Class reunions are an interesting experience. I've attended many and hesitate to mention the year of the graduating class. But there I was among the class this summer brought together, probably the smallest reunion group yet; but, that was the charm and significance for me.
The earlier class reunions were held in hotels. As the years passed by, the events became less formal and, it seemed, more meaningful for we became so aware of how quickly the years were passing, and so were our classmates.
The passing of time became so evident that we decided to have this summer's reunion just five years since the last one.
There is quite a contrast between the two past reunions. Five years ago, our reunion was held on a Saturday night in the hotel ballroom with a formal sit-down dinner, dancing, bulletin boards with photos from our high school events and a slide show.
We sat at tables with classmates with whom we had shared close bonds in school. I sat next to a classmate who had lived right across the street from me during those school days and who I hadn't seen since we had graduated.
Five years ago, we shared a lot of information dealing with careers, families and where we were living. It wasn't easy to talk over the loud music and mix of conversations.
This summer it was quite different. Organizers decided upon a very informal setting, which quite frankly set the stage for strong memories, recollections and reflections that easily came to mind. Our voices had to compete only with the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, for we gathered under a pavilion set on a large expanse of a sandy town beach on the north shore of Long Island. My GPS set me on the right road, but as I wound my way along 25A through some of the Island's most beautiful and quaint towns, memories of visiting the beach with two toddlers, so long, long ago came to mind. Maybe it wasn't this exact beach, but surely it was just up the road along another picturesque site
Interesting enough, many of the female classmates, if they weren't divorced or widowed, brought their husbands. Many of the male classmates, if they were married, came alone. None of that really mattered. What really mattered was that we were there to share an experience and to reminisce about an experience that we had shared so long ago.
There was Jeff, who walked in with his wife and reminded me that at our class reunion five years ago, I had said to him: "You used to be funny." Actually, I think he is still funny and apparently quite successful.
Then there was Roger. Five years ago, he came with his fourth wife; this year, he came alone. Since our last reunion we have become accustomed to the mature adult that Roger has become, another classmate running his own successful business out in New Mexico. Roger surprised us at the last reunion because we remember him as this very quiet classmate; now he's quite the entrepreneur and social butterfly who enjoys raising and racing mules in his free time.
He went around the gathering inviting people to visit him in New Mexico, where they would have a place to stay and a mule to ride. I must say, no one ever offered me that invitation before.
I loved seeing my classmate Teddy again. He was at the reunion five years ago, and that was when I really became quite emotional in seeing him again after all these years. Teddy is the type of classmate that you remember having so much fun with in school. He was just a fun-loving guy who the minute you saw him you would both not only have a smile on your face, but you would both start laughing for no reason at all, except the joy in having the friendship. After this past reunion, I went home and looked up Teddy in the yearbook where he wrote over his class photo: "To Rita, to the girl who never let me study..." How true. I remember sitting with Teddy in the library and we would talk and laugh. Teddy looks so great today. He is a track runner and, except for this year, competes in the Senior Olympics.
There were poignant conversations with Teddy at both reunions as he shared the sad times in his life when his wife gave birth to twin sons and one died at birth.
The surviving son lived only to his 21st year when he died in a house fire. Those are the stories that break your heart when you hear them because you remember this fun loving kid in high school.
There were other conversations that literally take your breath away. It wasn't until hours into the reunion that Teddy referred to another classmate as the bionic man.
When I asked Chuck why Teddy is calling him the bionic man, Chuck got up from his seat and sat across from me to explain that he has a bad heart and is kept alive with this mechanical heart that is strapped outside his body on his chest.
I asked him, what would happen if it malfunctioned? He said he would have about 20 seconds of life left.
I was shocked, yet amazed by the science I was listening to. Here, I had spent a few hours chatting away with Chuck, not knowing what this retired airline pilot was now living with on a daily basis.
There was no pretense at this reunion, certainly not as this stage in our lives. Life's experiences can strip away all pretence, especially when somewhere during the event, there is mention of the latest classmate to have passed away.
I came away from the reunion with many mixed emotions. I felt so grateful to be with people who were part of a very early part of my life. Yet, I was sad for the losses and the pain that so many have gone through.
But mainly I felt sad for myself at this stage where loss has become so much a part of the every day. I wanted to start high school all over again to be part again of the newspaper staff, the Theatre Workshop, the All-School Committee, the Mixed Chorus, and the basketball, volleyball, softball and hockey teams.
To all the youngsters starting high school, I say take joy in every moment and experience the friendships that will indeed last a lifetime.
Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has covered Norwalk extensively.