Remains of the Day

I traveled to the Philadelphia suburb where I went to high school last weekend to help my friend Alyssa sort out the sale of her childhood home, and to help go through the stuff of life that can build up in 45 years. Alyssa’s parents, Mike and Lucy, are moving to southern California, where Alyssa lives. Packing up a house that holds so many memories is a lot for Alyssa and her parents to process. 

And for me, too.

It is hard to articulate the emotion of picking up and touching the things of our youth, reading the notes and looking at the postcards and photographs. The weekend was overwhelmingly nostalgic, and I am super nostalgic at baseline.

Although I am from Rhode Island, I went to Radnor High School. There I met Patti (Second Serve Patti), Kate, Mary Ellen, and Alyssa, whose parents moved into their home at Drakes Drum Drive in 1979. 

As a teenager, DDD as we called it, was where we ended up pre parties or post, in Alyssa’s bedroom with the burgundy carpet, the border trim wallpaper, bedspread and pillow patterns to match. She had a small bathroom where we would cram in front of the mirror to get ready. The bathroom had a macrame plant hanger on the ceiling, and a burnt orange 1970s bird print on the wall. The 70s motif carried throughout the house, with a giant hook rug hanging in the living room, the room no one went in. There were circle prints and globe light fixtures. 

From 1983—the year we started high school—until now, DDD has not changed. Not one bit. 

After we graduated, our families moved, except Alyssa’s. So it was there that we met up when we came back, for reunions or get-togethers, to mourn, to reconnect. 

Before our 10th high school reunion

We live far apart,  three on the East Coast and two on the West Coast. When anyone is traveling East we get together at DDD. It is our meeting place. 


I drove down from Rhode Island and picked up Kate in Manhattan, and we got to DDD late on a Friday. We stayed up with Alyssa, sorting through dressers and drawers and her closet, deciding what to save and what to toss, sorting through a lifetime of evidence, not just of Alyssa’s life but of all our lives. 

There were no-brainers like her diplomas and yearbooks to save, but then there were the drawers full of notes and letters and postcards. What do you save and what do you toss? 

There were letters from a painful breakup (tossed), a 1981 Miss Piggy calendar (saved) and a 94 WYSP rock calendar (also saved). We saved a leaf enclosed in a piece of notebook paper, from her childhood camp Tockwah, a YMCA camp on the Chesapeake. There were a notes we passed to each other in class, and letters and postcards we wrote to each other while in college. 

There was a picture of Alyssa and a boy, his face blacked out with a pen. Then there was the lock of hair that a fellow actor sent her when she was doing the play Vinegar Tom in New York. Ew. 

She kept a few records and let me pick from the rest. I got The Hooters and PIL. I took home her prom dress from senior year (It will be up on Second Serve soon). Kate got the Snoopy cork board. I saved a crocheted poncho for Patti.

While we went through all these items we retold the stories that went with them. How it went down at the end with that boyfriend. How she acquired the motorcycle burn on her leg at Camp Tockwah. Or was it Tickwah? We reminisced about shenanigans at the Mann Music Center, the 10th grade semi-formal, and the Prom (and marveled at what we wore). Why oh why was there that one-way marathon correspondence from so-and-so, and why did that creepy guy from Vinegar Tom give you a lock of his hair? I learned a lot about Alyssa, and I gained a clearer timeline of events I forgot or misremembered.
And I read my own letters. This is one excerpt from when I was in college:

I am having a blast this semester. Crew is the sport for me. It is quite hard but oh so fulfilling. We have our first race tomorrow, 3/31/90, against Dartmouth. I’m confident we will crush them.

And later,

I am going to run the Boston marathon with a friend of mine from school. We are sick!

Not a care in the world, lol. 

We left no artifact unexamined. I took home a piece of the Berlin wall from Alyssa’s trip to Europe in 1989. We untangled necklaces and grouped together hideous 80s earrings that Alyssa’s 17-year-old daughter Sydney might like. The college notebooks from Penn went in the trash, but we kept her Eurorail ticket and a 1975 Bugs Bunny poster. 

We saved the pictures of our friend group and chucked everyone else. We saved Alyssa’s head shots from her acting days.

The volume of the letter writing and the notes that were passed at school is extraordinary. We wondered if our kids had any written notes or letters. They don’t even have notebooks. 

There will never be a time like the time we had. The 5-page breakup letter is now condensed to a single text consisting of "WTF?". 

No one told us then that the writing of notes passed in Latin class was an effective way to process teen emotions and feel supported by your friends in a time of confusion and emotional turmoil that is supposed to be “coming of age.”

Most of us made it through. The ones who did not are another blog post that I will attempt, someday. Those of us left are tight: we are not contained in a place or a house. We have ties that transcend the physical.

But I’m glad we have evidence to remind us how it was and what it was like, in words that only a teenager could write.


  • Sybil Hebb


  • Jesse Seiple

    Amazing!! So heartfelt with YOUR words. What a blessing to be a part of second serve and the ladies who run it!

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