Saturday, September 10, 2011

Class reunions: young and old, then and now

Recently, Marion at Create Joy and Wonder wrote about the anxieties involved in preparing to attend a high school reunion. Reading her words reminded me that I attended my (gasp) 50-year reunion in July and still haven't written about it.

This reunion has stayed on my mind longer than the previous three I've attended, and it has eluded easy description. I finally understand why.

Attending this reunion immersed me in a dual reality. For three days (including the four-hour drive each way), memories of high school came flooding back. Some were in sharp focus, some were hazy, but all were in living Technicolor. I recalled the faces of my classmates as they once were, youthful and unlined. And yet, the faces that now surrounded me were - like my own - older, creased, a bit saggy. I often found myself peering into those faces, seeking traces of the person I had known. Sometimes recognition came easily; other times the transformation was almost complete. This seemed especially true of the men; I easily recognized a small handful, but sometimes, looking around the room, I was tempted to wonder whether some of us had wandered into the wrong party.

I began to notice that I was carrying in my mind both faces, the "then" and "now" of each classmate I happened to speak with. With 350 graduating seniors and more than 200 at this reunion, my mind was a crowded place! 

Something else was crowding in as well. No matter the conversation, I always had a visual subtext: We are old. Yes, we might be smart, fun, enthusiastic, engaged in lots of interesting pursuits, but the faces kept reminding me, we are old. I shouldn't have been surprised. Most of us turned 68 this past year. But what we had come to celebrate was our youth. We surrounded ourselves with yearbook photos - classes, prom, band, the Sweet Shoppe, the junior class play. I could visualize those scenes; I knew how they played out, I could even feel the emotions - elation, disappointment, embarrassment, nervous excitement - that accompanied those days. It was amazing to be able to reach out and touch those times, and yet to have traveled so far from them.

The juxtaposition of then and now, young and old, has stayed in my head since that mid-July reunion. It reminds me that over the course of our lives, we are at once the same and different. The shy small-town girl is not so far from the surface. And if I deny that, if I think for example that I have become totally citified and sophisticated, then I am not being authentic. I've run into a few people like that at reunions over the years...people who have cultivated new manners of speaking and have seemed to consider themselves far more refined and cosmopolitan than the rest of us. Maybe they are, but I'd rather have it all - the cosmopolitan-ness and the roots in our working-class northern Minnesota town. In that sense, if we are lucky and wise, we are still young

I mentioned to my hair stylist that I was going to my reunion. She had recently attended one in her tiny hometown. I said I thought that people going to their first reunions sometimes worried about how they would be perceived. "For some people, it's all about job status and success," I said. "Oh," she said. "At ours, it's all about the dance-off."

That seems like a good approach. What really matters at reunions is the same thing that matters in life: what kind of person are you in the here-and-now? At each of my reunions, I talked with dozens of people. I hit it off with some, and not so much with others. Beginning way back at our ten-year reunion, some of the best conversations have been with people I didn't know well in school. It surprised me then; it doesn't any more. A couple of people I did know well have turned out to be not all that interesting. But any disappointment has been more than offset by the delightful conversations, some lengthy and others relatively brief, in which a wide variety of classmates and I have discovered the things that connect us through the years and across the miles.

P.S. If you have a reunion coming up, go to it. You'll have fun. The best way to prepare is to contact people you'd really like to see there and arrange to spend time together. My friend Cynthia recruited me and our friend Nancy, and I was delighted that she did. It meant a lot to reconnect, and it was too important to leave to chance.

P.P.S. During our reunion, the planning committee asked whether we wanted to come back in five years or ten. We all raised our hands for five. And we all made a joke that we knew wasn't really a joke: Who knows whether we'll still be around ten years from now? (And silently I added, Who even knows about five years from now?)

I'm planning to be at my next reunion, feeling both old and young.


19 comments:

Towanda said...

Interesting. I've never been to one of my reunions since I lived over 1500 miles away and never felt there was anyone I wanted to see that much, who I wasn't already seeing off and on over the years. However, now that I'm close, I will definitely have to make that 50 year reunion and it was nice hearing your thoughts on what it was like for you. Funny how those years passed so quickly!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Towanda, I know, we kept wondering about that, too. And I love your new name, by the way!

Grandmother said...

I'm coming up to my 50th in 2 years and haven't been to a reunion since my 30th- but that was fun. I like your emphasis on owning all parts of ourselves and keeping focused on the person you are in the here and now. You've grown wise along the way.

Jeanie said...

I really loved this post. I have never been to a class reunion, but this has made me determined to go to my (gulp) 50th which will be in 2015.
I sure hope they have a dance-off.

