Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Forty years later, a first high school reunion

I went to my 40th high school reunion last weekend, and I'm so glad I did. I had a small and treasured group of friends in school, but over the years my peripatetic lifestyle had caused me to lose touch with them. When it dawned on me that our graduation digits were turning the Big 4-0, I decided to step on a plane and head from Los Angeles to Boston. 

As anyone who has attended a major reunion for the first time already knows, it felt strange at first to suddenly reconnect with people I hadn't seen in decades. I remembered us all as kids, but now we were all older adults. I had to quickly reconcile my memories of the past with the mature present.  The gangly, shy boy I'd known is now the dapper periodontist; the former tom boy and gal pal is now the accomplished television professional.   
Getting my first wheels, circa '73

I think we attend reunions to reconnect, not just with others, but with a sense of ourselves from an earlier time. As I sat at the reunion table, I tried to remember what I was like in high school, what my ambitions had been back then. I remember that I loved English class, especially creative writing assignments. But I didn't connect my vague enjoyment of writing with any notion of a future career. I come from a family of scientists and academicians. Our clan regards writing as a tool, not an aspiration. I thought the ambition of becoming a writer was only meant for the literati and artistes.  

I wish I'd known when I was young that "real" people can become writers. It would have helped me get started earlier. So, here's my advice to all the high school English teachers out there: invite a local novelist to speak about writing to your class. You might just be giving that quiet girl in the third row a vision of her future.

Question for you all: have you ever braved a high school reunion before? How did it go?

Update: I just added a picture of me "back in the day"--thanks to Jordan for the suggestion! 

18 comments:

  1. What? No H.S. photo?

    Fun post, Kathryn. I didn't go to my first one or two, but was able to go to my 20th. Loved it. I was instantly thrust back into my teen years & found it odd how I connected with people I didn't hang out with back in the day. Great experience.

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    1. I just found one and updated it, thanks for the suggestion, Jordan! It's a picture of a picture, best I could do--still haven't unearthed the albums from our move to the new house!

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  2. My 40th reunion will be next year, and I think I'd like to go. I went to my 20th and had a good time. It was really weird that people who never spoke to me in high school were so friendly. There were also people I didn't remember at all. I didn't even recognize the names!

    And for the record, the women aged much better than the men.

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    1. Same thing at mine, Joyce! If I had to bet, I'd say it's because we care more about our looks, and probably make more of an effort along the way.

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    2. I went to my older brother's charity fund raiser where his high school guys showed. Best looking ones did not hold up well. Hair color helps but women generally take better care over the years.

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    3. Also--this has nothing to do with your post, but seeing you (Kathryn and Jordan) replying to my comment, made me realize how much I miss my old Working Stiffs blog, where both of you guest blogged ages ago!

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    4. Me too, Joyce! So many great blogs have closed shop. My firm belief is that blogging still has a niche in the cyber universe. I'm reminded of that belief every time I go over to Facebook and get inundated with updates that aren't relevant to me. A familiar blog is like sitting down with a cup of coffee in the morning, chatting with an old friend.

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  3. Haven't been to a HS one but did attend a college newspaper one after 10 years gone. It was a lot of fun but we weren't very far removed from our college selves. I can only imagine what 40 years post-HS must be like. I was such a loser in high school...

    As for inviting a writer to speak at school, you are so on the money with that. I wish I had known then it was an options. But I am old, so "be a teacher and you'll never starve" was standard advice to women. But my eighth grade English teacher, Miss Gentry, WAS the first person who told me I could write. I dedicated my first book to her.

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    1. I had only one good year in high school, Kris--My senior year, when I transferred to a school in a different state. Before transferring, high school was a fairly miserable experience.

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  4. Loved your story. I went to my 40th HS reunion, although it was really 41 years. Our class, apparently, didn't have much interest (we were told), so we joined with the next class. I'm glad I went because I learned about all the amazing and wonderful accomplishments of my former classmates!

    What I did not enjoy was that it was exactly like hs! The popular girls all stayed together, as did the jocks, and the av and science nerds, as well as the creative folks, too, all stayed clustered together during the main event. I walked around just as I did in hs, since I was never really in any one clique. I enjoyed myself, just as I did in hs, but I could not help wondering why people chose to limit themselves and not walk around and converse with others (they talked to those who went up to them). Still can't get that out of my head! Did not go to another reunion!

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    1. Whoa. I wouldn't have enjoyed that at all! Sounds like some of the people at that reunion must have peaked in high school.

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  5. I went to my 25th HS reunion in Australia and, having just moved back there, it was surreal. The organiser had assumed I'd travelled all the way from the USA so I got special treatment including a seat next to the vice-principal! Of course then I had to fess up I was now living in Australia. Funny thing was when, a year later later, they asked me to come speak to the school and I had to apologise that I couldn't because I had moved back to the US! I went to an all girls school so there were no 'aged' men to compare us to but I reckon we all looked pretty good:)

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    1. I was amazed by how much most people still looked so much like their younger selves! I definitely plan to go back for the 45th and 50th. (Yikes, how old does THAT sound?) :)

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  6. I attended a small high school in Wisconsin and they were some of the best years of my life. I really enjoy our reunions, even though almost all of us have more pounds and less hair than days of yore. And BTW, the first car I ever bought was a Triumph, too! '76 TR7 that I got during my senior year of college.

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    1. I loved the TR6! The engine had a wonderful, throaty roar, and I drove like a bat out of hell! :)

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  7. Okay, I went to my 50th HS (Michigan) a few years ago. I had never been to one and had contact with only four people since those heady days in the late fifties. I didn't remember a great many people for HS. However, I still remembered and recognized many from grade school. Others didn't look familiar at all. Most of my old buddies showed up with their wives. That was interesting. The wives suddenly realized that they had married into a merry band of goof-balls. This became obvious as soon as we started telling stories. Fortunately, no divorces resulted from these disclosures.

    It was a little strange meeting all the old girlfriends--especially since I only recognized one or two. As far as I know, nobody got into any fights, which was unusual. One woman I barely remembered had a million doctor's degrees and was in fact a real doctor with a huge internet presence. She was not in the "most likely to succeed" crowd. Obviously she was very smart. Most of "us" in the above category were on the lam and skulking around the venue. I grew my hair for years before the event and enjoyed looking like a freak. After cutting it, I still look like a freak.

    Since the Big Reunion, our group of HS buddies has met in Santa Fe to whoop it up. Our next meet is this fall in Charleston, SC.

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    1. Sounds like you all had too much fun in high school, and still are! :)

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