Reunions can truly reunite people

SOME OF THE Garden Grove High Class of 1971 (Photo by Judi De Loof).

SOME OF THE Garden Grove High Class of 1971 (Photo by Judi De Loof).

It was 20 years ago today … no, wait. Thirty years. No, 40. Who wants to go for 45?

If you’ve never been to a high school reunion – either because you hated high school or haven’t yet been graduated – you are in for an interesting experience. It’s one that gets more intriguing as the years pass and the conclaves pile up and the hairs gray.

retortsMarilyn and I went to the 45th reunion of the Garden Grove High School Class of 1971 recently. There were close to 100 attendees out of a class of 500, which – I am told – is a pretty good turnout. It was also a pretty good survey of the changes we go through as we sojourn from child to parent to grandparent, from kid to grownup to retiree. From wild to steady to … dull? No, let’s say … calm.

For some people, high school was the peak of the good times. Friday night football, dances, romances and silly youthful antics with friends. For others, it was a hell of exclusion, acne, boredom and algebra.

Those are among the reasons that some avoid, and some eagerly anticipate, the gathering of the tribe of Argonauts, Oilers, Lions, Vaqueros, Aztecs, Panthers, Barons, Vikings or what-have-you. Part of you hopes that things will be the same, while part of you prays things have changed.

I’ve been to eight reunions and the thing that strikes me is how much a) we hearken back fondly to times which may have seemed sketchy back then and b) the flattening of the social pyramid that seemed so formidable when we were teenagers.

The stuff that seemed important way back then – the big sporting event, the prom, the tough class – take a back seat in the conversation to the goofy little stuff that sticks in your memory long after you’ve forgotten how to diagram sentences. Stories and smiles rise up with tales of second grade antics. Apologies for past slights burble out of the mouths of people who have long felt terribly about how they treated you back in the day.

It’s the humbling of age that does it, I think. The football star is now a big-bellied guy. The adolescent queen bee is either a few decades past her prime or inspiring smirks as she tries to reassert her former status. The nerds became the rich guys; the social leaders, in some cases, find themselves trying to explain away the trajectory of a life that seemed to have peaked decades ago.

The high are brought low; the low rise up to the point where we are all more or less equal on the plain of maturity, experience and wisdom. One-time stratification of social class melts and you’re all just so happy to have made it so far.

Of course, none of this happens overnight. Looking back, my eight reunions resemble time-lapse photography where we can see the remarkable human journey only by seeing the length of it.

So, if you have a reunion coming up, and are weighing the pros and cons, consider this: those people, for better or worse, all have lives and struggles just as interesting and challenging as yours. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what was really going on in their minds as you sat in homeroom all those years ago?

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays … we hope.

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