Janet Sheridan: The best of times
September 15, 2011
In this morning's mail, I received the photograph taken at my 50th class reunion in August.
The photographer shot it with a wide-angle lens to accommodate the 93 attendees and our increased girth.
We made an effort to look good for the occasion.
"I bought a new outfit for tonight," a friend told me. "I'd planned to get a manicure and pedicure as well, but decided to replace the batteries in my hearing aids and call it good."
Despite such efforts, the photograph shows oldsters in comfortable shoes and generously sized clothing with hair dyed, graying, thinning, or gone. We look out below wrinkled brows as we suck in rounded bellies and square slumping shoulders.
After the picture was taken, I overheard two classmates laughing at an observation made by a third.
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"As I look around at everybody," he'd said, "I feel like I've wandered into a field full of aging heifers and sway-backed mules"—an appropriate exchange among former FFA members.
However, when I study our photograph, I notice arms thrown fondly around one another and happy smiles on every face. Despite our aging bodies, the class of 1961 enjoyed its evening, which surprised me.
The two earlier reunions I attended had clotted into the cliques and gossip of high school. I assumed this one would do the same.
But, a song by Larry Maggliacio, our class crooner, changed my outlook.
When Larry used to sing for our high school assemblies, he received standing ovations, motivated in part by his signature song, Scotch and Soda, a daring choice in a predominately Mormon school. We assumed our ancient principal — who was 80 when he died 40 years later — had never heard of jiggers of gin.
As I listened to Larry at the reunion, it seemed that, once again, I sat on gouged wooden seats in a darkened auditorium with my best friend on one side and my boyfriend on the other, all of us certain of a glowing future filled with romantic love and long-lasting friendships.
I think others felt the same nostalgia because Larry's song sent us into the best part of the evening: mingling with one another and rediscovering our mutual past.
I tried to read the nametags of my classmates as they approached, so I could address by name the dignified woman who remembered throwing up on me during band practice and the old man with hairy ears who hugged me as though he'd done it before.
"Janet, you haven't changed a bit," some claimed.
Others read my nametag and said with astonishment, "I never would've recognized you."
I found these contradictory statements puzzling, until I realized vanity had caused many of us to leave our glasses at home, which confused the issue.
I knew the motivation for the few who exclaimed, "Wow, you look better than ever!"
We found that time had polished our positive qualities: Blake, former class clown, possessed a generous wit that amused everybody without demeaning anyone; Kathy and Ruby Ann, once energetic cheerleaders, laughed and drew others into their fun; Edgar, whose quirks challenged the social standards of high school, asked insightful questions and expressed affection and admiration openly. He had a crowd around him the entire night.
So we socialized, with groups forming, dispersing, and re-forming as tired spouses hoped a lightning strike would force evacuation of the building.
The sorting criteria of teenagers — who was in, out, best, worst, most, least — had been scrubbed out of us by years tinged with heartbreaks, illnesses, and disappointments. Our common struggles allowed us to see fellow humans rather than jocks, grinds, beauties, nerds, winners and losers.
Our edges were worn away.
At 67 and 68, we bore witness for each other: we're here, we made it, and for part of the way, we walked together.