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September 28, 2006

Class Reunion

by Nancy

Last week here at the offices of The Lipstick Chronicles, I admitted to my fellow Book Tarts that I needed to lose 20 pounds in 5 days so I could attend my high school class reunion in the rural Pennsylvania town where I grew up. The Tarts were very supportive. (Harley: "Lose 20 pounds? Easy!  Just cut off your head.  I do it all the time!") I managed to lose 5, then gained back 2 when I started to worry about the moment I'd have to walk solo into the party since the person I had planned to accompany to the reunion died this summer. My friend Mary Kate, as you may recall, suffered a fatal stroke after some surgery in July. We'd been friends since 4th grade. Her death made it seem important that I attend the reunion.

With Mary Kate unavailable, I considered telephoning a former boyfriend to ask if he'd be my date for the evening. (My husband, though the kindest man alive, doesn't attend his own high school reunions, let alone mine.) But I decided if Jeff's old girlfriend called with such a request, I'd be peeved, so I didn't.

(Boyfriend's Lovely Wife laughed upon hearing I considered phoning her husband: "Damn! If you had called, I wouldn't have to be here!")

On Saturday evening, I drove the Silver Bullet very slowly because I didn't want to be the first to arrive. The old country club (not one of those spiffy places with valet parking, but a rustic building made of knotty pine and lacking air conditioning) still wore decorations from a wedding reception a year earlier--twinkling lights wrapped in white gauze and dusty plastic ivy.  By the door, my mother's name is on the club champions' plaque--first flight, 1962. Jeez, that was a long time ago!

When I walked in, I made the horrifying discovery that some fiend had decided NOT TO ISSUE NAME TAGS. Which--if you know me, you know my eyesight is appalling bad--spelled doom. Naturally, the first person I encountered asked brightly, "Do you remember me?"  With a big smile, I replied, "Of course I do!"  But I still haven't a clue who she was.

Another classmate immediately said, "Nancy, you look great!" but his remark was aimed directly at my breasts, so I'm not sure he was addressing me, exactly. It's good to know the Wonderbra is still an excellent investment, though.  Finally, a very sweet man came over and gave me a kiss, which made it easy to recognize him since I'd fantasized about that kiss all during 10th grade. He guided me over to meet his wife, and the ice was broken. I circulated, recognized about half my classmates and found some people to sit with.  For dinner, we were served more carbohydrates than I'd eaten in a week, so maybe that's why I felt dizzy during the 6th playing of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. It has become our class anthem. Marijuana came late to the outlying provinces, but it made a big impression once it got there. Maybe my dizziness was simply another form of reminiscing?

A classmate who's a small town radio announcer conducted an auction of school memorabilia to raise funds for the next reunion.  Our class president--who was arrested for DUI after leaving the last reunion and had to be bailed out of jail by amused classmates at 3am--telephoned this year from China where he was on business. Someone held a cell phone to the microphone so we could hear his regret at not being with us.

Anyway, it was a fun flashback.

But also bittersweet. So-and-so couldn't come because her breast cancer recurred. Somebody else gets around in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident. The kid who sat behind me in class for years (I was Aikman, he was Barnett) drove his car into a pond, and nobody found him for three days. And Mary Kate's gone, of course. The message was obvious: Not everybody's going to have a happy ending.

But Todd was there--the kid who wore white bucks on the first day of kindergarten and later played King Arthur in the high school production of Camelot. He's the one I vividly remember crying in a corner on that first day of school.

Shirley was there, too--the girl who heard me jogging up behind her during a gym class when we were supposed to try running a mile as fast as we could.  She was the acknowledged best, the fastest, but glanced over her shoulder and was so surprised to see me steadily gaining on her that she sent me a look that should have stopped me in my tracks and took off running really fast to win the unspoken competition. I should have congratulated her at the time, but didn't.

Randy now flies corporate jets for private clients. He adores his job. "We're lucky," he said to me. "I think we're the only ones who love our work."

Gary has a chubby-cheeked grandchild who looks exactly like he did a lot of years ago. I regret saying some rude stuff to Gary back in 8th grade when he was just as cute, but I couldn't see it then.

Dan, the husband of a classmate and the landscaper my father hired a month before his death to look after the lawn and garden of my parents' home, is just back from a combat tour in Iraq. His wife is proud to tell that Dan is a Reserves officer who lost none of the young men in his command.  He volunteered because he knew he had the expertise to keep other soldiers safe. I debated about skipping the part where I tritely say we're lucky to have guys like him, but I decided it isn't trite.  We're really lucky to have Dan.

