"Goodbye, I'm off to E-town."
"Damn," my sister-in-law shuddered, "I can't imagine going to a high school reunion." She shook her head for emphasis.
A lot of people stress out over reunions, but I have a secret weapon. I was never the athletic, witty, handsome and charming kid that my former classmates can find me no longer to be. That takes away a lot of the pressure.
I went fly fishing with Kenny Clark the day before the reunion. Kenny looks exactly like he did in high school and I tried not to hate him for that. We stood just below Wolf Creek Dam and pulled in one fish after another, removed the hooks and released the fish, and reminisced.
"Do you remember," I asked, "that Thanksgiving weekend we went rabbit hunting and George Blandford ran into the back of that old truck on the way home?"
"Were you on that trip?" he asked. "I remember the trip but I didn't remember that you were with us."
"Yep. Greg Skillman and I were sitting in the back seat holding shotguns on our laps and bracing for the impact."
I borrowed my father-in-law's new, white Ford pickup so I could immerse myself in the experience as I drove the last two hours of the trip with a cooler of beer on ice in the back of the extended cab (it was BYOB.)
I've been hinting to my wife for years that I need a small pickup to take fishing and to haul mulch. She dismisses the idea.
"You haul mulch once a year and you can rent a truck at Lowe's for $19 to do that. Besides, at your age you should hire someone to mulch the lawn. Aren't you retired?"
As I was pulling out of the drive in Pa's new pickup, Vicki brought out a GPS and I cranked down the window to accept it, as if I'd have trouble finding a place I've visited twice a year for the past four decades.
"Hmm," she smiled. "You look good in a pickup!"
"Yeah?" I asked. I saw an opening. "How do you think I'd look on a Harley?"
The Friday night party was a cookout in Glendale and the temperature index was 104 degrees. It was held behind a restaurant and they kindly offered to allow us to come inside if we needed to cool off. I took them up on it and ran into my old buddy, Greg Skillman, in an absolutely frosty men's room.
"Greg," I said, "people may start to talk, but I say we hang out in here for a while."
"Works for me," he quickly agreed. "Do you remember that Thanksgiving weekend we went rabbit hunting and George drove into the back of that dilapidated old truck?"
Not only did Greg remember I was there, he remembered that the old guy in bib overalls driving the truck had neither a drivers license nor registration and that his name was Stanley. Of course, if he was making up the Stanley part, none of us have the memory to challenge it.
We finally ventured back out the door into a night so hot and humid that it felt like walking into a dog's mouth. Greg was behind me and I heard him say, "Gregg Melvin!"
Gregg Melvin and I may have met in E-town back in the day, but I don't recall it with any certainty. He was a year older, but I heard the name a lot. We've since hooked up on FaceBook and chat frequently.
I recognized his face from his profile photo and he immediately recognized me from mine. We shook hands and said hello.
"You're a lot taller than I pictured you," he told me, proving my previous suspicions that not only does no one know you're a dog on the Internet, but we're also all the same height on FaceBook. It's the social networking equivalent of Einstein's theory of relativity, I suppose.
Not everyone worked up the nerve or the interest to attend. Gary told Carol Brown, who did an outstanding job of planning everything by the way, that he would be there, but he called a few days beforehand and said he wouldn't be attending.
"Why not?" Carol asked.
"Because there's really not anyone that I'd like to see." Honest, but brutal.
"Well, f~@k you!" she responded. Apparently, Carol felt strongly about spending months planning a reunion of her friends and then having them all dissed in a single sentence. We all love Carol, but she's not really the classmate to engage in brutally honest discussion. You're not going to win.
I'm with Carol on this one. Gary, I thought we were friends. Remember blowing up shit in biology class in the name of scientific research? Does that mean nothing?
Some apparently didn't attend because they felt too fat or too bald or too wrinkled. I guess we were lucky to have even thirty or forty of us perfect folk to hold the event.
There are a few of us that you'd probably like to slap. Kevin Doyle has a full head of black hair without a touch of gray. He swears he doesn't color it, but we were all pretty sure we knew Grecian Formula when we saw it. (Honestly, we do believe him, but we're trying not to hate him.)
