Besides adding two new posts within the last few days, I refreshed my image by creating a new header/banner for this blog.
2013 was a milestone year for me. It marked 50 years since I graduated from high school, the year I began college, as well as the year JFK was assassinated.
In some ways I can hardly believe 50 years have passed. Sometimes I look in the mirror expecting to see myself at about age 35 and am surprised to see an older woman staring back at me, one that increasingly reminds me of my mother.
My high school class has had 3 reunions, a 10th, 25th and 50th. I attended the 10th. I felt completely out of place. Few of my best friends attended. I am a very talkative person, but I didn’t seem to know what to talk to people about. I think, perhaps, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished what others had. I had gained weight. I didn’t feel comfortable in my clothes. Now, it seems silly to me, because, for one thing, I realize that every person takes a different path and our successes as human beings have little to do with our jobs or education. It is all about who we are, who we care about, and how we behave.
And secondly, I had done some good things (graduated from college, become a teacher, got married) and one rather remarkable thing. I had served for two years in the Peace Corps, teaching in a high school that had only existed at my Peace Corps site for 3 years ---therefore I was teaching teens, but also adults who hadn’t previously had the opportunity to attend high school.
When my 25th came around, I didn’t attend. I told myself I wasn’t interested, but I think I was afraid my previous uncomfortable feeling would return. By that time, I had divorced, remarried and was still teaching.
Earlier this year, I offered to help to find people for my 50th reunion. In 2011, I had searched for members of my Peace Corps group for a reunion in Washington, D.C. to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. So I figured I had some experience in online searches. Soon I volunteered to scan our yearbook pictures to create name tags for the reunion, and before I knew it I was creating a private blog for my classmates.
I scanned the entire yearbook. I made a blog post for each of our 254 classmates. I scanned programs and memorabilia from our high school years, and took photos of our now-renovated high school. I posted photos of our city for those who hadn’t been back for years. I scanned articles from our school newspaper when they were about members of our class and, when I found them, I posted obituaries of deceased classmates. (Approximately 14% of our class is gone.) It took me just about every waking minute for three months to create the blog and people are still sending items to post, so the work continues.
At one meeting with a friend on the reunion committee several months before the reunion, I found myself encouraging her to write a bio as was requested by another classmate. She was feeling as if she hadn’t accomplished anything. As they were received, the bios were sent to the committee, were going to be sent out in a mass email closer to the reunion, and I was posting them on the blog, which didn’t go public until after the reunion.
Some of our classmates had done pretty remarkable things. They are doctors, professors, lawyers, and authors. They founded successful companies and made millions. But I told my friend that the first people to respond were the ones who had accomplished great things. They didn’t even have to think about what to write ---their bios had already been written for other purposes.
She had been on the commercial tract in high school. Her parents never encouraged her to go to college, which she now regrets. But I reminded her that she had worked for some of the biggest and most successful international companies with headquarters in our metropolitan area. When I taught school, there were times when the principal was at a conference for a week and I didn’t even know he was gone. But if the secretaries were out, the place fell apart. So she had done important work. She got married and stayed married and raised two children who both attended college. She and her husband had been able to retire early and had spent several years traveling across the country, something I’m sure others would love to do but most don’t have the courage to do it full-time.
Through the bios, I found it interesting that some people turned out just as I had imagined. B, the high school math wiz, was a mathematics professor. No one ever expected K to be anything but a doctor. I knew A would have something to do with physical education or sports ---her dad had been a university coach and it was in her blood. I expected N to become an artist and E to become a nurse. I never did figure out what J had done with his life, but his bio was extremely witty and I remember him as the star of hilarious class skits that he wrote himself.
But some people’s lives took odd turns. Our 1963 graduating class was full of men who had the choice to be drafted during the Viet Nam war or to enlist. Many enlisted and ended up staying in military careers. There were lots of classmates who were in the commercial or general tracts that had no intention of attending college, but many worked for a few years and then decided to earn their degrees. Two women with whom I had walked to high school nearly every day had done so. A woman who I remember as being mostly interested in classical music, ended up with a husband interested in auto racing ---now they sponsor some big-name race car drivers. A woman who had been a close friend in high school is involved with the committee that sponsors rodeos in TX ---a path I never imagined for her.
So I attended my 50th reunion, was happy to be there, and had a great time. Some of our classmates look like they are 20 years younger than the rest of us. A few look to be somewhat older than most. Many have gray or white hair or almost no hair at all, and there are a surprising number of blonds among the women. One guy who had been overweight during high school (and even on the 25th reunion photo) has apparently given all his weight to some of the rest of us.
I recognized most of my classmates immediately, and if I didn’t, a quick glance at a name tag gave me a name, and then I saw the face from the 1963 yearbook gleaming through. As soon as we started to converse, the years simply melted away. Behind the wrinkles and gray hairs no one had changed much at all.
My only regret is that I didn’t have the time to sit down with every individual to spend an hour catching up. We’ll just have to stay in touch through the blog.
A year ago, E, an old friend from college got in touch. We had been in the art department with me, but he was an “older” student. He had worked and been in the military before attending college. We went out together once in a while in college, but were never really romantically involved. So after several phone calls in which we caught up, I took a short drive (about 90 minutes) to visit him one day about a year ago. We spent an afternoon catching up on old times.
E called me last week to tell me that J was in bad shape and not expected to live. J was another older student who shared a tiny cottage with E at the university. Like E, J had spent a few years in the military and worked at civilian jobs before college. J and I also went out sometimes, but again, nothing serious. He was very smart and had in infectious sense of humor. We kept in touch while I was in the Peace Corps and when I returned, he invited me to attend homecoming with him in the fall of 1969. He was working at the newspaper in our university town. That was the last time I saw him.
In 2000, I had retired from teaching and had signed up with a temp agency to keep myself out of trouble. I was working at a business that did, among other things, gold leaf application, and they had been contracted to apply gold leaf to the cupola of an old building in the town where I attended college. My boss asked me to call the local paper to see if I could persuade a reporter and photographer to go to the site. It was a newsworthy story, but would be free publicity for my boss, too. I told him I knew someone at the paper, if he was still there. He was. After we caught up with each other’s lives, J and I got down to the business of my call. As an assistant editor, he sent someone to cover the story. That was the last time I spoke to him.
But even when I haven’t seen someone for decades, if we were once friends, I know we still are.
A couple of days ago, E called to say J had died, at age 75. I found a lengthy article about him in the town’s newspaper where he had worked for more than 40 years. The writer interviewed E and also S, another guy I had gone out with in college, but I hadn’t seen since graduation. J, E, and S, all in the same article. E and I both hate funerals, so we decided not to attend. I found J’s daughter’s address online and sent her a note including my memories of her father, along with a sympathy card.
So, besides the 14% of my high school class who are deceased, another old friend has passed. And it will only get worse in the coming years.
However, I am still kicking and happy for those old friends who are still alive and well. I’m only sorry I didn’t stay in touch with most of them during the intervening years.