THE Class of 1926 of Freeport High School certainly did ``put on'' some impressive graduation exercises. We were an even two dozen in number, the largest class Freeport High had nurtured, and it was our turn to use the ``Congo'' church. Freeport had two churches then, and, lacking a gymnasium or an auditorium, the town turned to the Baptist and Congregational societies for any function that needed dignified accommodations. The town hall was all right for some things, but a high school graduation called for a more clerical flavor, and the year before the Baptists had entertained. This Class of 1926 has just had a reunion after 58 years, and 13 of us sat for a photograph by Clifford Collins -- Clifford was a year behind us in school, and still does some commercial camera work. It was one of those perfect June evenings. We had scoured the meadows about town the day before and fetched in daisies and buttercups. Peonies abounded on the ship-captain lawns about town, so we added them, and the Congo church was a bower of floral beauty -- free. Back then, there was no objection to holding a secular school ceremony in a sacred sanctuary, so we expected no demonstrators with placards to harry us as we approached.
We were not in caps and gowns. In 1926, academic garb was considered the privilege of the baccalaureate -- at least in Maine -- so we came in blue suits and white dresses. For most of us boys, this would be our first suit. Short pants still prevailed into high school, but the long pants we wore after that didn't always have vests and jackets. So Mr. Manning Lothrop came with a tape and swatches and measured us, one by one, and after waiting three weeks we had mail-order suits from Chicago. Mr. Lothrop, the agent, ``threw in'' a pair of suspenders as his bid for future goodwill. The suits cost $17 each, but $18 if a double-breasted jacket were specified. (Two pairs of pants.)
Except for maybe one or two turned out by professional sempstresses, of which Freeport had two, the white dresses were made by the girls who wore them, aided by mothers, and coached by the domestic-science teacher, of which we had one. Thus we arrived and waited for the signal to march into the church, down the aisle, and up on the stage, from which the pulpit had been removed. Bess Bennett, the town's pianoforte teacher, was to play the big march from ``A"ida'' on the truly magnificent Congo organ -- an instrument that has survived the electronic scourge and may be heard today. When Bess Bennett really let go on that ``piece,'' the great visible pipes throbbed and the visible rafters echoed. I knew, because for five years I had been the juvenile galley slave in the dungeon beyond the vestry, where I jerked the handle that pumped air for that organ. Twice, in alternate years, I had pumped air while Bess Bennett bore down, and I knew what it took to keep the ``box'' inflated ahead of her. She was great. We were great.
And in great dignity we lock-stepped in as Verdi intended. For the first time I heard that march inside the church, and I felt for the toiling joker now striving to stay ahead of Bess Bennett. About halfway down the aisle I shuddered to think that Bess Bennett would now apply the open diapason and that poor kid was in for it. So we came to our seats on the stage, and Bess Bennett released a mighty chord that was our signal to sit down.
Freeport High School, in those benighted times, offered four years of Latin, so our exercises offered a classical twist which notified our parents -- the taxpayers -- that the investment had been sound. The salutatory and valedictory were well larded with allusions, and an honor essay dealt with the Sybil of Cumae. But we were well rounded, even so, and while the Class Ode was poignant with the pangs of parting, it was rendered to the tune of ``The Prisoner's Song,'' a popular ditty of the mid-`20s which has otherwise been fortunately forgotten. It was the languishing lament of an incarcerated felon who longed for the outside -- ``If I had the wings of an angel, if I had the wings of a dove . . . .'' Perhaps it was not the ideal choice for a class ode, but 58 years later it seems to have been a propitious paean: Softly we hear in the distance The refrain of some music sweet, And it brings to each of us seniors The wish that again we may meet.
Fifty-eight years later Margaret Day, who wrote that ode, was among those present, except that she has been Mrs. Plummer for quite some time.