The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 11, 2004


Senior Safari is a great graduation gift

High school reunions have a way of making one reflect on the importance of the high school experience. Since I'm heading toward one in a few weeks, this seemed a particularly appropriate time to be helping with the Senior Safari — an incredible all-night after-graduation party held at the Concord-Carlisle High School last Saturday. Graduation season is, unfortunately, a time of increased alcohol- and drug-related traffic accidents among new grads, and the Senior Safari was started fourteen years ago as a safe alternative to private parties. Senior Safari succeeds in its mission, but is also a lot more. It is a wonderful parting gift from the parents and community to the youth.

The party is organized by the Senior Safari Committee, a group of parents and volunteers who start meeting in January to begin planning the June event. Susan Sharp and Ainslee MacHaffie served as co-chairs this past year. Students pay $20 per ticket, and many parents give additional donations. Sharp said, "People are very generous" and "the majority of the food is donated by area businesses." Decorations are stored and re-used for many years, but it still costs thousands ($13,348 in 2003) to host a party at which almost the entire senior class attends.

Students arrived between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m., checking any loose personal possessions with the "bag ladies," who carefully stored the items in hundreds of labeled paper bags. Kids could return during the party to use their cell phones, etc. though I'm not sure about the one who brought an air mattress.

The cafeteria was transformed for the night into a jungle with elaborate decorations and colored lights. There was music and mountains of food. Snacks, fruit, hot dogs and appetizers were followed by pizza and ice cream sandwiches, and later still the kids were plied with (over 28 dozen) donuts and bagels before the party's end around 5 a.m.

Lots of activities were set up, spread throughout the cafeteria and down the hall to the gym. I saw many kids at the beginning of the evening holding tight to their yearbooks, looking serious and thoughtful. Were they just searching for their friends, or thinking about this day, as they all stood on the brink of their futures? In a quiet area, there were tables for grads to sit and write in yearbooks, or watch a video of the prom. But soon many were lining up for air-brush tattoos and character-portraits, playing air-hockey, or heading toward the upper gym to ride the mechanical bull or play basketball. There was also a wild contraption like a horizontal bungee jump, where kids were attached to stretchable cords attached to one wall of the huge device, ran as fast as they could away from the wall, and were then pulled off their feet, sliding backwards towards the starting point. By midnight, kids were dancing in a conga line in the cafeteria and the karaoke room was packed.

Volunteering was easy work and fun, and I would urge all parents of high school students to give it a try, at least one year. I had signed up to help with the kitchen crew, and this might have been the best job of all, because part of the time I was out in the party area able to observe all the activities, and part of the time I was back in the quiet (!) kitchen helping to prepare the food. One of my jobs was to periodically go through the rooms to search out and eradicate all unattended beverage containers. In part, this was to prevent illegal substances being added to people's drinks, but trash-control would have been needed anyway with any all-night party given for hundreds of people. I did wonder, however, what the kids playing basketball thought as I came round, hour after hour stealing away the bottles of water and soda they had carefully left along the gym walls.

The Senior Safari provided one last chance for the new graduates to gather together as a class and have fun together before they scatter to the winds. The party lasted one night, but the kids will enjoy the memories forever.

Plus ca change

The other day an old friend dropped by for a quick visit. She had lived in Carlisle for 20 years in the 1960s and 1970s, where she raised her family of four children. We drove through the town on roads she knew well from ferrying her teenagers to sports games, school events, and social gatherings. At first, she was amazed at how little the town had changed the Sorli farm on Westford Street, the center of town, the view from Guy Clark's farmhouse on Concord Street. She noted the disappearance of the white silo at Bates Ice Cream, and the appearance of the white barn at the junction of River and Bedford Roads. When we drove by the renovated colonial opposite Towle Field on Westford Street, with its new Palladian windows and walkways, she exclaimed, "oh la la!" in her native French an untranslatable expression that perfectly captured the house's transformation from its former, sagging colonial gentility.

To show my friend the more recent Carlisle, I had to drive down side streets and up circular lanes. Of course, I wanted to show her the biggest, newest houses in recent developments. I was rewarded with a low, "mon Dieu," and a barely audible, "qu'est-ce qui se passe?" She had been used to the largesse of Munroe Hill which, as any trick-or-treater can attest, has been surpassed by the splendor and sheer showmanship of Tall Pines. Earlier this spring, I enjoyed viewing a number of larger homes in the recent open house for the school's fundraiser. I described for my friend the sweeping foyers and elaborate living and dining rooms in some of Carlisle's new residences.

But it also struck me how hidden most of these new additions to town truly are. The four main arteries into the town center — Concord, Lowell, Westford Streets and Bedford Road — really remain essentially undisturbed. There are a few new houses along the roads, but most of the single family homes on those routes are hidden behind trees or blended into hillsides across fields. Newer developments are tucked away, even routed off of side streets, as the Tall Pines complex branches off Curve Street. The new houses near the Concord line on Concord Street are the most visible. But even there, most of the houses are set back on the hill, and the buffer of evergreens screens them, for the most part, from the road. The signature vistas of the town have remained intact throughout the building boom of the last decade. Even the library addition is tucked behind the original edifice, and the new Town Hall occupies a discrete corner of the town center. The Planning Board has done an outstanding job.

I mentioned to my friend that some now call Carlisle "Lonelyville." Had she found it lonely 20 years before? She gave a characteristically French shrug of her shoulders, gestured with both hands, and murmured through pursed lips, "comme si comme ça." She asked if I knew four or five families from her era. I recognized only one. Maybe that's the rhythm of suburban life: stay put for 20 years, raise a family, then move on. That was the course my friend had followed. She now spends winters in America, summers on the Continent. Something like that probably lies in store for a good number of us. C'est la vie.


2004 The Carlisle Mosquito