Alice and the Tea Party
© Copyright 2022 by Elliot Wilner
Photo courtesy of Ebay.
It was a few minutes after seven o’clock when Simon drove up the driveway of the Bethesda Country Club, heading toward the clubhouse where the Woodrow Wilson High School reunion was already underway. The parking lot closest to the clubhouse was by now nearly full, and it pleased Simon to see that the parked cars were mostly mid-size SUVs, or aging Volvos like his, unpretentious cars, utilitarian cars, none of them gas-guzzlers. That’s good, Simon reckoned, good to know that we’re fifty years out of high school and most of us are still socially conscious. Even though he did spot, here and there, a pretentious Porsche or Jaguar
Simon located a vacant space between a Subaru SUV and a vintage Ford Taurus, where his Volvo seemed to be comfortable. He didn’t exit his car immediately but reclined in his seat, with the driver’s side window open, listening to the waves of laughter and animated conversation that rippled outward through the opened French doors of the clubhouse on this warm, early October evening. What he was hearing was a chorus of many voices, of course, but he imagined that out of the chorus he could distinguish one woman’s voice, the lilting, southern-accented voice of Alice Hazelton.
Many years ago -- was it now fifty-one years? -- in Mrs. Randolph’s eleventh grade English class, Simon’s brain had recorded that voice. Shutting his eyes, Simon played that record once again, and at the same time he conjured up a vision of Mrs. Randolph’s classroom: Voila, there was Alice, standing tall in front of the class and emoting effortlessly as she recited poems by Dickinson, Frost, Whitman and all the rest. Simon adored those poems, and he admired the way Alice could bring them to life. He did have fond memories of Alice -- even though he recognized that, apart from having listened to her poetry recitations, he had not had any contact with her during their years at Wilson High, in school or outside of school. Would she, after all these years, even remember who he was? More importantly, would she even show up for the reunion?
Now Simon turned off the Alice record in his brain and rolled up the driver’s side window. It was time to join the reunion. He lingered another minute and imagined how the evening might transpire. I know whom I’ll be talking with most of the time: it will be Bob and Steve and Marilyn and Murray, because I know they will all be there and over the years we’ve been meeting and talking on a regular basis anyway. And I’ll catch up with Bernie and Mario, who are the only physicians who came from our graduating class besides Bob and myself. But I won’t know at least two-thirds of the other people. I didn’t know them fifty years ago and I don’t see any point in getting to know them now. But I would sure enjoy talking with Alice. I really hope it was her voice that I just heard coming from the clubhouse.
After exiting his car, Simon glanced backward to remind himself of the row in which he had parked -- and his attention was diverted to a Corvette with a New York license plate. Who might have driven here from New York… Mario? Probably. After all, he does live in New York City, doesn’t he, and I expect he would be coming to this reunion. He comes to every reunion. But really, would Mario be driving a Corvette? You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is his car. Oh, well.
As he walked up the footpath to the clubhouse, following the WWHS ’54 signs that pointed toward the registration desk in the entrance hall, Simon reflected on how strange it was that, while fifty years had passed since graduation, it was only during the past few years that he had become fixated on Alice Hazelton. Why this obsession? Simple curiosity, most likely. He was curious to know if she could recall an incident – a trivial incident, really – that had occurred in their eleventh-grade English class and had made a lasting impression on him.
Simon didn’t recall having seen Alice at any of the previous reunions. Maybe she had attended one or more reunions but I hadn’t recognized her. A person’s appearance sure can change over the years, can’t it? I can’t forget Maria Bremen, who had been such a plain jane in high school but was a knockout at the twenty-year reunion. And Alice, considering all the years that have passed since graduation, no doubt has changed a lot, too. Never mind, if Alice should show up here tonight, I’ll find her, one way or another.
