ENID, Okla. — Editor’s note: This column was first published July 11, 2003.
They happen somewhere in the country just about every weekend of the year.
Some of those who participate do so eagerly, some approach the events with trepidation.
They are held in country club ballrooms, high school gymnasiums, local civic centers and VFW halls.
Some feature dancing, most involve some sort of meal and generally there is alcohol of varying quantities on hand.
They are high school reunions, an interesting exercise in gauging how far the people with whom you grew up have progressed since adolescence — or not, as the case may be.
Inevitably, as the years add up, reunion attendees increasingly show the ravages of time.
Hairlines rise, bust lines fall and waistlines expand.
Hair also changes style and color, sometimes thanks to the passage of the years, sometimes thanks to Clairol.
Some classmates look almost the same as the day they received their diplomas, with only a smattering of laugh lines and tiny crow’s feet to give away their age.
In these cases, the old “Hello my name is ...” tags are unnecessary.
Others look like they have been ridden hard and put away wet, almost on a daily basis. In these cases, name tags are indispensable and often hard to believe.
Some look much older than they are, some attempt, with varying degrees of success, to look much younger.
Some of the high school sweethearts, the kings and queens of the homecoming dance, are still married. Some classmates have sore feet from so many walks down the aisle.
As the years mount past 10 to 20, 30 and beyond, the sense of competition among classmates seems to fade. There will be less designer fashions worn, luxury cars rented and men’s hair color products applied as the years mount.
The first rule of reunions is everybody in the room looks older than you, and you have aged better than anybody in your class. Recite that to yourself as a silent mantra and you’ll get through the evening just fine.
Inevitably, someone will break out a yearbook. There you are in the drama club, the debate society or the girls’ glee club. There you are in all your pimpled, bouffant-haired, horn-rimmed glory.
Often, the old hurts and animosities have faded, their sting tempered by time.
Many times they have not, however, and the pain resonates through the decades.
At the early gatherings, the talk is about college, fledgling careers and budding marriages. As the decades pass, the conversation turns to children and the struggle to balance a career, car pools and kids’ soccer games.
Eventually, the photos pulled out of wallets and passed around are of grandchildren and the talk centers on plans for retirement.
At every reunion there are less and less classmates to contact, more and more names in the “In remembrance” portion of the program.
Often, their photos are displayed as memorials. The pictures are haunting, the eyes full of youthful mirth, the smiles so full of promise. We remember them as they were, and try to imagine them as they would be, had their lives not been truncated.
The music played is generally that of the era in which the class graduated. For some, the tunes invoke heady thoughts of sweaty kisses and mumbled promises. For many, they bring back memories of unrequited crushes and Saturday nights spent alone at home, dreaming of what the “popular” kids were doing.
In the corner are the spouses, keeping each other company.
They band together out of necessity, since none of the stories being told, none of the memories being shared, none of the jokes being laughed at, are theirs.
It is an odd feeling — an uncomfortable sensation — unless, of course, you are a journalist, and you make your living always being on the outside looking in. By evening’s end, plans already are being made for the next get-together, several years hence.
There undoubtedly is a call to try to get more classmates involved, to increase attendance. For some, high school was the best time of their lives.
For others, it was merely an endurance contest. Those are generally the people who would prefer undergoing a root canal to attending their high school reunions.
At least with a root canal, they give you pain killers.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.