This I have learned…

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

Goodbye, Fred, I thought to myself when I recently heard about Fred’s untimely passing. It had been decades since I had seen Fred; actually, I believe it was at our high school graduation that I last saw him. And yet, I’m not sure that I really saw him. He was just a part of that, large, nervous group of graduating students who, individually, walked across a brightly lit stage to retrieve the diplomas we all worked so hard to achieve. We all were thinking, of course, that after four years of high school rituals, such as getting up early to get to school before the bell rang, changing classes, unlocking/locking our lockers, reading textbooks, taking exams, dissecting cats, etc., writing book reports (by using card catalogues, no less) and memorizing lists of foreign language verbs and nouns – my classmates and I were ready to embark upon our hopeful futures. Some of us were bound for college and, to that end, were consumed with spending the last year and a half by taking the SAT, writing college letters of introduction, submitting college entrance applications and visiting colleges, while others were not quite sure of their intended destinations post-high school. Either way, we all carried with us our memories of the last four years.

The first time I met Fred, I believe that it was in our Spanish I class; I thought he was so funny.

Fred was the proverbial “class clown” and I could not look in his direction while in class, as he was always making a strange face or sound (think Larry, Moe and Curly) or by saying something so totally clever that one could not help but be brought to laughter. In fact, he reminded me of my three brothers who were always joking around. And, yet, not in spite of, but because of his humor and many other traits, Fred was very well liked by his classmates and his teachers alike.

So it was not surprising, in reading Fred’s obituary, that I found out Fred was a very successful salesman (termed “powerhouse salesman”) in the early part of his post-college career, or that he went on to work at Merrill Lynch, which led to the beginning of an illustrious career as a wealth manager, a career that lasted 36 years.

It’s funny what stays with a person in reflecting back on one’s high school years. My experiences in high school consist of memories that are similar to the images seen through a kaleidoscope and how the rotating of it produces forms and colorful shades that are unique to the person who is holding it. Had Fred been asked if he remembered me, he would have probably said no, as his kaleidoscope memories were very different from mine. But, through my personal kaleidoscope, I will always remember Fred and the comic relief he brought into my high school years.

This I have learned…