I recently left the Frontier Mart for a weekend to attend my fiftieth high school reunion. When I walked in, I thought I was in the wrong place because everyone looked so old.
The first event of the weekend was held pool side at a nice hotel. As I scanned the hundred or so faces in the dusky light, I recognized no one. It was only when I studied one person at a time that I began to recognize the well-disguised faces of old friends. I didn’t recall all the names, but I quickly learned the routine that everyone else was using:
1. Squint into someone’s face.
2. Put on reading glasses.
3. Read the small print on their name tag.
4. Say, “Yes, of course I remember you!”
As the evening progressed, I drank a margarita and made peace with the fact that my classmates didn’t recognize me either, but eventually we got re-acquainted and settled into lively reminiscences of when we were teens.
The following afternoon, we met for a tour of our Alma Mater, Las Cruces High School. The most memorable moment was when we tried to squeeze everyone into a group photo which required that some of us would have to sit on the floor to comprise the front row. No one volunteered. We moved closer together, but still we didn’t fit, and still no one volunteered to sit on the floor. Finally, there was a brisk negotiation to decide who would sit, who would stand, and who would assist the sitters in getting up off the floor. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy to be surrounded by friends like that.
It’s my experience that the farther we get from high school, the more fun we have at reunions. The ten year reunion was the least fun. Folks showed up with trophy spouses, driving rented BMWs, boasting about world class careers. Those were the years when most of us had it made. In those days bad news meant that someone had gone bald or gained weight. The real bad news – divorces, layoffs, health challenges, deaths – came later, and none of us have escaped. At some point, we’ve all suffered humbling defeats. Now we arrive at reunions with a certain acceptance for the baggage we carry.
Every ten years, we check in to take quiet note of the changes. Even the worst news does not shock us as much as it once did. Nowadays we don’t hide our scars and disappointments, but neither do we dwell on them. We’re just glad to be here.
Off to one side, we had a memorial table, a silent tribute to classmates who’ve passed on. The early ones died in Viet Nam. This year we learned that our homecoming queen died of breast cancer. Others have suffered the loss of children. Almost all of us have lost parents. Quietly we acknowledge the losses, but this reunion was also about recalling the fun of our youth.
And to that purpose, we met on Saturday evening for dinner and dancing. The live band played the music of Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, and the Beatles. I was thrilled to dance on my newly replaced knee. Russell, once a basketball star, now struggles to walk, but he won a trophy – a wooden chicken– for his efforts on the dance floor. At dinner and between dances I visited with Diane and Gayla, Jennie Lou, Kenneth and Jim. And Karen, an energetic woman, who at the age of 54 adopted a baby boy who is now 14 years old and doing fine. And I sat with Martha who has lived a life of advocacy for her son who was born deaf.
Throughout the evening, the dance floor was never empty. The dancers were not exactly agile, so we laughed and observed that there’s nothing scarier than watching a room full of 68-year-olds dance the Twist. Miraculously, no one got hurt.
Around ten o’clock we all lined up to sign a get well card for a classmate who is recovering from heart surgery.
And through it all we just kept dancing. It was a dance of remembrance, of celebration, and gratitude. George Carlin, a notable comedian of our generation once said, “Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.” And that night, our class of 1964 heard the music. It rang loud and true, and it inspired us to keep on dancing for as long as we can.