There were double the number of guests at the reunion than were expected. We arrived as the people we had become, but trailing us, like shadows in the afternoon sun, were the people we once were.
This particular reunion was billed as a 60th birthday party for the members of the Thomas Jefferson High School Class of ’68 but opened to members of the surrounding classes as well. I went with my sister, Roberta Pilk MacDonald and her classmate, Anne Miller Wotring. Their high school friendship was rekindled at an earlier reunion and years later has morphed into a working relationship.
We looked a little like stalkers as we took pics in front of the former Pilk Family palace.
Anne Miller Wotring and Roberta Pilk MacDonald bask in the shadow of the former Miller manse. Law enforcement was about to be called.
Taking a circuitous route to the party, a stroll down memory lane, we made stops at old haunts and photo opportunities at the houses we once made a habit of sneaking out of. Tales of bad dates and madcap hijinks were told; names were named, ancient gossip resurrected.
Giddy on remembrance of things past.
Some things don’t change. There was a crowd in the parking lot, exchanging greetings and beginning the process of reconnecting, but it also looked like some of us were stalling a bit before going in, reminding me that 16 or 60, pre-party jitters do not recognize age or maturity.
“Candee, is that you?”
Girding my loins and sticking a name tag the bodice of a dress I had spent hours choosing, I entered the fray. (An aside: I wonder why women put up with having to wear name tags in a place that gives men a socially acceptable pass to check out the goods. At length.) Upon entering, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a voice that called out “Candee!”
I haven’t been called Candee in almost 40 years. I put an end to the nickname bestowed upon me at birth on the day I arrived at college. I knew then that such a name, winsome and perfectly suited for a tiny girl with big eyes, would sound faintly ridiculous and rob me of a certain amount of gravitas as a grown woman. Candee Pilk is a name that works for a stripper or a 1-900 companionship provider. For a CEO or a Board Chair? Not so much. Candee was therefore relegated to the past as Candace went about the business of becoming an adult. But here in a suburban church hall those two short syllables sent me spiraling back almost 40 years. Feeling like a time traveler, I found myself in a room where everyone only ever knew me by my childhood name. For one night, Candee was reborn, leaving me feeling displaced from my own skin.
Wait, wait, don’t tell me…
One thing I can confidently say about reunions, unhappy and unsuccessful people are not likely to show up. They attract a self-selecting group that skews to folks who are reasonably secure, extroverted, and generally satisfied with life. This group was no exception. In spite of the fact that people were talking about adult children, new grandchildren, retirement plans, and AARP membership, there was a decidedly youthful vibe in the air, which fairly crackled with energy and enthusiasm.
As the evening dropped into gear, a kick-ass rock and roll band, comprised of former classmates relieved us of the burden and embarrassment of not remembering names and faces by playing at top volume. Dancing, the universal language of joy, took over where speech fell short. And like most high school parties, then and now, there was a noticeable gender divide. The women gathered together on one side, unselfconsciously dancing, laughing and singing along with the perfectly executed soundtrack of our youth. Across the room the men made desultory attempts at small talk, smiling indulgently at wives, partners, and old friends.
Louie Louie, oh no, me gotta go, aye-yi-yi-yi
In true social hall fashion, there were party snacks and cake. The (now-legal) adult beverages were strictly BYOB. And believe me, now as then, there appeared to be no shortage of that second “B.” Chatting, catching up, drinking, dancing, and eating. It was just like a wedding or a bar mitzvah except everyone at this party was the same age. I wondered why I had gotten so wound up about the prospect of this evening.
At some point, as if by telepathy, our trio agreed that it was time to go. Leaving on a high note as the party was in full swing left us with memories of friends and days gone by refreshed, but not overworked. We left before we lost the magic that originally bound us to these people and that had once again brought us together.
The reunion ultimately became journey of self-discovery and, in a way, of redemption. In the intervening decades my time in high school had coalesced as an indistinct, but somehow naggingly unhappy, memory. Spending a few hours with some engaging, congenial strangers made me realize that we passed those distant years in individual, self-generated bubbles. In that isolation we created the amorphous facades that would eventually harden and set as we became actual people. We were children with crude tools and limited social skills playing at being adults. To varying degrees we were all clumsy and awkward, trying our best but rarely getting it right. Our bubbles orbited the school, sometimes touching gently and other times colliding with a damaging intensity. High school was real life with training wheels, allowing us to make mistakes whose consequences were instructional in nature and rarely life-threatening.
In the end, the reunion allowed me to let go of the confusion and hurt, salvage the lessons learned and cherish the handful of very real relationships that have withstood time and distance. More important was my ability to appreciate how fortune has blessed me in the form of my sister. A paragon of popularity and beauty in high school, she has evolved into a complex, compassionate, compelling person who is my friend and my mentor. How lucky that we could make this journey together. And really, is there anyone in the world better than a sister to share post-reunion dish with?
I don’t think so.
Thomas Wolfe said: “You can’t go home again.” Next week I plan to find out if that’s true.
My first day of high school. No wonder they stuffed me on top of my locker.
High school. Often referred to as the best years of your life. I might buy into that theory if the best things that ever happened to me were being stuffed on top of my locker on the first day of high school. Or being repeatedly suspended for dress code violations. Or being bone-achingly bored for weeks and months on end. Or being the lone flower child in a sea of card-carrying, Villager, Ladybug and Papagallo wearing, perfect hair, teeth, and skin sporting prepsters. No, I’m going to have to disagree.
