So, when I received the notice to my 50-year reunion, my first thought was my wife and her high school event. Not for me, I thought to myself. But then I realized it may be a golden opportunity to sell my book. It should be on audio by then so we can have a CD Signing (if there is such a thing).
My good friend, Bruce, was on the Reunion Committee, so I sent him a proposition. If they would include a flyer about my book in the reunion mailer, I would help pay for the postage of their notices. I was notified that the Committee turned down my offer, but they would provide me a mailing list of former classmates. I assumed the reason for the denial was they didn’t want me using the reunion to sell books. Fair enough. This setback provided me with another reason not to attend. I never liked high school that much anyway. I dreaded the thought of sitting in the local country club and listening to someone babble about who died, who is married the longest, and who has the most children. And, I had to wear long pants.
As I perused the list I received from the Committee, my mind rushed with good and bad memories. My best friend in high school, Johnny, was listed as deceased. How could that have happened? Am I that far removed from my hometown roots that I didn’t hear about his death?
Memories of the girls I dated in high school stimulated many fond memories. Also, names of girls I wanted to date in high school, but never had the courage to ask, also sparked my curiosity. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down with these beautiful, mature women and talk about our lives, especially my book?
A few other names popped out as I prepared my own mailer to send out. A guy named Wally. He was a very nice guy that was on the tennis team. He wasn’t a big guy but a strong competitor. We had a fight in junior high school, but afterwards, we seemed to co-exist. He was the kind of guy you expected to succeed, well educated, wealthy, and cool. I am sure he didn’t expect me to reach retirement as a City Manager and then write a book about our hometown.
My friend David, was on the mailer. We had attended community college together. We played on the football team and we partied on a regular basis. Good fortune kept us in college, luckily, we were not sent to prison. I had not seen David for almost forty years, so a reunion should bring back a feeling of youthful enthusiasm.
I also looked forward to talking to Gayle, a classmate who attended school with me from elementary level all the way through high school. He became a dentist. I wonder if he remembers me. Maybe I could have him look at this filling that continues to give me trouble.
Maybe LeRoy would be there. LeRoy and I had a ton of fun hanging around his father’s gas station in a small town not far from where I lived. Won’t he be surprised when he hears my hobby is restoring vintage cars. He may provide me some advice on my latest project, a 1952 pickup.
A lot of my classmates were missing. I wondered what had happened to them. Surely someone would know. Was Vicki kidnapped and never heard from again? Did George get busted in the biggest drug bust on the west coast? I wondered if Patsy became a famous film star after she changed her name and her appearance? How did I miss the possibility of Phoebe becoming a double agent spy during the Vietnam War? Is there a story worthy of a book in each missing person? Am I not going to hear from these 1966 graduates? How are they going to know about my book?
Thanks to our good friends Tom and Kathy, we planned a book signing event at a local diner the morning of the reunion. I planned to sell books plus the newly released audio version. After a night of Mexican food and gallons of cold beer, my wife and I checked in at our motel on the edge of town. That morning, we had breakfast at the diner. I was invigorated about the promotion and now even the reunion. My son, Ben, whispered to me that the man at the next table was here for his 50th reunion. I scooted my chair closer and asked him if he was attending his reunion tonight. He nodded in the affirmative. I told him I was here for the same reason. He introduced himself and I said politely “Oh, yeah, I remember. How are you doing?” I then told him my name and he immediately told me he didn’t remember me. So much for my positive feelings about the day. He went back to eating his biscuits and gravy. My friends and family got a good laugh from his response.
The Book Signing went well. Afterwards, my entourage, a couple of long-time friends and my family, devoured large quantities of tacos from the converted A & W Root Beer stand. That afternoon, more cold beer carried me right up to the reunion time. Back at the motel while getting dressed, my wife said she thought I would be in better behavior if I was comfortable. Really, I thought. Shorts it is, I decided.
As Linda and I walked into the country club, I stopped at the check-in table by the front door. A member of the reunion committee was selling her own book. Interesting. I decided to check out her book to see what fascinating subject matter bumped my local true-crime story from the reunion. It was Amish Poetry, or something like that.
As my wife scouted a good place to sit for the dinner, I headed right for the bar. Something happened and I realized I didn’t recognize many people. Most people didn’t recognize me. Other than a few friends I had maintained a relationship with over the years, I asked myself who are these old people. But the beer was cold and I was comfortable wearing my shorts and a Columbia fishing shirt with the extra pockets. Al, the chairperson of the committee, recognized me (after checking out my name tag). I asked him about my high school friend, Johnny. “How did he die?” I sadly asked, “It would have been fun drinking beer with him again, may he rest in peace.”
