Monday, August 15, 2005

I Can’t Believe It’s Been Thirty Years!

A few weeks ago I attended my 30-year high school class reunion (Barrington High School, Class of 1975). It was a wonderful experience on so many levels – being back in Chicago, reliving my high school memories, having a wonderful cruise on Chicago’s First Lady,, (owned by one of my classmates and his wife). Over the years I have come to appreciate how privileged I was to grow up in Barrington, and to attend Barrington High School. After the reunion, I have come to realize what incredible people were in my class. I spent the evening with folks who were friendly, outgoing and happy to be with others in our hometown. My classmates have an even better sense of humor than I remember from my high school days. We laughed ourselves silly at stories from our teenage years – the son of the Barrington Middle School science teacher who had one helluva marijuana plot growing under fluorescent lights in the basement, the super-straight laced A-student who got plastered beyond belief at Munich’s Hoffbrau Haus during a spring-break German Club trip, Driver’s Ed antics (the head football coach was one of our Driver’s Ed instructors).

My graduating class was a friendly, inclusive group. Our class’ friendliness was exemplified by some of the people who came to the reunion: Linda and Claudia, who both joined us senior year; Kim, who’s been living in Switzerland for the past 20 years (at least) and made the journey stateside; and Jean-Marie, the foreign exchange student from France, who likewise traveled several thousand miles to participate.

Ruben Navarrette, a columnist with the Washington Post Writer’s Group, publishes thoughtful columns, even if I sometimes disagree with him. Last week he published an especially thoughtful reflection on his 20-year reunion, "Reunions reveal what’s most important" . His basic conclusion is that at the 20-year mark one’s children tend to be first and foremost in one’s thoughts.

Well, a few basic observations on hitting the 30-year mark.

We realize we’re getting older. (Gulp!) We’re not so much concerned about changes in physical appearances, although some of us are getting gray, some of the guys have gone bald (at least on top), and some of us have gained weight (yours truly is Exhibit A in that last category). We are noticing how our physical abilities are changing – we can’t stay up and party all night, we can’t run as fast as we used to run. We’re noticing how people react to us – the teens and twenty-somethings (young enough to be our children) who were in the Loop for Lollapalooza that same evening looking at us and wondering what all these “old folks” were doing. Or the kids who were on the train who struck up a conversation with me (yes, they had been to Lollapalooza). When I told them I had been to my 30-year high school class reunion they stared at me in amazement. It’s a bit mind-boggling to realize that these kids were probably born a few years after I graduated from college!

We’re older – and wiser. By now we’ve all suffered loss in our lives, in some form or another. A number of my classmates have lost a parent. At least one of my classmates has lost both of her parents. Almost all of us have been through the breakup of a romantic relationship – many of us have been through a divorce. Some of the divorces have been pretty nasty, too – I heard of one ex-cheerleader whose divorce had been pending for several years. A number of us have survived job losses. Sadly, a few have become estranged from brothers and sisters. And we’ve lost some of our classmates to death. At the 10-year mark, the classmates who had been lost to death had their lives cut short due to accidents. We’re now losing classmates due to natural causes – Diana died of cancer a couple of years ago, David had a massive coronary a few months ago.

In short, we realize we’re mortal. We’re not going to live forever.

So we relived the glory days at Barrington High School. We spoke about the teachers who inspired us the most, and there were many. We chuckled about the obsessive-compulsive school superintendent who would harass couples holding hands in the hallways, and laughed out loud when it was revealed that he resigned a few years later upon discovery of his affair with a married school board member. We shared what we remembered of some of our town’s landmarks – the lovely 100+ year old houses on Lake Street and Hough Street, the old train station, Barrington United Methodist Church (sadly lost to fire a few years back), Langendorf Park, the old Jewel Tea building, Marie’s Bakery, Dee’s on Main Street (still the best Italian beef I’ve ever had) – and of course, the venerable Catlow Theatre.

I realize I’m not the only one thinking back to my “Wonder Years” in Barrington, Illinois. For the past several years there’s been a part of me that’s been longing for a simpler time. It turns out many of my classmates are thinking the same way. I suppose it’s part and parcel of facing – and surviving – the difficulties each of us has encountered over the past 30 years.

In his column, Ruben Navarrette counsels today’s high school graduates that one’s most enduring legacy is one’s children. I would tell today’s graduates that, no matter what curve balls life throws them, they will survive. And they will be strengthened by their trials and tribulations. And in the difficult times, the memories they have of their hometowns and classmates will give them comfort. They will realize how everything has helped shape them into who they are today.

Hold onto the memories, young people. They will sustain you for years to come. And when you get an invitation to a class reunion, I urge you to attend.

You’ll be glad you did.