I’m sitting in a departure lounge in Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport on my way home from my high school reunion. This was the 50th—monumental by any standard. They may hold a 55th, and a 60th, but make no mistake: the half-century get-together is the 40-pound muskie of nostalgic events.
This is the first reunion I’ve attended, because these types of convocations are held in the summertime, which makes sense unless, like me, you are a self-employed musician. Most of my work comes between April and September; if I pass up a festival or a concert, I lose that income in addition to outlaying the cost of going to the reunion. But, heck, I couldn’t pass up the 50th.
Without earlier events against which to compare, I’m guessing attendees were more relaxed about their, er, aesthetics at this one. To be sure, there were tans tanned, coifs coiffed and I’m imagining a run on the Spanx store. (I confess here to having used Crest White Strips before my trip, but I had been planning on doing so anyway. Honest.) I’m thinking, however, that the more drastic procedures—hair plugs, tummy tucks, dental implants and the like—had already been undertaken, most likely long before this reunion. All in all, we looked pretty darned good for a bunch of 67- and 68-year-olds.
We had, of course, lost a predictable percent of the Norman High class of 1967, and here I had a shocking experience: I went to an estate sale and, as I was pawing through the stuff of someone else’s life, I realized that the someone else was a classmate. She had visited me here in St. Paul recently and was scary-thin then, but I nevertheless had not anticipated her death. I found her senior yearbook, and when I went to buy it, I told the cashier that she had been a friend and the woman gave it to me. It’s in my suitcase; when I get home, I’ll offer it to her niece, who lives in Minneapolis.
There were three old flames in attendance, all of them looking terrific and all of them apparently leading happy and successful lives. The first looked me in the eye and asked, “Why didn’t you ask me to the prom?” like she’d been waiting half a century for an answer. We both knew that I was supposed to, but the truth was that I had been too shy, and that was my response. (She went with someone else, and I sat home on prom night and played the blues on my guitar. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when it’s your own danged fault, but I managed it.)
The second told me that I broke her heart, which I already knew. She had professed a love for me when I was already seriously committed—as in married—to someone else. I told her I was sorry, and what else can one say besides that? I had already squared things up with the third on previous visits home, and we have achieved the difficult-but-not-impossible: becoming post-relationship friends.
I re-met my 1964 rock ‘n’ roll bandmates. We were the Coachmen, and before you say, “Oh, I remember them!” please know that there were 10,000 bands in the United States called the Coachmen in those days. I reconnected with a few members of the official school folk group, the Seven-Uppers (for bonus points, guess how many were in the group), and with a couple of friends with whom I committed sundry pranks and usually legal mayhem.
My hometown has aged as gracefully as its citizens have. East Main Street, which, with its snooker halls, 3.2-beer joints and other dens of iniquity, was the bailiwick of what we called “hoods” in 1967, is gentrified now—teeming with art galleries and coffee shops—and is an altogether-pleasant district. The ugly fiberglass facades put up in the early ’60s have been removed, and the buildings’ brick edifices cleaned up.
It’s hard not to wonder at how astonishingly different my life would have be had I made other choices in those days: What if I had married one of those flames? Or, what if, in 1974, I had moved—as I almost did—to New York to write for National Lampoon magazine instead of coming to Minnesota and working with Garrison Keillor? My life would not remotely resemble what it is now. Different everything!
So, what a wonderful thing it is to feel with such confidence, a half-century on, that I made good decisions, and harbor no misgivings. Even using the full range of my creative powers, I can’t imagine a life without my fabulous Minnesota wife and my great 40- and 26-year-old Minnesota sons.
And how lucky I am to be able to say that.
Adam Granger lives in St. Anthony Park with his wife and dog, Molly, and is a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.