Al responded, “Oh, he’s not dead. That was a mistake on the mailing list.”
“A mistake? How did that happen?”
“We called his ex-wife to get his current address, and she told us he was dead,” explained Al.
In a thoughtful voice, I mumbled “I guess she is still upset about the divorce. Is he going to be here tonight?”
No, I don’t think so.” answered Al.
“I’ll miss him, but I’m glad he is still alive.” I said as Al walked away continuing his hosting duties.
I couldn’t blame the Committee for causing me to grieve about Johnny for over four weeks. After all, it was an honest mistake. I raised my beer to Johnny and thought to myself: Here’s to you Johnny, may you rest in peace, someday.
At the beginning of the program, our high school’s current band came in and played the National Anthem followed by our Alma Mater. The band director appeared to be about seventeen-years-old and the band members looked like fifth graders. I hesitate to think how we must have appeared to the band members. More than likely, we looked like a gathering of grandparents, which we were. The group marched out in a military manner that brought the group to their feet clapping and cheering like an old-school pep rally.
Figuratively pouring a bucket of cold water over the crowd, the next part program paid tribute to all those classmates who had died during the past fifty years. A real downer. But at least they didn’t mention Johnny. As they were naming the deceased classmates, someone in the crown shouted that a specific person on the list, Jose, was not dead. “It was his brother that died,” said a voice from the audience.
“No, Jose is dead. I talked to his cousin,” retorted a member of the committee.
It was like voices from beyond. Imagine, stopping the program to debate the life-or-death condition of a school chum. It was so bizarre, I expected my friend Johnny to walk into the room to declare his existence. I returned to the bar, just in case Johnny showed up.
It was in the bar that I saw David, my college buddy. We reminisced about a few old times and he told me he wanted me to meet his wife.
“I told her all about you,” he said. “She knows all the stories.”
All the stories? I can imagine who the good guy is and who the bad guy is when David tells the stories. “I’ll be over soon. We can talk about old times,” I said as he returned to his table. He appeared as if he could still carry a football. I felt I could maybe block for him if I didn’t have to run or do anything foolish.
I returned to our table to hear the host asking intriguing questions of the crowd such as who had the most children, who traveled the farthest, who had the most grandchildren from multiple marriages, plus allowing semi-engaging individual dissertations and comments from the audience. The winners of these furthest-mostest-longest contests were each given a book of Amish poetry. This part of the program made me wonder why I was there, or at least, why I ever left the bar area.
Gayle, my friend-turned-dentist, gave the invocation. Included in his blessing, he thanked the Lord he didn’t kill himself along with the driving instructor during his high school’s Driver’s Ed program. Even with heads bowed, you could see the alumni’s’ eyes roll. I think I’ll pass on having him look at my bad tooth.
A lot of my former dates were there, but I thought it best that we not renew old acquaintances. I assume they thought the same thing, because none of them approached me to discuss old times.
To be honest, I did have some captivating discussions with some of my peers about the old days. Plus, I heard an extremely interesting story worthy of a book and I put that relationship in motion. Wally didn’t show up, so maybe another time. We sat at an interesting table. Our table-mates included a retired government worker, minister and his wife, and an attorney and his wife. The retired government worker was a spouse and not a member our class of 1966, so his interest in the event was almost as keen as mine. Bored as he looked, it was a wonderment he wasn’t at the bar. I assumed the minister had his hands full hearing about the sins of the attorney, so I didn’t feel guilty devoting most of the night at the bar. I spoke to a lot of very nice people that night and I truly hope to see them all again soon, especially the minister who offered to host Linda and I on our next Arizona Spring Training visit.
But, like in high school, I had been drinking beer most of the day. This reunion party reflected my feelings about high school: I dreaded the beginning and couldn’t wait for it to end. My wife and I were back at the motel in bed by 9:30 pm eating some leftover tacos from that afternoon.
The next morning at breakfast, a young woman graciously asked me to sign a couple of my books. I was flattered. She then told me that I went to school with her grandfather. Longevity could be my claim to fame.
Is there such a thing as a fifty-five-year reunion? A lot could happen in five years. LeRoy could help me get my pickup started. Wally and I could have a rousing tennis match. Maybe we could visit Johnny on our way to Padres’ Spring Training. I should be able to write a few more books by then.