It was the era of 3.2 beer and Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” — 1965 — 50 long years ago. To attend or not attend the golden anniversary of my high school reunion? The question rolled like a loose marble and I felt push-back immediately.
Who needs to travel 50 years backwards to awkward teen years? It would feel like speed dating, showing up as our best selves. We are aging boomers, our biggest dreams probably lived already. How many from Olentangy High School’s class of 98 students would be interested in a 50th soiree?
Rumor held that several from our class had made big lives, financially and otherwise, with a few claiming moments of fame here and there. Email exchanges informed that 14 graduates had passed from the physical world, living now without burden of bodies or decision.
The loose thoughts continued, but eventually I RSVP’d in the affirmative. Days before our gathering, I began sorting through memories. Many of us had known one another since grade school so they began early:
• A state fair half-a-heart necklace tossed out a school bus window to this second-grade girl by a boy with dark hair and blue eyes — which meant we were boyfriend and girlfriend, at least for the afternoon.
• Being confused about what “going-all-the-way” really meant (something parents couldn’t talk about), and being educated by my giggling group of girlfriends.
• In waltzed the 16-year-old basketball star who offered to let this math dimwit copy answers from his algebra test.
• In strutted thoughts of boys who became my small-town besties, who knew my parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who were teammates for kick-the-can, fellow cohorts in Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings, who also offered brotherly advice about my rocky love life.
Our graduating class had been plopped into the mid-’60s. We had not yet been called to decide how, or if, we would serve in Vietnam. The Beatles played to screaming crowds. The Rolling Stones sang about lack of satisfaction while we circled the A&W Drive-In feeling feverishly satisfied behind the wheels of souped-up Chevrolets. We knew nothing about heroin overdoses. We couldn’t fathom a future of school violence, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech or Columbine High.
There were 38 graduates plus 12 tolerant guests at the reunion dinner. We had traveled far — Arizona, California, New Mexico, Florida, Michigan, Georgia and New Orleans. And yes, it was somewhat like speed-dating — so little time to share details from the stretch of years. And yes, no matter how wealthy or healthy, well-traveled or well-known, we were each a bit worn around the edges, not unlike “The Velveteen Rabbit,” but oh did we shine.
Here we stood in a room full of memory, all of us woven together by those knock-kneed, tender teenage years. We had survived our youth, that shallow place where esteem was attached to letter jackets, cliques, angora sweaters, our parents’ bank accounts. We stood now on an equal playing field, run over by the clock of time, but each with a plethora of those growth experiences that help create real people.
Even those who had lived big lives had not been spared. Humbling stories of wins and losses prevailed around the room: Financial ups and downs, loss of parents, siblings, marriages, personal health, leaving full-time employment, some spawning new, smaller careers.
At the end of the evening, a group of us decided we were no longer young. But neither were we old. We were just a generation of aging, enlightened teenagers full of tenacity and a zest for life.
Maybe we will keep our promises to stay in touch and maybe we won’t, but time together was a wonderful respite along the path of years, and had I realized the pleasure sooner, there would have been less marble playing.
Candace Hartzler is a free-lance writer living in Worthington. She grew up in the Lewis Center area and graduated from Otterbein University. She retired from Ohio State University and has lots of family still in the Delaware County area.