Tom McNeal writes:

This is what I remember: Walking toward school along Flower Street in the early morning with a bunch of books under my arm hoping that Phil Lynch would pass by and let me hop in the back of his MG Midget.  This seems a long, long time ago.  It also seems testament to my own stupidityI had a perfectly good Schwinn Continental at home and I’m pretty sure somebody had invented backpacks by then.

I still have that Continental, by the way, and our older son, Sam, 17, rides it to high school.  We live now near San Diego in Coronado, a city we chose both because of the good public schools and the fact that you can walk or ride your Schwinn to school, the library, the baseball field, the grocery store, or the beach.

My life has been a pretty quiet one, which is the way I like it.  After high school, I graduated from Berkeley; dropped out of Boalt School of Law; got a teaching credential; taught junior high school in Orange; married Cathy Van Riper, whom I’d met in journalism class at SAHS; moved to Nebraska; was awarded a Stegner Fellowship and then hired as a Jones Lecturer in creative writing at Stanford; and helped start a general contracting and property management business with my brother, Fred, and brother-in-law, Jack Duckworth (the little brother of Willard’s Mr. Duckworth).

But, mid-life, there were still a few big things I wanted to do before cashing it all in, namely:

  1. Have kids;
  2. build my own house; and
  3. finish and publish a novel.

By age 45, I was still 0 for 3, and divorced. In 1993, I married a tall, funny, writerly type named Laura,

Laura and Tom McNeal, June 2015
Laura and Tom McNeal, June 2015

and we began building a house overlooking an orange grove in Fallbrook (my brother, Fred, was the job superintendent).

Fred McNeal and Tom McNeal at a wedding in approximately 1970
Fred McNeal and Tom McNeal at a wedding in approximately 1970

We had two sons, first Sam, then Hank (and Cathy and her new husband became their godparents).  And at long last, I finished a novel, Goodnight, Nebraska, which Random House brought out.

Tom’s and Laura’s sons Sam (17) and Hank (15) playing #1 doubles together on their high school tennis team
Tom’s and Laura’s sons Sam (17) and Hank (15) playing #1 doubles together on their high school tennis team

Since then, things have gone as smoothly as real life can (which is to say, semi-smoothly).  Our boys are both in high school, work hard at their studies, and are doubles partners on the varsity tennis team (which means they like each other after wins and otherwise say withering things to each other that are mostly inaudible to spectators).  Laura and I have collaborated on four books for young adults, all published by Knopf (the first of these, Crooked, borrows liberally from life at Willard Jr. High).  She published one on her own—Dark Water, nominated for the National Book Award in 2010—and has another coming out this year.  I’ve published a couple more books on my own, one for adults, To Be Sung Underwater, and one for younger (and, I hope, older) readers, Far Far Away, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2013.  (If you’d like a copy of this or any of our books, just let me know at themcneals@san.rr.com and I’ll bring one gratis to the reunion.)  And we built one more house, the one we’re in now in Coronado.

One last thing.  Our older son, Sam, is coming along with Laura and me to the reunion.  Not sure what his perverse reasons are, but he won’t be talked out of it.  Probably he just wants a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a big room full of curmudgeons who used to look and feel just like he does now—young, grinsome, and on the runway ready for takeoff.  Like us, in other words, fifty years ago.

Tom McNeal

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