"Language, as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God." ~ Noah Webster

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just As They Are

I went to my high school reunion this weekend – 40 years!  Wow, that is almost painful to say.  I remember when my folks went to their 40th; I was totally flabbergasted at the time, when I heard 40 years.  It seemed like an eternity! And now, here I am at the 40 year mark.

I really debated with myself in deciding whether I should go or not.  I simply wasn’t sure I would be comfortable. My husband’s reunion was the same week-end and though it was out of town, he wanted to go to his as well. In the end, we decided he could not miss his after being gone from his hometown for so long. It didn’t really work out for me to attend with him. In the end, he would go to his and I would attend mine.  That is, if I didn’t chicken out at the last minute.

Quite honestly, I don’t see any of my old classmates any more. Whereas it used to be that one could not go to town without seeing someone they know, our area has now grown enough that it is extremely rare for me to run into anyone from school. So, going alone, made me a bit nervous. Our graduating class consisted of about 350 people, I knew there would be no where near that attending, and I wasn’t sure if any of the “kids” that I was closest to would be there. I am not the most outgoing person in the world, so I knew it would be difficult for me.

There would be an afternoon cruise around the lake to begin the event. I decided I could do that even if I sat alone and just enjoyed the view…maybe no one would notice me.  If the cruise didn’t go well, I would simply skip out on the dinner.

I was, after all, most excited to see the kids with whom I went to grade school.  Our grade school was out of town, and we didn’t join the rest of the kids at the high school in town until our freshman year.  We were known as the “country bumpkins” in those grade school years.  I think when we finally joined the rest of the class as freshmen, they found out we weren’t so different after all. But those bonds from grade school have always seemed to mean the most to me.

I was glad I had decided to attend.  I really did have a wonderful time and found myself surprisingly bold. I knew I had to be, if I was going to pull off this potentially uncomfortable situation. 

I checked in, and there was one of my best friends from grade school.  I knew that I would be seeing her, as she was one of the organizers. I’m sure I hadn’t seen her since the 10th reunion, but she hadn’t changed a bit; she gave me a warm hug, a big smile and some small talk as she continued with her duties.  I had to move out of the way quickly, so as to not hold up the line.  I scanned the people quickly that were standing at the bough of the boat.  Yikes!  I didn’t recognize anyone there and no one said hello to me.  I got out of there quickly and headed inside where I knew I could grab a bottle of water.

Inside were a few faces I recognized, though I was never close to anyone. “Get in line and look like you are doing something,” I almost frantically told myself… “Say hello to those two women you know.  You don’t have to stop and chat. That line will save you, giving you a reason to be in here….alone.”

“Hi Lynn!” one of the gals replied to my hello…but she caught herself quickly, “I mean, Jan.” I laughed and moved on.  I learned that from my brother; just laugh and move on.

So, once I had my bottled water, I moved out the other end of the boat (the natural way to go) and climbed the stairs to the deck. Once on top, I scanned the group of tables quickly. Wow, scary!  I recognize a few, but would they even know who I am?  I moved through the tables, until I was just about at the end.  I decided just to approach any table - a man and his wife were seated at the table I chose.  “Do you mind if I join you?”  I was running out of anywhere to go!

“Not at all; have a seat,” the man answered.

“I’m Jan”, I showed him my name badge. Then I laughed. I knew him. He was the one that gave me my first cup of coffee.  Some of us would meet at one of the popular restaurants to visit before or after school and he had talked me into trying a cup of coffee.  “We can stay longer,” he had explained, “and it’s less awkward.”  So began my addiction.

I visited a while, and then realized I was a bit uncomfortable, so I decided to use my camera as an excuse to move on.  “I’m going to go take a picture of the gals at the check-in,” I told them. “Good seeing you.”

So out I went to the other end where I thought more stairs would be; but as it turned out, there were no stairs at this end. However, there were some people I knew. I greeted them warmly.  I’m sure I hadn’t seen them since high school or maybe the 10th reunion, which was the last one I attended. We had all attended the same church and youth group. We visited a while, and I grabbed a photo of them. They were genuinely friendly and it warmed my heart to see them. I visited awhile and then made my excuse to move on. That’s when I found out there were no stairs at this end.

But I continued in a circle moving along the end of the boat, and around to the other side, where I ran into a couple other women that I knew.  I had never known them well, but they greeted me warmly just the same. We caught up a bit and the boat started moving. Well, too late to use getting a picture of the check-in table as an excuse.  The gals at the check-in would be moving up stairs too, at this point.  But it was ok.  The few people that I had visited with had allowed me to warm enough to the crowd, that I knew I would be ok.   I just rolled with the flow, now.  After I moved away from the two ladies, I don’t really remember who I visited with, but at some point I spotted my grade school classmates.  This would be easy, I knew these “kids” well, and I was anxious to catch up with all they had been doing. Turns out there were just seven of us from our grade school. Such a sweet communion, though, and I realized I really did love these people that I hadn’t seen in at least 30 years. I laughed hysterically when one of the guys joined us and had no idea who I was.  I’m sure I hadn’t seen him since high school. “Hi, Steve!” I exclaimed. I had the advantage; I had already been told he was on his way over to join us for a grade school photo. I wouldn’t have recognized him otherwise. 

