Revolution Reunion Post #3: Sisters survive 1,400 mile road trip without killing each other

Note: This started as a short post and then grew. And grew. And grew. Believe it or not, what you are reading is a very abbreviated version. Feel free to skip it.

A post-lunch photo in Buffalo, taken by Debby's college classmate and longtime family friend Jerry. Note that we are both wearing T-shirts with ties to our adopted homes.

I really wanted Sweetheart to come with me to the reunion. For two reasons.

One was the reunion.

“I would never make you come to a plain old class reunion,” I told him back when John, Jeannie and I were first meeting. “But these are arts people. You’ll have fun!”

The other was the trip.

“We can take the bike!”

Last summer, we took a 5,800 mile, three-week motorcycle trip to Alberta. It was a great adventure.

My sister had a different idea.

“Let’s do a sisters road trip!”

Debby and I were a year apart in school. In elementary school and junior high, we hadn’t done a lot of in-school co-socializing. But in high school we were both in orchestra. The arts kids hung together. So our social lives began intertwining in ways they hadn’t previously.

Also, we were hardly unique. Tribe “Arts-Related Siblings” included Rosenthals, Rays, Houghtalings, Sears, Gladwins, Taylors, Frenches, the Carchedi twins and others.

A sisters road trip meant no motorcycle and no Sweetheart. But I was getting laid off. Sweetheart was worried about finances. He also saw an opportunity.

“I think it would be good for you two to go together,” he said.

Because of some family history, the details of which I will spare you, the idea of spending hours and hours of concentrated time alone in a car with Debby was a little unsettling. Also, we have very different styles when it comes to conflict. One of us (not me) inherited our mother’s short fuse, sharp tongue and long memory. One of us (not her) is more like Dad – a long fuse which, when it blows, makes for quite the fireworks display.

If things went south, it wouldn’t take a lot to send them plunging into the Deep South, and quickly.

International Negotiations Commence: The Two-Party Talks

In a series of phone calls in the month or so leading up to the trip, we began circling each other like a pair of big cats forced to share the same cage.

It started with the drive itself. I wanted to take the high-speed ferry across Lake Michigan. It would be an adventure. Plus, we could cut a few hours off our drive time and avoid Chicago traffic. Once across, we’d rent a car. Win-win, right?


“Too many moving parts,” Debby said.

And on it went.

One of us would express an opinion about the shape of the trip, and the other one would shoot it down in no uncertain terms (not me) or blanch quietly before saying “I’m not sure that’s a good idea” or “Um. Okay” (not her).

There was the matter of how much time we were going to spend with Aunt Adele, who lives 17 miles outside of Utica on the farm where our mother grew up. AA is 90 (and would probably murder me for even mentioning her name on the Internet, so  just pretend this part with her name in it never happened). She is the house’s sole owner and current resident and she graciously agreed to let us stay at the Family Homestead.

I had envisioned arriving on Thursday, doing reunion setup Friday, Reunion on Saturday, spending Sunday with Aunt Adele and then getting up fresh and sassy Monday to hit the road and get home early Tuesday afternoon.

“NO NO NO!!!!” said Debby. “We have to leave early Sunday, because I fly out Tuesday morning and I want to spend time with Mom on Monday.”

“You call Aunt Adele and work it out,” I said. “I’m peaceful with whatever you want to do.”

She did.

A few days later, the phone rang.

“Hey!” Debby said, “Would you like to stop in Columbus on the way home? It’s only two hours out of the way.”

“Not really,” I said. “What’s there?”

“My friend Antoinette,” Debby said. They’d met through a mutual friend who knew Antoinette was moving to Edmonton and knew that Debby lived there. Their friend had thought they’d hit it off, and she’d been right.

“I haven’t seen her in a couple of years and we thought she and her husband were going to move back to Edmonton but now it looks like they aren’t…”

I did not ask her to walk me through the thought process of someone who could authoritatively declare the idea of a relaxing morning where we were already waking up a bad idea because we had to get back as quickly as possible and then advocate effectively for a four-hour detour. Way more to be lost than gained going down that road.

We talked about a few other things before hanging up.