At the registration desk Simon was immediately enveloped in the embrace of Barbara Harling (nee Brown), who was in charge of the Reunion Committee. Barbara was, in fact, pretty much the whole of the committee, having taken upon herself the sole responsibility for organizing reunions every ten years. WWHS ’54 reunions seemed to be her main raison d’etre, and she not only planned these events meticulously but passed the years between reunions by tracking down every member of the class who was MIA. And, whenever the need would arise, she would email an obituary of the recently departed to all the surviving members of the class.
“Oh Simon, how are you, how have you been?” A flurry of Barbara’s kisses followed, some connecting, others not. “I’m excited to see you, haven’t seen you in ages! It’s so great that you could make it to the reunion!”
In ages? Yeah, that seems about right. I guess that Barbara measures “ages” by the intervals between reunions. The last time I saw Barbara was at the forty-year reunion, so I figure that for her an “age” must be ten years. And she’s excited to see me? We both live in Bethesda, yet it seems that ten years can pass during which both of us somehow manage to contain our excitement.
“Great to see you, too, Barbara. How is Harry?” Simon silently congratulated himself for remembering that Barbara’s husband was named Harry. Harry was also a physician, a psychiatrist, but they, too, only met at these reunions.
“Oh, Harry is getting along. He had a heart attack last year, you know, but he’s back at his practice. He’d love to talk with you. You’ll find him inside, sitting at the table with Bob and Elaine.”
All the while that Barbara was chatting with Simon, her eyes were scanning the reception table for Simon’s badge, which she presently located and pinned to his lapel. There was his name in bold all-caps, SIMON WEST, below which appeared “Woodrow Wilson Class of 1954,” and above the name was his black-and-white yearbook photo. This photo, he reckoned, was taken when he was sixteen years old, a lifetime ago; it was a photo of a person who looked only vaguely familiar to him. He didn’t observe, among the two dozen or so badges that remained on the table, one that was printed with Alice’s name. Either she had already picked up her badge or she hadn’t registered for the event.
Simon thought to ask Barbara if Alice had registered, but Barbara had by now turned her attention to the next arrivals at the reception table, so he walked into the ballroom and immediately became assimilated into the protean mass of people that spread into every corner and niche of the elegantly decorated room. A hundred and seventy-five alumni of WWHS ’54 – more than half the graduating class – together with another hundred or so spouses and significant others had traveled from far and near to attend the reunion. He hoped that he would be able to spot, in this crowd of bodies tightly compressed one against another, a badge that read ALICE HAZELTON.
Simon was surprised by his own congenial mood, which only grew more expansive as he passed through the crowd, ostensibly searching for one particular individual but happily greeting and being greeted by a host of other individuals whom he would bump into at random, as the mass of people shifted this way or that in amoeba-like fashion. He had not enjoyed himself this much at previous reunions. Ten years and twenty years out from high school, he and his classmates were almost all self-absorbed individuals, focused on building their resumes and/or their families, much more disposed to be looking forward than looking backward. At those reunions, when he and his classmates would reminisce about their years at WWHS, they were more likely to recall, or imagine, Norman Rockwell-like idylls than the lessons learned (or not learned) in school. Fifty years on, however, they had all become not only weightier, bodily and mentally, but also mellower and more thoughtful, since they recognized that far more years lay behind them than in front of them. Now Simon found it enjoyable to connect and chat with a number of people whom he had scarcely known in high school but who were, in the spirit of the reunion, quite happy to recall -- or imagine -- shared experiences at WWHS.
For the weekend-long reunion, several members of the class had prepared brief remarks or poems, which were delivered sententiously, as befitted the occasion. Simon was particularly impressed with one woman who spoke following the dinner Saturday night, expressing herself in words like these: “Fifty years have passed since our days at Wilson, and many of us can recall how petty, how judgmental, how mean we often were to one another. We are better people now, and I hope that going forward we will be treating each other better, with kindness and sympathy, not with meanness and jealousy.”
The weekend was indeed memorable for its pervasive spirit of warmth and congeniality. It was, Simon fantasized, like being immersed in a huge hot tub, for an entire weekend, with a hundred and seventy-five of your oldest and dearest friends. And throughout the weekend they did indeed treat one another with kindness and sympathy, as if they might never again have such an opportunity. Indeed.