“Ok”, he said quizzically, “You will have to tell me who you are.”

So began my laughter, “Guess!” I said like a stupid, little grade school kid. I must have been reliving my childhood at this point…He didn’t know.  I eventually had to show him my name tag.  He joined me in my laughter and immediately broke into a story involving the two of us. He remembered something I had totally forgotten about, and I remembered another side to the story…both sides were true; we simply had remembered different things about the situation. It is a very sweet memory from something that literally was a life time ago. Turns out he is a successful lawyer, and still a very sweet man.

One of the other men from our class was the son of our 3rd grade teacher.  It was so nice to hear she and her husband - who was my 8th grade teacher - are still alive and doing fairly well for their age.  “Remember Mykey?”  I asked him?  He had no clue.  Mykey was how his mom always referred to her keys while in class: My Key.  He was never taught by his mom, so her unique personality in class is something he was unable to enjoy.

At some point, I visited with someone that proudly told me he worked with my nephew!  “Guess who I work with?” he asked. Like I would know!

“I work with N, and he is awesome!”  He was speaking of my brother’s oldest son, and it warmed my heart to see him so excited about it.  With my brother and I only being a year apart, and attending high school at the same time, I had many, many people ask me about him. Again, it was so heartwarming…There is no one, it seems, that doesn’t think the world of my brother. Their concern and compassion was obviously from the heart – in some things, we are family. They seemed to understand, where many do not. Family sticks together; family understands when hurt runs deep.

We were on the boat two hours, but it all went so quickly. At one point I noticed a couple who really weren’t visiting with anyone. I knew what it was like to be uncomfortable, and I thought perhaps these two were. I boldly walked over to their table.  “So who are you guys?” I asked laughing.

The guy answered, “Well you won’t know me, but that’s DM,” he identified his wife.  “Oh, hi,” I replied, “Yes, I remember you, D. You really haven’t changed, but to her husband I said, “But you look familiar, too.” He gave in, and told me who he was.  “Oh, I knew you looked familiar!  I see your mom all the time!  I love her!”  That’s all it took for him to break into conversation, and he honestly seemed to enjoy it.

So dinner would work.  I would be ok.  When we moved from the boat to the restaurant, we found we would be up by the pool and be able to eat outside.  It really was lovely. We took a class photo, and had a good laugh when two of our classmates, that had struck a pose on the floor in the front of the rest of us at our first reunion, assumed that same pose for this class photo.  It seems they have posed the same way in every class reunion photo since that very first one.

We chose tables where we would sit. Again, I had to be assertive, and say, “Do you mind if I sit here?” I had no idea who else would end up at our table of eight.  It worked.  This table was in the sun, with the best view of the lake and the soon to be sunset. It was the best seat in the house in my opinion and I obtained it quite by accident.

To begin things off, the planners let off some blue and white balloons, with a few words, that I had missed, or didn’t hear. But I knew why the blue and white; they were our school colors.  I had purposely worn blue and white…yeah, that silly kid in me coming out again. I’m sure no one even noticed.

Next, they had a power presentation in honor of those of our class that had passed on before us.  It was very moving, some of our classmates that had died, were a surprise to me, but I knew about most of them. One in particular, PBW, I was especially close too – well, four or five of them, actually – and I had to wipe away tears as I watched.

Finally, RP, an amazing woman with a wonderful talent for drama and speech, gave a little talk that was in part hilarious, ending rather seriously about just who this high school class really was.  It was a time to laugh, and a time to reflect. She did a wonderful job; she really should be famous.  ;-) Upon reflection, I discovered another topic, that I think would be fun to blog. It will come next.

As we moved into dinner, I came to the understanding that we were all once again the same. We were united on this evening, though in most ways, we were lives and worlds apart. Tonight, we were united in our memories, and as a class we were united in knowing some things that only our class, the class of ’72, would know.

I won’t see most of these people again, and that’s ok. I probably won’t go to another reunion. Some of the “kids” will pass, some won’t attend again.  But this moment was nice. The reflection was sweet. We were a group of classmates in a little town before the growth, before the change; our folks were miners and loggers, and mill workers. Many of our moms stayed home. We know some things not very many others know…and it’s sweet.

Oh, by the way, when my husband returned from his reunion, he carried on and on and on, much as I have here.  I listened attentively.  I heard his mama in his voice, I heard our son.  I heard things that only his classmates know and understand. I heard his laughter at the pranks and jokes he played on classmates that at first didn’t recognize him. The car show that his class began the reunion with revealed the era. The DJ had to be straightened out, but the dinner was great. Many had changed, some had not.  He spoke of much that usually doesn’t affect him. He had connected, he had come home.

“I’m content now” he said.  “I probably won’t go to another reunion. I know they are all ok, and I want to remember them just as they are. I’m glad I went. It was good – very good.”

 A Few Of Us!

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