One of last summer's jaunts was to my hometown, in Northern Michigan, a place I had not visited in twenty-two years.
For several years, I had thought of returning to the small town where our family lived for 65 years. In mid-August, a high school classmate contacted me to say that a few of them had decided to throw together a 50th reunion. We bought tickets within the hour.
Nearly half of "The Cats and Chicks of '66" met at the historic Terrace Inn in the summer colony of Bay View, at the edge of our town, Petoskey, Michigan. The planning committee had negotiated a reasonable price for a casual dinner dance ("Even we don't know how we did it!"), one of the 'boys' DJ'd, and everyone caught up.
After fifty years, people were willing to talk; they had lived a life. Perhaps the deepest secrets were not unveiled, but much was shared, succinctly. The attitude seemed to be, Here I am.
"Annabelle" became a nun, but left the order. When I asked why, she said, "They worked me to death. I became a nun to be with God, and all I did was cook and clean." She now lives in a small trailer on a country road. Three days a week, she visits a local retreat center to care for the founding order's sole remaining nun, age 86. The rest of her time is spent in the contemplation she craved.
"Joanne" was such a quiet girl in high school that I can't recall her stringing thirty words together. But there she stood, chic in an aubergine blouse and striking crystal necklace, greeting everyone. When I asked if I could adjust the necklace, she said, with heartrending gratitude, "Thank you, Kathy!" I realized that I, and the other extroverted girls, had ignored Joanne in high school. There was no bullying or even dislike, but she was not invited to sleepovers, not scooped into the booth for a gossipy Coke. She was thanking me for finally seeing her.
"Bud" grew up on a farm; his brother still runs the place. In high school, Bud fell asleep at this desk, never dated, and bore the stigma of a definite barn odor. Fifty years later, Bud was funny, warm, and happily married. He owns an auto and farm equipment repair shop and spoke with such confidence that I kept asking myself, This is Bud Sterling?
They say people don't change, and for some, that seemed true. The class Romeo (who had somehow managed to go steady with three girls at the same time) was still full of BS until we spent a few minutes talking in a quiet corner. John, with whom I've been friends since the sandbox, remains low-key but brilliant; it was he who negotiated the price of the venue from $3,500 to $350.
No one had become famous. One boy was rumoured to have made many millions via tech investments (he didn't attend). But not one life felt small, as if fifty years had layered each person with a richness beyond anything material.
And then, of course, we acknowledged those who had died. Heads bowed, led by our classmate Father John, we prayed (or at least assumed the position), and thought of the years we had shared when everyone had a future.
I'd been to the tenth, twentieth and thirtieth reunions, which were fun enough, but this one was different. We were looking back over some distance, and everyone knew it. Near the evening's close, we danced to a Beach Boys song that took on special poignancy:
"I sailed an ocean, unsettled ocean
Through restful waters and deep commotion
Often frightened, unenlightened,
Sail on, sail on sailor."