Published in the Rains County Leader on November 11, 2021:
David and I, along with my cousin Penny, attended the 55th reunion of Mesquite High School class of 1965 last weekend. The reunion was planned for 2020, but COVID had other ideas. Some referred to our gathering as the 55th + 1, and some just went with the 56th.
The crowd wasn’t huge, especially considering the class was 300+. The very impromptu class picture showed about 26 classmates, and 10-15 guests accompanied them. The party took place in an event room behind Ozona’s Restaurant on Greenville Avenue. It was a nice sized room for the size of the group, though, leaving plenty of room to move around and visit without tripping over each other and adding more canes and walkers. Seriously, as a whole we were amazingly well-preserved considering we’re all around three-quarters of a century old.
Thanks to Facebook and other social media, many of us have stayed connected at least a little bit. Even so, it often took a glance at the senior picture on a nametag to connect the even more senior face with the name. But years were melted away by hugs and handshakes, and conversation was easy and lively as we shared memories and discussed children, grandchildren, retirement, and health problems. One common question was Where are you living now. I was surprised that everyone who asked me knew where Emory is. I guess our little town is better known than I thought.
Shirley, Shannon, and the rest of the creative reunion committee had come up with some fun and inexpensive entertainment. They handed out certificates for the usual reunion awards – most grandchildren, traveled the furthest, and so forth – but with creative names that, of course, escape me at the moment. They also had a trivia game with forty questions from the 1960s. David said that his memory was too bad to do well at this game. “Unless,” I replied, “it has to do with oldies music. Then he can not only name the song, but he can also tell you who wrote it, who performed it, when it was released, and where he was when he first heard it.”
He smiled silently, but when he received his questions, he put his head down and went to work. When we checked our answers, he had thirty out of forty correct, and he won third place. When I asked how he managed to do so well, considering how bad he says his memory is, he said, “After you bragged on me to the whole table, I thought I’d better not make a liar out of you.”
The decorations were creative, too, and definitely Skeeter oriented with lots of maroon and white, electric candles, and tiny white lights. One table in particular gathered lots of quiet, contemplative attention. It held a beautiful display of the pictures of classmates who are no longer with us. At one point during the evening, Dennis, who designed the display, gave me a big hug and said, “I’m so glad you’re not dead!”
“I’m glad, too,” I replied, a little surprised but with an idea of the reason behind his comment. Another classmate and I had shared the name Linda Robinson. I had heard earlier in the year that she had passed away.
“When I was given the list,” he explained, “I saw what I thought was your name, and I was shocked. I didn’t know there were two of you. I’m really sorry that she’s gone, but I’m also glad it wasn’t you.” I have to admit that his was the most unusual greeting I received all night.
Another group of attendees received a very special and unexpected greeting as well. Everyone who had served in the military, classmate or guest, was asked to come up to the front, and Mary Ellen said that she had a special gift for each one. She went on to explain that she is a member of the both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the U.S. Daughters of 1812. As part of these organizations, she had learned that, in order to properly dispose of a worn American flag, the “glory” or stars should be removed before the rest of the flag is respectfully burned and the ashes buried. She then presented each veteran with a star and a little card that read:
I am a star from a tattered, faded and worn flag that was ready to be retired. Because of YOU, I was able to fly over the land of the free. Now I am a treasure given to you by a grateful citizen who honors your service and your sacrifice. I have been saved from the fire by the United States Daughters of 1812, Arkansas Society. Thank you for your service!
As she presented each star, she gave the recipient two hugs. With one, she said, “Thank you for your service.” With the other, she said, “Welcome home!” I watched David and the others receive their stars, their hugs, and their long-overdue welcomes, and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears.
Throughout the evening, we enjoyed chips and a variety of dips followed by a tasty fajita buffet. The reunion invitation said 5:00 – ???, but shortly after the trivia questions were answered, the plates were empty, and the pictures had been taken, people began to say their good-byes. By 8:45, David, Penny, and I were on our way home. It was a good evening full of fun and laughter and memories of way back when – but we were ready to get back home to the present and to those who know us without name tags – at least until the next time.