We Shared a Path

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Sorting through my desk this morning, I found the photograph taken at my 50thclass reunion. The photographer had to shoot it with a wide-angle lens to accommodate the increased girth of the  ninety-three classmates in attendance.

We’d made an effort to look our best for the occasion. “I bought a new outfit,” a friend told me, “I planned to get a manicure and pedicure as well, but buying the dress exhausted me; so I decided to replace the batteries in my hearing aids and call it good.”

Despite such efforts, the photograph shows grandparents in comfortable shoes and generously sized clothing with hair dyed, gray, sparse or gone. We squint with puffy eyes below wrinkled brows as we suck in rounded bellies and square slumping shoulders.

But as I studied the photograph, I didn’t dwell on our time-altered appearance; instead, I noticed arms thrown fondly around one another and happy smiles on every face. Despite our aging bodies, the class of ’61 enjoyed its evening, which surprised me.

The three earlier reunions I attended had quickly clotted into the cliques and gossip of high school. I assumed this one would do the same. But a song by our class crooner established a more appreciative mood.

Every time Larry performed for a high school assembly, he received a standing ovation due to the popularity of his signature song, “Scotch and Soda,” a daring choice in a predominately Mormon school. We assumed our ancient principal, with his perfect posture and habit of addressing us as ladies and gentlemen, had never heard of jiggers of gin.

As I listened to Larry sing the song we’d once cheered, I was again eighteen, sitting in an auditorium among friends, happy to be young and looking forward to life after high school. I think others at the reunion felt a similar tug of nostalgia because Larry’s song kicked off the best part of the evening: mingling, conversing and re-discovering our past.

As classmates approached, I quickly read their nametags so I could identify the smiling woman who remembered throwing up on me during band practice and the old man with hairy ears who hugged me as though he’d done it before.

“Janet, you haven’t changed a bit,” some said. Others studied my nametag and exclaimed, “I would never have recognized you.” I found these contradictory statements puzzling, until I realized vanity had caused many of us to leave our glasses home, which confused the issue.

We found time had polished our positive qualities: Blake, former class clown, possessed a generous wit that amused everybody without demeaning anyone. Kathy and Ruby Ann, once energetic cheerleaders, laughed and drew others into their fun. Edgar, whose quirks challenged the social standards of high school, asked insightful questions and expressed affection and admiration openly. He had a crowd around him the entire evening.

So we socialized: groups forming, dispersing, and re-forming as tired spouses hoped a lightning strike would force evacuation of the building.

The sorting criteria of teenagers — who was in, out, best, worst, most, least — had been scrubbed out of us by years tinged with heartbreaks, illnesses, and disappointments. Our common struggles allowed us to see friends rather than jocks, grinds, beauties, nerds, winners and losers.

Our edges were worn away. We bore witness for each other: We’re here. We made it. And, for part of the way, we walked together.

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71 thoughts on “We Shared a Path

  1. I had to chuckle as I read about the rose-colored glasses worn by old-folks. (Yes, I noticed a few years ago the chirpy young servers in restaurants began to address my husband and I as “folks”. One particular eatery went so far as to seat all us old folks in the back of the restaurant rather than at the open café tables which flanked the entrance!) Still, I wear my comfy flat-heeled sandals and smile to myself as the young gals teeter and limp on their fashionable high heels trying to keep up with their boyfriends. Ahhh, aging. It feels good, doesn’t it? 😜

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  2. Aging…since re-uniting with my nurse friend, after 32 years, as expected it has been bitter sweet. I never have been to a school reunion, our small town, but for a few that married young, was like a pinata burst, a time when most of the kids dispersed. My friend and I are rediscovering bits of the idealistic, fearless girls we were, and how our grey hair singles us out now as “Ladies” . She is more wise, I limp, together we shall enjoy old. Great post dear Janet.

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    • It’s wonderful you have someone from your past to enjoy being older with, Sheila. I like your description of graduation as a bursting piñata that disperses everybody here and there. Since I gave up coloring and joined the gray hair brigade, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of times I’m addressed as Hon. Why is that?

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  3. Lovely post! I’ve never been to a school reunion, partly because I fear the same cliquey atmosphere of high school will still prevail. Your post makes me think that things would probably be different from what I imagine.

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      • Well sort of. My class of 63 is very organized and have one every 10 years,with one thrown in on the 55th. We went to several but it gets pretty costly for old farm folks and now that it is just me. No…I’m not a loner and I sure don’t want anyone thinking I’m there “looking”. LOL

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      • Attending class reunions can be costly. I think a reason my 50th was so well attended is that a well-liked member of our class, who was not one of the rich kids, worked his way into wealth and offered anonymous travel scholarships to any one who could benefit from one because “…my greatest wish is to see all of my classmates again.” I have no idea how many took advantage of his offer, if any, but I thought it a sincere, kind thing to do. And I made more of an effort to go because of his gesture.

