Home again

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."


Deb said…
I love those reunions! I was one of those quiet girls in my teens and it still brings back painful memories, feeling left out and like I didn't matter. So thankful those days are over! I've gained some self confidence through the years and feel quite comfortable in my skin.
I do wonder why you felt the need to adjust the necklace. It just sounds like a subconsciousness way to let her know she still wasn't quite right and needed a cool kid to fix her. I'm sure that is not the case but i am curious. She was quite gracious to thank you! What would make you ask a woman you haven't seen in years if you could adjust her necklace. Just curious!

Duchesse said…
Deb: You know how you just reach out reflexively and adjust a crooked painting on a wall, because it is askew? My first impulse was that- oh, let me straighten it. My second was to ask her permission. All this was done after I said, "Annette! You look so elegant!" So, it does not feel to me like that, consciously. (I'm a busybody that way. I will also adjust the necklace or tuck in a label sticking out of a stranger's neckline, though I will stop at telling a stranger she has something on her teeth. )

Yes, her response was gracious.

We spent more time together at an event the next day, and like you, she is comfortable in her skin. Annette has warm friendships with many of the "girls" in the class who still live in our home town.
materfamilias said…
I'm glad you had such a good time at your reunion. My position would be closer to Deb's and Annette's -- my high school years weren't made more comfortable by my being a year younger than my peers, particularly since I was a rather shy late-bloomer. As well, my very small all-girls Catholic school closed at the end of my Grade 10, and I suddenly found myself part of a co-ed public school with 2700 students (8-12)!
I've never had the least interest in attending any of the high school reunions, although I have one friend who dates back to that era, and I've still got most of my family living in that city. I do bump into former classmates very occasionally; at a funeral there recently, I spent a pleasant hour chatting with "the girl down the street" from our childhood neighbourhood where her lovely mom still lives, That serendipity is satisfying enough, although some of my siblings go to reunions every five or ten years. Who knows, though, perhaps if someone arranges a 50th. . . ;-)
I am one of those women who often arrives (bursting with energy) with my pool hair tousled, pendant askew etc. etc. I was a tomboy as a girl and my appearance takes a back seat to most things in my active life. I am frequently indebted to kind people who adjust a label or necklace or flick a stray hair into place. It has always been done with grace and often with laughter. Carry on duchesse!
Madame Là-bas said…
Fifty years later, we have learned so much about ourselves. It is great that you had a chance to meet with some of your former classmates and to discover who they are now.
Duchesse said…
Deb: Oops, I referred to her by her real name. No harm done, thank goodness.

materfamilias: My graduating class was 60 persons and nearly all of us had been together in primary school too, so very different from your last two years of high school. About a dozen had died. I had bee not the 10th, 15th and 25th and found them not nearly as fun or interesting. People were far less willing to talk. And to my surprise several women who had not been able to attend have contacted me and we're back in touch.

Rainbowsandglories: You supply the wisdom- those of us seeing the askew feature should with the adjusted that such interference is appreciated.

Mme: You put your finger on the difference- people had learned, and were remarkably open about their joys and sorrows. This did not happen at previous reunions, or not nearly to this extent.

Deb said…
Oh a quick clarification! I have no problem when someone fixes my necklace or tells me I have lipstick on my teeth. I appreciate it in fact. I was more thinking about your relationship with her, the time passing and then your small gesture. And you can be sure this is related to a similar meeting with an old high school friend and my own hang ups! I'm sure this wasn't even an issue for you two.
While the 10th,20th and 30th reunions felt more like a) more high school b) competition and c) more competition, the 40th was lovely and I realized how very interesting all of these people that I had known when they were un-formed had become. The popular kids had suffered many of the same fates of the not so popular or not so outgoing...weight gains, divorce, a wrinkle or two....which all seemed to level the playing field. No point in competing anymore. I can only imagine the 50th will be even better. We will all be survivors that attend and grateful for it.
Duchesse said…
Deb: There were only 60 kids in that class, so everyone knew everyone else, and she did some things with us, like go on the bus to "away" sports events. If those of us who ere intrinsically extroverted had drawn her out, she might have done more. But like you she is not hiding her light anymore.

Nelson Bartley: That's it! Ten was people showing off their spouses or dates, twenty was taken over by a subset of persons who wanted some other classmates to know they had either a) become successful professionally, or b) were complete wild men and perfectly happy about it, or c) both. Twenty-five and thirty were sparsely attended because so many people were annoyed by the handful of the yahoos at earlier ones. I hope you get to the fiftieth and enjoy every minute!
Reunions bring up such a mix of emotions...the old flames, the class clowns, the shrinking violets and like your experience so many have changed...as have we, and not surprising many have passed on. Your gathering sounds quite special and I remember that Beach Boys tune...
I recently had lunch with an acquaintance and I was chatting and laughing with her and it was only when I went to the ladies room that I noticed a big piece of spinach in my front tooth...I WISH she had said something...I was mortified...if it had been you K I would feel sure that you would give me a gentle nudge and say something.
Thank you again for your beautiful posts.
Duchesse said…
hostess: I will bet your bit of greenery did not diminish her pleasure one bit. Think of it as interior landscaping!
Jill said…
Duchesse, what a thoughtful post. High school reunions seem to evoke all sorts of feelings as time goes by. I attended an all girls catholic high school. We were right out of central casting with the assortment of characters both in the faculty and in the student body. It was a fun filled 3 years. Our reunions disappeared for some strange reason after number 30. On the other hand, my husband was one of hundreds at a local public school. He decided two years ago to attend his 45th, the first one since graduation! Coming into his life the year after graduation, I heard many stories and names over and over to the point where I felt part of the class. So much life had passed. The old nonsense was gone and it was a very plesant experience. My neighbor just went to his 70th college reunion in Boston. Something to shoot for!
Kristien62 said…
I have never attended a reunion. I have been tempted, but just don't have the courage. It wasn't that I didn't do well in high school; I graduated 2nd in my class. But I never felt comfortable there and never kept touch with any of my classmates. Perhaps my 50th, which would be this year, will be the one. I am curious, but really can't remember many people. You would be surprised how difficult it is to place names and faces when you haven't kept touch.
Mary D. said…
I have enjoyed your blog for several years with its astute observations, exquisite taste, and intelligent musings. I had always wondered how you would know of a small boutique pearl shop in Harbor Springs - now I know! I graduated from Petoskey High School in the late 1970s and most recently spent 2 weeks there for my father's death vigil. I've never been to one of my high school reunions and don't think that I would recognize or remember many. I congratulate you for maintaining some connections - it is a good place to go home to.
Susan W H said…
Your reunion sounds much more enjoyable than my 50th, which was somewhat stiff and uncomfortable as we watched the same people who performed in high school perform their same old routines. (Spouses came too, and I give these folks credit for enduring.) I would rather have spent time socializing, although we had a picnic the day before that was much better. We had around 500 in my class, and I moved away by the time I was 21. Still, I'm glad I went and was able to chat with a few old friends. This was only the 3rd reunion I've been too.

Thanks for sharing.

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