Facing a class reunion can be daunting enough to make a teetotaler crave a bracing cocktail. But fear not. It’s worth the effort. For at least one sweet, nostalgic night you can revisit the best parts of high school without worrying about the silly stuff.
I used to wonder why high school reunions seem to mean so much more to people than college or other reunions. I think the late, great editor and columnist Meg Greenfield put it in her memoir: “So far as I have been able to discover, nobody, regardless of station, gets over high school.” Indeed, class reunions help you to get over high school, no matter how nervous you might be about getting over your class reunion.
High school is where we begin to shape the adults we are about to become for the rest of our lives. It is a monstrous task confronted by complete amateurs. I would not face it again if you paid me in Powerball winnings.
Class reunions are, by comparison, low stress. We become history detectives, probing our past to take a fresh look at who we were and what we put up with before we reinvented ourselves into post-graduates. Reunions have a therapeutic value. They prove how right your parents were when they assured you, back in the throes of teen angst, that time heals all wounds — and wounds all heels.
The bullies, snobs, hustlers and clowns who once brought you daily torment may be passed away by now — or in witness-protection programs — or simply humbled as we all are by advancing years and slowed metabolism.
I graduated from the public high school in Middletown, Ohio, a classic mid-American factory town that, like so many others, doesn’t manufacture as much as it used to. It was 1965, a time that seemed to be “like only yesterday” until the stories that I used to watch on television began to appear in my son’s history exams.
Bill Cosby used to say that it is not hard it is not hard to recognize your classmates at a reunion because they all look like their parents used to look. After 46 years? Try grandparents.
It took some of us 20 years to work up enough nerve to show up at a class reunion. It took that long for the residue of teenaged hubris, angst and embarrassing relationships to fade. In other words, it took long enough for most of us to have high school kids of our own.
After 40 years, you’re happy merely to see who’s still alive and able to show up.
“No politics tonight,” said Bob Hayden, one of the event’s organizers, with whom I have been debating politics since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater. No problem. It was good to be back in the land of good Midwestern common sense after escaping Washington, which politics have turned into Mogadishu-on-the-Potomac.
I wasn’t sure he could hear me over the music, provided by a band of fellow alumni called The Intruders. They were a popular local garage band for a couple of years in the mid-1960s until they broke up like countless other aspiring teen legends to pursue more conventional lives. Whatever hair they had left was gray and actually longer than it used to be in their old band photos, although these days it does not look nearly as rebellious as it used to.
Yet, decades later it was a delight to see that in these guys the old heart of rock-and-roll was still beating. They seemed to be thrilled to get together without anyone saying, “Stick to your day job.” As one band member, now retired, told me with delight, “This is my day job!”
Cool. We partied like it was, well, 1965. As Bridget Fonda’s character says in the movie “Singles,” “Somewhere around twenty-five, bizarre becomes immature.” After 60, bizarre becomes merely “eccentric.”
Just one a few words of advice if you’re facing a class reunion: Resist the impulse to ask your fellow alumni, “Do you remember me?” This is particularly true if there is any chance that the other person doesn’t remember you.
I used to find that question to be merely awkward or embarrassing. Now it can fill me with fear of early Alzheimer’s.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.