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Food For Thought

That’s what most of my high school classmates wrote after they received their invitations to our class reunion this month. Last February, I sent the usual Valentines to over 70 classmates to remind them to write something to put in the annual newsletter I put together for them. About 15 of them still live in our hometown, several married to classmates, and a good many of them are the ones who have traditionally done the lion’s share of the work in planning our reunions at five year intervals. In order to save the work and expense of mailing separate announcements of the reunion, I offered to include that invitation with the Valentine reminders. So, when they wrote to me for the newsletter, most of them wrote mostly about the reunion and how surprised they all were that it has been 60 years since we graduated. Sixty, 50, even 40 years ago, the idea of celebrating a 60-year reunion seemed in the far distant future, but here it is, only days away.
Our early reunions, before most of us had even married, were casual occasions like pot-luck picnics in the city park, or get-togethers during our school’s homecoming celebration– attending the parade, game and dance. I remember that we had a bit too much competitive spirit during those early years. A little too much one-upmanship; exaggerating the importance of the new job, the size of the new house, the brilliance and precocity of the toddlers. It was as if we wanted to show each other that we had transcended the person we were in that ordinary high school in that typical small midwest town. Subsequent years have shown us that those very conditions were the strong and solid base that turned us into hard-working, honest, pious, generous, caring, good citizens.
One year, we began to take a real interest in our classmates’ present lives rather than making sure they were impressed by our own accomplishments. We began to find things to admire about the guy we always thought was fated to be the class loser. We began to see the serious, sensitive side of the class cut-up. We learned that the girl we thought was aloof was only shy, and the one we thought was conceited and selfish had the soul of a nurse and the generosity of a teacher. We saw talents that had been hidden only by the lack of opportunity in our small school system, and advanced degrees earned by those who graduated at the bottom of the class. But most of all, we found that we had turned into a bunch of very nice people that we knew and understood because we grew up in the same place at the same time.
Fifteen years ago, we had an elaborate, three-day reunion that started on Friday evening with a pizza party at the senior center. Most of us thought, “the senior center. We’re not old enough for the senior center.” The next day, we rode a school bus for a tour of some of the many changes in and around our town. We were given a guided tour of the marvelous new high school building and a nostalgic ramble through the one we had attended. We stopped for a picnic lunch overlooking Redrock Lake on our way to the town of Pella during Tulip Time, took lots of photos and enjoyed many laughs and reminiscences. At the dinner that evening, we were treated to beautiful table settings, delicious food and the humor of one of our number who acted as master of ceremonies. One of our former teachers was in attendance. She had been born, raised and educated in southwest Iowa and had taught in our hometown for most of her career. She told us that we were her first class of junior high students, that she came to love us all, and that we were the reason she stayed in her career and worked with junior high students as a teacher and then a counselor ever after. I guess she had more foresight than any of us had at the time.
All those conversations weren’t over yet, so we agreed to get together at a local restaurant on Sunday morning for breakfast before we finally said goodbye and headed for home. Leaving was still difficult and our breakfast hour stretched until nearly noon. After that reunion, it was easy to keep the newsletter going. Most of us had come to realize how important we were to each other, how much our growing-up years together meant to us, and how badly we needed, and wanted, to hold onto the past because it had helped shape our present.
Needless to say, I’m impatiently looking forward to this reunion with many of my old friends. Some were best friends at different times in our years in school together, some have become better friends since graduation, and who knows– amid all the anticipated hugs, teasing, remembering, and discovering, we’ll find out that 60 years has been really no time at all.