During the Saturday night cocktail hour Simon did spot Mario Kreel, whom he readily identified even before checking the name on his badge. Mario, the class valedictorian, had gone on to Harvard medical school and then a distinguished career as a medical researcher in the field of immunology.
It’s funny in a way, isn’t it? I know that Mario became interested in immunology mainly because of his own allergies. In class he was always blowing his nose and his eyes were always watery because of hay fever or some of the other allergies that he suffered. I think he used to go through a box of Kleenex every day in school. And he occasionally missed a day of school because of an asthma attack. But I have to give the guy credit, he used his medical problems to his advantage, always winning first prize in the annual Science Fair with one of his allergy exhibits. Talk about using lemons to make lemonade!
Now Mario was engaged in an animated conversation with Bernie, another of the quartet of physicians from WWHS ’54. Simon walked over to greet both of them, but Mario hesitated in retuning the greeting until he had glanced at Simon’s badge and read the boldly printed name. Of course, many other classmates had needed to resort to the same tactic, scrutinizing the name and photo on someone’s badge before entering into a conversation, but that didn’t surprise Simon. In all fairness, who but a close friend could connect a name to a face that was – compared to the photo on the badge -- fifty years past its expiration date?
“Well, how are you, Simon? What have you been up to?” Mario hesitated to say much more, because he was searching his memory for a connection to Simon.
“Not much, Mario. Still practicing neurology. And still reading Cicero and Tacitus whenever I have the time.”
Now Mario made the connection. “Right! We were together in one of Mrs. Murphy’s Latin classes, weren’t we? I remember that class very well.”
He did remember, but not all that well. The teacher was addressed as Dr. Murphy by her students, not as Mrs. Murphy, and Mario and I were actually together in her Latin classes for all three years of high school.
“Tell me, Simon, are you serious? Do you still read Latin?”
Is he putting me on, Simon wondered, or is he really that gullible? Mario never had a sense of humor, as best he could recall. He was tempted to answer the question affirmatively, just to impress Mario, but thought better of it.
“No, Mario, I was just fantasizing. I actually hated Latin.”
After exchanging a few more banalities with Mario and Bernie, Simon declared himself in need of a drink and set off in the direction of the bar. From there, with a gin and tonic firmly in his grasp, he navigated through the crowd of partyers and reached the veranda just outside the ballroom. A couple of other people had preceded him, seating themselves on a chaise longue at the far end of the veranda. He stood in solitude, gazing upon the eighteenth green of the golf course and the undulating fairways beyond, which seemed to stretch all the way to the setting sun, and mused about his conversation with Mario.
Yes, it is true that I had hated Latin. But I always did well in my Latin classes from the eighth grade through the twelfth grade. That was because my mother – who had been a Latin teacher before she re-invented herself as a real estate agent – drilled me and drilled me and made sure that I got A’s. Mario of course got A’s in everything, Anything less than an A in any subject would have frustrated his all-consuming ambition of becoming the class valedictorian -- which he considered his destiny, his ticket to Harvard Medical School. So, in our senior year, when push came to shove during a midterm Latin exam, he was determined not to let a stupid question dealing with the conjugation of an irregular verb stand in his way.
While Simon continued gazing upon the crepuscular landscape beyond the veranda, another vision intruded, a vision of Dr. Murphy’s classroom at Wilson High. He remembered Dr. Irene Murphy as an elegant and self-assured woman in her 60s, who had been teaching Latin at the school for many years. Although she had earned a PhD, she told her students that she preferred to be addressed as Mrs. Murphy because, she would say, “Anyone can become a Dr. but not everyone can become a Mrs.” Which may go a long way toward explaining why, back then, the Women’s Lib movement was still waiting to be born. Be that as it may, we always addressed her as Dr. Murphy.