On my way home after the party, of course, I got to thinking. What does it all mean? As a group of people, my classmates and I are kind of like victims of a catastrophe who survived drifting in the same lifeboat during our formative years. There was no such thing as "parenting" in the days we came of age. Consequently, we learned by making mistakes and coping with the aftermath. We were at our very worst together. We made fools of ourselves, were mean and selfish, said stupid things and risked each other's lives. (There's nothing much to do in rural America, sometimes, except ride around in cars drinking cheap liquor or smoking dope.) During the Cold War, we learned to hold our biggest textbooks over our heads as we crouched beneath our desks, nobody daring to imagine aloud what it would be like when The Bomb was actually dropped on our school.  Later, we watched those gory Driver's Ed movies and taunted each other into not throwing up during the severed-head-rolling-down-the-highway scene. We sweated through the SAT in 100 degree heat in a school cafeteria with windows that didn't open--during a year when Vietnam was going full bore and so was the draft.  For some, those SAT scores meant the difference between a student deferment and death in the jungle.

I took off my panties for the first time for a guy in my class--although I wised up and didn't fall for his ploy again the next year in first grade.

Maybe because we grew up together in circumstances so different from today's standard childhood, we've come to understand each other in ways that make our relationships very rich--different from my college friends. We share more than a cradle.  In some cases, we share genetic bonds, but certainly something even more basic. Emotional bedrock? We know where we've come from together. It makes our relationship somehow visceral.

And along the way, we seem to have forgiven each other our shortcomings, our cruelties and stupidity. That's the miraculous part--the forgiveness. Isn't it strange--that surprising human inclination to forgive, forget, and turn out loving each other?

What's weird, too?  By nature of my own family's tradition, no matter how far I travel from those people, I will be buried with them.

Mysterious ways, huh?


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Great post Nancy. I did not attend my high school reunion until the 25th. I dreaded it, but knew I had to do it. You are so right Nancy. It is all about forgiveness.

Forigiveness is the key.
One of my chief tormentors showed up at our 10 and 20 year reunions. He made a point of reminding me of what a jerk he was. I knew I had forgiveness when I did not rip his head off his shoulders. Not that it would have stopped him from rambling on, he never used his head a day in his life.

Reunions are good places to forgive yourself.
I made a political protest that no one new about, I did not attend my high school graduation - I was incensed that my tormentor and so many illiterates earned the same dipoloma that I did. I was upset that so many people in the Honor Society cheated to get there.

My 10 year class reunion was eye opening. I had been laid off twice withinin a year, yet, I still attended. After the weekend, we learned that our class had one of the highest death tolls (DUI, Drugs & AIDS). I walked out of that reunion, glad to be alive.

The 20 year reunion was better, I served on the comittee. I was also in good physical condition and I reconnected with people. A triumphiant, positive experience. Yet I will always be haunted by the date of our class reunion;
August 11, 2001.

Very nice, but as Sarah can attest, some people were nasty in 1st grade, middle school, high school, and have the same bedrock 25 years after high school. That is, most people change, grow up, and have long-term perspective. Many are still the people who went off to kindergarten in 1967 with their Johnny Quest or Flipper lunchbox.

Josh and I went to our 25th high school reunion last November. I never had so much fun, but that was due to Lisa, Josh and some excellent Cosmopolitans. (My first, ever.) Though the party itself was dull, dull, dull, it has spawned an online group of my classmates that is nothing but heartwarming. You're right, Nancy, those first 25 years can knock you around a bit and most of us are more forgiving, kinder and, in some ways, needier. Aging may suck, but for those of us who survive, I think we're better for it.
Great post as always!

Great post Nancy, and esp. poignant about Mary Kate. I hope she was well remembered by your classmates.

I've never attended my class reunions (I live too far away) but I did go to one as a date. No one knew me, the event was a snore, so he and I sparked things with every conceivable lie our drunken little minds could cook up. (I mean, someone has to spy for the military. And write best sellers under pen names.) The guy eventually went to work at the Pentagon. Surprise.

I've chickened out on reunions for a different reason. I enjoyed high school, so no forgiveness necessary from me, but I've seen maybe two of my classmates in the last 20 years. I remember everyone else as young, with big hair, ready to live a great life. I think I'd like to keep that fantasy, even though it's surely not real.

Or maybe I just don't want to spring for the airfare.

My graduating class was 830 people strong, so class reunions always promised to be more like high school assemblies than get-togethers. I went to the first one...in five years people don't change that much, although we did have Chicago as our band of the evening and it was amazing to see who had married/divorced who. Now,I'm seriously considering going to the upcoming one...45 years (in 2009)seems just a bit less of a milestone than 50, and the pictures on the class website have reassured me I have aged at least as well as some of my classmates(and better than some I envied back then). I've also missed at least one chance to connect with friends who now reside on the "In Memory" page. We were the Class of '64...after JFK but before Vietnam. Truth be told, I was always afraid of running into my 'first love' (who by the way dumped me for a contemporary of my younger sister's) as well. Call me chicken...

A great post. I am newer to this list serve and I want to thank you all for being such a nice part of my day.

I went to my 10 and 20 year reunions and found them fascinating. I had a decent time in high school (it was great compared to my home life and I was lucky enough not to care too much about what others thought). The voyeur in me loved finding out what has happened (must be why I love reading series).

