I never wanted to attend my 5th, 10th, 15th, 25th or 40th high school reunions. I thought, “I wasn’t very close to most of those people in high school, so why would I want to see them now?”
Then I received the invitation to the 50th high school reunion. I thought of my previous repsonses, and surprisingly realized I that actually wanted to go to this event In part, I realized this might be my last chance to attend. If I waited until the 60th reunion, I would be seventy-seven years old, and might not be able to drive even if I was still alive. The time to go to a reunion was now.
I also realized that I had changed. Perhaps those students I had seen Monday to Friday in the school hallways had not ignored me as much as I had thought. Perhaps they did not know exactly what to think of me or how to react to my unique weirdness.
In many ways, my normal was different. I studied and listened to Bach and Beethoven, not the Beatles and the Beach Boys. My family did not have a TV and so I was not familiar with many shows or celebrities. I did not wear mini-skirts or go to parties. To further set me apart, my parents were ministers in a small church where the beliefs of the congregants were often misunderstood.
But now, in the words of Joni Mitchell, I’d looked at life from both sides now, from up and down, and perhaps it was time to see that it was life’s illusions that I recalled. I decided to go and see these people, most of whom I had not seen for half a century.
To register, I was asked to fill out a form describing my current life: my family, career, hobbies, and events. I started my list.
Husband – Cliff Newbury
Children – Stephen (32), Michael (30) and Julia (27); two spouses-in-law, Breanna and Jeremy
Grandchildren – Georgia 4.5, Ajax 3.5, and Freya 2.5
Career – mostly private music teaching and some school teaching. (I omitted the rather extensive list of ‘other’ jobs I had done to make ends meet. Too much information, I thought.)
Hobbies: travel and writing. (I was too embarassed to say that I no longer read much, or that most of my life is filled with duty rather than much leisure.)
Events: I started recording the events of the past year. Cliff broke his foot and had to be in a wheelchair for a few weeks. Michael broke his neck. We had flood/water damage and were without a kitchen for a few months.
The list seemed trite, and such a small part of the story. Cliff breaking his foot was traumatic due to his replaced hips, six on the right and two on the left, as well as two replaced knees. In the past, we had spent many months dealing with medical appointments, surgeries, hospitalizations, and rehabilitation. Cliff therefore had to be in a wheelchair with his broken foot, but the greatest challenge had been trying to stay reasonably happily married when I had to take over the roles of cook and chauffeur.
The children were also not an easy part of my life’s history. Michael’s fractured neck had healed and he was not paralyzed, but he could have been, and the tension post-trauma had been taxing. Past years had brought other complexities. Stephen had had a concussion while skateboarding a few years back. Julia and I had to learn to navigate adult life together after some earlier explosive years. At least one crisis per year seemed to land on our family calendar.
I deleted my list of events. How could I condense fifty years to a few lines on a form? How could anyone? I wondered if my list of challenging experiences would pale in comparison to those of my fellow students. Had there been cancer, deaths, stressful economic times, family break-ups? How had my high school colleagues passed their last fifty years?
It hit me like a brick: the students in high school five decades ago were not just moving shadows whose desks I had passed on a daily basis and watched as they opened and closed their books. They were not only fashion models and high school stars that I felt I could not emulate. They were persons, with real thoughts and experiences, and I regretted being too self-absorbed and insecure to get to know them better so many years ago. So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way.
My resolve to attend the Grad Reunion intensified. I wanted to see my school colleagues again and listen to their stories. Perhaps my feelings of isolation had been my fault and not theirs.
I often missed that signs, back then, that the CLASS of ’69 was made of good-hearted souls.
First, I should have realized this after the disaster of the Reach for the Top quiz show. A few high school teachers decided that I could represent Barrhead Senior High for my music knowledge. Although I was hesitant, I acquiesced. Later, I would wish that I had declined as I only was able to answer three questions correctly, and they were Bible questions, not music. I have memories of being mortified when I saw airing of the segment. However, I do not remember anyone in high school making fun of me. For this, I thank you.
Second, I had another embarassing TV experience where I played a piano solo followed by a short interview. My TV presence was less than stellar as I responded to the questions with a Cheshire grin on my face for the entire verbal exchange. Again, I did not hear any negative comments at school, either because no one had seen the segment, or because everyone was being gracious.
Third, the Grad Committee asked me to participate in the Graduation Ceremonies, for which I will always be grateful.
I actually don’t remember much about the graduation ceremonies, but my recollections of the graduation preparations indicated that my family took this day seriously. Although finances were tight, my mother drew a sketch based on formal wear she found in a store, and my grandmother replicated my mom’s drawing. The beautiful tow-layered teal full-length gown must have taken hours to put together. My mom had me get my hair done twice, once in advance, and once for the actual day. My parents had professional photos taken with my poofy air in the teal confection.
I cared about my grad, but was not as interested in the details as my parents were. My circle of friends was largely outside the school and I was only attending the ceremony and banquet. Instead of attending the dance, I changed into a T-shirt and jeans for a church youth party on a farm, a dry-grad long before it was popular.
I was asked to play the song “May You Always” which I think played it at the banquet. I was also asked to play “The Impossible Dream” as a piano solo. I have vivid memories of the discussions my parents had of whether or not I would accept the request. My father did not approve of the lyrics “To be willing to march Into hell for a heavenly cause” while my mother, I believe, was not as adamant. Although I believe my father would like have thought differently a few years later, his opinion won out, and I did not play the song.
None of these decisions were strange to me, and for the most part, I accepted and embraced the values my parents taught. However, I did not understand, then, that uniqueness and differences do not have to mean non-acceptance. I wondered why it had taken me fifty years to understand this life lesson: an education that, for me, had been more complicated than earning a university degree.
I still have the sheet music for the song I played, and the lyrics “May you always be a dreamer, may your wildest dreams come true” are the ones I remember best. Back then, the song and graduation was about dreams, love, and hope for an unknown future.
I wonder if everyone’s dreams did come true. I suspect that many of the Class of ’69 have stories of dreams fulfilled and others quashed or lying latent. For some, life might have been more like the song I was not allowed to play, an “impossible dream that felt like a march into hell.”
I pray that the last line of the song is true for everyone on some level, “May you find someone to love, as much as I love you” as having someone to love and being loved is possibly more important than the realization of dreams.
At the reunion, I will heartily raise my glass of ginger ale to toast the Class of ’69. And this time, at least in my heart, I will take this last chance to dance with my fellow grads.