Cynthia Friedlob, EngAGE Websites & Social Media Manager, and Administrator of this blog, shares the story of her recent 50th high school reunion.
I don’t travel well. I like being somewhere new, but I don’t like getting there. Author Jon Winokur once pointed out that the root of the word “travel” is the same as that for “travail.” Exactly.
But there was no escape. I was going to travel not only from Los Angeles to my old home town – Denver –, but also back in time. I was headed to my 50th high school reunion.
Most people are surprised when I tell them that I’ve gone to almost every reunion since graduation, even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost forty years. I’m fortunate to have had a happy childhood and many friends who have stood the test of time, so I was always motivated to go back to see them. But still, this was the 50th reunion and, like many people my age, I’m perplexed by the passage of that many years. I can’t use the reliable cliché and say that I don’t know where the time has gone. I do know. But so much time, so quickly? That’s hard to fathom.
My alma mater is East High, the first high school in Denver, Colorado, founded in the late 1800s. I went to the “new” school, built in 1924 and located across the street from the beautiful, large City Park.
The graduating class of 1966 was well over 500 students, and a solid core group of about a third of that large number has managed to turn up faithfully at reunions that began one year after graduation, then marked every five-year anniversary. Many of us have been friends since junior high school (called “middle school” in some places). Several of us have been friends since grade school, and a few have even known each other since kindergarten!
Having missed the 45th reunion, I was eager to reconnect. My closest friend volunteered for chauffeur duty during my trip. When she picked me up at my hotel, I cried out, “You’ve gone gray!” As a grayhead myself, this should not have been shocking, but it finally registered with me that I was seeing my former tennis partner at the age of 10, now a grandmother. She looked beautiful.
Suzy kindly drove through the old neighborhood, giving me a tour of fondly remembered spots, including my family home where I grew up, the City Park tennis courts where she and I spent our summers all through our school years, and, of course, East High.
There were two major reunion events planned: first, “Friday Afternoon Club” at the clubhouse of City Park Golf Course; then the Saturday night big dinner/dance for grads and spouses at the Museum of Nature and Science, also in City Park.
F.A.C. was a well-attended festival of gasps of recognition, hugs, and snatches of conversation as we all tried to talk to everyone at once. Door prizes were awarded, and I won one – a 1966 Beatles British fan magazine!
Saturday night’s grand celebration was only slightly more subdued as we attempted to continue conversations started the day before and were inevitably distracted as we spotted new people. A dee-jay (class of ’86) did a great job of playing all the songs we had enjoyed in the ‘60s. I was continually delighted to see friends, some whom I’d missed at previous reunions, and a few who were attending after a long absence.
But the evening was more than just a good time. It was a milestone event, the second that I’d experienced at our reunions. The first happened at the 25th. Several friends commented back then about how any lingering, unsettled issues and relationships were being resolved. Youthful romantic feelings that had been kept private were spoken of at last; unpleasant break-ups were forgiven; damaged friendships were mended. We all had grown up enough by then to be over whatever had happened – or not happened – when we were young. I spent much of that reunion chatting in a group that included my very first (by then long-married) boyfriend, holding hands with him. It was lovely.
At this reunion, we all connected again with laughter and conversation. After dinner, one friend enthusiastically observed that although we may have gained weight and many of the men had lost their hair, no one cared; we were just so happy to be there. On the way back to my hotel, Suzy commented that people seemed nicer than ever before. “Kinder,” I said. “Everyone is very kind.”
I think it was because we’ve all lived fifty years of life since graduation, and you don’t get through that amount of time without being affected by loss and the resulting feeling of appreciation for the good things you have and had in the past. This time when I saw my old boyfriend (now proud of his grown children), he was still able to make me blush slightly with a very innocent memory of him having run all the way home after staying at my house past curfew. He may have wondered why I was rather quiet. I was simply looking at him, thinking, “You were important to me. I’m happy that your life has turned out well, and I’m happy that I knew you then, and know you now.”
There was talk that night of having less formally organized, annual events. Or maybe there could be a 70s birthday party in a couple of years, when everyone will have crossed that threshold. As I headed to the airport, I thought about how much I would enjoy seeing everyone again.
So much has changed over fifty years, in Denver and in all of us. The neighborhood movie theater is long gone, and trendy restaurants and shops fill the block. The corner donut shop is now a tattoo parlor. The old junior high, suffering from declining enrollment and lowered test scores, finally closed, then transformed with a completely new student body brought in from another area.
My friends have grown older; many have raised families, some have lost spouses, and some, children. Some friends also have been lost, as a too-long memorial list posted at the dinner/dance acknowledged. Jobs and careers have come and gone, with many friends now retired or on the verge of it, and contemplating what to do next.
But not everything has changed. East High remains a fine school. The old neighborhood is still beautiful, with charming brick bungalows surrounded by sturdy, mature trees and small, well-tended yards. And, most importantly, the people are the same. Conversations flowed easily, as if we’d seen each other daily for all these years. And in a world where older people are usually invisible, absolutely none of us were invisible that weekend. We know each other in a unique way that can’t be duplicated, and when we look at each other, we still see the kid we grew up with, as well as the people we are today.
At the airport, I faced a two-and-a-half hour delay due to a storm west of town. When I was finally on the plane (a sardine can that held, appropriately, fifty passengers), I struck up a conversation with my seatmate. She was a writer/director, currently doing research on a documentary she wants to produce. The subject: creative aging. What are the odds? “You’re seated in the right place,” I told her, and we passed the time amicably chatting about EngAGE.
I was on my way home.