There were many empty seats in that classroom, Simon recalled, since only six students had registered for Advanced Latin, including himself and Mario. Mario had taken Latin every year because he knew he would be going to medical school, and once upon a time every medical student was expected to have a reading knowledge of that language (although that was no longer true, actually, in the 1950s.) The six students were all were seated in the first two rows, at adjacent desks, where there could be no escaping Dr. Murphy’s watchful eyes. Mario sat at the desk to Simon’s right, in the second row. One day, during a midterm exam, Dr. Murphy began to cough and excused herself from the classroom briefly in order to find a drink of water. At that moment Mario – to Simon’s astonishment – leaned across the narrow aisle separating their desks and looked at his exam paper, copying his answer to one of the questions. Dr. Murphy returned to the classroom a half-minute later.
The artist Norman Rockwell sometimes portrayed scenes like that, scenes in which one individual in a group – be it an adult or a child – is behaving mischievously, although in a good-natured way, while the others in the group look on indulgently, even amusedly. Simon had been inclined, over the years, to recall thar incident with Mario in Dr. Murphy’s classroom as if it were a Saturday Evening Post cover painted by Norman Rockwell. In his mind’s eye he visualized the scene: A classroom in which there is no teacher in sight, even as five students are diligently at work on their exam papers while another student is mischievously leaning across the aisle to peek at his neighbor’s paper -- and the expression on the neighbor’s face bespeaks pure astonishment.
But what transpired in that classroom would not have been faithful to the Norman Rockwell stereotype, would it? Because Mario’s behavior had not been merely mischievous but blatantly dishonest, and he betrayed not only the teacher who had placed her trust in us but all of the other students, too. And my look of astonishment at that moment was not expressive of an indulgent or amused attitude, but instead an attitude that was compounded of disbelief, disgust and perverted pride. (The perverted pride came from my realization that the smartest kid in the school had more confidence in my answer than in his own.)
Well, all that history is just so much water that’s long since passed under the bridge, isn’t it? And it’s proof that cheating often does pay, because Mario succeeded in crossing that bridge and went on his way to a successful career. He did get his A in Latin that last semester and become the class valedictorian, and he did get admitted to Amherst and Harvard Med and graduated with an MD/PhD and became a professor at the Rockefeller Institute. And, just think, now the guy drives a Corvette. But the least he could have done while giving his high school valedictory speech – the jerk! -- was to have thanked me for his A in Latin and for helping him get to where he was going. Oh, well.
Simon did not spot Alice anywhere during the course of the evening. Who knows, he pondered, maybe she hadn’t registered for the reunion after all. Following dinner and the speeches and, at the end, a boisterous rendition of “Sons of Wilson,” the WWHS alma mater, many of the alumni departed – mostly those who came accompanied by a spouse – but others gravitated to the bar for another round of drinks and stories. Simon decided that it was time for him to head for home, before the luster of a most convivial and satisfying evening could begin to tarnish. He walked to the parking lot, found his car still comfortably nestled between the Subaru SUV and the Ford Taurus, and drove away.
It was close to midnight when Simon arrived home, and his wife had long since retired to bed. His brain was still processing some of the reminiscences that had been exchanged with his fellow alumni during the evening, and “Sons of Wilson” was still echoing in his ears, so he put off going to bed. Instead, he poured a glass of sherry, sat in the kitchen, closed his eyes and ruminated about the evening just past.
I even enjoyed having a conversation with Mario, I must admit. It was fun jerking his chain a little, teasing him about my habit of reading Cicero and all that -- but I just couldn’t get myself to bring up that incident in Dr. Murphy’s Latin class. Why was I so inhibited? Reunions exist for the purpose of sharing memories, don’t they? But I guess that some memories are best kept private, if the recalled incident – however trivial it might seem in retrospect, fifty years later -- might still constitute an embarrassment to one of the parties involved.
