This past weekend I went to my high-school reunion.
It was the fiftieth anniversary of the school in its present form, but people from the school’s predecessors were more than welcome. For me, it was my thirtieth reunion.
I’d found out about the school reunion around six months ago, when reading a thread here on the boards about second-language instruction in the public schools. I’d mentioned that for most English-speaking Ontarians, at least, the mandatory second language was French, and where the choices came in was for the third language. When I was in high school, that third language was German, but when I went to the school’s website, I found out that it was now Spanish.
And I also found out about the reunion. There was a website and a Facebook group. I checked out the Facebook group and recognized a name, that of the sister of my best friend from high school.
Which led me to my friend. Over the past few months, we had some limited Facebook contact, but I think we’ve both changed a lot, and there was a hesitancy there. He’s still married to his high-school sweetheart though, the same woman he was married to at the ten-year reunion.
I ordered tickets for the reunion online, and booked a hotel room.
Friday came, I was not working in the afternoon, and I drove down and checked into the hotel. I spent a little time driving around town, looking at all the places I used to live, but that was just nerves and delay before heading to the venue.
I pulled in, parked, and headed in. The first event of the reunion, on Friday night, was a pub night. It was held on a rented ice rink at the local sportsplex (which is undergoing a major expansion; I think it’s going to be a venue for the Pan-American Games in '15). As I entered, I smelt fresh paint and looked around. The place was already bigger than I remembered it.
I found the arena. They were holding my tickets at the door. I collected mine, they stamped my hand, and I went through the door and entered the rink.
I was relatively early, so the rink was almost empty. It was a large concrete floor with a bar set up on trestle tables at one side of what would be the centre-ice zone during a game, and a projector showing scenes from the school at the other. At the far end were tables. And there were people standing around talking. (This is the way Anglos party, folks… and the town was pretty much an Anglo town when I was in high school.)
I got a drink, and started to wander around looking at nametags. Understandably, I was not expecting to actually recognize anyone’s face… but in a few minutes I recognized a name! Shelly M. She recognized me, and we chatted, and she introduced me to several people around me, some of whose names I also recognized. Kathy G, Ann L, Ann B, David R, Janice F, Terry J, Blair C… we traded stories and looked at pictures of spouses and kids and caught up a little. One was working in the fashion industry. Another was a local cop. Another was head of security for the TTC. Another was in sales. Another was a teacher at the same school.
Both men and women looked great. I was anticipating some people looking unwell, and was glad to see that this was not true.
Then I met Bill J. This was a guy I played Legos with in public school; he lived a block up the street. By the time of the ten-year reunion, he’d married and become a teacher. He was still a teacher, and looked very good, a cool teacher indeed. Turns out his brother owns the house now. I wish my family had managed to hold on to our house on that street…
Yet I still felt a lot of the old social awkwardness. I left to visit the washroom and decompress a little. I felt isolated and unable to connect, thought about leaving, but decided to return to the crowd.
And crowd it was by this time. There was an immense press of people, ten wide, pushing towards the bar. I joined in. chatting with the people around me. The lines were moving extremely slowly, as the bartenders by heroic efforts kept everyone supplied. I suspect people were marrying, settling down, and having families in the line, it was taking so long. But we eventually got our beer, and headed for fresh air.
After chatting some more, I decided to roam around to see whether I could recognize any more names. Because I’d just met Bill, I was thinking of people I went to public school with, and for some reason I thought of this guy Les G.
Les lived in an old house around the corner from my place, on the main street. We were kind of both friends and enemies; we played at each others’ houses, but at times we hated each other. I lost track of him when I went to senior public school.
So I walked around some people and through a clear space, and made some random comment to this guy on the other side, something about nametags. He looked at me, squinted at my nametag, and said, “Did you used to live on Euclid Street? Do you remember me?” It was Les G. Of all the people I was not expecting to meet…
Turns out he’d moved away after grade nine, and so he wasn’t much at my high school at all. He’s apparently had something of a rough life, but he still looked good, in a touch-of-grey drifter kind of way. And I was the first person he’d met who he recognized.
I ran into Joy S. She was another of the girls I’d liked (and at the time, she was into the NDP, and guess who my mom worked for…), but we’d never connected during school. Another good catch-up, pics of spouse and kids, etc…
A little later, someone recognized me. Peter P. I didn’t remember him, but he remembered me, and we had a great talk about construction and solar houses. We also talked about girls we’d known… turns out I wasn’t the only one with a crush on Kathy S, for example. (But he got to kiss her… :: sigh :: ) He talked about various dates he’d had in high school, and parties he’d been to, and I had to admit I’d had no dates. (I did get to go to one party right near the end of Grade 13 though… and I went to the prom, though I didn’t have a date.)
