When I was notified by mail of my 50th high school reunion, I had mixed feelings. I loved the 30th but missed the 40th. Since the 30th, I have gone from relatively pleasingly plumb to pretty much F-A-T! I thought about this idea a bit and decided I didn't care and that no one else would be especially interested in my weight! I emailed my best buddy from seventh grade through twelfth and told her I had persuaded my husband Joe to attend with me and that we'd reserve a hotel room. She knows my husband from college where they began a love/hate relationship that has endured all these many years. She invited us to Hot Springs where we stayed for two nights, had a wonderful time reconnecting with her and her daughter and meeting her daughter's boyfriend. I loved sitting on her deck looking down at the lake, talking about old times and, as we said often, "makin' memories."
As her daughter drove us to the reunion, I drank a glass of wine, which is a once-every-three-months thing for me. I think that combined with the fact that my friend is intrinsically hilarious (wittiest in our class) made me laugh until I cried all the way to Little Rock. I'll call her BG because "my friend" is wearing thin. Thank goodness Joe and the daughter hit it off because BG and I were lost in the '60s, remembering all the crazy situations we got into in high school, not the least of which was losing one of her dad's hubcaps on a night when we'd been instructed not to touch his car!
The first person I saw in the parking lot was someone I have fond memories of from school and with whom I have been in touch on Facebook recently. After I spoke with her and a few others, the butterflies left and I felt like I had truly come home. The girl we voted most beautiful was still beautiful. I would have known her anywhere, like time never touched her. Our most handsome boy left us forever this last year. That was so sad to me. I think all of us girls at one time had a crush on him. He was funny and kind in addition to handsome and I kept remembering seeing him at the 30th and how much he seemed to enjoy being with everyone. It's hard not to believe there were spirits amongst us that night, drawing near to those they grew up with, from children to semi-adults, ready to take on the world. As I looked at the program and saw the names of those who have passed on, I remembered each one. One of the men died in the military. For some reason, I remember from grade school the fact that he and I shared a birthday. I have memories of all of them and my overriding thought was how grateful I am to still be here, to be trying to learn whatever lessons are still here for me and contribute whatever I can. Unfortunately, they no longer have that opportunity.
The Funny Stuff
In addition to a bit of sadness that we weren't all there any longer, there were some truly hilarious moments that Joe and I have laughed about more than once. A woman sitting at our table said that a particular class member had been called and asked to attend the reunion. Her answer was: I didn't like any of them when we were in school; why would I want to see them now? I just thought it was too funny for words, which she certainly didn't mince. She was always a very sweet, quiet girl and I cannot even imagine her saying such a thing! Sounds like she has "found her voice," and if that's how she feels, more power to her!
Another classmate who lives in a small town outside Little Rock was also contacted and asked to come to the reunion. His answer was that he was not coming to Little Rock because he might get shot! I have a rather bizarre sense of humor anyway, and that, too, struck me funny, especially after living in New Orleans for over 40 years, where murder is part of the evening news almost every evening. The idea of being afraid in Little Rock never occurred to me.
An old friend who attended the same church I did as well as being in my class told me he was living on his parents' farm now. I have such good memories of that farm and attending meetings of the women's group from the church with my mom there years ago. I also remember him trying to teach me how to drive and the terrified look on his face when he realized I truly didn't know what I was doing!
One of the guys told a story about an adventure he and some other classmates had one night and mentioned Junkin's hospital in explaining where they were. Sam Junkin was my grandfather and, of course, that remark brought forth another stream of memories.
The husband of one of my classmates lost his mother a few years ago. His mother was a friend of my mom's and I remember her kindness to my mom and the connection between the families.
The evening drifted away quickly as we renewed connections, shared memories and tried to remember who the hell some of these people were while at the same time, they tried to remember us.
Ties That Bind
I remember looking around at one time and feeling a rush of affection for everyone there. At that point, I began thinking about what binds us to the people we attend school with? There is no longer any talk of what anyone has accomplished, although I'm sure there is much that could be said. No one speaks of children or grandchildren unless asked. It is more about getting a feel for this person after all these years. We have all been through challenges and grown emotionally and spiritually and a thousand other ways, but with each person I spoke to, the essence of who they were 50 years ago is still there, just better, like a good wine that has aged and become mellow. I think the fact that we spent day after day together in classrooms that were sweltering in summer and freezing in winter, listening to teachers who were sometimes as bored as we were created part of the bond. I think the fact that we saw each other's pain at the loss of a loved one, at the breakup of a teenage romance, even at the loss of a pet, left a thread that connects us even now. Some of those people, I attended first grade through twelfth with. We broke bones on the monkey bars, had our tonsils out, watched the drama of Central High School's integration, heard the principal beating the behinds of boys who misbehaved without a thought of getting sued, listened to the announcement of President Kennedy's death over the intercom, and all in all, experienced life together, year after year after year.
We had good teachers, great teachers, and mediocre teachers. The good ones, I will mention by their names, the others, I will not. One particular teacher I remember was Mr. Reeves. He had black hair, wore glasses and loved to recite poetry in his loud, booming voice. He provided my first exposure to Walt Whitman. I've wondered many times what he would think if he knew one of his former students has a son who teaches the very areas of literature he loves so much in England at Oxford University.
The teacher who influenced me more than any other was a woman named Mrs. Dortch. She made English interesting for me. When I later taught the theory of court reporting, I always tried to emulate her methods and make it interesting. Although I will never be the writer my son is or my grandmother was, I love my blog and have people who tell me the things I write have helped them, which is, of course, the point. We had an assignment once in our senior year to write about one of the seasons. I wrote about autumn. Mrs. Dortch wrote a note on my paper, on which I got a very rare A. This is the note, which I remember even now: You should gain more experience in writing; you have talent. I have very small talent, but her comment gave me the courage to begin and I give her credit for that. I would like to think that one day this piece of writing will reach her eyes.
Then there was the teacher who read verbatim from the book. I can remember literally falling asleep and waking up at the end of class when everyone began to pack up to go to the next class. There was the teacher who had a major dandruff problem about whom we made up rhymes. I always got the impression he didn't like us any more than we did him. The mediocre and inadequate teachers were forgettable. The good ones made up for them.
Every person I spoke to at the reunion, and I think I spoke to everyone, seemed to me to be a good person, mostly happy, mostly kind and productive. When I think of them, I do so with great affection. I was thinking about our 60th reunion last week and thinking that I'd lose 50 pounds and surprise everyone. Well, number one, I have to live that long first, and number two, I probably won't lose 50 pounds; and I won't care and neither will they. There is truly an invisible thread that binds us all together and that will be there until we are all gone. When I hear BG's voice on the phone sometimes I flinch because I'm afraid another classmate has died and taken with them a tiny piece of my heart. My fervent wish and prayer is that all of us who gathered at the 50th will be there for the 60th -- and that I'll be thin!