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Steve Hansen: Looking back on high school, 50 years later

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The notice came by email. My 50 high school reunion would take place Oct. 5.

We had at least six months to confirm the reservation. That gave me plenty of time to think about the journey. You see, it was a long way back to Bethesda, Md., and a number of factors needed to be considered.

First of all, I only attended that school during my senior year. Some of the people in this class I had known since the third grade. However, I did not have the continuity of growing up with these same friends. During my K-12 grades, a move back to California as well as attending an eastern private school had affected much of my interpersonal dynamics.

Secondly, a lot of things happen in 50 years. Traveling for me is not as fun as it used to be. Airline boarding is now a burden, not the pleasurable adventure it once was. Hotel living is another story. Paper thin walls and noisy hallways can be really irritating. In addition, my wife always wonders who slept in that bed before us.

But attending the reunion still seemed like the thing to do and relive some pleasant memories from the past.

I called a few lifetime friends to see if they would be going, but the answer was “no.” They had made other plans, despite the fact that they still reside back East.

The reunion committee has worked hard over many years to provide an enjoyable experience for their fellow classmates but have had their struggles. Over 200 of the 600-plus graduates could not be located. At least four dozen are no longer with us, ranging from casualties in the Vietnam War, to cancer, suicide and even an accidental electrocution.

The final decision for me came with an injured Achilles tendon. Limping painfully through airports and hotel lobbies was not in the cards. But through the miracle of modern technology, I was able to see, via video and digital photos, the over 50 former classmates who did attend.

After half a century — and in some cases longer — the images were rather shocking. I would not have recognized anyone. Gravity and time had taken their toll. But of course, after gazing in the mirror, why would I assume things would be any different for them?

Let’s start with Vicki. (Names have been changed to protect the elderly.) In high school, she was beautiful with long brunette hair. With a coy smile, she used to throw spit wads at me in history class. But at the time, I was too naive to see the gesture as a form of flirtation. Now, she’s rather stout and has a cropped mop with frosted tips that seem to be in style among some aging women.

Then there was James. He and I took basketball lessons every Saturday in the fourth grade. His brother was supposed to attend, along with a classmate named Ralph, who is now a district attorney. Neither showed. James is a retired physician, who spent most of his career in the military. While he remains trim and fit, I never would have recognized the once freckled-face, buck-toothed kid I knew in elementary school.

In the fourth grade, Marilyn was tall and skinny. She used to bring me goodies from her father’s store. Now, her face is filled out. She wears glasses and sports short gray hair.

As for 95 percent of those in attendance, I did not know them at the time, and they are still strangers today. I did notice that the old-line “groups” were forming at the dinner tables, especially among women who had known each other for most of their lives. Their husbands remained patient, but obviously looked bored at the “remember when?” gab. Most were removed from the online photos.

All things considered, it’s just as well I didn’t attend. With the government shutdown, my wife would have been very disappointed at not being able to see the historic sights of Washington, D.C.

But then, looking at the big picture, high school reunions are always a mixed blessing. On one hand, it’s enjoyable to revive old memories with good friends from long ago. But on the other hand, 50-year reunions are a realistic reminder of our impending mortality, life’s continuous cycle and the inevitable, deteriorating toll it takes on all of us.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.