Each time I was taken by how atleast one person was so much more decent than I had recalled them being. I learned about myself, that some people had crushes on me or remembered me as being "so sweet", things I did not realize at the time.

Of course, there were a few former mean ones or divas, but time just did not help them pull off the same behavior, so they just seemed pathetic.

Ultimately, I suppose that the key is being in a happy place in life. It's not the life I planned upon graduation, but I physically looked good enough (sadly enough, we know that is a HUGE part of the reunion equation), have a happy marriage, a healthy family and I like my life.

What a beautiful post. Thanks Nancy, for sharing.

I grew up in a similar environment, and was really struck by your reminder that we risked eachother's lives on a regular basis. So, so true, and we had no concept of how dangerous the activities really were.

There were no real DUIs - no MADD, no awareness that even one drink (or smoke) could impair us. Plus, most of my class was sexually active (not me, and that's a real shame for me, looking back) but no one ever used condoms - as long as the girl was on The Pill, no one even considered any other consequences. Combine the absence of knowledge with the traditional teenage assurance of invincibilty, and it's a wonder any of us survived.

Our guardian angels must have been so relieved when we graduated.

When my kids were teenagers, I kept telling them they were too young to be monogamous. But in their era, it was safer. How our times shape all of us.

Welcome, Cheryl, by the way. It's nice to have such a steady stream of newcomers---especially thoughtful and provative ones!

Wow, Nancy....I was just thinking that my 25th is coming soon (darn...I didn't think I was that old?!).

Two years ago, I attended my boyfriends 40th and returned the favor by making him attend my 20th. His class was small, so the party was kind of quiet except for me.

My reunion was a bit better with more people and memories. What was nice is that most the creeps HAVE grown up and were incredibly nice...even mentioning that they thought me sweet in HS? Oh well, better late than never. We also did a quick review of those who have died since graduation..not too big for a class of around 600 even though the class pres didn't last a year before trying out a motorcycle on the autobahn.

Now, I have three years to loose my weight.

"What's weird, too? By nature of my own family's tradition, no matter how far I travel from those people, I will be buried with them."

Not so weird, Nancy. I've put off buying burial plots where we live...the old 'they cost too much, what if we move' reasons. Until my dad passed away last year. We were standing at the church cemetery, surrounded by ancestors and old friends, and I realized that was where I wanted to 'rest'. Got in touch with the cemetery board and now own a little piece of real estate down the road from the folks.
Sounds maudlin, but what a revelation. I didn't think it mattered as much as it did.
Maybe reunions are the same way...we don't think they matter, but sometimes we need to go to see that they do.
Good and thoughtful post.

High school reunions..either you hate them or love them. But I think the older you are, the more years that have passed, the better the reunion.

At our tenth, it seemed like everyone was still trying to impress everyone else..what they drove, wore, etc.

At our twenty, it was good to see who was still with us. And the guys that intimidated me the most were some of the nicest. They grew up!

At our thirty, I worked too hard on the reunion and by the time it came, I was sick of it! Most of the committee members ended up hanging out by the registration desk so we could see everyone as they came in. After dinner, when the dancing started, we hung around until about 10:30 or so and went home.

Husband? NEVER take my husband. Didn't go to school with me, knows no one. Would have been miserable...and me too. Besides, I told him that he did not want to see me hugging and kissing all the guys! LOL

Hubby just had his 40th. He did not go. Hadn't been to one ever, I don't think.

I SWEAR to go the my 40 but NOT be the committee that puts it together.

Nancy, beautiful. The thing that's most choking me up right now is the image of the kindergartner in his white bucks, crying in the corner.

The poor kid was probably crying because his mother made him wear white bucks and he knew it might get the snot kicked out of him.

Ditto for the poor kids who show up in the little dutch boy get-ups. What are those parents thinking?

And the best part is, no matter how someone has changed, when I look at them, I see them as they were in 1966.

Just had my 40th recently, and I truly love my reunions. Many of those people, though I never see them between reunions, are precious to me.

Nancy - Great post. I especially like your comparison of High School classmates to survivors of a catastrophy. Sometimes I wonder how I ever survived my own risky High School behavior.

I had something very cool happen at my 20 or 25th reunion. A girl I had known since Grade School, but had never been close with came up to me and said, "I want to thank you for the impact you had on my life."

I'm thinking oh no, cherry vodka football night? Or Boons Farm lunch followed by Celtic dancing in gym class? Perhaps the day I told the Chemistry teacher I didn't believe in atoms?

To my surprise she said, "High School was very difficult for me socially and you always made me feel like I was someone important."

I haven't seen her since. And I'll probably never get a chance to tell her the impact her statement had on my life.


Nice post and timely.
I just had lunch yesterday with one of my best friends from all schools ----2 thru college. We had 24 in our class at graduation and 9 went to the convent tho' one remains. Our 40th was in my party room. As we face 45 years, we've lost two to cancer in the last year. Would that we would have that teenage invincibility for more time.

Mary Alice

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