Fiftieth Reunion Brings Forgotten Faces Into Focus

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You can go home again. You can even turn back the calendar and be 18 again.

That's what I did, along with more than 300 other people, when we recently made our pilgrimage back to our hometown for our 50th high school reunion.

When we graduated in 1950, we talked about how neat (our word for "cool") it would be to celebrate our 50th reunion in the year 2000. It seemed like something out of a Ray Bradbury story to even imagine the year 2000 back then. It seemed extra-special somehow, all those milestone-marking numbers.

There had been lots of class reunions in between, of course. For those who lived in Amarillo and passed each other on the street, nodded hello in church, worked together in business and local politics, the concept of reunion had little meaning. But those of us living far away had maintained a tenuous hold on our school days. Many had let go completely years ago.

As I prepared for my trip, I had mixed emotions. How would it feel to mingle with a bunch of 68-year-olds? How would we recognize each other. Would the mere shared experience of a few years in high school be enough to fill three days?

The reunion committee had done a great job putting it all together. There had been newsletters, plans for a cruise to Hawaii right after the reunion, e-mails between friends, searches for "lost" classmates, and the sobering, heartbreaking list of those who hadn't survived.

I was excited at the news that the Swingsters, our school dance band, were planning to play a set of their old numbers at the reunion. We joked in e-mails about rusted-out horns and flabby lips, and imagined a squeaky performance at best.

When the day came, I walked into the hotel reserved for the event with trepidation. People, old people, milled about. Strangers. I registered, pinned on my nametag, and saw with great relief my friend Beverly, one of the few I'd seen over the years. I plunged into the sea of bodies. A furtive glance at the nametag, then feigned recognition, a quick hug and exchange of news became the routine as we moved from one to another. Then I became gradually aware of a familiar twinkle in someone's eyes, a quirky grin, a distinctive giggle or tone of voice, and the faces all began to look 18 again. The wasted or fat bodies, wrinkled and sallow skin, bald heads, white hair or dyed hair segued into the youthful, vigorous, beautiful boys and girls we had once been.

The Swingsters played. They were stone-faced, stiff and nervous at first. They'd been practicing for weeks, they'd said, and complained that their fingers were stiff, and their lips couldn't hit the high notes. Maybe there was some kind of magic at work that night, but their "String of Pearls" sounded like Benny Goodman to me. We gave them a standing ovation. Tears glistened in my eyes, as one aging couple after another stepped onto the dance floor and began to swing and sway.

An old friend I hadn't seen in 50 years, took my hand and pulled me onto the floor. I laughed and said rock 'n' roll was my style. But soon I was jitterbugging again. I was 18 and it was the senior prom.

I wanted to freeze everything and take it home to save, like the top off a wedding cake.

Soon, like a roomful of Cinderellas, we would all return to the present and to our real lives. But for those all-too-brief moments, while we were reliving the past, we weren't worrying about the future.

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