Since graduating from St. Albans (West Virginia) High School I’ve probably visited the town a dozen or so times, most of them in the first few years. I returned for each of my parents funerals and once on our first tandem tour around the U.S. with Claire. I connected with just a few my former classmates, and not often; many had moved, or were busy with work and family.
I didn’t go to the earliest reunion, and became lost to the organizers when I became a Westerner: Oregon, Washington and now Arizona, shortly after.
They found me about a decade ago, and I planned to attend, when a sailboat owner/captain we’d met on our Australia journey, asked us to help him sail Songlines around the South Pacific for four months. We couldn’t pass that one up, and I faded from view again.
Thanks to a Facebook page some of us found each other a few years ago, and Claire and I decided it was time to go to a reunion. In the U.S. we travel in our motorhome, Turtle, and we set up camp at the St. Albans Roadside Park for the long week-end of the reunion. The park is one of the most beautiful city parks with camping for RVs in the U.S., and free, though donations are appreciated. Classmate Mac Gray, also an RVer joined us and we had a steady flow of visitors, and offers of rides to events. It was the perfect set up for a reunion visit, and since most of the events were at night, Claire and I got in a bike ride almost every day, one of them 60 miles, on mostly quiet roads. We’re exercise/cycling addicts and being able to get our fix was important to our enjoyment of the six days we spent in St. Albans.
I was not a little worried about the prospect of seeing people who I’d spent only a few years with so many years ago. I feared we wouldn’t have anything to say to each other, that I had forgotten everything about them, and they me. And there is also the overworked joke about reunions: “Who are all these old people anyway?”
I need not have been concerned. The reunion committee thoughtfully provided each of us with a name tag which included a photo from our senior yearbook. Imagine a bunch of folks wandering through a big crowd, squinting over, or through, glasses at the chests of others, followed by a squeal of recognition and an enthusiastic hug. That was the first official event, and it got wilder as the week-end progressed. The hard part was remembering the ones we’ve lost, some alive so recently I was anticipating seeing them.
Part of the fun of a reunion is seeing your former, younger, self through the memories of others. I knew I had fun in high school, but I was surprised at how many people remembered how much fun I had! As the reunion progressed, memories surfaced in joyous profusion, and new relationships were formed among classmates who weren’t close in high school.
Many of us learned how little we had changed through the years: the hard workers who were still doing the reunion organizing and grunt work, the shy one who was still a little shy, the show off who couldn’t help himself on the dance floor (wonder who that was?)…
Of course we have all changed on the outside: class total mass has increased by about 40%, wrinkles mysteriously appeared, and we don’t move as fast as we once did. But inside, where it counts, we’ve changed less than might have been expected, given the years of work, love, grief and change we have all experienced.
What I recognized most in my classmates is that the spark of life still shines. Dimmed in some by loss others by financial or health struggles, it still shines trough the twinkle in an eye, that crooked little smile, or wide grin I remember from so long ago.
There are is more adventure, and years to our lives, and our inner spark will carry us through, perhaps to another reunion…