Class reunions still alive and well

Every second weekend in June, high school class reunions bring hundreds of Jefferson and Jefferson-Scranton High School alumni and their partners to town for the Bell Tower Festival. This year was no exception.

The 2018 festival featured 10 reunions, ranging from the 10th year reunion of the Class of 2008 to the 60th year reunion of the Class of 1958.

Most of the honored classes rode in Saturday morning’s festival parade on flatbed trucks, hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole parade route, and trading greetings and put-downs with acquaintances they spotted. As always, a good time was had by all.

The reunions are a time for memory, a time for getting reacquainted and a time to laugh off the neuroses that plagued most of us during our pubescent and post-pubescent years.

One of the tests of a successful reunion is how well classmates can put decades-old slights and hurts behind them.

Another is striking up conversations, and maybe kindling new friendships with classmates who, for one reason or another, you didn’t hang with in high school.

Maybe it was someone who moved to town as a sophomore or a junior, and therefore hadn’t made it into your group of close friends before graduation rolled around.

Maybe it was someone whose interests differed from yours back in the day.

Maybe it was someone whom you really wanted to get close to, but your shyness, or the other person’s, put up a barrier that neither of you dared to cross.

Maybe it was someone you just plain didn’t like then, but who now turns out to be a sympatico soul that you — wonder of wonders — find highly congenial.

And another reason, of course, is to be with those with whom you were soulmates for those developing years.

There are always empty chairs at the banquet table, of course, more of them every five-year interval.

It’s a shock to discover that someone you considered a friend back then has passed on, and often that discovery takes place at the reunion. You look around the room and wonder who will go next. Or whether it might be you.

Very few classes have the good fortune of the Ringsted, Iowa, Class of 1958, who celebrated their 60th reunion this year. Six decades. The class had 14 members, most of them now around 78 years old. None has died, at least as of this past March. The odds of that bit of luck are computed as 177,467,459 to 1.

Those odds are greater than winning the Powerball, or getting struck by lightning twice in a lifetime.

If you were shrewd enough to elect a super organizer as president of your senior class, you’re generally in luck. Tradition requires that person to take charge of his or her class reunions from then on, and to tap others of his or her ilk as the reunion committee. Congratulations if that’s your class.

My mom, in later life, wondered why her Lamoni Class of 1929 was lax in the reunion department.

Dad asked her one year who her class president was. Upon reflection, she realized it was herself.

I asked members of my extended family for their thoughts about class reunions. The request generated some interesting observations.

One response posited that there’s a significant difference between reunions a few years after graduation and those when the class gets a ways older.

In the 10th reunion, there’s more competition. Classmates want to say how well things are going for them, so they talk about elaborate vacations, job promotions, children’s accomplishments, etc.

By the 25th reunion, with many of them now empty nesters, they’re more relaxed and comfortable with who they are, and more interested in each other than themselves. The talk is more about survival than success.

Another response noted — correctly, in my opinion — that social media has changed the relative importance of class reunions for younger graduates. They have probably kept in touch with each other through Facebook, so they know what they’ve been up to for the past several years.

As he puts it: “ ... the genuine surprise of running into someone you haven’t seen or heard from or thought about in a solid decade — that hallmark of high school class reunions — is waning in my age group, as is attendance compared to previous generations.”

He’s probably right.

When it’s no longer a big deal to get together with the old gang because you’ve all been habitually keeping up with each other’s lives for the past several years, reunions may come to seem redundant.

But for some of us, especially those of my vintage, a class reunion is something to anticipate.

Next year is my 60th, and while the Jefferson High School Class of 1959 hasn’t had the good fortune of the Ringsted Class of 1958, there are still enough of us to make the get-together worthwhile.

The average life span of Americans right now is 78.8 years. That’s about where most of my class will be next year.

It will be a treat to renew acquaintances in 2019, and thereafter for those of us still around.

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