Service of Reunions

May 1st, 2017

Categories: Events, Memory, Reunions

Reunion 2

I’m not a big fan of school or college reunions although I loved my time at the institutions.

You can count on one hand the number I’ve attended. I know the amount of work and time involved with determining the topics, gathering the right speakers, planning the dinners and satellite events and marketing them all to gather a crowd.

I attended select parts of a recent one.

I can understand why Truman Capote wrote “Answered Prayers,” the tell-all book that destroyed his relationship with best friends such as Babe Paley and Gloria Vanderbilt. He was angry. So was I. 

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”

However apart from the obvious differences between us, such as audience size and prominence, the first draft of this post, [torn up now], and Truman’s book differ in that mine wasn’t about others’ secrets; it covered snarky or off-the-wall comments of former classmates. And it didn’t give sufficient credit to the generosity of the couple who throw elegant dinner parties for class members and their partners to celebrate these occasions or the speakers at the discussion I attended.

Andrea Thompson, in an article on livescience.com, wrote “Bad Memories Stick Better Than Good.” She quoted Elizabeth Kensinger, Boston College, who reviewed research on emotional memories. “‘It really does matter whether [an event is] positive or negative in that most of the time, if not all of the time, negative events tend to be remembered in a more accurate fashion than positive events,’ Kensinger said.”

What inspires people to say thoughtless, nasty things at events such as reunions? Do you attend them? Do you remember the bad parts more than the good or is it all good?

 reunion

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12 Responses to “Service of Reunions”

  1. ASK Said:

    I have gone to all my high school reunions (not very many) and almost all of my landmark college reunions. For a major upcoming college reunion, I am putting together the class book. (I will never offer to do that again!) I’ve always enjoyed them, maybe because I liked both my high school and college years very much, even though I never considered myself one of the more popular people in my classes.

    I’ve heard relatively few snarky comments at these events — we were all pleased to be able to catch up with each other — and the ones I have heard were really shared among close friends and not directed at the people about whom they were made. (One former classmate, always in trouble in high school, couldn’t make our 25th because he was in jail for burglary; I was told this by the captain of the local police force, also a former classmate who attended that reunion.) To me, reunions bring back fond and not so fond memories…but they are all part of what makes us what we are today.

  2. Deborah Brown Said:

    Debby wrote this for a Yarnslinger event, just shared it with me and I thought you, too, would enjoy it.

    Reunions” by Debby Brown:

    I have been to only two high school reunions: my 25th and 50th.

    After graduating from public school in a small Quaker college town outside Philadelphia, most of our class of about 100, white-bread WASP’s, were headed to college, oblivious to the cultural and life challenges that lay ahead in the 1960’s when literally, everything changed.

    With the arrival of the invitation to our 25th reunion, I signed on: curious to see how everyone landed; or maybe to see how everyone looked in our early 40’s. Kumbaya time? A fantasy of reconnecting with classmates I hadn’t seen since graduation? Or.. big mistake?

    The kick-off dinner was at a private club in Center City…I can’t recall the exact location or club’s name. What I vividly DO recall was the elevator ride to the top floor of the venue, alone, with one other person, a woman who looked vaguely familiar; perhaps our parent’s age…I wasn’t sure.

    I pushed the button for the 12th floor as we politely nodded to each other. As the lift began its assent and the floor numbers flashed by, around the 3rd or 4th floor, reality hit me! MERD! I was alone with Adelaide Strauss, the French teacher!

    Like a time machine with each passing floor, I was back, sitting in her classroom, struggling.

    By the time the doors opened, my face was red and palms sweaty. We never spoke. I was astonished at my reaction as I had been to France many times as an adult for business and pleasure. But for those 45 seconds, it looked like this reunion was already Hell!

    As the evening progressed I learned about 65 of us made it to the reunion along with a handful our former teachers. Six classmates had died from: breast cancer, one brain tumor and a suicide; but not one in Vietnam. Now, in our early 40’s a metamorphosis had taken place. “Nerdy Larry,” formerly shy and covered with acne, was now a confident and handsome pilot for Alleghany Airlines. Bettina revealed her husband had left her for his gay lover when she was pregnant with her 5th child.