Eventually, I left. Looking down at my phone as I got in the car, I saw that it was after midnight! I went back to the hotel and slept.
There were some people I was hoping to see and didn’t; in Facebook chat this week, I found out that some of them were simply not there. But it is extremely possible that I just missed them. Angela M, Todd M, Rob H…
On Saturday morning, I went to see my stepfather for brunch. This was the first time I’d seen him in a long time as well. He looked pretty good actually, better than he did the last time, and great for a guy who has to be near eighty. He did have that shaking thing going on with his hands though, which made it difficult for him to hold his coffee.
We had a long and excellent talk about life, my mother and her death, and what it was like to have me around the house as a teenager… I said that I’d always admired him for his strength in the face of my mother’s decline from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
He’s going to be at my dad’s interment this Friday.
There was an opening ceremony for the reunion at 11:00 on Saturday, and like an idiot, I had planned lunch with my stepfather instead. I heard later that it was very good.
After lunch, I went over to the school. It looked pretty much the same, though the front lawn was disfigured by a school-bus loading loop. There was a barbecue with burgers and pop by the front doors.
There were “decade rooms” scattered through the school. One for the '70s, one for the '80s, one for the '90s, and so on. Each room had yearbooks for those who’d graduated that decade, and all kinds of artifacts from the decade: music, books, pictures…
The '50s and '60s had the Old Gym and there was an excellent sock-hop vibe going on when I stuck my head in. The '70s had beads hanging over the door and kind of a hippie vibe. I went in to see the yearbooks that my sisters were in.
The '80’s was all “Back to the Future” and movie-themed, complete with popcorn. It was in the drama studio on the first level near what I remember as the auto shop and electronics labs. They had eighties music and movies, and vinyl records. The music was all syntho-pop and alternative like A Flock of Seagulls and The Stranglers. This is the music I listened later, to in university and college, but it was still familiar.
At various places through the school, there were framed portraits of the graduating classes of each year. I never did find the one for my year, though there was a picture of the Ontario Scholars for my year. I picked out several friends. And Kathy S’s picture was there. My heart fluttered as I saw it. Yes, even now, after all these years.
It was very strange walking down those halls after thirty years. Everything seemed so much smaller. I am still trying to figure out why. After all, I was 17, about to turn 18, when I left, and pretty much fully-grown physically. Is it because my first impressions of the place were formed when I was smaller?
Many of the subject classrooms were still in the same place, even the ones that didn’t need specialized facilities, like the science labs. The art room was still on the fourth level at the southwest corner, for example. Man, I loved art…
Later, I left the school and drove around town, exploring the places I lived in. I took pictures of the old house and neighbourhood. I hung out in the magnificent new library (built around a public square where the old library building was).
After a while, it was time to go to the dinner dance. This was back at the arena, in the same rink. I arrived and found a place to sit.
For whatever reason, there weren’t nearly as many people there. I sat at a table with a couple of people from the year after mine (they were in Grade 12 when I was in Grade 13). I went to get a drink, and the lady behind me in line was a retired teacher of typing. She was cool and elegant, and she ended up at our table and we had a great conversation. She said that a lot of people had been coming up to her and saying that they regretted not taking proper typing… but in 1977 (when I had the chance to take it, for example), how could we know that everyone would be using computers?
In the dinner lineup, the woman in front of me turned to me and said, “Hi! Do you remember me?” Tall, gorgeous brunette… I had no idea. “It’s Tracy B. We were in kindergarten together!”
“Kindergarten?” I thought. “I was in another city! Surely you mean Grade 3 and onwards, when I lived here…” But I didn’t say that. We chatted a bit, and she introduced me to her boyfriend.
Later, at dinner, I chatted with the others at the table, but looking around, I didn’t see even most of the people I’d met the previous night, so I left just before the dancing, and went to my friend’s place to stay the night.
All in all, it was a really good event, and I’m glad I went. But I still do feel twinges of inferiority when thinking about the social aspects of things. I’ll never be a schmoozer. So many more people recognized me than I expected! I only recognized one person. So many people had successful families and were proud parents… and I never achieved that. I’m still following whatever strange road fate has laid out for me… all I can do is do my art and hope someone will notice.
One thing I most wish I’d been able to do is find and talk to some of my teachers. I’m sure some of them are still around. I had an awesome history teacher in Grade 10, Mr Esler, and many others remembered him. Many remembered Miss Phillip and Miss Melli, French teachers who pushed us to learn, and learn we did.
Edit: I’m starting to connect with more of these people on Facebook. Which is good.