For Darren, his life had been a successful one in global journalism. He liked being the roving reporter for various newspapers and publications over the decades.
Being tied down to a desk in management was never for him. He surmised that those types never knew the joy of the open road and getting to know the people in small villages and communities.
Upon retirement he continued his writing and research, especially about the small mountain hamlet where he grew up in the 50’s and 60s. Even though he lived many miles from his home of origin, he kept up on the news and sadly the reports of deaths of people he once played with on the softball fields and basketball courts of high school.
In reading the online news one Summer evening an obituary of a woman was briefly mentioned: “After a long and courageous battle…” Looking closely at the picture, he wondered if it could be.
As he continued to read, it was the person he thought it could be. They had graduated from high school together, and now, this unpretentious obit just regurgitated some basic facts about his classmate.
Venomous cancer had claimed another classmate. He had lost about seventy percent of his graduating class to various maladies, accidents, and other misfortunate events on this planet traversing the cosmos.
Leaning back in his home office chair, he allowed his mind to resurface those memories of his senior year in 1967. He smiled as he remembered Jayne.
Being a member of the National Beta Club, on Friday mornings Darren would occupy the hallway desk where the club would sell pencils, erasers, and other school supplies for various club projects. Looking down the hall, he saw Jayne walking with Billy, her twin brother, close behind her with his camera.
Jayne was yearbook editor and Billy was the photographer. Billy planned to pursue photography as a career and wanted to work for LIFE and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.
Knowing Billy wanted a funny picture, Darren held up a pencil in his left hand and an eraser in his right next to his face. Billy loved it, and Jayne just smiled.
After Billy scampered down the hall, Jayne asked Darren a question.
“You have not told anyone where you are going to college. I hope you are not volunteering for the Marines like Billy.”
Deflecting her question, “Are you opposed to Billy’s enlistment?”
“You know very well how I feel about this War, even though Mom and Pop are proud of him. Now, back to my question, Darren.”
One thing about Jayne was that it was difficult to avoid her questions. She did not entertain digression.
“If you must know,” Darren began with a grin. “My Aunt Linnéa wants me to see the world before college. She feels it will give me more focus when I do decide to pursue post-secondary avenues. She will fund my travels.”
“Oh!” Jayne replied. “Where are you going?”
“Oh!” Jayne said with a frown.
“A couple of years at least. I definitely want to explore the Paris Underground, Jayne.” Darren smiled.
“Oh!!!” Jayne exclaimed. Jayne had read about the underground and the various activities going on under the city of lights.
She had a difficult time seeing Darren in that setting. She was feeling a sense of loss about him going off to foreign lands.
Sensing her concern Darren replied, “If Billy can join the Marines, I certainly can survive the Parisian life.”
The bell rang and Jayne hurried down the hall to her class. Darren watched her go, and it dawned on him that she was the most beautiful girl in the school—just like Shakespeare’s Anne Page: “pretty, and honest, and gentle”.
Looking back, Jayne smiled. Her thoughts about Darren were more than just the friendship formed over the years since they had grown up together through elementary and middle school.
Graduation came and the seniors departed to various locales. Darren went to Paris and Jayne went to the state university forty-five miles away from her home to major in communication.
Darren meant to keep in touch, but his travels and pursuits interfered with his resolution. He managed to get a letter or two off to his folks now and then.
Jayne found her classes challenging during that first semester. Her mind was on Billy and Darren, but she managed to obtain a 4.0 GPA in her six classes—18 semester hours were done.
Darren’s travels around Europe always brought him back to Paris at the end of each month. As he sat in a café watching the cold December rain against the picturesque window, his French coffee arrived.
“Je vous remercie,” he said without darting his eyes from the window.
“Are you American?” A tender voice asked.
Turning, Darren saw his waitress. She was about his age with sable hair and emerald eyes. He was enraptured.
He managed to say his name. The jeune dame replied, “Oceane.”
Oceane was an art student at the National School of Fine Arts. She worked in the café of her maternal uncle Dennis like her mother Aimée and her sisters Fleur and Anaïs. Her father Gaël was in banking and her young brother Corentin was eight.
Sitting down at Darren’s table, Oceane asked him many questions about the United States and his family. Coming from the kitchen, Dennis saw his niece engaging in a lively conversation with a young man.
Dennis smiled and returned to the kitchen to check on his Soupe à l’oignon. In half an hour he returned with a bowl of his soup for the young man who was still engaged in discourse with his niece.
After being introduced, Dennis mentioned that as a teenager he was part of the French Underground during the War and was saved by an American GI from being shot by an arrogant Nazi sympathizer. As things tend to go, Dennis offered Darren a job as a garçon.
