Today we have the honor, and privilege, of a guest post from Reggie Darling. Reggie writes one of my favorite blogs on design and hospitality, providing tips on how to be a gracious host, a well-behaved guest, as well an absolutely fabulous array of inspirational home design photos. He and Boy Fenwick, his husband, scour the East Coast for antiques. Boy photographs their finds, and their weekend house in upstate New York, gracefully and compellingly. In short, every time I read his blog I wish either to visit him or own all his stuff.
Today, Reggie’s writing about his 25th Reunion at Yale. Since he and I agreed to exchange posts, you’ll find me over there today, writing in turn about my 25th Princeton Reunion.
Hello. My name is Reggie Darling, and I am guest-posting here on “Privilege” today. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Lisa for the first time over dinner in San Francisco when I was there on a business trip. While I had communicated with Lisa over the preceding months, both by commenting on her blog and by enjoying comments she left on mine, and later by email, I had never met her before our dinner. I was pleased that she agreed to dine with me, a stranger, as I had found her blog “Privilege” to be interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, and charming. I was delighted to find, when I met Lisa, that she is all of these in person.
Over dinner we hatched a plan to write guest posts on each other’s blogs about our 25th college reunions, hers at Princeton, mine at Yale. But since then I have decided to slightly alter my subject, and write about the three 25th reunions I have attended over a forty-year span, the first two at Yale and the third at Vassar. For I believe that you, as a follower of her blog, may be interested to read from another High WASP (as she defines it) how much the world of the High WASPs that Lisa examines has changed and evolved, and in a relatively short time. And I believe the contrasts of these reunions illustrate much of this change . . . for the better. So, here goes.
Yale Class of 1944 25th Reunion
I attended my first Yale 25th reunion in June of 1969, when I was twelve years old. I was there because my father was celebrating his 25th reunion that summer, having graduated in 1944. My father’s Yale class was a pivotal one, because it was the last one that enrolled there before the U.S. entered WWII and was almost entirely populated with the types of men that had attended the university since it was founded in 1701. In other words, White Anglo Saxon Protestants, the offspring of this nation’s ruling classes, largely drawn from the East Coast, and the product of its elite boarding schools. When my father applied to college he did so only to Yale, since it was a foregone conclusion that he would be admitted. As he told me when I asked him years later, it didn’t even occur to him to apply anywhere else.
My father brought our entire family with him to his 25th reunion, including my mother, my three older siblings, and me. I was pretty much odd boy out at the reunion, because I was too old to engage in the activities organized for children, not old enough to hang out with the teenagers, and too young to join the adults, whose primary occupation appeared to be drinking alcohol and talking about the old days while wearing silly hats and blue-and-white striped jackets. My older siblings didn’t want to have anything to do with me, since I was a “dumb twelve year old,” and my parents were otherwise engaged. So I spent a lot of time hanging around the reunion tent observing what was going on. One of the attractions of doing so was it provided me–in stark contrast to back home–with unlimited access to Cokes, bottomless bowls of peanuts, and endless cheese and crackers, since the tent was set up with a fully stocked bar continuously manned with a fleet of accommodating bartenders morning, noon, and night. Pay dirt!
Over the course of the reunion I got to know the bartenders by name, and I enjoyed speaking with them when the pace slowed down and they had nothing else to do. One evening, while lurking around the tent after my parents had staggered off to bed, I noticed that one of the bartenders was having an argument with his manager, and I sidled over to see if I could overhear what they were fighting about. It turned out that the bar was understaffed that evening, and the bartender was complaining that he didn’t have time to both wash out the used glasses and also man the bar (this was back in the days before plastic glasses were used at such events). So, having nothing better to do, I piped up that I would be happy to wash glasses for them, and, much to my surprise, the exasperated manager agreed to let me do it. I then spent the next several hours happily washing glasses and delivering them to the bartenders, who were pleased for me to take this burden off their hands. I had such a good time doing it, in fact, that I spent the better part of the rest of the reunion washing glasses behind the bar in the reunion tent, where I became something of a mascot for the bartenders. My parents were more than happy to let me do it, too, because it got me out of their hair, they knew where I was, and, besides, they thought it was a hoot. And at the end of the reunion, much to my delight, the manager presented me with a twenty dollar bill for my efforts. Not only did I get to wash the glasses for my bartender pals, but I got paid for it, too!
Yale Class of 1979 25th Reunion
Although my father’s Yale classmates were almost entirely made up of WASPs, after WWII the face of Yale’s undergraduates started to change. Slowly at first, and aided by the G.I. Bill, Yale’s student body began to become more diverse. By the time I entered Yale in September 1975 it was a very different place from the university my father had enrolled in. For one thing, Yale had gone co-ed in the fall of 1969, and by the time I matriculated forty percent of my classmates were female. In addition, a substantial percentage of my class were people of differing ethnic and religious backgrounds from my WASP origins, and the majority of undergraduates there had attended public schools. While being a legacy offspring was certainly not a liability to getting admitted to Yale, it was no longer the easy ticket for admission that it had once been. In other words, Yale had become a meritocracy. But Yale remained, and remains to this day, a very macho, competitive, and elite university. Today, however, these defining characteristics of the university have nothing to do with the ethnicity or religion or gender of its students, unlike when my father went there, when its doors were tightly closed to anyone who didn’t fit a very narrowly defined vision of who should be admitted. I loved my experience at Yale, and I look back on it fondly and with respect. I feel fortunate to have been able to go there.
