Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Keeping the Memories Fond

On a late summer weekend in September, I was a no-show at the 50th reunion of my South Side High School class. I had a bad cold and an unsightly stye, so I certainly wouldn't have looked or felt my best, but in fact I had already decided not to attend.

I've long been conflicted about reunions. I'm never sure whether I'll feel uplifted, let down, or simply bored, so I usually take the path of least resistance and don't go. But my 50th seemed like a bigger deal than most, since it would almost certainly be the last time I'd have the chance to reunite with my classmates from long ago.

The only high school reunion I ever attended was my 20th. I brought E. along with me to Rockville Centre, on Long Island. I wanted him to meet the people I'd talked about for years. And, to be honest, I wanted him there for support and a reality check. I was afraid that without him to ground me I might quickly revert to my insecure teenage state.

When E. and I arrived at the hotel where my 20th was held, the first people I saw were Ronnie, Ellie,  and Andi — the popular girls of my youth. I had worked hard to make them my friends. They screamed. I screamed. We embraced, we giggled, we all talked at once. They looked me up and down, no doubt to see how I had turned out. I did the same to them.

Ronnie still had an adorable dimple in her cheek, but what was with all the makeup? I reminded myself that she lived in Texas now. Ellie seemed much as I remembered her, my favorite among them, still cute with her curly hair, still bubbly and affectionate. Andi, still single and still a redhead, had become a personal shopper and had beautifully curated her outfit for the occasion. My dress suddenly seemed dowdy. But, I told myself, she doesn't have a husband and I do.

Oh my God, had I really thought that? I had reacted like an insecure, snarky, mean girl. Even with E. standing stoically by my side, I'd fallen right back into that angst-ridden state that had marked and marred my teenage years.

Turning around, I saw Warren, sporting a deep tan. I'd had a crush on him in junior high school and we even dated for a little while. The high point of our relationship came when he took me to our 9th grade prom. The gardenia wrist corsage he gave me smelled heavenly, but the flower faded fast. Just like our relationship. I had nothing to say to him in junior high, which at the time I thought was my fault. When he greeted me at our 20th the same way he had in the 9th grade — Hey, Barbara baby — I realized that I still had nothing to say to him.

He did look handsome, though, despite having less hair. But I almost felt sad for him when a classmate told me he had taken the day before the reunion off from work so he could go to the beach and perfect his suntan. Who does that? I wondered. But, secretly, I knew — I did. Like Warren, I wanted to look perfect for the reunion, or at least as good as I had in high school. And I wanted to convince everyone that I had turned out well.

That's when having E. with me really helped. It reminded me that I actually had turned out okay and, furthermore, that I'd found someone I could talk to, someone who was smart, kind, and loving. He even had all his hair!

Despite my alarming regression into teenage angst, I was glad I'd attended my 20th. I had genuinely wanted to see Ronnie, Ellie, and Andi again. I'd been curious how they'd turned out. And I had enjoyed introducing E. to them and to many other classmates he'd heard about.

Vintage jacket at sported
at the South Side 50th.
Nevertheless, I skipped my next high school reunion, the 40th. I felt I'd satisfied my curiosity at my 20th and didn't feel the need to rekindle old relationships. But when the invite to my 50th arrived, I agonized about whether or not to go. If I did, it would be without E. We both agreed that he wouldn't enjoy it, so I'd be on my own.

It had been thirty years since I'd seen most of my classmates. It seemed like another life. Yet, I found myself wondering about them, just a little. How had they aged? What were they up to? Would they still seem like the people I once knew? I wasn't sure I wanted to find out.

One of my classmates emailed me and tried to convince me to attend. He even procured the list of those who had registered for the event — fewer than 60 people from a class of 300. Where were the others? They couldn't all have died, could they? Maybe they, like me, felt disconnected from that long-ago time. I decided that I preferred to remember my classmates, fondly, as they'd been back then, and elected not to go.

Just yesterday, the classmate who tried to persuade me to attend the reunion emailed me again. He sent photographs of the event and even included a "cheat sheet," so I could figure out who all those old people were. I didn't need it to recognize Ronnie, with her dimple still intact, Ellie, looking sweet as always, and Andi, in a glamorous black dress. It was great fun seeing the pictures and it almost made me wish I'd been there. But not with a runny nose and an ugly stye.


  1. Barbara, so honest and captures all of my ambivalent feeling about whether or not I want to go my 50th College Reunion in 2020. One problem is that most of the people I would want to see won't be there, and many of those I would rather not see will no doubt attend. Classmates I haven't stayed in touch with for 50 years will no doubt remember the me who was 20 years old, and some didn't really like me then. Hey, I didn't really like myself then either. But shouldn't there be a statue of limitations on impressions of who people are? I have spent the last 50 years working hard to understand myself, to be more forgiving, and to forge a happier and supportive life for me and my family.

    Instead of going to my 50th reunion, my plan - I hope I stick to it - is to call or even visit a few good friends I have not stayed in touch with.

  2. I participated very little in high school. There were clubs and sports so I did neither. Then I offered to do a memory book for the 50th. It was quite an experience to talk more with classmates than I had done in high school. It was more than high school. Some of us had been together since nursery school. Now a small group of us have had a Google Group going for 4 years. Sometimes we work together to remember events. And I started another Google Group for the class. Next year our 55th will be coming up. I will probably go. Oh... the only other one I went to was my 20th. I was amazed how beautiful everyone turned out.

  3. Hi Cuz. I've gone to ALL my reunions and a few of Judy's. I am still close with quite a few of my high school (Weehawken, NJ) friends and even some from elementary school. Our closest friends are the ones with a "history" involving us. 60th coming up next year and they're going to try and hold it in Florida. Only problem with the reunions is seeing all of those old people who attend.

  4. A fun read, Barbara. I like your solution to stay home and write about it :-)