When I first decided to return to Illinois for my class reunion, I received a number of responses. Several friends reported that they “never” attend class reunions; others reported attending only one or two. Of course, I realize that some of my current friends are young enough that they could’ve only attended one or two-unlike me making the trip for my fifth or sixth -can’t remember.
I was excited to do so because our last reunion-the 40th- was very well attended by over 300 former classmates and proved to be enjoyable enough that many people agreed with the idea of getting together sooner than ten years. My reason was perfectly selfish; I had received such positive feedback from classmates with whom I only had slight interaction, yet their memories of those interactions were very positive. I was anxious to go back and find out who else might have historical references to my life that might be important.
The turnout was decidedly less than wonderful (unlike to 300 we had five years ago) it was closer to 60. Be that as it may, a smaller group allowed us more opportunity to talk instead of feeling compelled to flit from group to group looking for familiar faces. I was surprised that the people with whom I had the most conversations were folks from my grammar school-now we’re talking a long, long time ago. The stories were wonderful, many of which I had not heard or scarcely remembered.
The upshot of all this is the pondering I have done ever since. The recent loss of a dear friend and mentor has set me to ponder my own mortality and connections. When I started planning the return to my childhood home I consciously made a decision to contact people with whom I had forged a connection that had in some way altered the path of my life. The purpose that reconnection was to let them know the value of our friendship and how it had changed my life.
And with each connection, I was able to express those feelings and accept their responses. It was a heartening experience and a joyful one. I’ve been very blessed over my lifetime to have found an enriching and eclectic cadre of wonderful human beings that are generous, kind, humorous and supportive. We had time to recall special landmarks that we had shared together over the years bring us to a newer and deeper and more comfortable friendship.
I was discussing this journey with a friend when I returned and we both had similar feelings about connecting with people from our past. It was those people in grammar school and in high school who knew a different individual-a young girl and a young woman who was vital and active and silly (I’m afraid this silly remains). Those girls that were in Brownies with me remembered my house, my family, my pets and the fact that my mother was our troop leader. They remembered the inside of my house, my bedroom, our living room furniture and they can validate that for me. Most of all they remember my family--my parents who, over the years, have become a thin, one dimensional memory.
My friends in high school knew me when I was part of the theater department or the girls club, or worked on the Playback committee. They were in the audience when I played Ann-Margaret in our annual school show or in Tea House of the August Moon. Some of them worked with me when we started a summer theatre company which grew and enabled us to travel to other communities performing shows.
The people my past-the people of my youth knew me is a different kind of character-someone who is adventurous, active and tireless. When they saw me at the reunion and when we sat and talked, neither of us was looking at a 63 year old that was gimpy and out of shape, someone with weaker vision, painful joints, one or more medical maladies and far less stamina. When we talked--it was 1955 or 1960 or some other ancient time when life was simpler and our huge adolescent problems- somewhat less huge and a lot more amusing.
The experience was validating and heart warming in a way that is very difficult to explain. It wasn’t like going back in time; it was more like bringing that truth and sense of history forward to add fabric and depth to the image that I see in the mirror every day. The wonderful people who surround me now never knew me as the pitcher of the softball team, the downhill skier, the canoeist, the spelunker, the bicyclist, the actress, the camper, the opera singer (sort of) or the college student.
Folks I know today probably unaware of the dozens of jobs that I’ve held and the dozens of apartments I’ve lived in, the brushes with poverty and the ramshackle cottage I bought with a friend and fixed up over several years. We replaced the roof, replace the furnace, tore out the carpeting, painted, tiled, and built fences, put up gutters, built decks and planted gardens.
The person I see in the mirror doesn’t look anything like that person from the past. But the person I see now has stories and memories and wisdom. And when I see my friends from those long ago days a spark kindles a warm spot in my heart that these days as gotten and just a little cooler.
2013….the 50th reunion.