This e-mail from my nephew who lives in the Bay Area is about his son’s recent high school prom.
“In fact, the king and queen at his prom were both girls. There was controversy because the girl crowned ‘king’ was not fully ‘out’ of the closet, so the honor was not ‘fully’ appreciated and hysteria ensued. Apparently, many members of the student council are homosexual and very popular.”
My granddaughter was given a “Reach for the Stars” balloon at her June graduation. A neighbor kid who just graduated has a bumper sticker that reads, “Believe in Yourself.” What will the Class of 2018’s memories be at their 60th reunion in 2078?
Times have certainly changed. I’m sure that I do not “fully” understand what is going on in high school today. For that matter, I didn’t “fully” understand what was going on in high school during “Happy Days” back in the 1950s.
Sixty years ago, June 13, 1958, I graduated from Mission Bay High School. Our graduation theme, “To thine own self be true” is from Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Hamlet. It is the advice Polonius gave his son, Laertes.
It sounds deep, but, in reality, it was a mindless 1950s version of “Do your own thing,” “Find your passion,” “Follow your dreams” and “Believe in Yourself.” It wasn’t until years later that I realized, like my own father, Polonius was a blowhard. My old man dispensed platitudes freely, but rarely heeded his own counsel.
Over the years, class leaders have organized some great reunions and this year was our 60th. Prior to moving to San Diego, I lived in Farmington, Minnesota and Columbia City, Indiana. I have been fortunate to attend many reunions.
I explain to my Mission Bay classmates that the school I attended in Minnesota was so small that everybody had to take turns being in “the clique” just to have a clique.
Here are some nameless reunion vignettes from an assortment of high school friends:
- A man confronted a classmate he didn’t know and said, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” He accused the man of stealing his girlfriend and taking her to the senior prom. The man he confronted actually was the king of the senior prom and his owngirlfriend was the queen. It was a sixty year case of mistaken identity.
- A friend wrote a book about hiking 350 miles across North Dakota in January to support breast cancer research. At times, the wind chill factor dropped to -65º as he plowed onward through the snow and ice to Fargo. His wife survived and is now cancer-free.
- High school sweethearts got married, had kids, divorced and attended the 50th reunion with their respective spouses. All four sat together in harmony. The wife with her second husband; the husband with his second wife… who also happened to have been the babysitter for their kids.
- The organizers of one of the reunions wanted everyone to dress like the 1950s. My first wife found a classic ’50’s skirt and crinoline petticoats at a thrift shop. Her “look” was purposely exaggerated. While seated in a restroom stall, she overheard a conversation about “a pathetic woman in crinoline who didn’t have anything in style to wear.”
- A well-liked classmate moved to Iowa after seventh grade and returned for the 50th reunion. He asked for the microphone and confessed his prepubescent lust for two of the girls in our class. Both were invited to step forward and he gave each of them a long and passionate kiss. It was a hilarious performance and his wife said such a display of affection was very much out of character. Three months later, he was gone. He didn’t tell us that he was dying of cancer.
- When we were young, a religious kid criticized me for saying, “Jeez.” He claimed I was using the Lord’s name in vain. Although we weren’t close friends, fifty years later, he visited San Diego and stayed with us for several days.
He left to see his “lady friend” in Orange County who was also our classmate. She was coming to San Diego in a few weeks and wanted to get together with me. I barely knew her when we were kids. During her “boyfriend’s” visit at our home, he drank a lot of my beer and asked me not to tell his lady friend that he consumed alcohol and used profanity.
When I got together with the “lady friend,” she was friendly, funny and eccentric. She explained how, at an earlier reunion, she made the mistake of kissing the “Jeez” guy and he thought that meant she was in love with him. In her words, “He began stalking me. He sent flowers and cards and letters, but I never saw him.” At lunch, she showed his latest letter. He wrote about visiting me and warned her that I drank and cussed. I reacted with an appropriate obscenity.
- The poorest family in town had a dozen kids. One of them, my classmate, was mildly retarded. He walked the halls with a blank smile and received “social promotions” in school. A prominent family had a “simple” daughter who was a source of embarrassment. This pair found each other and have been happily married for over fifty years.
- At another reunion, I was accosted by two husbands hell bent on saving my soul. I’d never met these gentlemen before, but they apparently sized me up as a sinner. During friendly conversation, the second husband said that he had something important to tell me. I jokingly asked, “Are you going to try to save me, too?” He forced a religious tract on me. As I was leaving, a third man saw it in my hand and said, “That booklet will change your life.”
- At the 20th reunion in Minnesota, I told a nice farm girl that she hadn’t changed a bit since the last time I saw her. It was a rotten thing to say, because she looked 38 years old in high school. At the 50th reunion, I apologized and repeated that she hadn’t changed a bit since our 20th reunion. She still looked 38. She laughed and said she had forgiven me.
- A shy girl who wore glasses and old-fashioned clothes in high school attended a reunion. The few people who remembered her were fellow members of the Bible Club. When I realized who she was and commented on the major transformation, she explained that her mother was very strict and religious. The shy girl was a late bloomer and became a beautiful swan.
- A classmate went to prison, found religion, married a good woman and became a productive member of society. He sent a letter to the reunion committee to request permission to attend a reunion so he could apologize to everyone he had offended or hurt in his youth. He came, but generally received a cold shoulder. I never had a problem with the guy, so we got along fine.
The last time I saw him at a reunion, he told a story about being in a bar where three drunks were harassing a gay customer. Although he’d known the gay man since childhood, they were not friends. Regardless, the ex-con asked the group if the gay man had ever done anything to hurt them.
They told him to mind his own business. The ex-con warned that if they continued to bother the man, they would have to deal with him. They knew that would be a mistake and quickly backed down. This incident happened in the Bible Belt during the early 1960s when a tolerant ex-con and a gentle gay man became unlikely friends.
I hope these memories haven’t offended any divorcees, religious zealots, ex-cons, homosexuals, babysitters, cancer patients, clique members, welfare recipients or Shakespeare lovers.
Have fun at your reunion. Introduce yourself to someone you didn’t know in high school and make a new friend. You have more in common than you realize.
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed, “The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service.”
Rather than being true to yourself, have you been true to others?
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