A couple of days later, the phone rang.

“What if we spend the night in Sandusky,” Debby said. “It’s right off of I-90, and Antoinette said she can drive up and meet us.”

Sandusky was just past the halfway point between Utica and Milwaukee. Problem solved.

Next, a reunion attendee suggested an after-party at the bar and pizza joint his brother owned (“They’ll have a band that night”). We announced it on the Reunion web site.

“I’ll want to get back early,” she said. “You’re not going to want to stay out until 1 in the morning, are you?”

“Yes,” I said. “I probably am.”

We hung up shortly after, yet another exchange hovering unresolved somewhere in the shimmering neverwhere between Wisconsin and Alberta.

A couple of days later, Debby called.

“I was thinking,” she said, “we should stay in Utica Saturday. If we get a hotel, you can stay out late if you want to, and I can go to bed early if I want to and there won’t be a problem. Plus, we can get on the road right away because the Thruway is closer than it would be from the Farm.”

And on it went. We were engaged in international diplomatic negotiations, but instead of treaties and trade agreements, we were hammering out road trip logistics.

Heading East, with a Brief Trip to the Past

I went to the airport to meet her and pick up the rental car. The rental agent did a visual inspection – walking around the car before we took it out so she’d be able to see whether it was returned in the same condition. I thought about asking her to walk around the two of us, but reconsidered. It felt too much like setting us up to fail.

We left at 7 the next night, the better to avoid rush hour in Chicago.

Debby was driving, and all went well until we hit the Chicago Skyway and the first Indiana Toll Road toll. The EZ Pass didn’t raise the gate.


“Let me try,” I said. She handed me the transponder. I aimed into the darkness at a point where I thought the reader would be. Nothing happened.

Cars were lining up behind us. Debby shifted into panic mode, recounting a toll booth debacle in Italy that involved a lot of Euros and many hours of driving to straighten out.

Scrabbling through my purse until I felt my wallet, I opened it up and pulled out a credit card.

“Here,” I said.

She reached up, slid the card into the slot and handed it back to me.

The gate went up. We drove through. My heart rate began to drop.

“That was awful!” she said.

I agreed.

“I’m sorry, but I was just sure it was going to be Italy all over again.”

By 1 a.m., we were settled for the night at a Holiday Inn Express in Angola, Indiana. Debby had refused to let me use the EZ pass when we got off the road, insisting we pay cash for the toll.

The next morning, I checked my EZ Pass account, which had all kinds of money in it.

Over Debby’s objections, I insisted on using it at the next toll stop.

It worked fine for the rest of the trip.

We were about an hour into Ohio. The gas tank and my coffee cup were both full. The day was young and we had the road practically to ourselves.

“Let’s read the letters!”

Debby reached into her bag and pulled out a file folder I’d found while breaking up Mom’s apartment during the move to the nursing home. I’d opened and closed it again at the sight of my handwriting on the aerogram mailers, my return address in Israel facing outward. Debby’s letters from England were in gray envelopes with black-accented red and white trim.

She’d wanted to take them back to Canada, but I’d asked her to leave them together. Debby had proposed bringing them with us to read aloud.

“Read one of yours first.”

Debby’s letter was funny and chatty. She was volunteering at a stable in London in exchange for riding time, and the man in charge – clearly an alcoholic – had tried and failed to get her drunk. At the stable, she’d met a nice woman who turned out to be Jon Anderson’s (as in the lead singer of “Yes”) wife, who introduced her to Jon and their children. She described her roommates, her classes, her job at a pizza parlor and inquired about the possibility of borrowing money to travel through Europe in the summer.

I asked her to fill in some of the details, whether she’d kept up with any of the people she’d described and told her how much fun it had been to relive a bit of her history together.

“Okay,” she said, “Now one of yours.”

She started reading. My letter was a commentary on what had clearly been a difficult phone conversation regarding the ex-boyfriend I’d recently thrown over for the guy who became my first ex-husband 12 years hence, and outside of that, a few short sentences about what else was going on.

She stopped, considered, and then spoke.

“I knew your relationship with Mom was different than mine, but ….” She paused.

