The Class reunion

“This way to FCHS reunion.”

“Go Class of 86.”

A few homemade markers along the only four-lane highway through Franklin County, Virginia confirmed that Max and I had arrived at our destination. And even though the handwritten signs looked like something that might have been created for a high school dance, I was grateful for the help to Willow Creek Country Club because its address, SR 220S, wasn’t specific enough for either our GPS system or Google maps.

I vaguely remembered Willow Creek, the location of a 9-hole golf course and my first wedding reception 20 years ago. The country club, actually a one-room building with dark, wood-paneled walls, a pair of bathrooms, and enough folding tables and chairs to accommodate about 100, would be the gathering spot of another 20-something event—my high school class reunion.

In accordance with the advice of dear bloggers, I chose a simple, but classy sundress and wedge espadrilles for the occasion. Max, my brave counterpart, wore dress slacks and a shirt without a tie--a “fashion don’t” according to my mother, who wanted to provide wardrobe consultation before the reunion.

“You’re NOT wearing a TIE to an EVENING event?” my mother asked Max in a not-so-subtle way of alerting him of a potential faux pas.

“Mom, this isn’t really an ‘evening event’,” I replied, trying to come to my husband’s defense. “It’s a BYOB barbeque, for God’s sake. I’m sure Max will be the best dressed guy at the event.”

“Maybe so,” she countered. “But it wouldn’t hurt if he wore a tie.”

I decided not to challenge my mother any further since I needed to raid her wine cabinet for an appropriate YOB to bring to the event. And while Max grabbed a tie, I also swiped her bottle opener in case there wasn’t one provided. This was a fairly safe assumption as I didn’t recall too many wine connoisseurs in Franklin County, the moonshine capital of the world.

I had speculated about my class reunion ever since receiving the invitation in June. And as Max and I drove up the gravel driveway, questions came fast and furious. What would the event be like? Who would attend? Would I remember anyone? More importantly, would anyone remember me? Twenty one years had come down to this one occasion, and it would be only minutes before I had answers.

After we entered the room, I looked at a middle-aged fellow manning the reception table.

“Hello, I’m Diane Mahmoud—I mean Mandy… I mean… Gerasimov,” I said. Being married three times does make it difficult to remember what name you went by back in the day.

“I know EXACTLY who you are. How are you, Diane?” the man said. Before I could respond, a woman came over and gave me a hug.

“Diane, it’s been so long. How are you?”

Even after brief chit chat, I still had no idea who either person was, but pretended otherwise. Although this awkward situation happened repeatedly, I got better at faking recognition as the night went along. My husband, who also didn’t know anybody, picked up on my dilemma and did what he could to help me out.

“Hi, I’m Diane’s husband, Max. What’s your name?” he’d say as people approached. I couldn’t have loved him more than on this occasion.

However, in one honest, comical, turn-the-tables moment, a man, whose last name also started with G, approached.

“We shared homeroom for four years. Do you remember me?” he asked pointedly. I stared at his name tag and face, but drew a blank.

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t remember you.” I said sheepishly

“Well, that sure makes me feel better,” he laughed. “I don’t remember you either.”

We continued to giggle as we grabbed one of the old yearbooks floating around. Even after looking at our pictures and despite the fact that we sat next to each other every morning for over 720 days, we couldn’t remember each other. Oddly enough, I took comfort in his forgetfulness. At least, I wasn’t the only one.

The hour dragged on. The more I stared at faces, which had matured and changed through the years, the strangest thing started to occur. Like some crazy magic eye stereogram, a 3D picture within a busy pattern, I began to catch glimpses of people I once knew.

“Oh my goodness, Paul Schiemann, is that you?”

“Michelle Turner, how have you been?”

And suddenly, as if I had finally mastered the trick, recognizing people wasn’t so difficult. Now that I could relax and enjoy seeing what had become of old classmates, I discovered, physical appearances aside, how little things had changed.