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  4. I loved your description – especially forgoing the manicure and pedicure for the practicality of replacing the hearing aid batteries. And as for leaving the glasses at home and being unable to read name tags. Loved it!

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    • It sounds like you understand the realities we face as we age, Sally, We are more practical but still have a wee bit of vanity which makes us think we look better without our glasses — until we realize being able to see is more important!

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  5. Just reading how everybody was able to talk to each other without the labels that were around during your school days was a nice feeling, to me that’s what school reunions are about! It makes me want to go to one.

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  6. The sweetness of old friends, and the sadness of the too-rapid passage of time—how they resonate with us during reunions! School friends—we should have kept in touch, we’ll meet again, all of those promises and regrets, but the main thing remains—we are all the same.

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    • Yes, Diane, that’s exactly what I wanted to communicate: the promises and regrets, the sweetness and sadness, the important experience we shared. thank you for capturing it so well.

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  7. I have moved round quite a bit and have left possibilities of reunions behind. But I do not think I would greatly enjoy them as I have not kept up with anyone from my school days. Strange how life moves on so thoroughly.

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    • Oh, Glenys, life does do a very thorough job of moving on. I think my reunion experience was strengthened by moving through the same school system with most of my high school classmates. I’ve known some of them since we were in kindergarten.

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      • I was moved to schools in three different areas in our city, and kindergarten were closed for the polio epidemic during my kindergarten age. that could be why I do not have the attachment.

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      • I’m sure that would have an impact. Where I lived, we all went to different elementary schools but then merged into one junior high and one high school. So we were all together for six years and some of us for twelve, thirteen if you count the six-week summer kindergarten session.

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  8. Janet, this is such a timely blog for me as my husband is in charge of organizing his 50th reunion this month. How true it is that when we get older we celebrate having survived so much pain and joy. It takes the edges off and there is no longer a “better than thou” pecking order. One of the wonderful graces of aging. Thank you for a moving and humorous post.

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    • Yes, our experiences good and bad, do tend to make us more understanding of others we’ve long known who have faced the same experiences. It is, indeed, in your apt words, a wonderful grace of aging.

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  9. That’s funny. I thought about including the photograph, but couldn’t find the safe place I’d tucked it away until I had time to put it in my photograph album, which hasn’t been updated since cell phones began to rule the world!

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  10. What a nice reflection. Good to see that maturity does indeed come with age–as does wisdom, of course. And what pray tell, is a “grind” whom you mentioned among the jocks, beauties, nerds, etc?

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  11. My best friend from High School was late to our most recent class reunion. When she walked into the building she wasn’t sure which of the convention rooms housed our class. She looked into the room we were in and thought: “That can’t be our class, everyone in there is old and gray-haired!”

    That being said, I loved this post! Your first three paragraphs made me laugh, and the rest of the post caused me to reflect on how nice it is that time erases those ridiculous cliques and biases of the teen years.
    The final two paragraphs are gems, Janet. So well said, and so poignantly true.

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  12. When coerced into attending a reunion I had the best of times. Yet what surprised me most was the fact that in spite of fretting about weight for a lifetime all bar one of our class still had the same shape as when we were kids. The skinny half starved kid had enlarged out of all proportion but she can be forgiven as she has been the most successful of us all. Good on her!

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    • Good for your entire class, I’d say. They’ve done much better than my class where most people had gained weight, but that was offset by the gains we’d made in accepting and liking one another well beyond the circles we’d moved in during our high school years.

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  13. I am in stitches, thinking about preparations: intended mani-pedis, new outfits, refreshed batteries, revising from old yearbooks (this I would have done! as I have such a bad memory and hardly remember any of the folks I graduated with), and The Event: peering at name tags, reconnecting, the lagging spouses.

    Vincent is a huge fan of class reunions and religiously goes to one every year (sometimes it is his graduating class, other times it is a gathering of several years for reasons I can’t quite fathom; these Catholic school boys just love to party!). I have not attended a single one; I put it down to the antisocial me. But after reading your post, I think I might consider going to the next one ….

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    • I’m glad I made you giggle, Ju-Lyn. My husband’s class also has multiple class reunions, which I find as puzzling as you. Usually, he doesn’t bother to go, probably because we live far away from where he went to school. If you do decide to go to one of your reunions in the future, please let me know how it goes..

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  14. Oh how I enjoy your posts, and this one is no exception. What a lovely time you must have had! I only hope our next reunion will be as much fun as you seem to have had. I did notice that at our 40th, the was less of the old high school groups. I think as we age, we begin to understand that no one is really any different than we are. They have different likes and lives, but we are all really the same, human beings growing older by the day, just trying to live our lives the best we know how.

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  15. bought a new outfit,” a friend told me, “I planned to get a manicure and pedicure as well, but buying the dress exhausted me; so I decided to replace the batteries in my hearing aids and call it good.”

    You always bring a smile to my otherwise sad heart, dear friend….always. ;>) This “friend’s statement” cracked me up!

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