How much difference does 50 years make?
I was very apprehensive about attending my 50 year high school reunion. Who would be there? How much would they have changed? What would we have in common? As usual, it was time wasted in worry. My weekend was an engaging and enlightening, with some pleasant surprises.
Affton High School Class of ’66 had about 320 graduates, 1/3 of whom had also been my elementary school classmates. I was very active in school life, especially theatre and sports. But I did not have close ties to any individuals…not close enough to carry through university and into my adult life. I attended the 30 year reunion and visited with many people but did not really connect. At that stage of our lives, most of us were still deep into careers and families. We touched base and moved on.
Fifty years found us at a very different time of life.
Most of us are retired or very close to it. Our children have moved on to building their own careers and families. At 67-68, we were very different people from the 17-18 year old kids. Or were we?
Looking back 50 years is surreal. It is so difficult to realize that the 17-year-old-you is not the 67-year-old-you. I had to keep reminding myself of how much my own children have changed from 17 to 39/41. They have matured. Evolved. Grown into adults that I could not possibly have imaged 20+ years ago.
I went to this reunion looking for that transformation in the people I had known in a different life time. I found it in myself.
I had three AH-HA’s that weekend.
One came on a tour of the high school. (Point of reference. I moved away from St. Louis in 1972 and never returned to the school. Maybe drove past on a visit to my folks when they still lived there.) I skipped the school tour 20 years before at the 30 year reunion. My intention this year was to take advantage of an opportunity to begin connections with classmates. Instead, I connected with young Tammie.
The halls had not changed. They look like almost every high school that I have been in over the past 50 years. I was surprised at how well the building was maintained! Two additions have been made to the school. A large beautiful air conditioned auditorium with a very professional stage and a pool and 2nd gym.
About 30 of us took the tour and at least 1/2 asked me if I wish I had been on THAT stage while in school. I was so surprised that they had better memories of my fledgling theatrical days! Several said that they had expected to see my name on Broadway. Ahh the fantasies of youth. The stage and those comments held no great memories for me. Those came in the back of the building.
I was flooded with lost memories and emotions when I looked out at the tennis courts, 3-walled handball courts and the field hockey field. THAT was my high school. None of those areas had changed a bit! Still well maintained. (Kudos to Midwestern values of maintaining and preserving what you have!)
- I stood in the locker room where I had first heard the tragic news of John F Kennedy’s assassination.
- I fondly remembered the large and unsmiling woman who coached me through my years of intermural sports and taught me to push beyond the physical limits that I assumed controlled who I was.
- Now I understood why it was all of the coaches who had signed my yearbook!
My first ah-ha moment of the reunion. I was a teenage jock! Sadly, the girls who shared that early passion with me did not attend the reunion. My tennis partners and field hockey co-captains are still 17 year old girls in my long forgotten memories.
Who are the people that I did connect with that weekend? Members of the high school band and orchestra. 1st period every day for 4 years, we met at the ninth grade building across the street. As a violinist (loosely applied to my meager abilities), I yearned to play the tuba so that I could also be in the band width the cool kids. (My mother would have nothing of it. Lord only knows how the tuba would have distorted the shape of my mouth!) What a gift our school system gave us 50 years ago!
All of the music kids had a special bond. We were the only group that met every day for four years, and we had the freedom to walk across the street in those days of closed campus.
My second ah-ha moment. I did have very special friends from high school, and they were the musicians.
My third wonderful ah-ha came as I spent the reunion party with this group of aging musicians/jocks, boys to men: they had married incredible women!
For a myriad of reasons female friends came late in my life. Looking around the banquet hall, it was easy to see that many of the women had maintained long term friendships. Others were drawn back to familiar acquaintances. Clusters of females. Clusters of males. Normal.
I was drawn to a group of women I had never met (except one treasure via Facebook) – the wives. Classmates would approach the group looking at the name tags and asking who were you? Then move on when discovering this is so and so’s wife.
This feeling of connection with women I’d never met blew me away! As I think about it, I was probably more receptive to these women because we had no preconceived notions about who we were. Our links were the boys-to-men who grew into good solid caring adults. They did not know their husbands as teenagers. I had not dated any of those boys. We were classmates who shared a love of music and athletics and a few classes. We didn’t even party together (I wasn’t much of a partier anyway). These high school football-baseball-track-musician-students married strong women with beautiful smiles, a sense of humor and a warmth that I will always feel.
Sadly, the reunion was probably a disappointment for some. There are always a couple of people for whom high school was the highlight of their lives, and there are a few for whom high school was the most traumatic, isolating time of their lives. The people who attended the reunion were NOT the people they remembered. Like me, most had forgotten the events of those young years. We needed the yearbooks and stories to remind us. But we also needed perspective.
We were kids in 1966!
We had the angst driven, self-centered concerns of kids. Someone who snubbed you at 16 might now be a person you could talk to for hours. Someone you thought too fast or too slow or too popular or too anything, is probably just right to be a new friend, if you let go of old hurts and the expectations of a 17 year old.
It was fun to remember. It was fun to reconnect. At the end of the weekend, we returned to our real lives with a few addenda to our 50 year old memories. I hope to build on some of the new connections.