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.