Monday, September 08, 2014


Life is lived in moments that coalesce, becoming days, years, phases. Sometimes we go through our moments so carelessly that when we look back on them we can't recall the details. Sometimes we pay such close attention to the minutiae that when we recall the past, we only remember the smallest of specifics. My school years combined both kinds of attention. I can recall exact moments - the time in 4th grade that Eddie and I closed a desktop down on Susie's head, for example, and got caught, although only Eddie's hand was on the desk and only he got spanked. I can still recall the look of horror on the teacher's face, the look of interest on Eddie's, and feel again the rise of hot guilt in my own chest. On the other hand, graduation day fifty years ago is still hazy. I don't remember marching up to the stage to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. I don't remember having my diploma put in my hand. I can't recall the receiving line outside afterwards and have only the vaguest memory of the dress I wore beneath my gown.

This past weekend what remains of the Class of '64 held a 50th reunion at a local park. Already 11 classmates have passed away and of the 57 remaining only 23 of us attended  the event. But we were a jolly bunch as we cracked open lobsters brought down from Maine, gobbled sweet, local corn on the cob, hamburgers and dogs and chicken wings, homemade potato salad and cole slaw, finishing it all with watermelon and blonde brownies and thick, chewy molasses cookies. We wore snapshots of our yearbook photos as name tags and joked at how little (or how much) we had changed. At every table the word remember prefaced a conversation about some aspect of our high school years together, or remembrances of the war in Vietnam where so many of our classmates faced unforgettable horrors. All day, my perceptions kept switching from the detailed - the sound of Holly's laugh, the same intense greenness of Cindy's eyes, the timbre of Seth's voice, how tall Jack still was - to the overall: the concentrated buzz of dozens of simultaneous conversations, the outbursts of laughter, the recognition of old friends mixed with non-recognition - we've all become something we weren't back in 1964. 

Mid-way through the day our organizer-in-chief, JT, stood to make some remarks. "Looking back," he began, "I tried to think of one thing - one characteristic - that would define our years together in high school. I don’t know if it is common at other institutions of higher learning, but I think that our defining attribute has to be “cruising the halls” before class." This brought a great shout of laughter and a flashback memory of sharing tidbits of gossip or confidences with Sue or Katy or Marlene or Patty, our heads close, our voices a murmur as we walked the halls in twos or threes with a hundred other students for ten or fifteen minutes before the first bell.

"And then there were the notes," JT continued. "These presaged texting and were about as useful. Notes were the forbidden fruit of friendship, passed along with the thought that they were never to be shared. But, like the internet today, secret information didn’t always stay secret and some notes went viral." I leaned over and said to Sue, "I still have some of those notes!" and I do, stashed away in a keepsake book, notes from a certain boy and others slipped surreptitiously from hand to hand during class or tucked in a pocket as we filed out the door. I clearly remember when two note passers got caught and one of them had to approach the front of the room and read the note aloud. Viral all right!

I spent some time with a man with whom I'd shared an apartment and a life but hadn't seen or spoken to since we'd parted painfully nearly 14 years ago. We forged a truce, agreeing to start from now with no expectations or promises. We both realized that the time we have left to be happy is limited; there is no room now for futile anger or hurt feelings or recriminations. In fact, there never should be time for those things but when you're young you don't see it that way. Everything is important then; now, I realize, kindness and an open heart and a sense of one's real self are important - details that make sense of the overall haze. JT's summing up quote summed up this discovery: "In the words of an old Scottish toast: Here’s tae us, and wha’s like us. Damn few, and they’re all a’dyin’, Mair’s the pity!

In some ways it was a very strange day. I'd known a good many of these people my whole life, though I hadn't seen some in years and years. We shared a childhood of classrooms and hallways, ate our noon meal together five days a week for decades, received the same teachings, followed the same rules - and yet we were all SO different. And they had changed in ways I hadn't imagined (well, some of them) and so have I. A lifetime of memories, distilled into three hours of an afternoon. 


Out on the prairie said...

Very nice. When I went to my 40th I thought I was at the wrong place because everyone had grey or white hair.

jimt said...

Thanks, Pauline. Brilliant!

Reya Mellicker said...

It does sound weird, but good, perhaps even essential. This is the stuff of life.

A beautiful post Thank you.

jimt said...

Ok, you should know...this made me cry...again.

Molly said...

Sounds like a fun, interesting few hours. In 48 years I've never been to a class reunion. Don't even know if they have them over there, but I'd sure like to go to one if they do!

Kerry said...

This is a terrific reflection on those 3 hours of meeting up with old classmates. You were closer to your schoolmates than I ever was with mine, but your observations hold true with what I know of former friends. We went down very different paths although we started at the same place.

Hilary said...

I've never attended a class reunion. I tended to disappear in the background so I wonder how many people I'd know all these years later. I imagine it was an eye-opener in many ways. I'm glad you attended yours. You're such a fine observer of life.

Judith said...

It's very inspiring to read your reflections on your class reunion ---
and far less painful than going to one's own!

Wisewebwoman said...

I was at my 50th and could relate so much to this post.

What I relished most was the honesty, all the masks stripped away, everyone holding our younger selves in their hands.

Extraordinary. You tell it so well.


Barbara Shallue said...

My high school class has grown closer over the years. There are women I consider some of my best friends now that I didn't even know back then, thanks to reunions and mini-gatherings we've begun having. We've lost quite a few of our class and as a result, have truly bonded over memories we share of growing up in a certain place at a certain time. I'm glad your class feels the same way.