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River Town Chronicles: Why I’m skipping my 50th high school reunion

Actually, I’m skipping two reunions.

I graduated from a boarding school in Cornwall, Conn., where massive cathedral pines once filled green hills enveloping a campus composed of colonial houses and converted farm buildings – before three tornadoes tore out most of those ancient giants, forcing the school to move two towns over.

Besides the scenery, however, life wasn’t pretty. Not emotionally ready to leave home at 13, and isolated from friends, family, movies – in a word, life – I felt lonely as a maximum security prisoner serving time in isolation.

And then there were rats. In a large dorm once a girls’ school, rats scuttled within the walls, nails clicking like hail on siding. Walking into my room one night, I startled a fat, white rat nosing into a bag of potato chips. After it lumbered down the hole where a radiator pipe ran, I shoved towels in the offending aperture, then shivered all night like an unglued Pied Piper.

My other reunion invitation leaves me more conflicted. From pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, I walked to an elite private school where prominent Chicagoans send their children.

Memories include heartbreaking crushes on girls who liked cooler, skinnier guys with perfect Brylcreem waves. In middle school, Saturday night boy-and-girl pizza parties resounded with Victrolas crackling out “The Twist” and “Hats off to Larry.” On Monday, rumors leaked of after-party spin-the-bottle games, always starting after I’d left.

This led to the life lesson that there will always be games you’re not invited to, so discover games you play well, even if by yourself; this understanding may have led to my love of reading and writing.

Going to the reunion would mean meeting grown-ups I knew as kids, sure to lead to awkward conversations.

Me: “Hi, um … ” (trying to read her name tag) “Sarah.”

Sarah: “Oh, um … ” (trying to read my name tag) “Richard. How are you?”

Me: “Older, grayer, and needing another glass of merlot.”

Sarah: “Well, nice to see you. Harry?!”

And Sarah would latch onto Harry, with whom she had something in common, like a first romance or venture capital funds.

Or this archetypal back-and-forth:

Me: “David! Didn’t recognize you with the deep tan, Bermuda shorts and Jim Morrison sleeve tattoo.”

David: “Richard, you haven’t aged – much. Ha! Did I read about you in the Tribune?”

Me: “Maybe my obituary.”

David: “No, I don’t think so. Listen, let’s do lunch. Got a card?”

Me: “Here.”

David: “Editorial Consultant. What’s that mean?”

Me: “It means ‘writer’ or ‘teacher’ would sound arrogant or dull. Yours says CEO of Emperor Enterprises.”

David: “When not skippering my 60-foot schooner, The Bon Vivant. Call me when you land your first billion.”

Sure, I keep in touch with a few good friends, but they live on the coasts. We’ll have our own reunion, I hope, as one wrote, “before our expiration date.”

So, in absentia, happy anniversary, Class of ’67; you’re more alive in memory than meeting over hot hors d’oeuvres, chilled chardonnay and lukewarm sentiments.


Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches English at Marmion Academy and facilitates a writing workshop. His fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals. Contact him at

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