Retired English Teacher said...

We had a 50th of the first four classes to graduate from our high school last year. My husband, class of '61, and I, class of '63, were on the reunion committee. We spent over a year planning, and the last six months we met every week. We still meet about once a month because we got so close planning the reunion.

The reunion was a great success, but I think the best part was that we made it happen.

@eloh said...

Distance and duty have made it impossible for me to attend even one. I had big plans for the 20th as I would be stateside... but then our reunion date turned out to be my "due" date for my fourth child.

Turns out I really missed out, there was a huge fight between some of the guys and our School Super's daughter was featured in a "beaver hunt" Playboy spread.... and the plainest girl in high school showed up as a Blond Bombshell... having married a plastic surgery specialist!

A couple years later when I did make it back, one of my friends husband did have a copy of the Playboy... she looked pretty good.

DJan said...

I feel cheated in some ways, because as a military dependent, I went to four different high schools and was not close to anybody at my high school. After I graduated, we moved away two weeks later. Nobody I even cared about seeing again...

You are fortunate to have had the experience, and if I had any reason to go back, I would have.

Linda Myers said...

I was a military brat, too, but did spent all four years of high school in the same place. I attended my 20th, flying from Seattle to Jacksonville, NC. Put a lot of ghosts to rest. Since then, reunions have conflicted with other priorities. However, I'm committing myself to go to the next one, in 2015. Thanks for an excellent post!

Dee Ready said...

I found this posting thought-provoking in that
while some of who we are remains, much changes.

I was unable to go to my 50th college class reunion in 2008 because of ill health, and now I see just what I missed. I so hope to go to the 60th in 2116--we'll all be 80 then.

This line from your posting made such sense to me:
"But any disappointment has been more than offset by the delightful conversations, some lengthy and others relatively brief, in which a wide variety of classmates and I have discovered the things that connect us through the years and across the miles."

That feeling of connectedness--of having shared a foundation on which we've built our lives--will be, I hope, part of the 60th reunion.

Thank you. Peace.

Emma said...

I shared this with my high school class group on Facebook. As one of the reunion organizers, I hope that more people who are scared to attend will realize that we're "more about the dance-off." :-)

Abraham Lincoln said...

I have been meaning to do this for a long time and your reunion post was a kick in the butt. I got to do that ASAP.

What I did was invite everyone who has ever gone to our country school to return on a Sunday in June, 1995 for a day long reunion. Talk about a stunning day...

IndigoWrath said...

Hi Nancy! I find the idea of reunions horrifying. Dammit, there's a reason I lost touch with them all! As a male of the species, bumping into old acquaintances will inevitably result in "who's-done-best" pissing contests, and the thought of bumping into the girl I used to fancy and finding her to not be the vision of perfection I remember is also a no-no. So, if they try and track me down, I shall don a huge moustache and pretend to be Swiss. Indigo

Linda Medrano said...

I've never been to a high school reunion. Frankly, my high school days were not my happiest ever. I had a handful of good friends in high school, and I've continued to see these friends year in and year out. They all attend the reunions but I've just never felt the desire or any sense of curiosity about how people turned out.

I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I think you sound more social than I am. But most people are!

Far Side of Fifty said...

I went to my 20th..I was not impressed or entertained..they didn't have a 40th. Some of my classmates are on Facebook..they are still stuck on themselves. Not my kind of people at all.
I am glad you went and that you had a good time.
7 years till my 50th maybe they will have mellowed by then:)

troutbirder said...

Very interest and got me thinking. Unfortunately my 50th was 2 years ago and I missied it was well as all the previous ones. Why? I'm not sure. There were over 700 hundred in my graduating class in St. Paul (Harding). I was close to only a few. Now I thoroughly enjoy all the class reunions I get invited to (as a high school teacher. Sometimes several each year. There were usually less than one hundred in each graduating class. I got to know most quite well. Somehow that has always struck me as likely to be more fun.

troutbirder said...

Ooops. I forgot to mention my dad was a banker and worked right under that great big 1st sign you saw looking out your window. :)

Daughter Number Three said...

I have had similar feelings about reunions to yours -- some of the best conversations are with people I had "nothing in common with" during school.

I just accompanied my mother-in-law to her 60th reunion this weekend. It was great to see everyone enjoying each others' company, although about 1/3 of the class has died (not surprisingly, the lost are mostly the men).

They had invited their last surviving teacher, who is 87. A good time was had by all.

WhisperingWriter said...

I haven't been to a reunion yet. I think I'd be too shy.

Jeanie said...

So glad it was a good experience. I haven't really been to one (since the 10th, long ago). I think I'm ready now.

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