Last weekend, my graduating class held our 20th reunion. Our planning committee has been working since March to get everything together, and my role in all of this was to take care of the mailings — newsletters, reminders, registration forms, etc. It was time-consuming to enter 200-plus names and addresses, print the labels, stuff the packets, label the packets and get them mailed. At times it was frustrating because we couldn’t locate “lost” classmates or because the pictures we needed for our slideshow weren’t coming in. And sometimes it was inconvenient to attend committee meetings that were an hour away.
But I’ll tell you something else. It was worth it.
I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a weekend so much as last Friday and Saturday, and it was a little surprising. The last two weeks have been so hectic, what with trying to get that darn slideshow to come together, that I haven’t really given the people who were coming to the reunion much thought. I had an RSVP list and I read it at least 50 times, but only to make sure that I’d done everything possible to find pictures of those people for inclusion in the slideshow.
I finally took a deep breath after dropping our son off to stay with my mother while my husband and I attended Friday night’s come-and-go tailgating party next to our school’s football field. All of a sudden it sank in that many of us were about to see each other for the first time in 20 years. Twenty years! It sounds like such a long time, but it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed since we gathered at the same football field for our graduation.
We had around 245 people in our class, one of the largest graduating classes our high school has seen. We were made up of black and white students from all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum. As I recall, there were three elementary schools in our county. Two of them fed into one grammar school (grades 5-8), but the other one went all the way from Kindergarten through 8th grade. After that, everyone went to the same high school.
Many of us started in Kindergarten together and knew each other all the way through school. Others of us didn’t meet until we were freshmen but became fast friends once we were all in one “tank.” Whatever the case, my point is that we spent so much time together in school that we couldn’t imagine there would come a day when we would need name tags because we might not recognize each other.
It’s hard to describe how excited — truly excited — I was to see my classmates. Even I was taken aback by it. Everyone looked wonderful! Just wonderful! Most people hadn’t changed much at all and I was surprised how many times I heard or said, “You don’t have to tell me who you are! You look exactly the same!”
The smiles on people’s faces were so sincere and so genuine that I wished for the ability to make time stop for just a little while. We hugged. We laughed. Oh, did we laugh! We did a lot of Do you remember the time in Mr. Smith’s class when….. and then we laughed some more. People moved around in the crowd and talked to each other and made the effort to speak to people and catch up.
Several of our classmates traveled pretty far distances just to come back for the reunion. One couple came from Ft. Worth, another from just outside of Tampa, and another came from Columbia, Maryland. Just to see old friends. It’s hard to explain how or why that touched my heart, but it did. It told me that after twenty years, old friends still mean something. The place we all knew as our hometown still means something. And every now and then, it’s worth something to come back.
With the exception of one or two folks, and I suppose every class has a couple of them, no one came with an ego to stroke. No one came to see whose life hadn’t turned into the fairy tale. No one relived old grudges or held on to petty jealousies.
What do you know? We grew up, after all.
For all of the people who did come, there were a lot of our classmates who didn’t, and we truly missed them. What’s strange is that most of them live either in town or within 30 miles. I’m so sorry they didn’t come to Friday’s get-together, and I wish they knew how much they were missed and how many people asked about them.
The crowd slowly dwindled down, and eventually I had to leave and join my husband, who’d left earlier to give my mom a break, and pick up our little boy. As I drove from the football field to my parents’ home, I thought about growing up in that small town that I still love so dearly. I remembered weekends of “cruising the square” and wondered how many miles I put on my mother’s Honda Accord from that activity alone. I remembered Homecoming Parades and riding along that same street in my father’s 1961 MGA convertible, trying not to fall off the back. (I actually did fall out once, but that’s for another post.) I passed the old Sonic and remembered going there after school with my friends. The new Sonic is on the same strip, and I wondered if the “cool” people still park on the far side. My husband and I still laugh about that, and to this day, we drive all the way around to the far side of any Sonic we happen to go to! He always says, “I wonder if this is the cool side?” Maybe that’s just a small-town thing, and though I live in a large city, I am most definitely a small-town girl.
I pulled into my mother’s driveway and sat there for a minute before going inside. How many Friday nights had I done the same thing — hung out with friends and then made one last drive down the main drag of town before turning off at what was then the town’s only stoplight. (Okay, we did have two stoplights, but the other one was just a 3-way. The one I’m talking about is what everyone knew as the light.)
As I walked inside, I was glad to prove the old saying wrong once more.
You CAN go home again.