guard to give me John’s cell number, and I texted him later that day from work.
After a few weeks that included a phone conversation and a few emails and texts, John and I were finally able to set up a dinner date last night with our wives. We went to an Italian place the Reeds picked out called Cane Rosso, on West Magnolia in Fort Worth’s hipster Near Southside district. It was an awesome two and a half hours of catching up, reminiscing, sharing photos and stories stretching back a half-century to our days at St. Matthew. I, being an Aggie, was outnumbered by Horned Frogs – Kay (Class of ’87), John (Class of ’82, plus MBA) and Lisa (Class of ’83) are all TCU grads.
I skipped one vital piece of info: While I’d always wondered what had become of John, there’s another reason I went looking for him. A few years ago, a St. Matthew friend, Alison Lee Shiets, started a Facebook group for our school. Almost 20 of our classmates are in the group, and although we’ve talked about trying to set up a reunion, we haven’t been able to get anything going yet. So a couple of months ago, when Paul (a lawyer in Bryan-College Station) and I were talking about driving to Houston for an Astros game this summer, I had a cool thought: How about if we try to get other friends from St. Matthew to join us?
So I started a FB message thread, and everyone loved the idea. Some folks have moved out of state and won’t be able to join us, but we have 11 classmates – a total of 16 people – who’ll be converging on Minute Maid Park to see one another, and to see the Astros host the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, June 30. Thanks to my Texas A&M friend Gerald Gummelt, who has a weekend season ticket package and was able to score our tickets in two adjacent rows, we’ll all be sitting together. I’m guessing we’ll be visiting too much to actually watch the game. We’re also hoping to get together for dinner afterward, and there are a couple of other classmates I hope can join us then.
You’ve probably figured this out by now, but the group photo is my old class from St. Matthew – as eighth-graders in 1973-74 with their teacher, the Rev. Norman Finke, who had become principal. Of course, I’m not in the group and don’t know some of the kids because they enrolled after we moved – and, other kids I knew had transferred to different schools like we did. But I’ve circled some of my friends who’ll be teaming up for the game next month – including John, the little guy second from left on the second row, next to another little guy, red-red-redhead Perry Pepperell (*best* name ever!). My dear friend Paul is three kids down from John, right next to Dr. Kirk Speck, a Houston dentist who plans to ride his bike to the game.
Reuniting with a friend I haven’t seen in almost 50 years is the greatest. Getting together with him AND all the other friends I’ll see next month for the first time in just as long will be even better.