While still seated at his kitchen table, Simon began to experience a touch of indigestion. He poured himself a glass of milk and took two Tums. Was it the result of too much food and drink, or was it his distaste for Mario? Yes, he had been right not to speak of the incident to Mario. But another long-ago incident, this one involving Alice, was something entirely different. What a pity, he mused, that he hadn’t encountered her at the reunion. As he raised the glass of milk to his lips and took a sip, Simon’s mind once again drifted back half a century, back to that eleventh-grade English class.
English had been, by far, Simon’s favorite subject throughout his years in junior high school and high school. He was nearly hopeless in math and, as a consequence, struggled in chemistry and physics, too. English, however, was a pure joy, to such an extent that in the eighth grade he had actually enjoyed Ms. Whitty’s grammar lessons, even the much-reviled exercises in diagramming sentences. By the time he graduated Alice Deal Junior High School he had read every book in the Mark Twain collection that lined two shelves of his parents’ library – thirty-six volumes in all -- as well as novels by Tolstoi and Dostoyesky, short stories by de Maupassant and Gorky, and the Outline of History by H. G. Wells.
The school year in the District of Columbia always began on a Tuesday in early September, right after Labor Day, and that’s when the students would receive their textbooks for the year. Simon couldn’t wait to open the English textbook handed to him by Mrs. Randolph in the eleventh grade: hard-covered and pristine, still emanating the scent of glue and printer’s ink, it comprised three hundred-plus glossy pages of poems, essays, short stories and excerpts from novels. Simon brought home the book on Tuesday afternoon and by Thursday morning he had read nearly every word on every page (while neglecting two days’ worth of homework assignments.) He had especially loved the poems -- at least those that he judged to be “real” poems, which to Simon meant the ones with verses that scanned and rhymed. It pleased him that there were a lot of poems by Shelley and Wordsworth, by Edgar Lee Masters and A.E. Housman, by Yeats and Frost and their like, but only a few by the likes of Walt Whitman or Carl Sandberg or Ezra Pound. Really, what’s so hard about writing free verse? Anyone can do that, it’s not real poetry. Simon was, by his own admission, a literature nerd.
Simon’s classmate Alice Hazelton was a tall girl, at least five-foot-ten, maybe six feet in height, and undeniably very pretty. She was also good-natured and outgoing, and, unlike most of the good-looking girls in the school, approachable by nerds like himself. Academically, Alice seemed to be just about average, most definitely not an English literature nerd. Simon guessed that her long-term ambitions were focused on a secretarial job and marriage rather than college. Alice did, however, demonstrate one remarkable talent in that English class, a talent that no one else in the class seemed to possess: she would recite a poem artfully, dramatically, as if she – alone among her emotionally stunted classmates – had real insight into the creative soul of the poet.
Mrs. Randolph would regularly ask for a volunteer to recite a poem that had been assigned as homework the previous day and that would presently be discussed in the classroom. If no one’s hand shot up immediately, Mrs. Randolph would arbitrarily choose a “volunteer” – and nearly all the class dreaded the moment when she would advance down an aisle, her eyes scanning one row after another, her focus shifting from one desk to the next, until she would finally lock onto her victim. It was the class’s good fortune that Alice, more often than not, would volunteer and thus spare her classmates untold anguish and humiliation.
Alice obviously enjoyed reciting those poems, and she seemed to instinctively apprehend the cadence and tempo appropriate for each. She also enunciated every word clearly and, above all else, she emoted magnificently. Simon could vividly recall the tears that would flood his eyes during Alice’s recitation of an especially melancholic or wistful poem. He recalled in particular Alice reciting Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” which had reduced him to an inert blob, tears coursing down his cheeks, his lips aquiver. When the class ended that day, soon after Alice had finished reciting the Dickenson poem, and Simon had mopped up his tears, he summoned up a little nerve and approached her as she was collecting her papers and books.
“Alice,” Simon said, “you read that poem so beautifully. It must really be saying something special to you, something really meaningful.”
