Recently I attended a 70th high school reunion.
For those of you working out the math as you read this, let me assure you that this was not my 70th reunion. It was that of my dad and the Kirkwood High School class of 1944.
Or at least what is left of them.
I met my dad in St. Louis. He flew in from California, I from New Jersey. Although he is in very good health, he moves somewhat painfully on 88-year-old knees and wanted some help getting around. I was happy to oblige. After all, how often do we get to attend high school reunions?
In his case, plenty. After 70 years, he has chalked up quite a few.
This reunion was held in a private room at a small Italian restaurant. A table at the entrance displayed photographs and an old high school yearbook from 1944. The photographs contained group and candid shots taken at previous reunions.
After 70 years, it is possible to have a reunion of reunions.
Also on the table was a printed contact list of all the known class members compiled since the last event, twenty years ago. My dad joked that a lot of his classmates were December.
He moved his thick, bent finger across names that bore the abbreviation, dec.
As the reunion started, I was amused to discover that no matter how close we get to December, high school never really leaves us: we can still be thrown back to petty comparisons that dredge up distant teenage insecurities. As one woman entered the room and looked about for familiar faces, she ruminated aloud, “Oh god, am I the only one here with a walker?”
Although one well-dressed man did make it a point to wish me a Merry Christmas even though it was still October, the attending members of the class of 1944 were remarkably healthy and mentally “with it”. But I suppose 70 years after high school, being healthy and alert are pretty much prerequisites for showing up anywhere.
Even so, the group’s impressive capacity to engage did not stop them from apologizing for their hearing and complaining how confusing it is to use cell phones.
Despite crashing their reunion, the Kirkwood High School Class of 1944 graciously treated me as one of their own. Which was fine until one woman asked if I would point myself out in the yearbook because she failed to recognize me.
Her memory was not what it used to be, she said.
Apparently, neither was her eyesight. However, she did tell me I hadn’t changed a whit in thirty years, which I took as a compliment.
One very nice gentleman, who I did not know, introduced himself and made it a point to tell me what a great guy my father was in high school. “If you are even half the man he is,” he told me, “you should feel very proud.”
I did a quick calculation. In order for my sons to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps they will have to be twice the man I am.
They have a good chance.
Another nice woman took me aside, winked at me, and told me that long before she married her husband, she and some friends had once played spin the bottle with my father in a field behind her house.
Then she stopped and shook her head, suddenly lost in reverie. “He is no longer with us,” she said, smiling sweetly.
“I am sorry,” I told her sincerely, placing my hand on her shoulder.
I assumed she was speaking of her husband, because my dad at that minute was very much October and laughing with his life-long friend, Bob, and another old friend, whose name was Ted.
I knew them well from the photograph.
You see, among the few faded pictures I have of my father as a young adult, one sticks sublimely in my mind. It is a shot of my dad and three close high school buddies who had reunited sometime in the early days of their professional careers.
Bob and Ted are in the photo, along with a fourth they called Burly. All four are lying shoulder-to-shoulder, face up on a bed, drinks in hand.
They are wearing ties.
My dad is hanging off the bed, glancing obliquely at his old friend, Bob, who is lying next to him. The other two have angled their faces toward Bob too. Bob is staring in mock innocence at the ceiling, like a mischievous schoolboy.
What you don’t see in the picture is this: Bob has just farted.
What strikes me about the photo is that all four of these good high school friends are on the brink of hysterics. They are captured forever in a magical moment of time just before their laughter ignites and burns the years down.
And here in St. Louis, so many decades later, three of these good friends stand together again enjoying the smoldering laughs of remembrances shared.
The fourth is not present. Burly is December.
I think I will go to my next big reunion.
There are some friends I have not seen in a long, long while.