A Grin at the End: Time travelers – Class reunion weaves a magical spell

December 2022 Posted in Opinion / Columnists

Carl Sampson

Suddenly, we were 18 again. It was as though H.G. Wells had swooped us up in a time machine and transported us to a town just outside of Philadelphia in 1971.

Though the mustaches and bald spots were plentiful and the gaits a bit slower, the room filled with members of the Conestoga High School Class of 1971 was vibrating that night. All of the old lines between the rah-rahs, the athletes, the nerds and the others were erased by smiles of recognition.

“Are you Carl?” a stranger asked before I had picked up my name tag. It was Jeff, whose family had lived three doors from my family. I wouldn’t have recognized him on the street, but in that moment I saw 18-year-old Jeff, with his blond hair and ready smile.

The few hours we all spent together were transformative. Going into the suburban Philadelphia hotel where the reunion was, you could see the marks in the sidewalk I left as I dug in my heels trying to avoid the inevitable. Maybe I’ll just go to back to the room and sit this out, I thought. I’m not sure I’m up to this.

But, as is often the case, I was wrong. As I scanned the room I started to recognize smiles and mannerisms – even the way some people stood looked familiar.

About two hundred people showed up, give or take, out of five or six hundred in the class. I never counted.

There they were: Jim, Curt, Annette, Sarah, Anne, Candy, Peter, Bob…. I was surprised every time I turned around. It would have taken days just to catch up with all of them. Better yet was meeting some folks for the first time. In a big class, there was no way to know everyone. But I wanted to find out what my fellow time travelers had been up to. I’ll bet they had been through some great adventures. Some were doctors, some lawyers, engineers, nurses – even a cartoonist. Several, including me, were still working as journalists. How cool is that?

Then there were the stories, which were only slightly embellished with time.

My favorite was the “Chemistry Class Caper.” A classmate – who shall remain nameless – had tucked several chemicals into his coat, which he put on the floor next to his seat. In the middle of class – BAM! – the coat exploded. Our classmate picked it up, ran to a sink and soaked what was left of the coat with water.

I’m not privy to the conversation the teacher had with the student, but I can still see that smoking coat and the looks on everyone’s faces.

You can’t make up stories like that!

There was a whole batch of folks I wanted to see but who couldn’t make it. Many weren’t the student council members, or the star athletes. Rather, they were “the rest of us,” who did our thing, graduated and moved on to who-knows-what. It would have been great to see them, find out how they were doing – and swap a story or two.

Walking out the front door of the hotel, I lingered a bit, chatting and exchanging email addresses with a few folks. When our ride arrived my wife and I got in the car. The smiles slowly faded, and some of the aches and pains had already returned.

And we drove off into the present.

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

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