    Inane conversations followed during the evening as you would find at any cocktail party with talk of careers, aging parent issues and empty promises to stay in touch.

    Fast forward to the 50th reunion. This one kicked off at Anne’s home, now the wife of a successful entertainment producer, in their light-filled, modern loft, on historic Rittenhouse Square. Thanks to social media and zealous volunteers, virtually every living classmate was located from Hawaii to Zurich.

    In contrast to my panic attack in the elevator en route to the 25th reunion, their private elevator doors opened directly into their expansive and gracious living room.

    I recall audibly gasping at the sight before me and felt I had been punched in my solar plexus. No, it wasn’t Strauss, the French teacher. It was 50 or 60 white and gray haired men and women who looked just like their parents!

    What the hell had happened in the last 25 years, let alone 50?
    And who were these old people?

    I noticed several walkers parked on the side of the room, along with some canes and one oxygen tank. Who belonged to what?

    A quick glance around the room revealed the athletes from the couch potatoes with some of the former high school jocks sporting pot bellies.
    Immediately making my way to the self-serve bar I greeted Fred, our only Harvard graduate and successful Philadelphia attorney, to ask if he would join me in a glass of wine. “Oh no!” he exclaimed. “I can’t drink. I’m on Coumadin.”

    Conversation during the evening shifted from health care issues to career successes, failed marriages (more than half) new trophy wives, hedge fund husbands and the show of endless photos of grandchildren.
    The next day’s event was a walk through the old home town. The Rexall drug store with iconic ‘50’s soda fountain is now a Dunkin’ Donuts. The record store where I bought my vinyl 33’s: now a Chinese restaurant. Sipler’s Hardware: a fancy gift boutique.

    The elementary and high school buildings now have metal detectors.
    The Public Library: doubled in size.

    Memories of instrumental teachers that laid the pathway for our futures were fondly remembered. For me, one was Latin teacher whose name I always enter when asked to create a security question on line.

    Then there was our Algebra teacher. (Just saying the word “algebra” makes my mouth dry.) I never understood the X and Y-thing-y; flunked it twice and went to summer school. But today, as I manage my personal and business accounts, her life lesson and voice lives on: “Does the answer make sense?”

    As I left the evening’s final event, I asked a favor of my old neighborhood friend, now a prestigious college professor: “Steve, if we are lucky enough to come to our 75th reunion, please tell me I don’t look a day over 85!”

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    Your reunions sound great: No wonder you returned. I never went to a college reunion. Life was busy in NYC where the college wasn’t located; the university was enormous and so it never happened. Might as well go to a reunion of former government workers or attendees of the Woman’s March: Chances are you’d not see a soul you recognize so unless you sell insurance, what’s the point?

  4. CG Said:

    Debby, I really enjoyed your “Reunions” piece. It made me alternately smile and wince. My experience with reunions is similar to ASK’s. I’ve been to several high school and college reunions. In every case there were few–if any–snarky comments about our classmates. People seemed genuinely happy to see one another, even though we may not all have been friends back in the day. Our common bond was that we all were still alive and able to travel to the reunion!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Debby,

    I tended to go to few events at the school over the years so I didn’t have the chance to meet the teachers but I loved your description of meeting the French teacher in the elevator!

    My mother told a story that involved an elevator and a teacher, or administrator, but not a reunion. When she was young they introduced a certain test for NYC public school children. She found it boring and didn’t take it seriously. The principal told her mother that she wouldn’t advance beyond the mental age of 13. Year after year, her mother sent Miss XYZ my mother’s grades, through college. Mom was about to be married in Paris and she and grandma were in a hotel elevator. My grandmother recognized this woman, who’d refused to budge from her diagnosis at the time, and said, “Ms. XYZ, you must remember my daughter, Ruth!” and went on to place her in the woman’s mind. How satisfying that must have felt!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    CG,

    I’d figured that people would be gentle as you and ASK found–and many were. Homer, my husband, often says, “Something bad must be going on in so-and-so’s life. He/she didn’t mean anything.” Others might suggest I’d lost my sense of humor. Maybe all of the above. I think it helps if you’ve kept up with some of the people and if you are in a good place in your life at the time.

