Sunday, October 25, 2009

Number 45

It has been a wonderful weekend. This was class reunion weekend for your most humble and obedient servant; number 45. Years ago I couldn't conceive of even living to be 45, let alone having been out of high school for 45 years.

Friday night was the first get-together at a rented chalet in Oglebay Park near Wheeling, WV, and just walking from the car to the front door was an unnerving experience. Will I recognize everybody? Hell, will I recognize anybody? I was about to be face-to-face with 18 people, only two of whom I had seen in the past 45 years. Opening the door to the well-appointed chalet, I observed people who stood talking comfortably in several small groups. It was a good thing that I knew names because I recognized few faces. There was a predominance of white hair...when there was hair, a lot of extra pounds, lots of wrinkles, and some significant facial hair. The smiles were still there and they were still a friendly bunch although the liquor may have improved that aspect. It really didn't take long until, drink in hand, I joined them with greetings, a few old and fat jokes, and a lot of catch up stories. A lot happens in 45 years.

Our school had been small and all-male, with just 42 in this graduating class. There had been the usual groupings of jocks, nerds, over-achievers, under-achievers, and a few non-descripts. We had no 'goths', anti-socials, or psychotic weirdos as most larger schools seem to have. Those had largely been filtered out by the process of natural selection combined with strict academic requirements. It's hard to become a head-banging heavy metal freakazoid when you have a monster physics test at the end of the week. So those who remained were stable and accomplishment-oriented individuals with goals in mind and the intention to become contributors to society. And after spending an evening catching up, it appears they had indeed succeeded at both accomplishment and contribution.

In this small group, most had letters either before or after their names. Letters like MD, PhD, LLD, PE, CMDR, COL, ESQ, and some that I honestly didn't understand but I knew represented professional accomplishment and recognition. Pretty impressive for a bunch of nerdy geeks who couldn't field a winning football team. They brought with them their wives, most of 35 to 40 years or more. Mature, attractive women with winning smiles, tremendous social skills, most with advanced education, and an unshakable committment to their husbands and families. Not one blond bimbo or trophy wife among them. The evening became enjoyable very quickly.

Eventually we reflected upon those in our class who had died. Graduating from school at the height of the Vietnam War had pushed many of our number into military service, but we were fortunate that all returned. Some had even chosen to make the military a career. We had since lost only three to natural causes. The 'gorilla in the living room' was the unspoken question of how many more of us might be gone before our next reunion.

It is hard to see change in yourself, but it is easy to see it in others. Especially in a 'time warp' situation when that 17 year old buddy (chasing chicks, racing cars, and trying to get away with drinking beer) is 45 years later a renown heart surgeon...or was the commander of a guided missile cruiser...or the CEO of a world-wide corporation. We sat surrounded by luxury, a group of accomplished, respected, and apparently successful individuals who had gone their own ways and, by and large, had accomplished their goals. Yet there was no snobbery or 'competition of egos' in this group. The old cliques and social stratifications had completely broken down and a spirit of genuine camaraderie developed. By the end of the evening I couldn't help wishing that the whole bunch of old, fat, (largely) bald guys could live in a village somewhere so we could spend evenings such as we had just enjoyed on a regular basis instead of at 45 year intervals.

The next day we went on to attend school-sponsored alumni functions where speakers talked of lofty future plans while honoring us and sliding donation forms under our noses. My high school buddies and I have now become the Fathers and Grandfathers who keep the wheels of education well greased with the proceeds of our success. I guess that was inevitable. I remember being a student and watching fast-talking guides showing groups of old coots around campus and snickering at the whole drama. I don't snicker any more now that I am among that bunch of coots. Now I look at those shiny young faces and wish that we coots could trade places with them, even if it was for a short time. To once again be able to run fast and love quickly. To re-experience the newness and excitement of life through the freshness of youth. To face drama and turmoil with the knowledge that life stretches out before us like a new highway to the horizon. But that would not be fair. We had our time and now that time is past. But for one fleeting weekend that ended entirely too soon, a group of men whose highways stretch much further behind them than they do ahead, looked into faces of age and saw faces of youth.