Yesterday I accompanied my husband to his high school reunion. The celebration was held at a local park, and all we really knew about it with certainty was that the food was to be provided by a local barbeque purveyor, and we were to wear Hawaiian-themed apparel.
My husband was ambivalent about the event. Why was it a barbeque at a local park, rather than a sit-down dinner – was this because there had been a low response? Would he recognize anyone there? He made a telephone call to one of the friends with whom he has remained in contact over these many years, and was assured that the friend would be attending, so he emailed our acceptance, mailed a check, and we set aside the afternoon.
But in speaking with his friend last weekend, a family commitment has arisen and he would not be able to attend after all. Our check had been mailed, and the possibility of calling the organizers to cancel and request return of the check was discussed, then discarded as rather too rude at this late date. Besides, late Thursday evening I had discovered that I had the perfect dress to wear.
In the morning we rose late and lounged for some time with the newspaper, then ate a large breakfast – all, typical activities for a summer’s weekend morning. As the morning wore on, however, my husband’s mood gradually changed from relaxed to tense. He became quiet and preoccupied, and withdrawn. I was preoccupied in a different way, caught up in the delightful task of primping and picking out the perfect shoes. It was only after I was prepared for the festivities that I noticed his mood, and saw that it was rather bleak.
Still, I cajoled him into a smile or two, and we set out for the park. As we drove there, listening to Joni Mitchell, my husband said, We’ll make an appearance, have our free barbeque, but then we can leave and have the rest of the day to ourselves. An hour or two, tops.
We parked in the shade and walked for a while, searching for a group. Look for the old people, my husband said, they should be easy to spot. But rather than finding a bunch of elderly and creaky folks, we ran into a spunky and happy group blasting Rolling Stones and laughing over remembered antics. As my husband approached the group, a petite and attractive woman ran toward him with arms outstretched, calling his name, catapuling herself into his arms, chatting non-stop, calling for beers to be delivered to the newcomer, and graciously inviting my participation. We had been welcomed.
Stories followed, shared by several of the attendees: pot farms started, busted, moved, and finally retiring into a sort of quirky respectability. One man who owned a head shop, purchased a night club, then retired to enjoy the hard-won fruits of his labors. Another who worked as a firefighter, suffered a health problem, and whose legs are now paralyzed. Stories of raising children after the 1960’s, when they could tell the offspring with honesty You can’t get away with any of that stuff because I know all the tricks! A woman who had her first child at 43, and a second at 45 (imagine! ouch!). Careers started, changed, abandoned, adored. Marriages made in heaven, and some in the other place.
Then, my husband’s friend and his wife arrived. It turned out that the family event was on Sunday, not Saturday, and the confusion not resolved until late in the week.
And soon thereafter, another surprise: another friend, one whom both of us knew and loved dearly but who had vanished from our lives showed up. I had not seen this man for over 15 years, and at least a couple of times a year I would ask my husband, I wonder what happened to him?
I watched the exchanges with some amusement, and because everyone was friendly I enjoyed myself. Yearbooks, school newspaper articles, old photographs, someone’s class ring and other paraphernalia was spread out for review. Beers were abundant and the wine flowed freely. The caterer showed up 45 minutes late with the barbeque, but no one cared. They enjoyed catching up with one another, swapping stories, sharing memories, and reconnecting to those with whom they had shared the formative years of their lives.
Most interesting to me was to notice that my husband is well-loved by his peers, and that the feeling is mutual. People approached him and wanted to hug him, shake his hand, talk about motorcycles, talk about music. They wanted contact with him. And he relaxed. Then I realized that he had been nervous about meeting his former classmates, nervous but without saying a word to indicate that he was nervous and holding all of that tension inside.
I appreciate my husband. I see him working, I see him playing. I see him with my own biased eyes: sometimes I am irritable and I see him through not-so-rosy lenses. Sometimes I am happy, and I see him as my co-conspirator in life. Yesterday, I saw him through the eyes of other people who had admired him, who were eager to hear his news, and who wanted to remain connected to the loving and creative soul that he possesses.