Combining Genealogy With a High School Reunion

In late July, graduates of my husband’s now-closed high school held their 50th reunion. Only about 60 of the 352 graduates attended. Some didn’t care to attend, others probably didn’t have the time or funds to make the pilgrimage home. The remainder had no choice; about 18% of their classmates are deceased.

I heard a lot of stories about those missing members. A memorial had been created for them – a 1970-style school desk in the corner of the Pavilion, the same location where Senior Prom had been held. Upon the tabletop were listed the names, birth, and death dates of the individuals. The first died barely two months after graduating and the most recent, three months ago. There was an increase in deaths between 2020-2022. Was it aging or the pandemic?

This reunion made me aware of the folly of youth. At 17, when I danced the night away in that very same room, I hadn’t thought much of the prom’s theme – Stairway to Heaven. I hadn’t even remembered that was the theme until my husband’s close friend since kindergarten mentioned it. This was the same friend who had introduced me to what would become my husband. It was the same song that just happened to play on the radio when hubby and I were meeting at a city cemetery in Florida to select our grave sites. We’ve since sold those back to the city and are now in the process of deciding AGAIN where our final resting place will be.

So, being frugal (you can insert cheap in here, no worries on my part!) and time conscious, I decided we would visit cemeteries of deceased family members during our trip to our old hometown which is now a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our new city. I was thinking we might want to be interred there eventually and could save if we combined trips. We hadn’t visited some of the gravesites in over 20 years and in other cases, have never been. This seemed like a good time to check them out.

When I was thinking about the reunion I wasn’t thinking at all about those that weren’t going to be attending because they had passed away. I guess I was still thinking as we did at 17; aging and death would happen but not any time soon. In those days anyone over 30 was over the hill and we were far from that. Funny how fast time passes. Appropriate that we sometimes get a jolt of reality during a regular humdrum day.

I planned to visit seven cemeteries during this two-day trip which would include five hours plus of driving and four hours for the big party. I also wanted to drive by our old haunts, like our childhood homes, schools, friends’ homes, and places that held special memories – our first date, our favorite beach, and so on.

They say you can’t go home again. That’s not true; you can and you should. Does it look the same? Definitely not. Without the people you knew, like Mrs. Chellich who made the best grape jelly every summer, or Vera Shobach, who owned the corner store, the visit wouldn’t be the same as returning to an earlier part of your lifetime. Life goes on and it is worth the travel to your origin, to remember, reflect, and both laugh and cry.

Did I record any of the conversations that were held during the reunion? Nope. I was a guest. I heard apologies, regrets, and lots of memories of good times. I hope the attendees return home and someday write or record their memoirs.

Perhaps they’ll change their minds in ten years but it sure sounded like many had decided this would be their last reunion, which could explain the depths of some of the conversations that occurred. Well, at least at the table where we sat that I have labeled the Nerd Table, where we talked about philosophy and what colleges give seniors free classes online. The jocks seemed to still be interested in their past glory days and who got drafted for what major league team today. The ladies seemed to be comfortable with their old friends; most came alone, kicked off their shoes, and danced together as they once did. There was also the smoker group that convened outside. I guess some things never change!

This was the first high school reunion event I ever attended. None of my schools are in existence today. I left for Florida two weeks before my senior year in high school was going to begin in Indiana as my mom had been transferred. I graduated early by attending a school that no longer exists in St. Petersburg, Florida; it’s become a condo. My Indiana high school was leveled in 2014. It was tough to see that beautiful building gone.

Luckily, my husband’s former elementary school is now an art antique mall so we were able to visit. I took pics of him standing in the doorway of every one of his classrooms. On the main floor behind the cash register are three class photos hanging on the wall and he is in every picture. One of the vendors had attended the school a few years before my husband so they reminisced about the teachers, principal, and students. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the greater community who had experienced a shared past.

Friends – Associates – Neighbors enrich our family stories. Make the most out of your upcoming reunions to reach out and gain new perspectives on your past events.

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