1961 was a long time ago—so distant now that my high school classmates and I can’t recognize one another without the benefit of large print name tags. Then comes the obligatory handshake or the embrace, followed by an awkward silence. We dare not say what we’re thinking, which is, “What the hell happened to you?”
What happened to us is that half a century went by. In that time we have become parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents. We got married, were divorced, remarried. We roamed the wide world, or maybe just stayed put—depending upon whether one considers considers Price, Utah, a good place to live or a better place to be from. My own opinion is that it’s a very interesting place to grow up, but not a good place to grow old. I mean, who wants to interact indefinitely with the same people you grew up with? Who wants to relive those high school years vicariously by sending one’s children and grandchildren to the same school? And who in his right mind would want to be buried there, in a graveyard that adjoins the athletic field? Seems like every football game would be just another painful reminder that you were never a player. And now you’re not only socially dead but physically dead, your wallflower status permanent.
No matter—I attended the reunion because I’d been tapped to serve as emcee, same as the reunion before. I don’t enjoy the job, but evidently I’m good at it. I’m good at it because I happen to have a very good memory. Try as I might, I just can’t forget what it was like to be in high school in a small town many miles removed from whatever of significance is happening in the world. Yet in 1961 it was our whole world. At the time I remember wishing more than anything that I could be good at sports, that I could drive a cool car, that I could date a cheerleader.
Alas, it was not to be. Then, as now, I only excelled at things that didn’t—and still don’t—matter.
Am I bitter? No, of course not. After fifty years, I’ve gotten over high school. I’ve moved on. I’ve made something of myself. I’m successful. I’m important. In fact, this time around, the planning committee sought my input. “Shall we play a medley of Golden Oldies?” they asked.
“How about ‘At Seventeen’ by Janis Ian?” said I.
“Never heard of it,” said they.
See, I was the one who got caught up in the cultural revolution of the late nineteen sixties. I was the one who decided there must be something more to life than just cool cars, athletic ability, and nubile cheerleaders. So I went in search of something else. Looking back, I’m convinced that failure to thrive in high school could actually be a good start.
That’s what I was thinking as the gang assembled for a group shot in front of our old high school, which was brand new in 1961. Everyone was smiling, but what were they thinking? Were they experiencing, as I was, sweaty flashbacks?I I suspect so. I regret that I didn’t know in 1961 what I know now, that just about everyone in high school is dogged by feelings of insecurity. Had I known that, I might have gone ahead and tried out for the football team. I would have run for student body president. Hell, I would have even asked Sandra Scartezina for a date. Or, at least, to sign my yearbook. In fact, that’s exactly what I did last weekend.
“Will you sign my yearbook?” I asked.
“You’re joking, right?” she answered.