Doug Egerton and his wife Rhonda were just back from living in Shanghai for a while and yes, Rhonda is still a babe.
Lynn Mayhugh Altepeter is flat out gorgeous, Cathy Doyle looks just like she did in high school, Bobby Tabb has a thick head of hair to go along with the remarkable personality he always had, but none of us is perfect. If you have a few gray hairs or a wrinkle or two, what the hell? None of us can see you well enough anymore to notice. Come on down and join the party.
There were several identification faux pas, but everyone laughed them off. I had my own. I failed to recognize someone I dated for a year in high school, though she hasn't changed a bit. I hadn't seen her for twenty years and when I finally realized what I had done, I had to confess and apologize out of fear that she would think I had snubbed her.
"You look fantastic," I told her in all honesty.
"Aww, thank you!" she replied, but with a hint of "you're just being kind".
"No, seriously, you look fantastic and I mean that. I was actually hoping you'd look like crap so I wouldn't feel so bad about getting dumped forty years ago. Frankly, this is a terrible disappointment."
As I looked at her still-lovely face, for just a moment it felt like we were sitting across the table from each other in the library during study hall forty years ago and I remembered why I was so attracted to her in high school— despite our complete incompatibility.
Cathy was a know-it-all, bossy, had to be the center of attention, always had to be right, and thought she was smarter than everyone else. I, on the other hand, was a know-it-all, bossy, had to be the center of attention, always had to be right and thought I was smarter than everyone else.
You see the problem.
The party mostly broke up by 9:30 as sensible people went off in search of air conditioning. A number of us stayed much later. The evening air eventually began to cool and we sat in a large circle with a couple of fans aimed at us as we drank beer and talked about the good ole days. I pulled a chair up to the table, spun it around and sat with my arms crossed on the top of the seat back, not to try and look cool like I would have done forty years ago, but to allow the fan to dry the back of my linen shirt. I began to feel sorry for the people who had already left, air conditioning notwithstanding.
"Anyone want to go to Cecil Key's Truck Stop for biscuits and gravy?" I asked.
There was a large truck stop in Glendale when we were in high school, not far from where we sat, just off I-65. It had closed long ago, replaced by a shiny new Pilot station not known for either biscuits or gravy.
"The girls typically had to be home by 11:00, so we'd drop off our dates and drive down I-65 to Key's for a large platter of biscuits split in half, the entire plate then covered with gravy. I think it cost about fifty cents," I recalled.
"Did you know the guys did that?" one of the ladies at the table asked another. "I was so pissed off when I found out."
"We'd ask each other if anyone had gotten lucky. The response was always 'Do we ever?' "
"Would we have been eating biscuits and gravy with a bunch of guys at midnight if we'd gotten lucky?" Greg reasoned.
Just before we called it a night and went home to prepare for a larger reunion the following evening, an L&N freight train roared by a mere ten yards behind our table. Windows rattled and the ground shook, as it demanded center stage. For a few minutes it was too loud to talk.
The Class of ’70, the heart of the Baby Boom that had also rattled a few windows as it rumbled through the last fifty years, had come there to demand a brief moment of center stage, too.
We raised our fists and let out a yell, celebrating the passing behemoth.
That's when I looked around the table at Kevin, Cathy, Bobby Tabb, Doug, Rhonda, Martin Oliver, Carol Brown, Greg Skillman, Kenny Clark, Jim Duncan and the others and realized that forty years after going to high school with these people, and seeing them only on rare occasions since, there's really no place I'd rather be than sitting around a table outdoors on a summer night, drinking beer, listening to trains, reliving memories and creating a new one.
It was like forty years had never happened.
Dirk Cotton is a retired executive of a Fortune 500 Internet company who loves to spend time with his family, fly fish, shoot sporting clays, attend college baseball games, sail, follow the Wildcats, and write. Everything else he does is just for fun. A computer programmer-cum-marketing executive-cum-financial planner who now wants to be a writer, he apparently can't decide what he wants to be when he grows up. He and his family moved to The Southern Part of Heaven in 2005 and couldn't be happier with that decision.
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