I got an email the other day from my girlfriend Dixie. The first person I met at a new school after moving to a new town. I was in grade five and Dixie got me into trouble with the teacher that first day. Somehow we have managed to keep in touch since that cool autumn day 42 years ago. Turns out there is going to be a school reunion this summer and she is the contact for my graduating class. It is a two day affair with Friday night being a smaller gathering for individual graduating classes and Saturday is the big event with all age groups together. I passed the email on to some friends I still see and the discussion started. Do we go or not?
Reunions of any kind conjure up different images and feelings but the High School Reunion can strike fear into the hearts of some. All of the movies really focus on the class culture. Take the John Hughes movies. Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink. Even Uncle Bunk. All revolve around the narrative of people from different backgrounds mixing together. Bullies versus victims. In the end it all works out and they realize that everyone has problems and some of their friends are just jerks. But is this real life? Hard for me to say how much art resembles reality. I can only go by my own experiences. Both from my school years but also from the various reunions I attended through the years.
I attended quite a few schools as a child but the school in question I attended for five years. I didn’t graduate there but it was my longest stint anywhere. I wasn’t the most popular kid but I wasn’t bullied. I made the sports teams but I was never a star athlete. I always had a best friend and I was included into groups but I never really felt a tight fit. One friend was from a cowboy family. It was different from my life. Fun but not a lifestyle I would have enjoyed. I liked being the onlooker. I was pretty good in school but lazy so each year my grades got lower and lower. Still good, but there was that downward trend. In time I got in with the pot smokers. Made sense since my parents hated alcohol. By the time high school came my life was totally fragmented and compartmentalized. I was in the matric classes because I wanted to go to university. So now I was segregated into the smart crowd. These weren’t the people I had hung out with up to that point. But they were nice. I still played sports so I hung with the jock types as well. After school was all about driving around, hanging out and smoking pot. Half of those friends either had quit school or already graduated so I was with an older crowd. When my boyfriend of forever went by the wayside it was awkward and I spent more time with a different crowd outside of school. He kept the old friends. After grade 11 I was sent to a boarding school where I graduated and also did one semester of University at the same time. It was actually a college that offered grade twelve classes. Again a different sort of life but of course there were a few little crowds I managed to be a part of somehow. The Hockey team was in my dorm so I gravitated to them. I met a girl from the town so I met her friends. I am that person people decide to be friends with and drag me along with them. I am great at meeting people but not great at incorporating them into my life. So I actually am a fringe person. I know a few people from every group but never really fit into any of them. School was never horrible for me but it wasn’t all golden either. It just was a way of passing the time until the next stage of my life came along.
The first reunion I went to was my husbands ten year High School Reunion. It was actually the eleventh year because they didn’t get their shit together but… they called it the tenth. I loved it. For very shallow reasons. I was five grades behind my husband so much younger than most of the class. I still had my youthful figure and great hair. I felt great. We had a daughter but there were only a few other people with kids so we were interesting to others. My brother graduated with my husband so I knew so many of the guys from my younger years. Lots of people to talk to and visit with. It was great. Because there was no baggage. I was still the fringe person but accepted and known so I didn’t have to be a wallflower.
The next was my own reunion. I had two children by that time so we borrowed my parents motorhome and parked it by the community centre so we could stay the night and not worry about leaving. Being bad parents we put the kids to bed later in the evening and checked them now and again. The oldest was nine. Judge if you must. It worked out. I spent most of the night talking to a guy I went to school with but never knew. Probably only spoke ten words to each other all through school and yet at the reunion we talked for hours. Yet, I don’t think I’ve seen him since. I remember one of the organizers told me everyone seemed to have fun except one gal. Turns out no one talked to her. I mentioned that I didn’t recall seeing her that night. I guess that was the problem. She was a bean pole stick with glasses and braces in school. I guess she went to Europe and became a model. She came to the reunion to impress everyone but no one knew who she was. I remembered seeing her after she was described. I honestly thought she was someone’s wife since I didn’t recognize her. It was a letdown for her. The biggest memory of that night was when my husband and two other husbands, friends of his, said they wanted to go to a party a few miles away. They were bored. Didn’t know anyone. My husband wasn’t allowed. I said if he didn’t want to stay in the hall and visit he could go hang with the kids. He was sheepish when he headed to tell his friends he couldn’t go. Apparently their wives used even stronger language. One took the car keys and threatened divorce if he even brought it up again.
