There are two types of people in the world: those who attend reunions and those who avoid them.
I’ve always been an attender, you know. I love ’em. I go to college reunions, but I especially like my Woodford County High School reunions. There’s one this weekend, and I’m going.
A reunion is appealing on the most basic level because it’s a party, and there’s food and drink and music. And friends are there—people I’ve known for a long, long time.
Here’s where it gets puzzling, though. You can’t really say your reunion is packed with your best friends, can you? That’s probably because you’ve drifted apart from many of your buddies from back in the day, or maybe your closest friends from high school are reunion avoiders. The friends you see at reunions, then, might not be your best-ever friends. That’s how it is for me, anyway.
So why do I get such a good feeling about the people I reunite with?
It’s not because we’ve got so much in common. We likely went to different colleges (or not at all), moved to different towns or states, work in different fields, and hold different religious and political values. Sure, we shared the same high school 30 or 40 years ago, but we now lead lives apart. If I were lifetime besties with the folks I see at reunions, we’d get together more often than once every five years, right?
But we did share the same high school. I mean, we walked the same halls, we went to the same ballgames, and we cruised the same (lame) hot spots on weekends. You know, growing up in a Kentucky county with a single high school guaranteed us a set of shared experiences, even if our homes and families were quite different.
So even if we’re not everyday buddies, there’s something there. Something that runs deep and true.
When I go to the reunion this weekend, I won’t see the guys in my core group of buddies—not all of them, anyway. Instead, I’ll see three people from my home room, two from Ms. Cox’s advanced chemistry class, eight people I was in band with, a girl I took out a couple of times, and several girls I wanted to take out but was too chicken to ask.
And here’s the thing: When I talk to these folks, we’re going to help each other remember things we had both forgotten. Some memories are funny and some are painful—after all, we were teenagers navigating a transformative period. By talking to them, I’ll be reminded of people and experiences that helped mold me into the person I am today. And not only will they round out my memory of high school, see, they will round out … me.
At reunions, I have been reminded of my youth. I have been reminded of the person I was. Of the person I wanted to be. Of the person I became.
Hands down, the best thing I ever experienced at a reunion was getting to know Robbie. He
and I shared the same graduation year—1976—but little else. We didn’t have a single class together. His friends were ball players; mine were musicians. He was an athlete who started at quarterback and also excelled in basketball and baseball. He was one of the most popular guys in school, and I didn’t know him, not even a little bit.
It drove me crazy, mostly because he was adored by the girls, and I—even though I sat first chair trombone for four years (first chair!)—was not.
I didn’t know him, but I was always pretty sure he was a dumb jock. I didn’t know him, but I was pretty sure those girls made a big mistake.
Then I got to know Robbie. At a reunion. I can’t tell you how it happened, but we found ourselves in the same corner of a room or at the same table, and we started talking. We damn near had to introduce ourselves; that’s how separate our high school lives were.
And I’ll be damned if I didn’t like him. Robbie and I talked for a long time, and I discovered he was insightful and funny and a dang good guy. No wonder the girls liked him. In that one evening, my decades-long impression of Robbie was changed forever. And with it, my belief in the unfairness of high school hierarchy.
Don’t get me wrong. High school society is still wack. I mean, it’s owned and operated by teenagers. But because I went to that reunion and became friends with the Robbie I never knew as a teenager, I became a better adult. And at the next reunion five years later, we continued our conversation, comparing notes about our lives and our time in high school.
But Robbie won’t be at the reunion this weekend. He died a few years ago. I’ll miss him, believe me, and I’ll miss others who ran out of life before they became old men and women. I won’t dwell on it, though. I’ll be having such a good time comparing notes with other folks and rounding out other memories, I won’t let Robbie’s absence weigh me down. But there’ll be a moment or two.
Life zips by. It comes and it goes, and that’s a fact. So if I can catch a kernel of insight from a classmate at the reunion this weekend, I’m going to grab it. Those kernels won’t be around forever. Neither will those classmates. And neither will I.
I love reunions.