This September our high school class of 1960 celebrated its 61st reunion—the extra year added due to Covid 19 last year. It took place in Quincy, with a population of 8,537, which is a bit up from 3,269 in 1960 and 804 in 1950. There’s a little hint of the town’s boom history in those figures, which we classmates experienced while living there and reflected upon during our reunion day. And it’s that reflection, our dive into the past, that I, we all, found significant.
Needless to say, this farming town, bolstered by the irrigation water and electrical production from nearby Grand Coulee Dam over the years, is not the town we remember—and was a constant observation made during the day. This was especially made apparent when we toured the new state-of-the-art high school, which physically could swallow up 4-5 sizes of our long-ago new high school. We shared memories of how we got here (nearly all were farming families looking to the potential brought by irrigation water), what the town was physically like, where we lived, our classmate activities of foolishness and maturation, and then the dispersal upon graduation. Some stayed to live in the area, but most went to distant attractions in the US and the world—and most are still gone, never to be heard from again. We had 17 classmates out of 77 at the reunion. So, what were we reunioning?
As I’ve just touched on, I think we were all sharing a perspective on our joint past, even though it was a brief time, really, but occurred at a very formative stage of our youthful growth—and that’s worth something. We shared an impressional experience that comes only once and is gone, but has lasting results. One measure of this is that, by my rough count, eventually, 15 of us married each other, and 5-6 married someone in the class below ours. A small school can bring familiarity and lasting relationships, to be sure—ignoring a divorce or two and inevitable deaths. But for those attending, besides this reminiscing about the past, yet another facet of the reunion was an equal, or even more important focus: the present.
Now, in previous reunions—especially those where a long time had passed between them—when I approached that year’s reunion location and the group of people assembled there, I would experience the classic reunion attendee’s response of confusion and asking oneself, “Who the hell are all these old people?” And we’d all laugh about our shared revelatory experience and then get on with the greetings of astonishment. But by this reunion, we’d all come to expect that those “old people” were just other versions of ourselves, and we’d make our updates of face recognition and give our vaccination-endorsed hugs. We were all just simply old. And the conversation during the day inevitably touched on the big topic of the present: our health.
Quite a bit of conversation time was spent updating each other on both the obvious and not-so-obvious infirmities we were experiencing—quite respectfully, and rightly so since we all had them: the devolvement into the hallmarks of aging such as wrinkled and sagging skin, change of hair color (or loss of it), trouble finding the right words to speak, unsteadiness, mobility issues, etc. We all had deeper health issues of concern, some simply making usual activity more difficult and some quite life-threatening—those were the ones eliciting more serious conversation. Surviving the present, from this viewpoint, was dominant in conversation, to be sure.
However, this all lead me to think more about another facet of the reunion, which I’m sure was just under the surface of conversation for others too. The future. It’s a hard thing to bring up though I did have some brief conversations that tentatively explored the subject, but it was generally left hanging there as I and others left the dissembling gathering and headed home. After all, as we all move into our 80s, the potential for more reunions with our past and friends isn’t much in the realm of possibility to happen, and it made this event a little more nostalgic.
Which also makes us reflect upon our individual futures: what plans we can and should make, and what is even possible to do about it all. It’s quite a challenge for people at any age to face and figure out, but it’s a little more pressing for those of our age. However, I think being mindful of this reality, not hiding from it, and sharing one’s thoughts can make a person more confident in their future journey. At least, that’s my plan—and the challenge is to keep myself on the path and not fall off!
Reunions at our age are quite different from the fun and optimism of previous ones. We still laugh about the past and enjoy the memories that should be enjoyed, but the focus then takes a big shift to the realities of life in the present and a quiet analytic tip-toeing into imagining the future. At least for me, such was the bittersweet makeup of our 61st reunion—and I value that.