By Joseph Xavier Martin
A few of the faces staring up at me are old friends. I have known them since childhood. Others, I met in grammar school or on various athletic fields in the tight-knit, Irish-Catholic community that is South Buffalo.
Their faces are unlined and smiling. The vigor and promise of youth looks up at me engagingly. Each picture, in the well-ordered photo gallery that is my South Park High School yearbook, is a small window that looks out upon a universe all its own.
When I look through the tiny window of the photographs, I see an entire galaxy of memories and life experiences.
Each of these young people is now a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a workmate or one of a hundred other roles laid out for us on the stage of life.
Through some of the windows, I recognize the faces and the scenery. I have walked those streets with these people and shared their families and lives over the span of 50 years.
It is that long since last we sat as students in the venerable educational institution that we know as South Park High School.
But it is the others who most intrigue me. Who is that well-featured young face and why didn’t I take the time to get to know him or her in school?
Each of these people has thoughts and talents and ideas that I think I would now find fascinating. Not knowing each of them is my loss.
Through a few of the windows, I see the high canopy of a steaming jungle. Fine young men, like Tim Nightingale and Bobby Smith, never came back from the far battlefields of Southeast Asia. Their loss, and the joy that they might have contributed to all of us, momentarily saddens me.
But, I imagine an infectious grin on these photos and I remember the warmth and humor that once blossomed there. They, and the others who have fallen along the way, will always be with us, permanently captured in the full vigor of their youth.
Many of the names have changed as the girls married and raised families of their own.
Others have wandered to the far-flung corners of the earth. I hear of them every now and then, as some precious tidbit of remembrance is passed along by a former classmate, in a chance meeting in a parking lot or store.
“Do you remember Billy … or Suzie or Jean?” will be the entree to some story that will summon back for us, momentarily, those wonderful days of long ago.
Whenever I hear of some achievement or award earned by one of ours, I feel proud of their success. The sight of a name or face in The News or on television brings me warm thoughts of how nice that person was and how well-deserved is their success.
They all came from blue-collar, working-class families and had to climb their way up the ladder, one rung at a time. They deserve their hard-won successes.
I wonder if they look often through the same windows that I do. Do they see my young face looking up at them? I wonder what impressions I created on them so long ago?
I have only good memories of these young faces. The laughter, the excitement, the expectation – I can see it even now in this fading gallery of youthful photos.
I am glad that I held onto this yearbook. It is a link for me of many memories that I never would have summoned forth unaided by the picture windows of my youth.