40th Class Reunion: In His Words   Leave a comment

My husband was quite moved by the experience of attending his 40th high school class reunion, and he wrote this when we got home from Hibbing on Sunday. I am reprinting it here with his permission.

Oh, What a Night!

Saturday night, June 29th, marked the occasion of the 40th reunion of my high school class.  Bonnie and I actually had more fun there than either of us had anticipated.

The day started out at the Algonquin Club (a small bar) on Howard Street, Hibbing’s main drag.  The Reunion Committee had rented out the place for the afternoon so that classmates would have a place to gather to renew acquaintances while watching the big “Jubilee Parade” celebrating 150 years of Minnesota statehood and Hibbing’s 115th anniversary of being founded as a town.  Some food was available, as were beverages of various sorts.  Beer from the bar’s cooler could be had for two bucks a bottle, but wine and soft drinks provided by the Committee were free.  That served to get the activities off to a fluid start.  All that was missing were name tags of some sort…

The Class of 1968 was a fairly large one, well over 400 kids, the exact count an ongoing topic of debate throughout the day.  About a fourth of them, plus spouses, etc. showed up for the event.  This was a turnout much better than anyone had hoped for.  Quite a few of the gang showed up at the Algonquin Club for the kick-off.  However, without the name tags, nobody was able to recognize anybody.  Fortunately, Charlie Curtis had brought his 1968 Hematite (our yearbook) along. That provided a good cross reference and also the means for people to identify themselves.  “Here, find your class picture for me in the yearbook.”  With all of that going on, the big parade outside of our front door was largely ignored.  As we gradually started to re-establish identities, and struggled to remember each other – our memories ain’t what they used to be! – a degree of class cohesiveness began to develop.  By the end of a few hours, in spite of the quantity of adult beverages consumed, we were actually starting to recognize and remember each other.  By then the parade was over and it was time for us to move on to the main event – a more structured gathering at the old Androy Hotel.

The Androy was Hibbing’s grand hotel, dating back to the turn of the century when the entire town was uprooted and moved a few miles south to relocate it off of a particularly rich deposit of iron ore – but that’s another story.  The hotel was built to anchor the new downtown area and to serve as a symbol of Hibbing’s prosperity.  This was a very wealthy boom town in its day.  My dad was a cook in the hotel’s kitchen in his younger days, providing a further connection to the Androy.  Anyway, our event took place in the grand space that was once the hotel’s lobby.  The building has since been converted into apartments, but the main floor level has been restored for hosting special events such as ours.  And this was a special event.  Rather than a “sit down” dinner, where folks would feel confined to one seat at one table, we had a bar (always a necessity at these affairs) and a buffet line of “heavy hors d’oeuvers” that were enough to make a meal of.  This arrangement was much more amenable to mingling.   The mingling aspect was also very much enhanced by providing name badges that included a small copy of our Senior Class pictures.

High school is not an easy time for most of us.  It is even more of a challenge if you are lost in a class as large as mine.  Populations of that size tend to subdivide themselves into smaller, more personal, groups, cliques and circles.  If you found yourself on the outside of these sub-groups, as I did, you were out – far out, man.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Class Reunion was how much everyone had changed – or not changed – over the past forty years.  That’s where the little photos on the name badges really came in handy.  A few folks were instantly recognizable after the passage of four decades, but not most.  A few of us (myself included) actually look better now than we did then.  For example, my class photo features a dorky crewcut hairstyle, geek glasses, a plastic pocket protector (not visible in the photo) and bad teeth.  I still have the bad teeth – but, hey, three out of four isn’t too bad.  It was reaffirming, in a way, to match up names that I associated with sleek, powerful athletes, only to find dumpy, balding guys who are in no better physical condition than I am.  The girls who were once so intimidating because of their good looks, intelligence and talent now seem a whole lot more approachable. It was as if forty years had eroded away all of the clique boundaries and other barriers and left us with: just us – the people we really are.

When we were 18 and just beginning to experience life, those events were all new to us and seemed very profound; we were sure to be the first to have ever felt such a thing.  That made us very special – so we thought – and it seemed that life truly was all about us.  However, after the passage of forty years, we find that we have all experienced the same things to a slightly greater or slightly smaller degree: jobs, careers, births, deaths, weddings, divorces, losses, gains – in short, all of the elements that make up living.  In the end, we find that we are much more alike than we are different, after following our individual paths to this point in the cosmos.  That was reassuring.

Unfortunately, far too many never made it that far.  To date, forty-six of our classmates have passed away.  A memorial was set up to remember them.  Some left early.  They went away to Viet Nam right after graduation and came home in a box.  Others lasted longer, but not long enough to join us last Saturday night.  It’s a pity.  We would have enjoyed seeing them all again.

After a moment of silence and the reading of the names of the departed, we had the pleasure of listening to Ross Halper, a talented classmate, sing a special song for us.  Ross now writes, directs and performs in light operas on the West Coast.  Then the young DJ fired up his gear and we had some music.  It certainly was a disconcerting sign of the times for us aging Baby Boomers that no actual media was used in the creation of this music… no vinyl, no 8-track tapes, no cassettes, not even a CD.  All of the music was digitized inside of a black box and the DJ (if you could call him that) picked out the songs with a click of his mouse.  It seemed like something tangible was missing from this process.

However, the electronic play list was pretty decent and before long we were able to ignore the fact that the tunes were coming out of a computer.  Of course, such things can lead to dancing.  At least that was the intent.  The dance floor remained empty for a while as we listened to the music and kind of eyed each other to see who would be brave enough to venture out into the void.  After a few songs, a few courageous souls wandered out to break the ice.  We actually had two couples who were very accomplished dancers, making it fun to watch them.  Little by little, the dance floor filled as the evening progressed.  This old guy even ventured out there to shuffle around during a couple of slow dances.  My arthritic knees weren’t up to the stresses of anything more energetic than that.  Bonnie, however, managed to find some willing classmates and was able to dance all that she cared to.  As the night wore on, brains and aging limbs became more highly lubricated, thanks to the bar.  By 11:00 many of my classmates had rediscovered their lost youth – and each other – and were out on the dance floor jiving like a bunch of teenagers.  No doubt a few were feeling the effects of that in more ways than one the following morning.

The one small downside of the event was the acoustics.  Classic hotel lobbies were designed to be peaceful, quiet places – not venues for rock concerts.  The ornate terrazzo floor, dark wooden paneling and ornate plaster ceiling all looked wonderful, but these are very hard surfaces.  Just the din of normal conversation filled the space with a low level white noise that sometimes made conversation difficult.  Add in a batch of 60’s rock and roll music and you have a very loud environment indeed.  By 11:30, Bonnie and I were both thoroughly saturated with stimulation from the evening.  We quietly slipped out the back exit into the cool, rainy night to head back to our hotel.

It was a coward’s escape and I admit it.  We Minnesotans are known for our protracted good bye rituals and I was not feeling up to that.  Here were people that I had just reconnected with after forty years – or maybe connected with for the first time after forty years – and we were leaving each other after just a few hours.  Who knows when, or if, we will ever see each other again.  I wasn’t feeling emotionally up to that.

We did manage to pass out a few (too few) calling cards listing our contact information.  We also put our email address on a list to be published.  So maybe, just maybe, some connections will be maintained.  This reunion went so well that maybe we will have another one in ten years.  If so, sign me up now!

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