Having transferred from base to base with my military family, I was always the “new kid” at school. Five decades later, with a strange wave of nostalgia washing over me, it’s become my bucket list to attend four high school reunions.
In April, I went to Choctawhatchee’s 1963 reunion. Hugged, cried, re-told old stories, and remembered beloved friends who are no longer with us.
July found me, accompanied by my daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter, in Harlingen, Texas. About 300 miles into the 900 mile trip, I’d begun to get nervous: “Why am I doing this? I was only there a short time. These people don’t know me from Adam’s house cat. I’ll bet it’s just the beautiful people who’ll attend, and I definitely belonged to the shy, awkward, nobody bunch.”
I was very wrong. At the first event, a ladies’ luncheon, I was greeted with warmth and appreciation for coming. Since I didn’t graduate with this class, I’d arrived feeling like an outsider, wishing I were thinner, more successful, and had fewer wrinkles. I left that gathering, feeling as if I’d been in a roomful of dear friends.
Thinking with a teenager’s mind, I’d forgotten the inherent friendliness of Texans.
Note to present-day high schoolers: Regardless of who you think you are now or where you fit in the social order, you may someday hug the class president and the prom queen, and it will just be two gray-haired adults sharing life’s joys and sorrows over the last 50 years.
I’m glad that, upon leaving Harlingen High, in 1962, I thought to place a little check mark in my annual beside the pictures of the people I knew. Had I not done so, I don’t think I would have remembered anyone at all. The night before the reunion, at the hotel, I sat with that book, reviewing each young face and reading the notes fellow students wrote in its pages.
The Friday night event was held at Ol’ D’s old-fashioned (but rocking) soda shop downtown.
A live band performed ’50s and ’60s music. Elvis, in full costume, worked the room and sang “Don’t Be Cruel” to me, wiping my face with his scarf as he moved on. The food and entertainment were wonderful, but what made the evening special was connecting with former classmates and discovering so many commonalities.
Besides, what other generation could answer where Fats Domino found his thrill or who complained “Why is everybody always picking on me?” Who else would know what movie featured the song, “Rock Around the Clock”? And who else would know whether or not there’s a cure for the summertime blues? Probably not the folks from the 1993 reunion being held just down the street.
Saturday’s breakfast get-together was at Cooley’s Classic Cars museum, filled with an amazing collection of vintage vehicles. It was like stepping back in time seeing those cars from the ’50s and ’60s.
Afterwards, I went out to the high school. I didn’t expect to have access to the campus since it was a Saturday, but more important because a tall iron fence and gate system surrounds the school, a necessary addition in light of increasing security concerns these days. Well, anyway, a work crew was there and had left a gate open, so I slipped in and strolled the walkways fronting the rows of classrooms. For a moment, I was 16 again.
Then I visited Combs First Baptist Church where I was a member all those years ago. The pastor and his wife gave me a tour, pointing out all the changes to the church and grounds. Sorry, Mom, the old avocado tree is no longer there.
Saturday night, a banquet, group picture, and live band for dancing. Display tables held memorabilia associated with the history of the class.
In a perfect ending to a perfect weekend, Sunday morning was a memorial service for deceased classmates. Their names were read, and those attending told sweet stories of friends on that sad list. Prayers were offered up, hymns were sung, tears were shed, and warm embraces exchanged as we pondered the fragile nature of our lives.
Thinking of those missing from our midst, I remember a poem I taught my own high school students:
With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipped maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipped girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.
When the next reunion comes, more friends will be missing. Call it a bucket list, call it nostalgia, but if you long to see old friends or re-connect with your past, even if just for a fleeting moment, do it. We may not pass this way again.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.