I went to my high school’s 50th reunion a few weeks ago. It happened to be scheduled at a time when I would be back in my home state of South Carolina for the annual family reunion. Living 750 miles away, I could not have made separate trips for both reunions.
The high school I graduated from no longer exists—at least the building doesn’t. There is a new building, though the name and location are the same, Wade Hampton High School, in Greenville. The school opened in 1960, at a time when naming things after Confederate generals was still in vogue. My (all-white) graduating class was the first one that was there long enough to learn their way around and develop some affinity for the place. In 1963 our basketball team beat the hated Greenville High team for the first time. One member of my class wrote the alma mater; two others designed the school seal. Both are still in use.
I wasn’t there as long as the rest of the class of ’63. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my family moved around—a LOT. I entered WHHS in the fall of 1961. Everyone else seemed to belong, especially those in my class who had been through junior high together. Because I had lived in Greenville when I was in elementary school, I actually knew a few of them—even had pictures of a couple of the guys at my 9th birthday party—but we had all changed in six years. Those childhood friendships did not reignite. No one was mean or unkind, and I am, by nature, something of a loner. I soon knew I was not going to be voted “Most Anything.”
I did make three good friends, and by senior year I had a girlfriend. Going to the 50th reunion, I did not expect to see two of my friends, because they were dead, and I had no particular desire to see my old girlfriend (this isn’t going to turn into a Hallmark Channel movie). My one remaining good friend is someone I reconnected with about ten years ago and have seen on trips to SC. But he was the chair of this reunion planning committee. We got to talk for two minutes.
When I got back to the hotel after the reunion, my wife asked, “Was Joyce there?” I told her no and that I had not expected her to be there. Her name had not appeared on any list of those who had signed up. I last spoke to her in 1992, along with her second husband. At age 47 she had four children (two boys, then two girls, just like I have) and seven grandchildren. Eerily, she called her younger son by a nickname which I had as a child but had given up long before I met her (cue the “Twilight Zone” theme). In 2012 her name—her maiden name—appeared on my Classmates page (I told my wife about it that day). I suppose I could look her up on Facebook or some such place, but why?
I attended two parts of the reunion—a Friday night mixer at the elegant home of one of the class members and the grand finale at a country club on Saturday night. There were some activities planned during the day on Saturday, but that was when my family’s reunion was held.
The mixer proved enjoyable. The weather was much better than one might expect for South Carolina in late July, so we could be inside or outside. I recognized some of the people and had some interesting conversations. One of the guys I had gone to elementary school with was there. His grandson graduated from Wade Hampton this spring, 50 years after his grandfather. I had an enjoyable conversation with a woman who took piano lessons from the same teacher I had. She always played last at our recitals while I had the penultimate position nailed down. She taught first grade until she retired recently and, like me, hardly ever touches the piano anymore.
The Saturday event was much less enjoyable. In the first place, I was late because I was coming from my family reunion and I had trouble finding the country club. By the time I arrived everyone was sitting at tables for four. These were mostly folks who had stayed in the Greenville area since graduation and still had some connection and had attended previous reunions. I ended up sitting by myself at a table for two on the fringe of things. “Yeah, this feels a lot like high school,” I thought.
The highlight of that evening was getting to talk to my Biology II teacher for a few minutes. I’m not sure why I took that course. I had no interest in being a doctor or entering any other scientific field and Joyce wasn’t in the class, but it was a great course. I told my teacher that, thanks to her course, I was able to explain menopause to my mother, who was going through that process at the time. When I finished, my mother said, “So you mean I’m not going crazy?”
Was it worth it? It would not have been worth the trip just to go to that reunion, but since I was in town anyway, it was worth driving a couple of more miles. Most of us looked nothing like what we did in high school, of course, but there were half a dozen people there who looked like they had not aged more than ten years. The voices and smiles were more of a give-away than overall appearance. There’s talk of a 55th reunion. If it’s scheduled at a time when I’m in SC, I might go. It’s hard to explain the pull that that part of our lives exerts on us.