by Taffy Cannon
You might think that somebody whose book “Class Reunions Are Murder” was published a full sixteen years ago would have gotten high school reunions out of her system by now. There are, after all, plenty of people who will tell you straight out that they have no interest in attending a class reunion ever, thank you very much. Some even live within walking distance of their alma maters. Others are fairly indifferent, but I fall with a resounding thud into the third group. I am vastly curious—one might say voyeuristic, but one is not that rude—about the lives and times of my early educational comrades.
And so it happened that I was at it again just last weekend, at the Mid 60s reunion of Chicago’s Morgan Park High School.
It’s nearly four decades since I’ve lived in Chicago, and while many of my classmates either remain in the area or still regard it as their home town, I’m one of the ones who couldn’t wait to leave and returns rarely. What’s more, I’ve been happily settled in frost-free Southern California for most of my adult life.
The events of my high school years often seem as remote as the black rotary dial phones we all had back then. So what keeps pulling me back, besides the pizza? I wasn’t particularly happy in high school, and recall shuddering in horror when adults claimed those were the best years of my life. Getting out was an achievable goal, and going far away an added bonus. I kept moving west across the grapefruit belt after college until I hit the Pacific Ocean, a personal form of manifest destiny.
When the Ten Year Reunion of the Class of ’66 rolled around, I was living in an apartment in a whimsical Hollywood castle built by Charlie Chaplin to house his underage girlfriends. I celebrated at a distance by becoming a trifle inebriated and singing along—loudly and off-key—with Paul Simon: “Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town.”
Of course that was just as silly as the best-years-of-your-life nonsense. And over time, I have come to occupy a middle ground. For better or worse, I am a product of the community and region where I grew up. I absorbed certain attitudes and ideals that are still running in the background and always will be.
These classmates were a part of those years, and our shared history creates a kind of shorthand that lets us communicate with relative ease when we do come together. A loose group of us meets informally now and again in SoCal, for instance, and pizza parties in Chicago are frequently built around the schedule of a classmate visiting from elsewhere.
Since missing the 10th, I’ve attended all of my own subsequent reunions, plus those of my husband, who graduated from the same school the following year. Each reunion has brought joys and surprises. I have reacquainted myself with old buddies and developed significant friendships with people I never knew at all as a teen. Some of these people have offered me extraordinary and unexpected acts of kindness. I cherish great fleeting memories of folks I’ve only seen once since 1966—at one of these reunions—and remember some of those conversations verbatim.
I always think of my widowed aunt who attended her fortieth, hooked up again with her high school sweetheart, married him three months later and lived happily ever after. As far as I know, that hasn’t happened to us, but maybe people have just been shy about making announcements.
Please understand that we are not fossils. We accepted online reservations for the first time this year on a dedicated reunion website, and our Communications czar posted information on a bewildering array of lists, blogs, accounts and bulletin boards, though we cut off his skywriting budget.
We also have operated a couple of Internet lists for over ten years.
One originated to plan the 2003 Reunion and a second spun off shortly thereafter to discuss the political issues that certain classmates insisted on airing publicly and at length. (Nothing will derail an Internet discussion faster than politics, except maybe religion.) None of us are likely to make significant changes in political attitudes and beliefs at this point in life, but some folks enjoy the sport. On the political list, we who participate regularly are as predictable as the results of a childhood mayoral election, back when a generation of young baby boomers grew up believing that Mayor Daley was a single word. Facebook has added a new dimension to these online interactions, as well as the ability to post pictures of cats. Of course some classmates get into political arguments on FB, too.
Starting in 2003 we’ve held multi-year reunions, since a difference of two or three years means a whole lot less when you’re sixty-four than when you’re fourteen. This last gathering was called “Mid-60s” as a double-entendre with no racy undertones. I think we may be beyond racy undertones, actually. A lot of people look darn good for folks in their seventh decade, but one classmate noted that five years down the ADA-accessible pike, we’re likely to have two aisles of Walker Parking outside the banquet room.
Five years ago, the reunion weekend offered an exhausting schedule. Friday night mixer, Saturday morning grade school breakfasts and visits, Saturday afternoon bus tour of the old neighborhood and high school open house, fancy party following on Saturday night. Sunday morning one of our classmates preached at his local church and the high school A Cappella choir members sang together again under the direction of the teacher who led the chorus back in the 60s.
It’s a miracle we all survived such a punishing schedule, and I forgot to even mention the picnic that followed the church service, or the one that preceded the Friday mixer.
So we cut way back this time, and it worked just fine with less planned activities and more informal gatherings. We added a great Memorabilia Contest, judged by the crowd, and no woman of my generation will be surprised to hear that the attractive blue one-piece gym suit with stylish snaps up the front won handily. A group did adjourn to the bar when the room closed down at midnight on Saturday, but most of us were fast asleep by then.
Life is fragile, as I was reminded this spring when I lost my two closest and dearest male relatives in a single dreadful two week period. We’ve lost more and more classmates as well, with others in poor health. At some point we’ll reach a tipping point when the In Memoriam list outnumbers the living. Just since 2007, we’ve lost two of the guys who were instrumental in making earlier reunions happen, both remarkable originals.
We aren’t the same people we were in high school, which is probably a very good thing. But we have grown and evolved in intriguing ways. Some followed the paths they had always envisioned and others headed out on trails we could not have imagined as teenagers. Some are now retired, some were involuntarily retired, some wish they could retire, and others swear they’ll be carried feet first out of the workplace. We’ve emerged better people for the joys and sorrows, the achievements and disappointments, the roads to nowhere and pathways to the stars.
A classmate noted recently, “’Next time’ is a wish, not a promise.”
That is my wish for the Morgan Park High School Mid 60s, my fellow travelers through history.