I watched Debby process what it was like to have been me.

I kept my eyes on the road as we talked through it some.

One of these days, I will read those letters and forgive myself for stupid stuff I did because I was fragile and lonely. I don’t want to do it with anyone else around.

“It’s really painful,” I said. “If it’s okay, I’d rather not read any more.”

Debby put the file away, and, like the scenery outside, we moved on. We spent that night with our favorite cousins, Chuck & Barb. The next morning we got to Aunt Adele’s. We spent some time with her, then headed into Utica for Reunion setup and dinner.

Screams, Snores and Bathroom Floors

On Saturday, I did, in fact, stay out, but only until 11:30. When I got back to the hotel, the organizing group and some of our other friends – Debby included – were hanging out in the bar. We headed off to bed shortly after midnight and were in our respective beds not long after. I was pretty wired, but did my best to get to sleep. We had a lot of driving ahead.

It felt as if I’d just fallen asleep when the first group of happy screamers jarred me awake. Our room was just across from the elevator, and we’d seen a couple of wedding parties in the lobby. When the third loud group trooped off the elevator, Debby stomped out of bed, flung the door open and started screaming.


She closed the door, got back into bed and rolled over. Within 10 minutes, she was snoring.

I was the most wide-awake exhausted person ever.

Yelling freaks me out. Even though she wasn’t yelling at me, my inner child was cowering in the corner. My outer adult was too tired to coax her out and also knew that someone had to to get us to Sandusky alive the next day, someone who wasn’t going to be me.

I dragged the comforter from my bed and a pillow into the bathroom and closed the door. I doubled the comforter over, crawled inside and was all but asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

Something leaning gently into my back woke me.


Debby was on the other side of the bathroom door, confusion giving way to horror when she realized where I’d spent the sleeping portion of the previous night.

She said she was terrified I’d spend the drive home punishing her.

“No,” I said. “One of us had to be awake to drive. Besides, this isn’t the first hotel bathroom floor I’ve slept on, and that comforter made it by far the most comfortable.”

Debby looked confused. So I told her about the Worcester Marriott in 2009, when Mom’s friend Beverly had the other bed and snored like a freight train and I was lying next to Mom, who jolted me awake by twitching every time I fell asleep. And I told her about the Casey-Pomeroy House in Toledo in 2011, when Mom and I shared the only bed in the room and she twitched and yelled.

Then, we headed down to breakfast, where we found a bunch of other reunion-ites. Debby wangled a $40 reduction in our room rate for the unwelcome 2 a.m. wake-up calls, and we packed the car and hit the road.

We had Buffalo wings at an outpost of the Anchor Bar with her college buddy Jerry, who is working on the most amazing series of stories for the Buffalo News and told us all about his research. Then, we drove and drove until we got to Sandusky, where we had our only fight.

“Please don’t tell people you slept on the floor because I snored,” she’d said that morning.

I did my best to honor her request. But I was tired, and I wanted a decent night’s sleep to try and make up for the previous one. When we got to Wagner’s Inn Bed & Breakfast in Sandusky, I shared the events of the night before with the proprietress.

“One of you can sleep on the living room sofa if that happens,” she said, “It’s very comfortable.”

The living room sofa was just outside our room. So when I got back from the kitchen, where we’d been chatting, I said to Debby, “If you snore tonight, you can sleep on the sofa.”

Debby, talking to one of the other B&B guests. That couch in the left of the photo is the one we could have slept on had the need arisen.

Screaming ensued.

I couldn’t understand why she thought it was all right for me to have two terrible sleepless nights and be sleep deprived and less than myself (a big part of the reason I was screaming at that point). It seemed cruel and selfish.

She was not giving ground. In the end, I took a shower and tried to cool down – and wake up enough to go to dinner with Debby and her friend Antoinette, who turned out to be lovely.

The next morning, before we headed for lunch in Chicago with my friend Michele and dinner in Milwaukee with Mom, I told her about my conversation with the innkeeper. She said had she known that, she wouldn’t have gotten upset.

“I thought you were just saying ‘You – go sleep on the street if you snore!’ ”

So, here was me – not telling her what I’d told the innkeeper because I didn’t want her to rip me a new one.

