Published in the Rains County Leader on October 25, 2016:
I missed my 50th high school reunion last year, because it was scheduled in October when we were in Oregon visiting grandchildren. I had a second chance of sorts this past weekend as I accompanied David to Jonesboro, Louisiana to attend his 50th.
We missed the morning homecoming assembly and the afternoon parade on Friday, but we arrived in time to attend the tailgate party and football game that night. We also attended the big party on Saturday night. We both had a great time, and with David’s encouragement, I thought I’d share a few impressions, most of which center around two words – commitment and perspective.
Jonesboro is a small town of approximately 4,000 with an economy built around the Westrock paper mill. The mill has undergone several management and name changes but has remained a fixture of the community for almost a century, and several of David’s classmates spent their entire careers working there. This mutual loyalty between employer and employee struck me as an unusual example of commitment in an era when companies lay off at will and workers hop from job to job seeking greener pastures.
The employment situation was not the only example of commitment I saw, though. Approximately ninety of the Jonesboro Class of 1966 survived to see their 50th reunion, and about half of them were there. At least a dozen of those have already or will soon celebrate a golden wedding anniversary – an amazing statistic in a time when many couples fail to celebrate any anniversaries at all.
In addition, there seemed to be a strong commitment to the values that were instilled during those years before graduation. The Pledge of Allegiance and an opening prayer were the first items on the program, and much of the conversation, aside from the required bragging about grandchildren, was about church involvement and activities. It was a fun evening, full of laughter and tall tales, but it was obvious that the values of so many years ago were still important in Jonesboro.
As the evening went on, I thought about how our perspectives have changed in the past five decades. There were a few teachers in attendance, and they were treated with respect –a great deal more, I’m sure, than they received while they were in the classroom. The perspective had changed from student and teacher to fellow survivors who could share thanks and congratulations for a job well done.
This respect extended to fellow classmates as well. Reunions can be traumatic events as all the old insecurities resurface. I’ve heard it said that later reunions are easier than earlier ones, because by the 50th, all the dragons have been slain. The change in perspective of looking back rather than forward takes away a lot of the need to impress and leaves room for mutual respect. Still, there’s that fear that no one will recognize or remember you and that you will end up sitting against the wall like you did at the party or dance on the worst day of your life.
I’m sure David was a little nervous as we walked through the gate at the football field and headed toward the tailgate party – I know I was. That didn’t last long. We found the Class of 1966 parade float and were just approaching the canopies when someone grabbed his hand and said, “Well, here’s David Brendle.” Throughout the weekend, old friendships were renewed, current ones were strengthened, and new ones were made. Facebook helped, giving us a way to break the ice ahead of time, but ultimately, it was the genuine spirit of welcome that put everyone at ease.
Another casual reunion is tentatively scheduled in five years. I look forward to seeing the Jonesboro High School Class of 1966 in 2021 if not before. Until then, thanks for a great weekend.
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