Alice straightened up – and Simon had to lift his gaze to meet her eyes, because she was a good three inches taller than he – regarded him kindly for a few seconds and then replied, “No, not really. I’m not sure I understand anything about that poem -- or most any poem that we’ve read, to tell you the truth. I think I just enjoy reading poems out loud whenever there’s an audience.” Then, picking up her books and cradling them in her arms, she flashed a smile at Simon and walked up the aisle toward the door.
Now, more than fifty years later, seated in his kitchen with his half-finished glass of milk, Simon remembered that scene with Alice in Mrs. Randolph’s classroom in the same light that he remembered a number of other noteworthy scenes from his days at Wilson High -- as if it were framed in a Norman Rockwell painting. He imagined the canvas that Rockwell could have painted: There’s a sunlit classroom, an American flag is drooping from a flagstaff in the corner, the teacher is half-seated on the edge of her desk, and there is Alice standing tall and erect in front of the class as she recites a poem. And in front of Alice are twenty-seven students seated behind their desks, all of whom appear passive and semi-attentive except for one boy in the last row – who is slumping in his chair, casting his gaze downward and hiding his face behind his book because of the tears that are trickling down from his eyes.
But Simon knew that such a painting by Rockwell would not, of course, have told the whole story. It would not, could not, have conveyed the conversation that he had had with Alice about the Dickinson poem. It would have been, necessarily, a misleading portrayal of the person that was Alice. A painting, or a photograph for that matter, can only capture a moment in a person’s life, not a whole life, isn’t that true?
In any case, Simon mused, “Rockwell moments” such as the ones he imagined from his days at WWHS, authentic or not, didn’t have a lot to tell about the high school experience. They were outweighed, weren’t they, by the more commonly occurring moments of frustration, of humiliation and of self-doubt, which usually, with the passage of time, are shunted to the darkest recesses of a person’s psyche.
An honest assessment of our high school experience would also have to reckon with the fact that Woodrow Wilson H.S. was a segregated school, and that during all our years in the D.C. public school system we never encountered a black student and only rarely an Asian student. The Supreme Court did not hand down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education until May 1954, a month before we graduated high school. We were all the offspring of white, middle- or upper-middle-class families, the large majority of which were Christian and the rest Jewish. Although Wilson was a public high school, our culture was, in retrospect, substantially parochial. What we knew about the wider world, when we graduated, we had gained almost entirely from books, not from living in the wider world. With those thoughts milling about in his mind, Simon turned out the light and retired to bed.
Five years after the fifty-year reunion, Barbara Harling scheduled another reunion -- a fifty-five-year reunion! -- for reasons that were unclear to everyone. At the fifty-year reunion Barbara had announced her intention to schedule a sixty-year reunion – but she might have become alarmed by the obituaries that were arriving in her mailbox at an accelerated pace and for that reason decided to move up the date by five years. This reunion was scheduled for a Saturday night only, at a hotel in downtown Bethesda, and just ninety members of the class showed up for the event. Simon attended, and, to his pleasant surprise, so did Alice Hazelton.
It was easy to spot Alice because she was the tallest woman in the crowd. Her badge identified her as ALICE HAZELTON DEMARCO . Simon was determined to meet up with her and ask about “I Could Not Stop for Death,” the Emily Dickinson poem that had reduced him to tears in Mrs. Randolph’s classroom so many years ago. Would she recall ever having read that poem? A poem that had made such a lasting impression on him but that had -- she had confessed at the time – been incomprehensible to her? He seized the opportunity when the woman with whom Alice had been conversing turned to embrace another classmate. He inserted himself into the gap that had now opened between the two women, made eye contact with Alice (looking up, because she was still a couple of inches taller than he) and introduced himself.
“Hi, Alice, I’m Simon and I used to sit two rows back of you in Mrs. Randolph’s class.”
Alice peered for a second at the photo on Simon’s badge and greeted him warmly. “Oh, sure, Mrs. Randolph’s class! I loved that class. How have you been, Simon?”
