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Lessons from a 45th High School Reunion - Part II

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

I called my husband, Bill, from the car. "I can't believe this! I think I left my reunion clothes at home! Can you double check?"

My carefully chosen outfits for the evening event weren’t hanging from either of my car’s clothing hooks. I glanced again in my rearview mirror and was relieved to see that my maroon travel bag containing some basics, toiletries, shoes, and underwear, was in the back seat.

Bill was back on the phone and said, "Sorry honey, your clothes are still here."

Too late to turn around since I'd driven over 100 miles, I calculated I'd have a couple of hours to find an outfit. Two hours and nine Madison stores later, I slipped into something that finally felt right, something simple and casual, something that masqueraded as a ‘no effort’ ensemble and headed for the Stoughton Country Club.

Not wanting to be the first person to arrive, I stalled and drove past the house my family lived in during my high school years, a ranch style home on Wilson Street. The windows, front door and garage door had been replaced. The raspberry bushes in the backyard were gone. A shed stood in their place. The cornfield across the street had become a subdivision of homes.

I continued past my old house and drove up the hill. I crossed the Yahara River bridge to see my former high school. Instead of a big brick building, there was nothing but lawn.

Disappointed with the changes, I drove to the club, parked the car, reapplied my lipstick, and headed toward the entrance. In the parking lot, I joined an older man and woman who were also approaching the door.

“Hi, I’m Barb Weber,” I said.

“Hi Barb, I'm Nick Paris and this is my wife."

“Oh, Nick, of course. How nice to see you!”

Off to an awkward start, feeling bad I hadn't recognised Nick, I headed for what I considered a safety zone, the women’s restroom and lounge. There I checked to make sure that, unlike my nightmare two weeks earlier, I was fully clothed, buttoned and zipped up. I studied my reflection in the mirror and hoped the lighting in the main area of the club would be more merciful.

I exited the lounge and approached the welcome table to sign in. Briefly blinded by the afternoon sun shining through the large windows, my classmates appeared as shadowy figures and silhouettes of assorted shapes and heights until my eyes adjusted and and I saw their faces.

My forever buddy, Skip, must have seen me right away. He offered to buy me a drink. Teasing me as always, he guided me to the bar where many of my classmates were gathered. Most were easy to recognize. As for the rest, familiar voices and senior photo nametags helped me identify those I couldn't remember.

From the looks of it, the hair dye business was clearly doing well. The majority of my female peers were either dyeing their hair to match that of their youth or had chosen to go blonde. I had done the latter. The men, some balding, some gray, had left their hair alone.

As for clothing, the men wore jeans or plain slacks and button-down shirts. The women’s choices were more varied. Some were dressed in slacks with a coordinated top, while others wore colorful suits or fancy dresses. As for me, I was happy that my gray cotton slacks weren’t baggy or suffocatingly tight and that my burgundy silk blouse gently clung to my torso, just enough to show I still had a waist.

I soon spotted my longtime friend, Ann, and walked over to join her.

“Barb, I’m so glad you came!” she said.

Ann’s calm and genuine interest was contagious. I forgot my worries and focused on my classmates. At earlier reunions, some had flaunted their career success since high school. Others had focused on past ‘glory’ days. At this 45th reunion, honesty and gratitude trumped attempts to make a good impression.

One classmate shared, “I’m in counseling. I realize I’ve made some mistakes and need to make some changes.”

Another said, “I’m happy to be walking again even though I still experience numbness. I’m learning to accept what is out of my control.”

A classmate who had lost his wife two months earlier commented, “Since my wife died, I make sure to tell my family and friends I love them.”

A dear friend confided, “I broke off the engagement. I’m not willing to settle for less. I would rather live alone.”

A classmate who had survived a serious illness remarked, “I hope to be around for a long time. I have so much to live for.”

Conversations weren’t all serious. We laughed about our “mess up” moments, our daring slumber party escapades and other happy times. The more I connected with my classmates, the more I bubbled over with the enthusiasm my yearbook had noted me for and my bubbles were real. I spotted Jimmy, my old Friday dance partner, and flashed him a smile free of orthodontic rubber bands. Steve, who once harassed me in German class, walked over and conversed politely without his usual sarcasm.

My friend Kasey came up to me and said, “Barbara, I didn’t get a chance to talk to you earlier. I just had to tell you how radiant and happy you look.”

“Yes, thank you. I’m very happy.”

“It shows.”

Having seen Kasey dance with her old high school love, I remarked, “I noticed you were having fun dancing with Danny, just like you used to when you were going steady.” (Seeing them together reminded me of my old boyfriend who had not attended this year, grateful that we made peace with the past during a heartfelt conversation at a previous reunion.)

Kasey replied to my comment. “It’s been great to see Danny again. He will always be special to me, but you know, I have a great husband at home and I miss him already. I can’t wait to get back to Atlanta.”

I said, “I miss my husband too.”

I wish I could tell the high school librarian that she was wrong about high school being the best years of one’s life. I’m glad to have traded in my bobby socks and youthful appearance for the rewards of being authentic and self-accepting. The landscape of my life, like my former home and high school, continues to change as does my appearance. I’ll probably always experience some trepidation about how I look and what I should wear before seeing someone I haven’t seen in years, but I like the woman who is loosening up inside me.

My high school classmates are evolving too. Those I still have contact with continue to bring me joy. They are like the loyal perennials in my garden who periodically return to say hello. They share their rich and colorful stories as well as their hard earned lessons. They have become self-accepting senior citizens who understand that imperfection is part of life and find ways to be happy despite it.

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Ginny Stiles
Ginny Stiles
Sep 15, 2022

Beautifully written, luv. Thanks for sending to my inbox. I recently attended a reunion of the faculty of the school where I taught for over 30 years. Hadn't seen most of them in over 20 years. I had some similar thoughts about clothing, hair, etc. It was a mixed-bag experience for me. I came away newly aware of how time passes and life goes on. Mostly it was a positive thing but many of us in our 80s and a few early 90s. THAT's a big change. I'm not a big fan of reunions.


Michele Nettesheim
Michele Nettesheim
Sep 15, 2022

A perfect conclusion… I love your heartfelt , simplistic and real writing! It speaks to my soul! Thank you for sharing your talents dear Bardara!

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