    Not everyone was snarky by a long shot but the most vivid imprints on my mind–and those of others as exemplified by the “Bad Memories Stick Better than Good” article–were the thoughtless or nut-so comments.

  7. Hank Goldman Said:

    We were all very loyal music and art students, and we have had some great reunions.
    I guess the down side is when you see people that have been more in touch with more people!

    Here’s a video from 2010, at our 50th Music and Art graduating class reunion, singing our anthem, based on Brahms first symphony Melody. NOTE: I can’t download a video into a comment. Wish I could.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I suspect that musicians and artists tend to land in the same spheres as adults. You share similar interests and work in the parallel worlds of creativity. When you get together, even if it’s been a while, you have lots to talk about. As you note, if you haven’t been in touch for a long time, it may be harder for some to reconnect, especially if a person is considered to have taken an unusual path.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Reunions mean different things to everyone. For older grads, it’s often to re-cement decades old friendships stretched thin by long distances. With that come thoughts of this being the last time we meet on the planet…if ever. Others are born social butterflies and/or school stalwarts who attend yearly. Last, come the rest, who for whatever reason, stay home.

    Snarky individuals, like weeds, are part of every scene with reunions being no exception. As wastes of time and space, they fall beneath discussion.

    I am not fond of these events, and would prefer being elsewhere. However, friends matter, and when one is lucky enough to have them around for over 60 years, they matter a great deal.

  10. hb Said:

    I have never attended either a school or college reunion. Why?

    First, when you are young, you conform to be accepted and to feel part of a group. Schools, even the best of them whether they mean to or not, promote conformity. It’s their nature. When I went to school, I conformed like most everybody else to try to fit in, but as I’ve grown older, I have felt increasingly less compelled to conform. I’d stick out like a sore thumb at a reunion.

    While I knew even then that I was extremely fortunate to be attending schools of exceptional quality – both were then, and still are, amongst top five or ten schools or colleges in the country – and while I was, and still am, most grateful for the experience, both academically and personally, of what they did for me, I never felt comfortable, even then, with the “rah, rah,” “gung ho” side of school loyalty. Reunions are a way to perpetuate this spirit. That side of it now just makes me think of Donald Trump’s political rallies, and of, in its worst military incarnation, the supposedly patriotically passionate sergeant who ordered me during basic training to scream at top of my lungs, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as I poked my M1 rifle with a bayonet stuck on its end into straw dummies.

    I have served for over thirty years as a trustee of an unrelated privately endowed secondary school and know full well how materially important reunions are as a way to generate school loyalty among its alumnae. And money is indeed important. However, my schools have both chosen to be conventional and change with the times, in my opinion, for the worse. Therefore, I do not support them. If I were to attend reunions, I would feel compelled to explain why I chose not to give. I see no useful purpose served by my doing this.

    As to seeing old friends, I’ve been living in the New York area the past 60 years, and anybody who wanted to have seen me again, could gave looked me up.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    As I read your and the other thoughtful comments I may have come closer to what it is about reunions that I can live without: Memory lane is a road I infrequent, though it’s fun, at times, to play the “remember when ____” game, especially if the memories are sweet or funny.

    But unless I’ve kept up with the others at the college or school, why would any of them care a hoot about me? And just because I went to the same school as a bunch of people in a room, what do we have in common that interests us today?

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    hb,

    When I was a kid, there was no more of a conformist than me, but it came naturally. I liked to do what “the girls” did. And there was no one more enthusiastic about the schools I went to at the time. I was captain of one of the sports teams in high school. I drank and enjoyed the Kool Aid.

    The exception: I didn’t want to be wearing what other girls wore to a formal dance [and there were many of them].

    A leitmotif throughout my young life was my father who would often say, when forbidding me to do something, that if “all the girls were doing thus and such, that’s all the more reason you should NOT do it. You are better than that.”

    As result, I was different then even if I didn’t mean to be and I suppose I’ve lead a slightly quirky life and I don’t fit a mold. I think reunions are great for those who have done well, look terrific, can milk the crowd to enhance their business, have done what’s expected to great success and applause and have maintained a lot of connections–some or all of the above.

    I liked what you wrote about people knowing how to find you if they wanted to. With Google even more so today.

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