Class Reunion: At Forty

Glorious-Mt.-HoodI graduated from high school just over forty years ago.  (Please don’t do the age calculation.)  This past weekend, I attended the 40th reunion of the 1969 graduating class of Hood River High School in Hood River, Oregon.  It was, all things considered, a pretty remarkable experience.

At some point in your lives, most of you have probably attended a high school reunion.  Me, I never had.  This was my first.  And it was a bit unusual because I didn’t really graduate.  I left Hood River just before my senior year, moved to Manteca, California, and finished my schooling there.  But Hood River has always been the alma mater of my heart.

There were issues when I left town years ago.  It was 1968.  We were in the midst of the Vietnam War, one of our most divisive experiences as a nation in modern times.  My father, an English teacher at the high school, was profoundly anti-war, a sentiment that in our small town was not looked upon kindly.  It wasn’t uncommon for me or members of my family to hear unflattering epithets yelled at us from cars passing on the street.  We left Hood River for good reasons, but under a kind of cloud.  And forty years later, as I was contemplating my return, I wondered if some shadow of that cloud might yet remain.

Over forty years, people, of course, change.  But something in them—in their faces, their eyes, even their gestures—often remains the same and beautifully unique.  At the first reunion function, an informal gathering on Friday night, I was astonished at how many people I recognized easily.  Like me, most were grayer and grizzled and thicker and bent a little, yet the seed of who they were long ago, probably the seed of who they were from the very beginning, was still there.

But there was also so much more to them.  Those seeds had grown and, in most cases, blossomed in rich lives.  They were lives that had, for the most part, taken similar shape: marriage, children, careers, grandchildren.  The stories I heard were, generally speaking, not astonishing in their particulars, but they were told with satisfaction.  People were comfortable with who they were and where they were and how they’d come there.

Old-HRHSAs for me, the most surprising realization was that no one really remembered why my family had left Hood River.  No one really cared about the conflicts of the past.  Time heals in part because it veils.

I did a bunch of typical things a guy might do in this situation.  I drove past the house where my family had lived.  Yes, it’s smaller now.  Visited the high school.  Ditto the size thing.  I searched out, with some difficulty, the home of my high school sweetheart (who was not at the reunion), where, on her doorstep at the age of sixteen, I’d given—or was it received?—my first kiss.  I drove the long valley of the Hood River, a place of astonishing beauty.  And finally I went swimming in the Columbia River, where I lost my cell phone and, for reasons I won’t go into, for a brief time caused some real concern that I might have been swept away in the powerful current of that giant of a river.

Like most people, I tend to measure cost against return.  It took quite a bit to attend my reunion, in money, time, and energy.  (I have a new book out this week, and I should probably have been focusing entirely on that circumstance.)  But in the end, I believe I received something not only worthwhile but also necessary.  Something that feels to me a lot like peace.

5 thoughts on “Class Reunion: At Forty”

  1. “The stories I heard were, generally speaking, not astonishing in their particulars, but they were told with satisfaction. People were comfortable with who they were and where they were and how they’d come there.”

    After stumbling through Hell in the early 90’s (PIECES OF MY PATH- Memoir about surviving depression) I emerged a different person than I was before my “dark days” but many of my friends have recently pointed out: “You haven’t changed. You’re the same old Tom…” But I have changed….my soul went from an unstable darkness to peace. I’m now satisfied with who I am…and I’m also satisfied with all of the stories that changed me.

    I’ve never been to a class reuinion…but I would love to attend one. PEACE. 🙂

  2. Hi Kent

    It was great seeing you at B&N on Thursday night, LOVED your reading and so nice to meet and talk with you again. Tom already finished HEAVEN’S KEEP and I’m looking forward to digging in myself.

    As an aspiring writer I always enjoy reading the work of others, and have read and enjoyed all of your books. I have an authors page on my website and will add you there, too, with a link to your homepage.

    Thanks again for the great writing, hope to meet with you again along the way 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Lou Riddell

  3. Hi Kent,
    I was so happy to see your smiling (and fuzzy) face at our class reunion. Every reunion I had to field questions about you. Now … TADA … you are no longer the mystery “absentee” at the gala fete! Next time, we need to set up a table and have a book signing! Oh yes, don’t forget to bring your singing voice (to those reading this, Kent and I were part of a group of 8 who traveled around our local community singing our hearts out!).
    Good luck in all your endeavors. I’m letting everyone know about your website so you can’t get away now! Hahahaha. Hugs, Karen

  4. Kent: I am just getting to this “rant”, and it brought tears to my eyes. It was so wonderful to see you, and I hope that your dad, Margaret, David, Mark and you all know that you were all an integral part of the fabric of our high school lives. You brought leadership, athletic prowess, dramatic flair, fabulous folk music and parallel parking to our lives. And your dad was part of my inspiration to become a journalist. The reunion was pretty amazing — a glimpse of a period of time that formed us all. And you are right — as we were out on the dance floor during the last set rocking out to “Gloria”, I could see each and every one of us in that dim gym smelling slightly of sweat dancing to the live band at an after game dance.

    You have to share this beautiful valley with your Minnesota family — and I hope to be there as your tour guide. Welcome home.

    I have purchased “Heaven’s Gate” and it is awaiting your signature. Hope the book tour is almost finished. And successfully. You are my literary role model, and I am proud to share alumnus status in “The Group.”

    Best,

    Randy

  5. So familiar…

    My 40th reunion was a few months ago and I, unfortunately, did not go because I deemed something else more important. Reflection tells me I was wrong and would have gained so much more had I attended. It is pleasantly interesting, however, to have reconnected with many classmates — many of whom were not particularly friends at the time — through facebook, email, and other electronic means.

    It is true that time has a way of leveling all of us out. During high school, we were haves and have-nots, jocks, geeks, whatever. Now, 40 years later, we are all just people — parents, grandparents, successes or failures, but people.

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