And there was her – so convinced I’m the sort of person who would put my own needs over someone else’s safety that it didn’t occur to her to inquire further.

Clearly, we have some work to do. Which we will, between now and our next road trips, which we have decided to make a biennial event.

Exporting the Revolution Reunion (2): An open letter to anyone who gives a rat’s ass about education

Note: The second of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions.

Dear Anyone Who Gives a Rat’s Ass About Education:

First off, thank you.

Secondly, never underestimate what you can learn watching something you’ve spent a year planning as it unfolds.

We were in the midst of the formal portion of the afternoon program – a part for which I’d taken ownership. I was simultaneously watching it and marveling at my own cluelessness.

By “we,” I mean approximately 70 of the 250 students and all four of the teachers who spent the first several months of the 1974-75 school year creating an original theater piece to commemorate upcoming US Bicentennial and the rest of that year and all of the next one performing it.

The reunion included a four-hour afternoon portion (free and open to all), followed by a catered dinner at a local restaurant ($25 and open to the first 100 people who made a reservation – 65 people bought tickets).

We wanted to keep things free form, so people could have plenty of time to reconnect and hang out.

The result was an afternoon and evening that mostly consisted of happy screeching, animated conversations and an impromptu post-dinner sing-a-long (with guitar accompaniment) for those interested in exploring the number of “American Pie” verses they remembered. Afterward, there were gatherings at a local bar and at the hotels where some of us stayed.

But Bob, who directed the theater department and had started the reunion ball rolling, had a copy of a 1975 film, “Making ‘Revolution.’” He wanted it to be a surprise at the reunion. With a running time of just under 10 minutes, it wasn’t long enough to stand on its own programmatically.

Bob, the teacher with his back to the camera in the top shot. This was after the festivities, and just before we called it a night.
Bob, the teacher with his back to the camera in the shot below, surrounded by a small portion of his Adoring Public.

We knew from the get-go that he & Ron, our orchestra director, would be there. Those two have never been out of touch with each other. But we also wanted our choral director and dance teacher. Jim and Kathy hadn’t stayed in touch with Bob and Ron, and they hadn’t imbibed the social media Kool-Aid. We turned to more analog methods to find them, and succeeded.

Bob (back to camera) yuks it up with Jim, Ron & Kathy.
Four people who care a lot about education. (L-R: Bob (back to camera), Jim, Ron & Kathy)
Suzi organized the dinner, and that's Patty, our emcee, and her husband. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)
Suzi organized the dinner, and that’s Patty, our emcee, and her husband. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

So I put together a program. Our classmate Patty, who became a high school music teacher, was available to emcee. Jim wanted to speak first. Bob wanted to speak last. Kathy and Ron were happy to be in the middle of a teacher sandwich. Jim bravely agreed to end the program by leading us all in singing Peter Lukins’ setting of “The Lord Bless You & Keep You.” It was always the closer in high school chorus concerts.

We came, we saw, we sang.
We came, we saw, we sang. And Mr. Hanosh bravely led us. (Photo credit: Mark Reinertson)

At the appointed time, we got everyone seated and the program started.

I can’t tell you directly what it feels like to address a bunch of people you were paid to deal with – and evaluate – 40 years ago, who have shown up because of something you made happen that seemed like a good idea at the time and you could. Based on what I saw, it feels pretty good.

What I hadn’t expected, though, was to realize that there was something revolutionary going on right at that moment, and right in that room.

I wanted every “expert” with an opinion about public education – particularly those in politics, educational policy or educational administration – to see it, and I wanted every parent and every person who cares about the future of education in this country to feel it.

If they did, maybe more contemporary students would have teachers working in the types of settings that generated the kinds of things our teachers said last Saturday afternoon.

We, the People, are the ones who need to make it happen.

I will leave you with our teachers’ words, and some links to video where you can actually see them being said. (Cynthia, one of my contemporary teacher pals, declared: “It sounds like Mad Men with teachers!” when I told her something about what was in the 1975 film. I won’t spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that there’s no way in Hell that you’d ever see one of today’s teachers on camera engaging in that behavior in any kind of work-related setting. Everything they were saying would have been drowned out by howls of outrage and screams about “Degenerate Bad Role Models” from smug Ignorami who are certain that teachers are lazy wastrels doing a job that they could do cheaper and better.)