Darren accepted without a moment of hesitation which pleased Oceane immensely even though he had no experience as a waiter, especially a French one. He wanted to get to know this young mademoiselle.
Since it was December Darren, was “adopted” by Oceane’s family and would be spending Christmas with them. During Christmas Paris was a sight to behold.
Meanwhile back across the pond, Jayne came home after the semester was over. Checking with Darren’s parents, she was disappointed that he was not coming home for Christmas even though Aunt Linnéa had made provisions for his Christmas return.
Billy had come home for Christmas before he shipped out to Southeast Asia. Jayne was genuinely concerned about her twin going off to war as well about Darren in France away from his family and friends during Christmas. Billy could sense his sister’s apprehension.
“What’s wrong, Sis?”
“I will be fine, and I’m sure Darren is having the time of his life over there.”
Jayne just smiled. She really missed Darren and wished he would write.
Christmas came and the New Year began. Jayne went back to the university and Billy shipped out to his new life in the Marines.
Oceane introduced Darren to French culture and shared their first kiss at the Eiffel Tower at the stroke of midnight as the New Year began. Uncle Dennis and Mother Aimée taught Darren the art of French cuisine.
Darren’s variation on Boeuf bourguignon was an instant hit with customers who found this young American a good conversationalist and an excellent cook. In addition, Darren became a connoisseur of French wines and with his expertise Uncle Dennis’ restaurant became a place for the best wine in Paris as well as ambrosial food.
Across the pond, Spring break arrived, and Jayne went home. Arriving home, there were a dozen cars in her driveway.
Entering her house, her younger sister Colleen embraced her and whispered through her tears, “Billy.” Billy had been wounded on February 8 in Khe Sanh and had died three weeks later.
Billy was eighteen and six months. Many hopes and dreams ended for the young men in the Battle of Khe Sanh for those who perished and for many who survived.
The following words came back to Jayne’s mind from history class:
“Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.”
These words were uttered by President Herbert Hoover in a speech at the 1944 23rd Republican National Convention in Chicago. His lament was truly a commentary on the loss of young men to the ravages of war.
Darren’s parents wrote to him about Billy. As he read their letter, he remembered Billy’s playful nature and how he loved to tease Jayne.
He thought about writing Jayne a letter, but as things tend to be, his French pursuits occupied his full attention, especially Oceane. In his free time, he spent time at Le Figaro, the newspaper to learn what he could about the business.
Jayne finished her second semester of 18 credits with another 4.0 GPA and became involved with the anti-war activities at the university and an organizer for Senator Robert Kennedy’s Presidential Campaign. 1968 was an eventful year for all.
As time rolled on, Darren and Oceane married. They remained in Paris where Darren worked for Le Figaro and with Uncle Dennis on the weekends.
Jayne became disillusioned with politics and stuck to her studies graduating Summa Cum Laude and went to work for The New Yorker magazine as an editorial assistant. Her career would see her at various publications over the years and she would marry a features editor at The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when she was stationed in Ottawa.
Darren never got around to writing her a letter. Now with her passing, it was too late to reconnect with the past.
A year later he and Oceane visited his home in the mountain valley. Oceane had picked up a dozen flowers from the local florist for the graves.
She placed an Annabelle hydrangea, which was his mother’s favorite, on Darren’s mother grave. On Billy’s grave Darren placed an anemone for his ultimate sacrifice.
When they came to Jayne’s grave, Oceane handed Darren three yellow roses. Bending down, he placed the roses near the center of her marble stone.
It was a sunny June day and in the sugar maple tree near-by several goldfinches were singing. A cottontail dashed past them on its journey.
A caretaker several yards away was humming the tune of We’ll Meet Again. As Oceane placed her left hand on Daren’s right shoulder, he stood and glanced about him.
Looking up at the sky, he said,
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away
So ends a life remembered.
REFLECTIONS ON HIGH SCHOOL October 15, 2010
We promise that we will keep in touch and see everyone at reunion. However, as we disperse across the world, the days and months turn into a year. We may make it back, but then again, there’s always next year. It seems that life with its various oddities and vicissitudes interferes with our promises and plans.
The years turn into decades. When we do venture back, it is usually to take care of a parent’s affairs or their transfer from independence to assisted living. A sibling’s wedding or sometimes a birth will bring us back. Of course, death in the family brings us back. At those times one does not think of high school or reunions. One must get done with the present intrusion into our busy lives so that we can return to our lives plagued with unceasing activity.
If someone had told us on graduation day that we were embarking on a voyage of no return and complexity, we would have laughed—the laugh of innocence, like the carefree toss of a football after the game, or running full speed into the volleyball net, or perhaps, an unexpected kiss, a moment captured in time.
G. D. Williams © 2020