Hope, excitement, fear, joy make reunions like first dates

To prepare for the event I focused on the trivial. I bought a new dress and toned my abs and triceps. If someone asked us “old gals” to lead a cheer, nothing would be left to chance, not even a jiggle. My petty plans included giggling like a 17-year-old if my third-grade crush says that I, “look good,” with, or without the qualifier, “for your age.” I’m not picky.

For most of us, you either love ’em, or hate ’em. Yes, it’s high school reunion time.

I thumb through my yearbook from (gasp!) 1973, “Will I recognize any of these kids?” I remember them as they were, trying to imagine what they’ve become.

A cliché’ but, it does seem like yesterday that together, we danced to the rock and roll of the Beatles, debated over Title IX, Roe v. Wade, Watergate and the Vietnam War. We ate meals together, shared toothbrushes, cried over broken hearts and skinny-dipped in the river. My childhood friends were, in many respects, my family (minus the skinny-dipping).

Together, we walked a mile to kindergarten without parents, rode our bikes without helmets, celebrated Christmas without shame, and wore tie-dye shirts, bell-bottoms and madras (again, without shame). We learned to read, “Go, Spot, Go,” skip around the maypole, hold hands in the hallway, and sweat through President John F. Kennedy’s physical fitness program. We also made life wretched for our seventh-grade English teacher. I’m sorry.

We bore the misery and scars of measles, mumps, chickenpox, puberty, piano recitals and the ’60’s; finally graduating from the brand new, modern, open concept high school that is now, the “old school”— like us.

The Sunday before graduation at my final piano recital, Mom sang a surprise solo, marking the end, and a new beginning. I felt the weight of the words which were a little embarrassing, but sweetly memorable, “Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow … ”

Every September from kindergarten to graduation, I looked forward to the first day of school. It began with the summer heat winding down into cooler mornings, my tan and freckles beginning to fade. I enjoyed the pleasant stiffness of new school shoes, Dippity-Do on my hair, and the shine of Bonnie Bell lip-gloss. Like a growth chart, the years and stages were marked; kindergarten, grade school, junior high and high school. And, my friends took the journey with me.

Standing outside the restaurant, I contemplate the sea of gray, and consider returning to the hotel and having a nice glass of wine. Who are these old people? I, on the other hand, feel 17 in my new dress, with less fleshy muscles, sweaty palms, and a pounding heart, oh so reminiscent of a first date. I hear the soulful voice of John Denver singing our class song, “Friends, I will remember you, think of you, pray for you …”

I’m a terrible liar, so I cheat and glance at name tags. The women, cheerleaders and all, look like their moms. It’s disconcerting, and also comforting. The men are less recognizable, taller, and stouter, mature faces without wire-rimmed glasses and Prince Valiant hair.

My friends and I catch up on our lives lived apart; births, deaths, marriages, divorce, jobs, children and grandchildren. We mourn our friends who died too soon. And like siblings, we pick up where we left off—gestures, giggles, worries, habits, and ribbing. “And when another day is through I’ll still be friends with you … ”

The older faces blur, even with my glasses, and my friends begin to look like their yearbook photos. I tear-up over the wonderful ease of things past, only to be found again. I’m proud of what we’ve become; teachers, soldiers, politicians, business owners, professionals and parents of kids contributing to our world.

And, yes, my third-grade infatuation said, “You look better than good”— not that I’m into the trivial. I love reunions.

Kathleen Rogers, a member of The Olympian Board of Contributors, may be reached at katroger@gmail.com.