Their words

“Where do you have a job where you go every day, and love what you’re doing and make music?”

“I could not wait to come to school – to work – in the morning. I loved every minute of every day I spent…If UFA were still open, they would have had to drag me out in chains, kicking and screaming before I would ever retire.”

“Over our careers, we were often asked to sit down and make sure we had enough statements available if someone asked us why the arts were necessary or what was significant…. It would be lovely to take a capsule of this and take it back, because you don’t see it until after the fact.”

“We started out as a group….and we rehearsed and we rehearsed and we rehearsed and then we became a family.”

“I was only going to stay a couple of years and move on, but I kept getting these terrific kids and they kept coming and coming.”

“The fact that I wanted to do a dance class, (administration) could have said, ‘No, that’s not happening,’ and (the principal) didn’t. He said as long as the numbers warranted it, we could have it as an addition to gym opportunities. And then it kind of snowballed, so we were able to think about how, choreographically, it would help in musicals.”

Video Links – This is the speakers, no frills, nicely done. (Video credit: Calvin Powers) – This is us, singing Lukins’ “The Lord Bless you & Keep You.” Mr. Hanosh was very relieved that we didn’t “find the lost chord!” (Video credit: Calvin Powers) – This is the 1975 video, which was digitized from the original celluloid version, which had deteriorated. For that reason, the digitized version was sped up some. All props to Jim Houghtaling, who took the digitized version and did his best to restore it to the actual speed. – This one is quite long and expertly produced by Jim. It contains images from the reunion itself (probably not terribly interesting to anyone who didn’t go to school with us). Some of the speakers are edited, and there are reunion scenes. All the music is our high school selves on the recording we made at the time, and the 1975 film begins at about 25:52.

Exporting the ‘Revolution’ reunion (1): Remarkable cluelessness and how to be in two places at once

Welcome to the first of several postings about the most amazing reunion in the history of reunions. Given that it involved the event itself (a two-parter that included an afternoon and evening/dinner segment), a 1,500 mile sister road trip in which no eyeballs were scratched out, and many stops along the way (about which more when it is time, which it is not yet), it is worthy of more than a single post.

Revolution Reunion Post 1

Back in January, I wrote about co-chairing an upcoming summer reunion of my high school performing arts department. We were getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original theater piece we wrote – from scratch – to commemorate the US Bicentennial.

We were dumb high school kids who had no clue we were doing anything remarkable. And we were way too dumb to understand or appreciate that the teachers who’d decided a bunch of dumb high school kids could write and perform an original theater piece were several notches above remarkable.

Unusual, yes. That much we knew.

Returning to school after dinner on a weekly basis to hang around in the orchestra room wasn’t something friends in other high schools were doing. But it felt perfectly normal, once we got there on Wednesday nights, to noodle around inventing songs and grabbing classmates, or Mr. Hebert, when we hit on something we thought was interesting enough to share.

Meanwhile, over in the choir room, other students were singing melodies to Mr. Hanosh, who’d write them down and send them over to Mr. Hebert. Downstairs in the theater, they were writing narrative pieces with Mr. Barone, who taught English and ran the theater program. Once there were actual songs, Mrs. Schmidt, the dance teacher, began collaborating with her students on choreography.

The final result was this:

The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.
The cover for the program for our first performances. Brace yourself. There are a lot of pages here.
Program - page 2
Program – page 2
Program - Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a
Program – Page 3. It might be a good idea for some of the the policymakers who think arts education is a “frill” to read this. Trust me, there is at least one future post on this topic.
Act 1
Act 1
Act 2
Act 2
The soloists and dancers
The soloists and dancers
The orchestra roster
The orchestra (I’m in here)
The choral roster - it goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.
The choral roster goes on forever!!!! (Turns out there were five choirs at our high school. Who knew?!) Also, there were too many names to fit on one page.
The rest of the choristers' names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think.....
The rest of the choristers’ names, and the acknowledgements. We had no idea we were doing anything remarkable. But when you look at this, it makes you think…..