People gravitated to their old cliques almost immediately. Mullet heads sat together, quietly scarfing down dinner, which consisted of pork barbeque, coleslaw, baked beans, fried chicken and corn bread. The former jocks, now sporting 2 and 3-liter abs instead of 6 packs, socialized among each other, as the snotty cheerleaders, who no longer had anything to be snotty about, remained aloof, speaking to the lowly ones only when forced. Sadly, black classmates sat separately on either end of the hall, with white folk occupying the middle. Rarely did intermingling occur.

As I talked with former classmates throughout the room, other patterns began emerging. Few had made it out of Franklin County, and most worked for the same employer they started with out of high school. I couldn’t imagine why so many people hadn’t migrated to other, more prosperous, areas. With so little industry and an average median income of $19,000, most folks were just scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck.

Of course there were a few who had made lives for themselves outside rural Virginia. Carmen Shively won the award for the person who had come the farthest distance, now a resident of Japan with her Marine husband. Our old class president, Becky Taylor, who now went by Rebecca, practiced law in Maryland. Brent, my old buddy who I had met at the reunion, lived in Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t too long before the hired DJ started playing a mix of 80s music, but only reunion committee members started dancing. Then one man, sporting the longest mullet I have ever seen, requested Lynyrd Skynyrd and the crowd finally stirred.

Yep, very little had change.

By this time, Brent and Max had finished our bottle of wine, and had nothing left to drink. Although there were still a couple hours left to mingle with old classmates, neither Brent nor I wanted to stay. Been there, done that.

My 21st class reunion had been an interesting experience, and I was happy to have seen old classmates, found answers to a few lingering questions, and satisfied my curiosity. But something tells me I won’t make it for the planned 25th reunion—unless, of course, the beer and wine are provided next time.


Anonymous said...

So your first wedding was roughly at the same time as your high school graduation? I've only read your blog for about a year, so I didn't know the story behind why you were on number 3, but one under-20 marriage, plus a bona fide mistake, plus the love of your life makes sense. Glad you went and enjoyed it enough. Was Max the only one in a tie?

Diane Mandy said...

Yes, I married at 19 years old, probably because of that whole "no sex before marriage" thing. It was a huge mistake, physically abusive, but one that I learned from.

I forgot to mention the tie! My bad. Max left the tie in the car and it was a good thing. He and Brent were the only two who bothered to wear dress pants and shirts at all. We saw polos, shorts, tie dies, Nascar t-shirts, blue jeans, but not a single tie.

evercurious said...

OMG. WHat a funny post. I bet you and Max were the best dressed. It doesn't seem like the reunion was too thrilling, but you have more bravery than I would. I doubt I ever even make it to one of mine.

utenzi said...

I didn't bother with my 20 year reunion, Diane. I went to the 10 year and that was enough. The folk that planned the reunion were the ones that stayed in town--and my town was much like yours, a good place to escape from. The reunion was held like it was in a bad---very loud music and bad food. No thanks!

It's good that Max gave you some memory cover until you got your bearings. 20 years can definitely change the way peope look.

kenju said...

I didn't attend any reunion until the 20th, at which I had such a good time, I vowed to go back for every one. Next year will be the 50th (should I admit that?) and I can't wait. My college reunions were really "Homecoming" and they were the pits. I never go to them.
I am glad you went to this one, even if you never go back. They do usually get better.

running42k said...

Great post. Makes me really want to avoid reunions in the future.

AmyD said...

I slowly began to twitch as I read this, thinking about how my own reunion will be the exact same someday. I give you credit for going, because you pretty much just unintentionally convinced me not to go to my own! Haha! ;o)

I'm glad you went. At least know you won't ever wonder...

Tonya Allison said...

hahaha, too funny! gotta love franklin county. so proud of you for going, brave soul! thanks for sharing. I moved mid-HS and I often wonder what happened to some of the folks I grew up with. After your post, I realize I'm probably not missing much ;)