There are as many ways to re-unite as there are relationships between and among us.
I’m writing this at O’Hare airport in Chicago, waiting for the return flight home and still reflecting on last night’s festivities at Mama Luigi’s restaurant, venue for my fiftieth high school reunion. I’d been too shy to attend the tenth and was still reluctant to be at the twentieth, so soon after my father’s death (and all that that had entailed). I thought I’d been dis-invited to the thirtieth—except that there hadn’t been one, so no harm, no foul.
When the fortieth was announced, I ponied up the requisite shekels but promptly forgot to note the date on my calendar [yeah, like I really have a calendar]. So, a week after the event, I’d missed another one. I vowed the fiftieth would not be unattended, and my surgery in June only stiffened that resolve.
Everyone knows that birth months are each assigned a semi-precious stone, in the way that each house of the zodiac has its sign, grouped in cycles of fire, water, earth and air. I’m “earth” but you can see that a half mile away.
Wedding anniversaries also have their symbolic assignation for gift-giving, though I only know a few of the biggies: paper, wood, tin, for example, representing the 1st, 5th and 10th. But did you know there is an unspoken theme, a hidden agenda attached to each decennial gathering of your high school class? Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my sources:
- TEN: The tenth, given our age approaching the late 20s, is guaranteed to focus on possessions; the things that measure our achievement. [For “achievement” read “acquisitiveness”.] “Oh, really? Just the one boat?” the debate team captain snarks to the football quarterback.
- TWENTY: By the twentieth, with each of us in our late 30s, the bloom is off the rose. Kids are essentially grown and gone; the nest is borderline empty, while eyes and possibly other body parts have begun to wander. The theme is divorce. “Really, she took you for that much?” the car wash manager says to the corporate VP.
- THIRTY: Now in our late 40s, those same body parts have began to fail and even fall off, the thirtieth—the one I missed—dwells uncomfortably on medical procedures: “Well, as long as they were in there, the gall bladder ought to go, too,” the overly-tanned candidate for carsinoma says to the hypochondriac.
- FORTY: All the foregoing stress of acquisition and infidelity probably contributed to those operations and, time not being on our side, the late 50s may have thinned the ranks. I wonder at the fortieth—another one I missed—how many times you heard “No one told me! He/She was so young,” grateful you weren’t asked to be a pallbearer.
- FIFTY: The fiftieth, I’d been warned, could evidence the onset of senility, given that the gray cells are beginning to catch up with all the other deterioration. Listen, my friend had further distressed me, for the telltale signs of failing recollection: “I wasn’t in ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ you idiot. That was [fill in the blank],” or even “Who the hell are you?” or, offhandedly, “Is this the right room?”
Happily, Saturday night’s event bore no resemblance to that last one. And I haven’t been told what to expect at the sixtieth—if it even happens, due to our shrinking numbers. So I’ll get back to you. But in the meantime, let me tell you what did happen during six hours Saturday night.
My exchanges with people were proportionate to the degree of interaction we had had in school. 1) I saw and spent considerable time with the handful of folks who had meant the most to me during those fateful, fitful years; I loathed high school and barely survived it, thanks to their good company and extended grace. 2) I planted a seed to regain contact with some who were not there or who had graduated a year before or after me. 3) I learned that many had, in fact, gone prematurely to their reward and, sadly, that I had not been able to say goodbye and share my gratitude for what they had meant to me, with or without their express intention to mean anything at all. 4) Erik and I got reacquainted and I built a bridge with his wife Donna. 5) I danced with Flo, while she thanked me for teaching her about Frank Lloyd Wright and how to draw 3-D. 6) I received an honorary gift from my dear friend Stella and equally valuable intangibles from good friends and bare acquaintances, again whether they knew it or not. All things considered, I was accepted and excepted, each with equanimity. I would have it no other way.
Today, I write these few words for those of you looking into the future, down a longer corridor of time than I can at 68. They do not pass for wisdom; just advice.
And to the memory of Ken “Pookie” Herd, Jerry Rasmussen and Wanda Lee Roberts, I miss your presence among us.
You might know this would morph into an episode of “All things Agincourt”.