This past weekend Susana & I traveled to Lake Forest, north of Chicago, for the 50th anniversary reunion of my small (about 135) LFHS graduating class. I'll post pictures (Susana's got them on her computer; we're at a cybercafé in New York City right now). For now, some reflections.
Why do we do this? Re-une, I mean. Nostalgia? Not for me -- I feel no longing to return to that time of adolescent confusion and awkwardness. I do have fond memories of some teachers, who now are all deceased (well, it's been 50 years!). And memories of some funny, pleasant moments with some of the kids. I hadn't been back at all, and I had some curiosity to see how those former kids and the place itself looked now. But more important to me was something I learned at my college reunions, that any gathering of what Heinrich Böll called our Zeitgenossen or "generational comrades" will include people with whom I can compare and check my own understandings of the turbulent times we've lived through.
That is, I looked forward to conversations even with people I didn't know well then. There were some kids I barely remembered who now, as experienced adults, gave me vivid impressions and a desire to learn more about how our times looked from their viewing point. Some were in Vietnam (which I managed to avoid -- I was on the outside, protesting the war). And all were in places and career situations different from mine. I hope that we can now continue those conversations, by email or other ways.
Another general impression: 1959, the year of our graduation, was not only pre-AIDS, it was also before any of us had become aware of feminism. Girls were the weaker sex, expected to attach themselves to some guy to make their, but mostly his, life more meaningful. And that seems to be what most of my girl classmates did. There were a couple of exceptions, including the girl I was most interested in. She was one of the few who had very clear ideas of what she did not want, which included (fortunately for both of us) me. Good for her! And there were others, including one very sweet girl I'd once taken to a dance, who seems to have found the right guy for a mutually supportive relationship that lasted 45 years. She was, alas, recently widowed, but she has the strength of those good memories and the life they built and their children, and seemed like a happy, active person. She had in fact been one of the organizers of this pretty complicated gathering (it had involved researching where everybody was, reserving meeting halls, printing a "yearbook", hiring a photographer -- lots of details to get together).
But they learned, some more quickly than others. Some of the happiest women at the reunion had rid themselves of unsatisfying (or worse) partners and made lives of their own. These included one girl I remembered very well as a conversation partner, for hours. Now she's a very well-established professional, still curious about the world.
Not to neglect the guys. Some of them (or us) caught on to the dignity of women in time not to mess up our marriages, and some of us maybe even started out that way. So, a salute to all my Zeitgenossen! I was very happy to get (re)acquainted.