“Okay. I loved that class, too. Especially when you were reciting a poem.” He thought that his mention of those poetry readings might trigger a recollection of their long-ago conversation, but she wasn’t forthcoming. She probably didn’t have any recollection of him at all.
At the time of the reunion, the political campaigns for President and Congress were already in full swing, and Simon was impressed by the number of his classmates who let it be known that they were committed Republicans. He had assumed, rather naively, that everyone in the class of ’54 would be a proud Democrat. (That assumption was indeed naïve, since he should have recalled that several of his classmates were the sons and daughters of senators and congressmen from the Deep South.) Alice, who had settled in Lynchburg, Virginia – a city of 74,000 souls and 166 churches, also the location of Jerry Falwell’s fundamentalist Liberty University -- was not only a Republican but an enthusiastic supporter of the then-nascent Tea Party. When Simon asked her what it was about the Tea Party agenda that appealed to her, she responded with the usual cliches: we need to take back our country, we are fast becoming a socialist state, etc.
“What, exactly,” Simon asked, “does it mean to ‘take back our country’?”
Alice paused for a few seconds and then responded, “You know, to return to the way the country was years ago, when we were in high school. Then there was hardly any crime, there weren’t all these illegal immigrants on welfare, and there were hardly any gay people, and no pornography on TV, and we didn’t pay such high taxes. And this used to be a Christian country, but now a lot of people don’t even believe in God. We need to return the country to the way it was then.”
Simon decided this wasn’t the time or place for a history lesson. He wasn’t going to tell Alice that in 1954 there was plenty of crime, gay people were still hiding in their closets, and income taxes were a lot higher than they were now. And that many churches nowadays are surviving only because of Hispanic immigrants. Alice, he realized, remembered her years at Wilson High as one big Norman Rockwell canvas. Whereas he could recall only a few and somewhat deceptive Rockwell Moments from high school, Alice was able to recall a whole Rockwell Life.
So, I’ve got an idea. Is Norman Rockwell still alive? Maybe, if he is alive, I could commission him to paint a canvas that I would present to Alice. It would be a picture showing a group of Tea Party supporters, all of them White of course, assembled in a room where there’s a podium flanked on one side by an American flag and on the other by a Confederate flag, and all the people in the room are standing and saluting both flags. I’ll be she would appreciate a picture like that. It would certainly be an eye-catching picture for some other people, too, especially if it were hung -- as a sort of counterpoise -- on a wall opposite the popular Rockwell illustrations of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Alice would no doubt like to have a Tea Party picture hanging on her wall, although I’m sure she could do without the Four Freedoms. Maybe I could present the picture to her at our next reunion. If, that is, there will actually be another reunion. And if we should both survive until then.
Simon and Alice exchanged a few more cordial reminiscences about Mrs. Randolph and Wilson High, and about Lynchburg -- which Simon had once visited -- and Jerry Falwell; then they shook hands, wished each other well and went their separate ways.
Soon Simon was back in his kitchen, again sipping a glass of sherry – as he had after the previous reunion – and pondering his encounter with Alice. His only regret was that he had not taken the opportunity to confess his past infatuation with her poetry readings and that he had not asked her to recite, once more, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” He wondered if her recitation now would have affected him in the way it had fifty-six years earlier, or if she would even have retained a memory of the poem. If she actually had, he thought, the poet’s words might by now have become more meaningful for her:
"Because I could not stop for death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held just ourselves
Alice, Alice, he wanted to say, don’t let the Tea Party deceive you, don’t let Norman Rockwell beguile you; those days at Woodrow Wilson High School are not coming back; the world has changed, and we need to change, too, and soon – before we all go for a ride aboard that carriage.
Simon, not wishing to offend, had in fact said nothing of the sort to
Alice. Now, as midnight approached, he drained the last drops of
sherry from his glass and closed his eyes for a minute to retrieve
once more an image of the teen-aged Alice in Mrs. Randolph’s
classroom. Then he turned off the kitchen light and retired to bed.