They were not the best years of my life. Not. At. All.
But, since those years obviously didn’t kill me (though there were times that the prospect of death looked like an appealing alternative), they almost certainly made me stronger. And I did develop a small coterie of fast friends, who, like me, dwelt on the periphery of the social core. We were members of the Latin Club (Really? The Latin Club? Could we have been any nerdier?) rather than cheerleaders. Instead of going to dances or football games, we watched The Carol Burnett Show and Love American Style while babysitting on weekend nights.
At least that’s how I started out — miserable and marginalized. By the time Junior year rolled around, I had my first real date, then my first boyfriend. I started to come into my own. Make no mistake, my own was, at best, quirky and sardonic. In the span of four short years, I morphed from irredeemable geek to sarcastic free-spirit. While the popular girls roamed the halls in packs, heads bent in whispered conversation, enveloped in a cloud of Enjolie, Windsong and Charlie, I sat alone, shielded by attitude, anger, and the lingering scent of patchouli. My ultimate validation came in my Senior year when I was voted “Most Individualistic,” generally accepted to mean “Your ‘otherness’ frightens us, but we nonetheless find you oddly intriguing.” Still it was a grudging acknowledgement that finally I was someone, a force, if not to be reckoned with, at least to be recognized.
In the end, I managed to take all the rejection and adolescent angst and turn it to my advantage. At the dawning of the Age of Aquarius I was perfectly poised to join the hoards of groovy young people who were rejecting the status quo. The Woodstock nation, not the Junior U.N., was my government model. In my world, flower power replaced football. I didn’t need to be voted into the Keyettes, I was otherwise occupied smoking the occasional joint or sneaking into the Cellar Door to catch acts like Richie Havens or Linda Ronstadt. The zeitgeist had shifted and by the time I left high school, I was, well, kind of cool.
Out of the blue, a few weeks ago, my sister, my older-by-three-years, beautiful, Sweetheart Queen, Most Popular, loved-by-the-masses sister called to tell me there was a reunion afoot. Not exactly a formal reunion, but a gathering of those from her class who were celebrating their 60th birthday year. They were staging the gathering at a local church that, in a time long ago, hosted Saturday night dances (yup, the ones I was never invited to…those dances), and were including members of the surrounding classes as well. She asked me to go as her date.
Bobbe Pilk – Most Popular
And because, in my old age, I’ve turned into a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I said yes. Like many of my fellow Baby Boomers, the idea of a reunion strikes fear, and just a frisson of anticipation, in my heart. I’m reasonably certain I won’t get unceremoniously dumped into a corner by a wandering band of hoods, but am I leaving myself open for social rejection almost 40 years later? And do I care? What do I expect to find? Who will I reconnect with?
Find out after I return…
In a society that worships youth, Baby Boomers — those of us born between 1946 and 1964 — remain a significant and formidable demographic. The Boomer population is 78 million strong and its influence on business, lifestyle, and culture is indisputable.
Boomers are even putting their inimitable stamp on social media and networking. We represent the fastest growing population of users on Facebook and Twitter. We are Linkedin, we Skype, we date on eHarmony. Boomers are texters, bloggers, and avid file sharers.
While it might be convenient to lump Boomers into a single group, it’s important to remember that we’re a cohort that incorporates wildly diverse lifestyles and attitudes. Really good Boomer-oriented websites must take into account the stages, not just the ages, of their Boomer users.
Following, in no particular order, are the five sites I’ve bookmarked as the best for Boomers.
www.boomergirl.com This site for Boomer women was founded in 2007 “to give women in mid-life a voice.” Boomergirl compiles news, information, and advice in blogs and podcasts…there’s even a daily Spanish lesson.
www.boomj.com This social networking and information site got its name by combining Baby Boomers and Generation Jones. The site describes Baby Boomers as born between 1946 and 1953, who “associate their youth with Howdy Doody, Davy Crocket hats, and later, Woodstock and Vietnam War demonstrations.” Jonesers, born between 1954 and 1965 who are “the actual children of the sixties (more wide-eyed than tie-dyed); Jonesers were weaned on The Brady Bunch and Easy Bake Ovens and later were the teens of 70′s heavy metal, disco, punk and soul.”
www.cranky.com An off-shoot of Eons, cRANKy bills itself as the first age-relevant search engine, kind of a Google for Boomers. Here’s how they explain it: “When you search, cRANKy shows the four highest-rated search results based on Eons editors’ and members’ ratings. After visiting a site, cRANKy will invite you to rate it. Added together, members’ ratings raise or lower a site’s ranking. The reactions and opinions of the community determine how Eons ranks sites, making cRANKy the world’s first age-relevant search engine.”
www.eons.com If you’re 50+ and new to social networking, Eons might be just the site for you. You must be over 50 to join, but when you do you’ll find an online community of your peers sharing everything from exercise advice to recipies to dating tips.
www.aginghipsters.com With its paisley infused logo, this site even looks like a product of the sixties. Aginghipsters is a clearing house for information on music, culture, and lifestyle for Baby Boomers. Its casual, straightforward format reflects the spirit of the generation.
And as a bonus, here’s one more that all of you 50 and older have probably visited at least once.
www.aarp.org I know, I dreaded that card showing up on my doorstep hours after my 50th birthday, too. There’s nothing that punctuates the actual aging process quite like an AARP card in your wallet. Still there’s no disputing that AARP.org is one of the most comprehensive news and information sites for Baby Boomers. Trust me. I’m over 50!