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FIELD NOTES: Went to a garden party

Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends  

Even if you are too young to have heard this song playing throughout the summer of 1972, you are probably vaguely familiar with the lyrics. It was the last hit single for Ricky Nelson, a ’50s television star who reinvented himself as a rock star in the ’60s and a country-folk crooner in the ’70s. The lyric that probably sticks most in your mind is the singalong chorus:  

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well  

You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself  

I’ve been thinking a lot about that song recently as my 40th-41st class reunion approaches. As a rule, I am not a big fan of these affairs. The truth is, I was not a popular kid in high school, and the handful of friends I did have typically don’t show up for reunions. One of my buddies Carl (who I have mentioned in other columns) and I made plans to attend our 25th reunion back in 2005. He would bring his family, meet up with Janet and me, and make a weekend of it. Then the reunion was canceled due to “lack of interest.” We still did the family weekend, but without the awkward school get-together. I was also considering attending my 40th last year, but in a weird coincidence, it too was canceled due to COVID. Or, more accurately, it was postponed until this year. 

I won’t be attending this week’s get-together in person, but as a nod to the pandemic, a Zoom social is scheduled for Friday night and I am going to log in to that.  

The only class reunion I have ever previously attended was my wife’s 25th. Janet, her twin sister, her sister’s husband, and I went to the Wayne High School Class of ’82 reunion, and it was an … uhm … experience. As we walked through the door of the ballroom, a group of women squealed our wives’ names, engulfed them like a hungry amoeba and carried them off. I just shrugged and said,

”Well, there’s got to be a bar in here somewhere.”  

Three hours later, they reappeared. 

“Did you guys have fun?” 

“Oh yeah, there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting self-consciously in a crowd of people I don’t know, drinking warm beer and munching on stale pretzels.” 

In a nutshell, that statement is why I haven’t attended one of my own reunions. Although I know most of my classmates by name, I don’t really know them. Reunions are about reliving shared experiences and catching up with people who were once a significant part of your life. No one likely to attend fits either of those bills. That’s not a knock on them; it’s just reality.  

The majority of my high school classmates didn’t care about me one way or the other. While that may sound harsh, honestly, I was as much to blame for it as anyone. I did nothing to make myself accessible or an easy person to like. A couple of years ago, I attended a conference and ran into a classmate I had known since first grade. Although we had been pretty good friends through elementary school, we had grown apart in junior high, and I don’t think I said more than two words to her through high school. When we got around to talking about that, it was pretty clear she thought I was the one who had distanced myself. That was mind-blowing, but as I looked back on things objectively, I could see what she meant.  

We all want to see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories, but the truth is we are just character actors in a grander epic. If I could go back with the advantage of 40 years of hindsight, I would certainly do things a little differently – I’m guessing most of us would – but there are no do-overs. So, Friday night, I will wash my face, put on a fresh shirt, log in to the reunion, share a few pleasantries, and log back off. Because I am Port Clinton High School Class of ’80, and at the same time, I am not.  

If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck

But if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck


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