I have a certain resistance to reunions, most of them anyway. I don’t know if it’s because I’m pretty sure no one will remember me or I don’t want anyone to remember the person I think I was. Which is pretty funny because I did go to my 40th high school reunion awhile back and I had good time. People seemed to remember me and no one ran screaming from the room so I guess I was nicer than I thought. I was reminded of this notion of who we think we were recently when I attended a casual reunion of actors I had worked with several years ago in community theater. At first the reunion was going to be 3 people but social media and the gregariousness of others intervened and pretty soon it was big enough that I didn’t want to attend. Still I went to the play that a former student and fellow actor was in and enjoyed seeing almost everyone in the audience who was part of the reunion group.
The next morning several of us met for breakfast and Pam, who had been fantastic in the play, mentioned that she was happy to see all of us and said that she had been making a conscious effort to reconnect with her past, that she tended to lose memories along the way. At least that’s what I think she said, and it started me thinking about the things I’ve forgotten. For example, one old friend said she had never forgotten a comment I made about a scene she was in where she basically begged a man she had dated for years to marry her (the play was Picnic). Apparently I told her that the scene was so painful I wanted to throw up. Of course I don’t remember saying this although I do remember her powerful performance. There were several instances of my not remembering what others recalled so vividly. Ultimately I told the group that there isn’t enough room in my brain and that I’d had to erase a lot of information to make room for the steep learning curve of the last 8 years in my professional career. But, it worries me that I can’t remember.
At my high school reunion there was a woman who was delighted to see me and apparently we had been friends, had classes, and went to games together. I thought she looked familiar. There was a man I danced with and he said it was just like the time we were in the senior play and supposed to be exhausted 1920’s dancers trying to win a marathon. No memory of him at all. The people I knew best were from my neighborhood and we connected through reminiscences of sled and bike riding and finally getting old enough to know what the words our basketball coach called us meant. (He was an FBI agent pressed into coaching 6th grade girls and he was not happy with our skills. Let’s put it this way: he wasn’t calling us “twits.”) Over the years many of the women had altered their names in some way. Sue became Susan; Cathy is Cate, Patty is Pat. On the other hand, Billy is still Billy; Jimmy is still Jimmy, and Eddie is still Eddie although I believe he may have dropped “ie” in favor of “y.” Our class had nearly 600 students and about 200 alumni came to the reunion. About a third of the men lined up to tell Sue-now-Susan that they had been in love with her in high school but too shy to ask her out. Susan, still drop dead gorgeous and a fellow member of the 6th grade basketball team, was not amused. First of all she wanted to know “what happened to all the cute boys.” (Well, Susan, they are 58 years old now). And secondly and quite accurately, she pointed out that it would’ve been nice to have had this attention in high school. I believe the “I was in love with you in high school” line is endemic at many reunions. “I’ve been in love with you since 5th grade” is unique, and I witnessed its staying power firsthand at my husband’s 50th reunion.
A little background: my husband and his jock friends were a big deal in high school. They were cute, friendly, athletic, and (wait for it) the popular kids. Even though I wasn’t there, it can’t have been much different from any high school and I can imagine these golden young men striding through the halls as if they owned the school, but in a nice way. Because in 1963 being a jerk wasn’t cool and the dark, moody guys would have to wait for the 1970s (my era) to make girls miserable. Suffice it to say that these guys had an uncomplicated high school experience. Of course there were “bad boys” but they weren’t very bad; mainly they had an excess of appeal so they spread it around a little. Flash forward 50 years and Mike and I find ourselves at his reunion in a winery in Morgan Hill. We stayed with Mike’s old teammate Gary and his wife Dene, who also went to high school with the guys. [Aside: Dene and Gary dated from 7th through 9th grade, reconnected on Classmates after decades apart, and have been blissfully married for 3 years. Some people do meet their soul mates when they’re young.] In case you’re wondering, Dene didn’t capture Gary’s heart until 7th grade; it was Mike H that she bowled over with her ponytail and 11 year old charm. Poor Mike H was almost incoherent as he told Dene she was his first love and then turned to Mary Alice and told her she was his second love after someone told her Dene was “taken.” Age does not make one tactful. Anyway, Mike H’s wife finally came and got him before he melted into a puddle of “what might have been.” Periodically Mike H would leave his wife and circle back to Dene, who handled it all with grace and humor, telling Mike H that he was getting close to stalking.
There’s a lot to be said for having a reunion at a winery. When I got bored I took pictures of the vineyard and the surrounding hills or chatted with the servers about the wines. The fact is that other people’s reunions are not that engaging, at least not after the first hour. I spotted the girlfriend (and non-classmate) of another of Mike’s jock friends and sat with her. Within two minutes she mentioned that she wouldn’t be coming to the next reunion. In case that sounds cold, please understand that these classes from the sixties have a reunion picnic every year and that whichever class has hit a milestone invites other classes to their reunion. The last time I went to one of Mike’s reunions was for the 40th and everyone looked a lot better than at this one. In fact I’m already planning on not attending my 50th reunion….
So in the spirit of reunions and remembering, I’ll share that the folks at this reunion felt the social structure of their days in high school was the same. The jock table was the center of the action with people circling the stars. I’m not implying that Mike, Gary, etal. were anything but nice—then or now. But the mystique lingers. Take Susan at my reunion (and many men would): she was the class beauty in a class of lovey young women. When she entered the country club where our stuffy, East Coast reunion was held, everyone looked, paused, and paid obeisance to her past and current radiance. Did she look better than everyone else? Are Mike and Gary still the most (popular, cute, sweet, appealing—choose your adjective)? I don’t know. But that’s really not the point. We bought this story 10, 20, 40, or 50 years ago and we still believe it. And there’s continuity and comfort (for some) in that.