One mile of beachfront. How many high school graduates can claim such a thing? Yet ‘tis true: Connie and I were both lucky enough to graduate from a parochial high school, Monterey Bay Academy, that owns one mile of beachfront on one of America’s most beautiful—and expensive—stretches of real estate.
Not that we valued it much half a century ago: “So the place has a beach—ho hum.” Of course teenagers, in any age, have little concept of value, for perceived value is a by-product of time and the battering of the years.
Connie and I have just returned from another alumni weekend. They say that wherever it is you grow up becomes part of your DNA: if it be mountains, always mountains will call to you; if it be plains, always plains will call to you; if it be the desert, always deserts will call to you; and if it be a coast—always the sea will summon you home.
A fifth generation Californian on both sides of my family, I cannot be very long absent from it without saying to Connie (also California-born), “Honey, I need an ocean-fix—I’m hungry for the sea.” And we go. In this case, make that “went.” And we stayed at one of our favorite cliff-dwellings: Santa Cruz’s Sea and Sand Inn, so that every night we could listen to the waves thunder up the beach, accompanied by the inimitable croaking bark of seals.
Alumni weekend just gave us an excuse for going. Those classmates of long ago—it hurts to see them; but it hurts more not to. Every year that passes, there are more who’ll never come again. And those who are still with us walk slower than they used to. But Time can sometimes be kind, gifting alumni with a second set of lens: they see through the wrinkles and stooped shoulders to the still vibrant spirit within. To them, by some inexplicable miracle, the campus hunk is the campus hunk still, the campus clown is funnier than ever, and the campus dreamgirl is the campus dreamgirl still.
I can never be more than minutes on the MBA campus without responding to tidal suction: I have to wend my way down to the beach, ditch my shoes, roll up my pantlegs, and immerse myself in my personal paradise-regained. And there, as always, time telescopes for me, the past seamlessly merging with the present.
We also go back to our alma mater because of music. And this year’s music could happen but once, for Arladell Nelson-Speyer was “coming home” after a twelve-year hiatus. Arladell, who’d directed the academy’s legendary touring choral group, the Oceanaires, for thirty long years (half the entire history of the school). Arladell, who’d during those twelve intervening years endured enough heartbreak for three lifetimes—and our own hearts vicariously broke for her. Since we couldn’t take away her anguish, we settled for second best: being there for her.
So—shades of Mr. Holland’s Opus (a 1965 Disney tearjerker chronicling the thirty-year career of a beloved mentor and teacher of music)—out went a call: “Oceanaires—all Oceanaires—come home!” And they came, from all over the nation. About a quarter of the thousand or so Oceanaires who have ever been—answered that call. On that memorable Saturday afternoon, they packed the stage. Connie (one of those precious few original Oceanaires) joined them, standing side by side with Muffy Lindgren Ramsland, another member of a trio that performed for all four years in academy.
Arladell had practiced with them, and wielded the whip as in days gone by; so they were ready to sing their hearts out. The sound was the same, yet richer because of their cumulative size; the bass section sending chills up our spines with a deep rumble never evidenced when they were young.
Oh we never wanted it to end! For it was life—all of our lives—that we were hearing and seeing. Since the old familiar songs appeared in our printed programs: “The Morning Trumpet,” “E’en So Lord Jesus, Quickly Come,” “I Will Give You Thanks, Oh Lord,” “Children of the Heavenly Father,” “Soon-ah Will Be Done,” “Honor and Glory,” and “I want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” each of us (listeners as well as singers) inwardly checked them off on our personal bucket lists. And we mourned because the last number was that much closer.
But all too soon, it had to end: It was time for the Oceanaires’ signature piece, “Ride the Chariot in the Mornin’, Lord.” As it progressed to its inevitable conclusion, I wept—we all wept—instinctively recognizing that we’d never experience the likes of it again, for no recording could possibly ever recapture that magical moment. So we stood, clapping and cheering and weeping until our hands were sore and our voices were hoarse. Connie later testified that the emotional overload among the singers was even greater—if that could even be possible—than ours. For older singers, that is: none of the 2010 Oceanaires could possibly understand the thoughts swirling in the minds of those whose life journey was nearing its terminus.
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Monterey Bay Academy. I’m reminded of a remark attributed to Daniel Webster, who when asked where he graduated from, responded with, “Oh, sir, it is but a small school—but there are those of us who love it.” Just so, our beloved academy. One of the unsung, virtually unknown little coeducational Christian academies, where boys and girls still come from all over the world, where close to 70% work part of their way, where 90% go on to college—and the friendships born in dormitories here last for life. Indeed, no other friendships ever formed in later years can possibly compare to these, forged in life’s morning years on La Selva Beach.
So, if you have a son, daughter, niece, nephew, or grandchild you covet such a launching pad for, as this, delay not a moment, but e-mail the Principal, Tim Kubrock, and enroll that lucky teenager immediately at Monterey Bay Academy.