A Grin at the End: 50 years later – High school when you look back at it

June 2021 Posted in Columnists & Opinion, People

carl sampson

One of the few fringe benefits of this pandemic is the fact that my 50th high school reunion was canceled. That’s right, the Conestoga High School Class of 1971 has let the coronavirus get the best of it. I suppose that means the constabulary of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, won’t have to worry about a bunch of 67-year-old duffers running over curbs and backing into street signs.

Whew.

It’s not that I didn’t like those people. I just didn’t know most of them. The idea of hanging around in a hotel ballroom with 500 almost-strangers is something I won’t miss.

I’ve been following a bunch of them on Facebook trying to get caught up with what they’ve been doing the past half-century. What I found were lots of doctors, lawyers, accountants, airline pilots, business executives and various flavors of big shots. 

Which is all good. But I have to wonder: what about the others, the ones who have been overtaken by life, who have faced struggles that can’t be summarized in a yippy-skippy Facebook post?

“I’m 15 years sober and every day is a struggle” or  “My husband broke my heart and left me and the kids.” 

Those posts, and the people behind them, are missing. 

Going to the same school, we did have a lot in common. Good teachers that we liked – and bad ones we didn’t – helped set courses for life after high school.

For some, like me, music was a sanctuary. For others, there were sports, drama productions and other extra-curricular activities – authorized and otherwise. 

But the minute we graduated and stepped outside that cocoon called high school, our lives diverged. College, work, the military – the draft was still going back then – swept us in different directions. 

Most of the Class of ‘71 seems to have built good lives. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. And that’s something to be proud of.

I was not an exemplary student in high school. I didn’t play sports. In eighth grade, after calisthenics I barfed in a teammate’s new baseball glove during tryouts, and that pretty much ended my sports career.

I wasn’t really into grades, although I guess I did all right. My parents had drummed into my head the idea that good grades were the key to a Good Life. I suppose they were right, but I have to admit the only grade I remember getting was an “F” in gym class after a guy and I used towels as capes during a session on wrestling and put on a “professional” wrestling show, complete with body slams and a pre-match interview in which I promised to make my opponent’s “liver quiver.”

The coach was not amused.

At any rate, high school wasn’t much of a thing. Or so I thought. But lately I have found myself thinking more and more about the people I did remember, and those I didn’t, and wondering what they are up to 50 years later.

I saw a rumor the other day that the reunion committee has reconsidered. They have decided to have a 51st reunion next year instead.

I may go. If for no other reason, I want to meet the people I should have known 50 years ago.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor.
He lives in Stayton.

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