A reunion is one of those odd human events that evokes distant memories of triumph and sadness. I think we choose to attend one if the sadness is sufficiently buried to allow the good feeling to flow undammed.
A committee has formed recently to plan the 50th reunion next year of my high school in Chicago. This was a vehicle to reunite with two friends that go back to grade school days when we were both in the same Cub Scout den. We met last weekend when my buddy Howard, who lived across the street from me, was in town because his son-in-law from LA wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to watch both the Cubs and White Sox play in Chicago on the same weekend. Norman Sack whose mother, now 94, was the “den mother” also joined us. We had not seen each other for well over 40 years.
We set up the rendezvous at the gigantic Hyatt Hotel downtown. My eyes are not perfect, but I thought I would recognize them. Wrong. Howie was 60 pounds heavier than I remembered and Norm a 100 pounds lighter. Fortunately they picked me out, I guess because I never changed.
My expectations were modest. I wondered why I was even making the effort to schlep downtown on a beautiful summer day to see guys who had not wanted to connect for 40 years.
I had gone through the reunion angst with my wife, who had agonized about attending her 40th last year in Charlotte at her high school, which she had happily left behind when she went away to college at 17. Risa hated her high school’s country club atmosphere that survived despite the upheaval of bussing and desegregation in the early 1970’s. She chose not to attend and even shied away from connecting with any old high school friends.
But Howard, Norman, and I did meet for two hours last Sunday and it felt good. The three of us were real with each other. We talked about our families, wives, children, sons-in-law, parents, siblings. Then the conversation gravitated to wounds, surgeries, near death experiences, and finally, to careers—successes and disappointments. The boasting and embellishment that I feared was eliminated. The energy was authentic from the three of us and the connection was more solid than I would have predicted after so many years. Was it really that many years?
I was moved by the common experiences of loss and joy. The trauma of our Vietnam experiences (even though none of us actually went to Saigon), the impact of dealing with sick parents, the pleasure of successful children and beautiful grandchildren, and the choices about whether to continue to work or opt for retirement resonated cleanly between the three of us who spent so many hours playing softball on the public golf course next to our homes.
But I still feel ambivalent about next year’s reunion. Howie says he’s definitely not coming in from LA. When I read the roster of those who have died, including my own first cousin, Don, I feel vulnerable and a bit morbid. I’m on the planning committee, but I doubt I’ll ever attend an actual meeting. I wonder why I never made an effort to reconnect after we left U-High.
But there are the guys on the basketball team—Steve, and Rusty, and John. And Cathy who had a crush on me. And Sherry who went to Hollywood. And the popular girls who ignored me.
After this weekend, I think I’ll go.
Question: What was your experience at your high school reunion?