Attending (Uncomfortably) My 50th Class Reunion

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As soon as I finished my shift at the library last Friday, I dashed home, put on my tractor clothes, and started bushhogging, after first dropping a bale of alfalfa in Pancho the Donkey’s shed. There is no grass in the pasture since the ryegrass died and the rains stopped. Alfalfa is not cheap at $38 a bale. I hope Pancho is grateful.

I mowed down the goatweed before moving over to the side pasture. A variety of coreopsis, popular know as tickseed, surrounds the pond and the drainage ditch leading to the creek — large, bright yellow flowers that should last until the first freeze. I left the flowers alone and finished in time to take a shower and get dressed. I had a high school reunion to attend.

LHS Class 73 – 50th Reunion. That is what the shirt tag I picked up at the reception table announced, along with my senior portrait and name. I pinned it on reluctantly and looked around. As the shopworn joke goes, who were all these old people?

I attended only the first night of Longview High School’s 50th class reunion, about 100 of us crowding in a too-small space at a local Mexican restaurant. It had the feeling of a COVID-19 super-spreader at a time when cases of the virus have seen an uptick. Lots of hugs and handshakes, and I did my share, usually after sneaking a look at the other person’s name tag to figure out who I was hugging. And hoping they were vaccinated.

At most, I recognized one out of 10 folks there. Our graduating class had about 600 members if memory serves. I reconnected with a few fellow graduates upon returning here nearly 16 years ago to run the newspaper. I kept my copy of the 1973 yearbook in a desk drawer. If someone showed up to visit who claimed to be a classmate, my administrative assistant would call me and say, “Joe Smith (not his real name) is here to see you.”  I would quickly look him up in the yearbook, hoping the photo might spur my memory.

Most times it didn’t. First, I have a lousy memory connecting names to faces, something that has not improved in the 16 years since returning here. Second, I tended to hang out with a small circle of fellow misfits, most of whom were a year or two ahead of me. I finished by correspondence course in my last semester so I could work full-time at Made-Rite Bottling and save for college. I can’t say Longview High School is something that had a great impact on my life. College molded me far more than my years as a Lobo.

Still, it was clear from the Facebook posts prior to the event and the photos posted after, that a great deal of planning and work went into making this reunion special. The organizers certainly deserve recognition and gratitude for taking on those responsibilities.

As soon as I got my name tag, I headed to a surprisingly quiet bar down the hall to get a margarita on the rocks. There was no way I was going to enter the melee without a bit of liquid reinforcement. I am an introvert by nature and tend to stand in the corner and listen, not saying much on my own.

It is unsurprising that, in a class this large, the list of classmates no longer among the living totaled about 100, roughly one-in-six of the Class of 1973. I looked over the list, recognizing some names. When your high school graduation was a half-century ago, there is definitely more to see in the rearview mirror than awaiting ahead out the windshield — to paraphrase James McMurtry.

To be clear, I did talk to people, catching up with folks I haven’t seen since high school, and a few I see occasionally around town. Everyone was cordial and friendly, as one would expect. But, as in high school, I felt like an outsider in this crowd. That is not a reflection of the class, more a reflection of me.

I quietly slipped away after about an hour and headed home. I needed to start discing Pancho’s pasture early the next morning, get it ready to plant some ryegrass.

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