The Golden Years

Archived | August 14, 2015 | By

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I was on my way to my class reunion, a hometown gathering I’ve been unable to attend for all kinds of reasons for three decades, and when the invitation came a year ago, I didn’t hesitate. It was “yes.” I could go, at last, and it was time to go back to the town of my childhood, and mingle with those people who knew me then. We’d played together, walked to school together, watched each other grow. I wanted to see their faces again, hear their stories, look into their eyes.

The reunion was held at a local bar, which might seem odd to folks from bigger places, but in a small town there aren’t many options for a comfortable space with a few windows and food and music and some good beer and wine, and it worked. I’ll admit to a degree of something walking in. Not fear, not trepidation, nothing terribly unpleasant. But it was something in my gut, a sense of not knowing at all what to expect, or whom, or would they recognize me? And what would we talk about. And how would it feel.

I opened the door, and there they were. My people. Not all of them (of course, but a good number showed up), but enough of them for a sense of what was to rise up into what is. There were introductions, the speaking of names, hugs. At first polite, but then an ease settled in and the yearbooks came out and soon we were laughing and taking photos and sharing pictures of our kids, telling stories, remembering when.

Someone talked about the big basketball year when both teams went to state. Someone brought up choir, all those early mornings performing for local business groups. The time she broke her leg on the class ski trip; the time he got in trouble for mooning the superintendent. Whose lives were lost in the years since. The teachers there, and there were a good number, said things like, “I remember you were always the one who…” and “I knew you’d be successful. How could you not?” and “Those were the golden years.”

And they were. The years of witnessing each other’s coming of age, the awkward moments. The first kisses, first loves, the school dances where we waited to be asked to dance, the football games after which we drove out to the river and sat under the stars. The aspirations we shared, the longings, the what-seemed-like anguish of parting to go ways separate and unknown.

And there we were again, and it was Fine. The people with whom you grew up will always know you, and when you find each other again, there’s a comfort. A feeling of just yesterday, a feeling of home, for a while anyway, ‘til the bartender let us know it was Time. Then the exchanges of contact information, the plans to get together, the longer hugs and a kind of gratitude, relief even, that we’re all here, and we know where to find each other, and we will, again.

We left by the same door through which we entered. The night sky was star-filled, the air a bit damp, the sound of cars slowing through town, the voices of children in the distance, a dog barking down the street. Familiar, that place. And so good to be there awhile, that long-ago home, and good to carry it along with us, wherever we may go.

Here’s a fine recipe for a side dish for anything — sweet and savory and good enough on its own.

Sesame Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 T vegetable oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
2 T roasted sesame oil
2 T tahini
2 T sesame seeds
fresh cilantro

Toss the sweet potatoes with the vegetable oil, chili powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 375 for 20 minutes, stirring gently every 5-10 minutes. Increase the heat to 400 degrees and roast for another 5-10 minutes until the sweet potatoes turn golden brown. Continue to stir the sweet potato pieces as needed to prevent over-browning. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

On a separate platter or directly on the baking sheet, drizzle the sweet potatoes with the sesame oil and tahini. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Add a handful of cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.