Fast forward 39 years. “Revolution” might have seemed too far back to be visible in anyone’s rear-view mirror. But that line about objects being closer than they appear? Turns out, at least in this case, to have been spot-on.

As a Facebook newbie in 2014, Bob (formerly known as Mr. Barone) posted the idea of an event where we could come together, drink some wine and listen to the music together. Another classmate started a reunion group and within a day, membership exceeded 200. Bob’s reunion idea had sprouted legs, and the race was on.

The core planning committee (John and Jeannie and I) came together in August of 2014, and followed a process that closely mirrored the one used to create the original piece (minus the teacher-written Project Search Grant that funded the 1975 production). We all lived in different time zones, so we met over Skype and JoinMe.

This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but this is an actually committee meeting shot from January. And yes, I was in bed.
This is a remarkably unflattering photo of all of us, but it was taken during an actual committee meeting in January. And yes, that is me in bed (bottom).

This is, in part, what I wrote back in January when I thought (and wrote) that the best part of the reunion had already happened.

“I don’t remember when I last spent more time laughing with other people while getting real work accomplished. The three of us haven’t interacted in any meaningful way since high school. So it has been a joy to discover how much we still like each other, how compatible we are as a work team and how closely aligned our ideas and expectations are for the reunion.”

It turned out that that best part was the preamble to a whole lot more best parts.

By the time my sister and I arrived at Player’s Theater, other Committee members (we expanded our planning group based on evolving needs, at which point we’d reach out to other classmates based on their skill sets and proximity – and I’d also done my best to drag my sister into the planning process early on – she attended a couple of meetings and was a setup star) were hard at work. Jessica, who designed the reunion T-shirt based on Michael’s original logo design, was putting tape on the back of posters decorated with the reunion logo. Jeannie was setting up the screen and projector she’d borrowed from the library where she works, and John was setting up small round tables.

The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago.
The T-shirts Jessica designed, riffing off of the one Michael designed (gulp) 40 years ago. You can see the original design on the program cover above.

I plopped myself down at one end of a table and continued working on the reunion playlist after having emptied the portfolio of memorabilia I’d hauled along – newspaper articles, two two-album cast recordings – one of the original production and one of the piece we’d done the year before (“Truth of Truths”), both signed on the inside, of course, by castmates and teachers.

Debby (my sister, who graduated a year behind me and played violin in the orchestra) still had her T-shirts from both performances. Everyone else had their memorabilia, but Debby was the only one with two T-shirts. She took Jessica’s posters and the loose news stories and pictures and started setting up displays around the room.

One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!
One of the loose news stories Debby placed around the room. The guy on the left, Gene, and Michelle were both at the Reunion. The others were missed!

Bob showed up with a box. He began hanging banners and posters from other high school productions, and the drama group banner.

He hauled in a display board with newspaper clippings.

Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.
Bob and his wife Audrey, with the drama group banner in back of them and the display boards to their left.

Before it was all over, Suzi had stopped by to say hello, (she’d done all the heavy lifting for the Saturday dinner that followed the afternoon event) and two Michaels – one the original logo designer and the other a sax player who’d become a high school music teacher. We’d tapped the latter Mike to co-emcee the formal part of the Saturday program along with Patty, because they both became high school music educators. But his band was playing a wedding they’d booked more than a year prior, so Patty was doing a solo act.

Revolution Setup Crew
The Revolution Reunion Setup Crew! (Photo credit: Audrey Pavone)

Mike was so crushed about having to miss the Saturday event that he made the four-hour round-trip drive from Binghamton to help out with setting up. It was so amazing to see him, and to catch up on everything we’d been doing since we last saw each other….sometime in, oooh….the mid 1970s.

As we were leaving Player’s to head over to Gerber’s for what turned out to be a fabulous dinner, he walked over to his car, lifted the tailgate, reached in and grabbed something. Then he walked over and started handing us each copies of his jazz combo’s recent CD.

“You just made the playlist!” I said, “Which means you’ll be here tomorrow!”