In time there was a twentieth get together with just girls from my grade. My girlfriend Maureen organized it with me. Honestly she did most of it. I called a few people. We saw more of each other because her husband and I both worked for the same company so we bumped into each other once in a while. Two girlfriends came and picked me up and we made our way to the steakhouse. As we waited in line to be seated, the group in front of us said they were with the Maureen/Cindy party. Well, we just followed them to the table. However, Cecelia whispered, “If they are with our party we must have gone to school with them. But who are they?” Well it turns out none of us had any idea who they were. When we got to the table we found one woman had brought her husband. He was part of the same graduating class but it was a gals night out so it did seem odd. I think he had fun. I spent quite a bit of time listening to the girl beside me. She was an accountant, lived in Red Deer, had a sixteen year old son. There was more but honestly throughout the whole conversation I kept thinking to myself “Who are you?” I have no idea who she was. I didn’t remember her from school. I kept looking for a sign. A hint. Something. Anything. That would give me a clue. She told me her name which didn’t ring a bell so I promptly forgot it. The conversations around the table were all about the past. Every sentence seemed to start with remember when we… And yet I couldn’t recall any of the memories. I realized that I hadn’t actually hung around any of these people in school. It was as if I took a wrong turn down memory lane and ended up at the wrong reunion. All was not lost. The girls who brought me had funny tales of their own as we sat at different spots around the table. The drive home was very entertaining as we exchanged stories. Turns out we all missed a lot of the memory building in high school. I wonder where we were? I’m sure I was driving around town in an old Impala with a couple of guys smoking pot and laughing ourselves silly.
My hubby and I did attend his thirtieth reunion. I had a lot of fun. There was a girl from high school my hubby had taken out a couple of times. My brother always though he was an idiot because she was the popular girl and my husband wasn’t interested. I once asked him why and he just said she wasn’t his type. Its funny but when asked, I was exactly his type. On paper at least. I had an athletic build. Slim and boyish. Also I was blonde. Both of these were his physical types. Most importantly he valued intelligence. I was in University when we started to date so he was fooled by that. Actually he used to describe me as Intelligent but not very smart. He was right in a way but the not smart was my ditziness. That’s an ADHD thing. What he didn’t bargain for was me. I am a lot. But it worked. So this girl was funny. She was always manouevering to be near my hubby. I found it amusing. She wasn’t his type in her prime. She wasn’t going to be his type as a 48 year old farm wife with two kids. I spent most of the night talking to the wife of one of the guys who graduated with my husband. His name was Terry and I had a crush on him when I was 12. He was so cute. She said the reason they had travelled so far was because there had been a girl Terry had teased and now 30 years later he was hoping to see her. To apologize. He had carried the guilt with him for years and he wanted to try and make amends. It was beautiful to listen to. Alas she didn’t attend. Perhaps she was like so many others who are afraid of the same old bullshit. Perhaps she carries deep pain still. Or maybe she has moved on and couldn’t be bothered.
While talking to my two gal pals over dinner the other night, it was again apparent how different memories are. Maureen is excited to attend the reunion. She wants to take a tour of the old school. She is the only one of us who started school there in grade one. She still has some friends from those days and keeps in touch with a few. My first reaction was what excuse can I make. But then I thought about all the people I hung around with. Not the ones in my grade but the people who I made the memories with. The after school stuff. Parties. Concerts. Dusk to dawn drive-ins. Just cruising main on a Friday or Saturdy night waiting for some fun to pop up. I watched the movie Dazed and Confused years ago and it brought back sweet memories. The cars. The music. All the characters seemed to be based on someone I knew. The mixing of the groups at the big outside party. The inevitable fights when the groups didn’t mix as well. Those were my fun days. My other girlfriend wasn’t keen to go t all. Rhonda doesn’t even like to drive through the town. But as we talked about the people we hoped to see, she started to realize what she was dreading were the people she was uncomfortable with. Her eyes lit up when we brought up a few of the names we wanted to see. That brought her on board. And also because she will be he DD for us two crazies. Frankly if you go in with low expectations you will never be dissappointed.
There was a huge reunion like this years ago that celebrated each graduating class. It was huge. I had fun. Saw a few people. There were tables set up around the curling rink with a year written on each of them. I didn’t spend much time at year 1979 as most of my friends were in different grades. My hubby was five tables away but for him it was different. He stayed in touch with a lot of his old friends and although we moved away, we were still part of his crowd. Even now after his death, some of his friends still reach out to include me. Plus some of his friends who didn’t attend our school married some girls I went to school with. So he had lots of people there that he knew and saw regularly. And yet at another smaller reunion ten years ago my husband didn’t want to go. Like he said. We see the people we want to see. As we aged he didn’t like the noise. Talking in a loud room. Making conversation with strangers. Because that’s what they are. Strangers. People you sort of knew long ago.
Growing up in a small town gives you a small sample size from which to chose friends. Going out into the world really opens up your interactions with not just like minded people but also those way outside of your comfort group. I have had incredible experiences because I met people who opened my eyes to different things. I am grateful for all of the lovely people who have passed through my life. Even more so the ones who chose to stay. They have expanded my horizons and often pushed me to try things I would never have thought possible. Life has been exciting in so many ways but peaceful at the same time. All because of the people who passed through. As for the 48 year old farm wife, when we were driving home my husband turned to me and said, “Man I couldn’t shake her all night.” He was annoyed. That was probably the most romantic thing he has ever said in all our years together. I have learned a lot in my longish life but one thing I’ve learned about myself is this. I am a little petty and a little jealous. So I am going to this reunion. I hope I see lots of people from the past. But most importantly I hope I see the farmwife. ‘Cause baby, I am going to look good. And Rene’… He will be watching me from above. Laughing and rolling his eyes.