One of the things that has changed since I was an undergraduate at Yale is that the stigma of being gay in this country has largely dissipated in the intervening years, at least among educated people, and had long become a non-issue by the time of my 25th reunion, held in June 2004. When I was an undergraduate at Yale in the late 1970s, being gay was still considered to be a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, and it was stigmatized to a degree that is unfathomable today, at least here in the U.S. While I had (discretely) come out to a number of my friends during my senior year at Yale I had not brought any of my partners with me to reunions until my 20th, when I brought Boy Fenwick, my partner in life (and more recently my legally recognized husband, at least in Massachusetts, where we got married last year) with me. While some of my classmates were slightly taken aback when I first introduced Boy to them as my life partner at my 20th reunion, they rallied immediately. And when he joined me at my 25th reunion, no one batted an eye. I had a marvelous time at my Yale 25th, and having Boy there with me was an important part of what made the experience memorable for me. Needless to say, that would not have been the case for any of my father’s classmates if they had the audacity to do such a thing at their 25th reunion in 1969, where they would likely have been met with disapproving astonishment at such an introduction, and where the offending classmate and his partner would probably have been ostracized, if not asked to leave. Thank goodness people are more enlightened these days here in America.
Vassar Class of 1985 25th Reunion
In addition to coming from a family where Yale figures prominently among the men, Vassar figures prominently among the women. My father’s mother, known as Granny Darling, went to Vassar, class of 1913, and initiated the first Yale-Vassar marriage in my family when she married my grandfather, Yale class of 1911. She dearly hoped that one of her offspring would continue the tradition. My Aunt Mary (her daughter), Vassar class of 1941, was the first to frustrate Granny when she married outside the fold (headstrong girl!), and my father disappointed, too, when he married my mother, Sarah Lawrence class of 1943. After both of my Vassar-educated cousins, classes of 1967 and 1972, failed to marry Yale men, Granny then looked, with mounting desperation, to her two grandsons with Yale potential (my older brother, Frecky, and me) to remedy this unfortunate situation. She was further frustrated when Frecky, Yale class of 1974, married a Brown graduate shortly after finishing Yale. I was, then, her remaining hope for such a felicitous union. More than once when I was an undergraduate at Yale my Granny Darling gently admonished me to be sure to “look up a nice Vassar Girl” in the hopes of achieving her goal. Unfortunately, Granny Darling died before I graduated from Yale and long before I met, and then married, Boy Fenwick, Vassar class of 1985. I can just imagine hearing my dear Granny’s reaction upon learning that one of her Yale-educated grandsons had indeed married a Vassar graduate (“At last! What joy!”), followed by her surprise when she learned that I had, in fact, married a Vassar Guy and not a Vassar Girl (“He married what?”). I am fairly confident that Granny would have eventually come around after her initial shock wore off, since at least it is a Yale-Vassar union after all . . . although it’s not exactly the union she had envisioned.
So when I joined Boy at his Vassar 25th reunion earlier this month, I did so more than solely as his partner in life, but with an added appreciation of his college’s history, traditions, and its meaning to my family. I enjoyed myself at his reunion, and I had a lot of fun there meeting his college friends and seeing the places on campus where he had once lived, studied, and frolicked. I also thought of Granny Darling and the other Vassar women in my family when I walked around the campus, and I felt a pleasant connection to the school that extended beyond the happiness that I experienced in joining Boy there as he and his classmates celebrated.
Even though Boy graduated from college only six years after I did, his experience at Vassar was quite different from mine at Yale. For one thing, the majority of his classmates were female (55% to Yale’s 40%, when I was there), which is not surprising, given Vassar’s history. Also, his classmates were a slightly more diverse group of people than mine had been at Yale, at least they appeared to me at his reunion. Finally, attitudes towards being gay had relaxed considerably by the time he enrolled at Vassar, and he was out as a gay man from the moment he arrived there as a freshman.
As I sat at a table under the large white tent during the big class dinner at Boy’s 25th reunion, I felt glad to be there with him and his friends, who welcomed me with civility and humor. I also felt a connection with my dear Granny and was amused that her wish for a Yale-Vassar marriage had finally come true, albeit not quite how she had envisioned. And I felt very fortunate, indeed, that the world had evolved in my lifetime to such a point that I could find myself there with my beloved spouse, under those happy circumstances.
Yale postcards – Reggie’s private collection
Vassar postcards – Cardcow.com
Note: I have noticed that Reggie’s blog hasn’t been updated yet. He’s traveling. Technology is not as simple as they would have us believe. Stay tuned.
Note: All is remedied! I am at this direct link, with photos of tiger-infested garments.