Vivid leaves hold tight
because it’s time to show off,
but only briefly.
The brisk autumn breeze
shakes them, scatters them about,
forming a blanket.
Runners and joggers
hear the crunch, feel the cushion
as they stride along.
Winds brush back their hair.
Smoke from the chimneys billows
Ahh, it smells so good!
Long-sleeve fleece will do.
Everyone else needs a coat.
That’s autumn running.
Halloween Half (marathon) 10/18/15
I’ve often found the month of October to be unsettling, maybe a little foreboding. There are the wild fluctuations in the financial markets that historically occur then, and the volatile transitional weather increasingly common in some parts — the mudslides, freak snowstorms and hurricanes. (Now that’s really scary.)
And then, of course, there’s the thought of seeing throngs of neighborhood children at my doorstep demanding sweet treats, and (horrors!) having nothing left to give them halfway through the night.
This year I added high school reunions to the mix — those stress-inducing decennial or quinquennial gatherings, often coinciding with annual homecomings, that have a way of conjuring up in the best of us old feelings of teenage inadequacy, or worse, a longing for the glory days, particularly if you happened to “peak” early on.
My reunion was held the second weekend in October. And, yes, I did attend. More on that later.
It took me awhile to commit to going and mail in my $40 check, which entitled me to a buffet dinner with cash bar at the Parsippany Elks Club. I remained perched on the fence for months. Whenever I brought up the topic of reunions with friends and colleagues, and this internal debate I had going on, I often received a sympathetic look back or audible sigh.
“I spent a year in therapy preparing for my 10th reunion,” said my friend and co-worker, Susan, “and then when I actually arrived at the place where it was being held, I stepped on the gas and plowed back home.”
Another friend, Cecelia, spoke of how during her recent 35th, she ended up babysitting a former classmate who had ingested one too many tranquilizers beforehand, apparently hoping they would serve as social lubricants.
My husband, on the other hand, a graduate of an all-boys prep school and hockey player, seems to relish reunions. He gets together informally at local bars with several former high school classmates almost every year and happily rehashes the good times he has had for weeks to come.
My time spent in high school was neither gloomy nor glorious, and, frankly, I hadn’t really been thinking of those days at all when reunion discussion first surfaced earlier this year.
For me, high school was more fragmented than anything else. I went to three different schools in three different states — a formidable undertaking, I know, but especially so for an often-shy teenage girl. (I wasn’t an Army brat; my father just changed jobs a lot back in the ‘70s.)
Over the years, I would tell people that this challenging life experience provided the mettle-building framework for the independent person I would become today. To some degree, this is true. But allow me to be a bit more blunt in my middle age: Being the “new kid” almost every year just plain sucked! There, I said it. I have since kept my promise to never, ever put my two daughters through this itinerant hell.
And so when I was tracked down by classmates from two of my high schools — No. 2, in Houston, and No. 3, in Parsippany, N.J. — and invited to upcoming 40th class reunions, I was torn. Did I really want to revive some of those uncomfortable memories associated with moving all the time? (At lunchtime I would spend my first few days eating alone in a hallway or sequestered in the library, before eventually making friends.) Would most of these classmates, with long histories together, even remember me? And if I did decide to go, which one should I attend, anyway? (High School No. 1, in Franklin Square, N.Y., wasn’t having one, thank goodness.)
With the prevalence of social media, I had wondered, too, whether reunions are all that necessary. Thanks to Facebook, I already knew that my friend Patti had two adorable grandchildren; that Laura had just moved to Nashville from Memphis; and that Bob grew up to become a successful executive chef.
The adventurous and curious side of my won out — I missed a 10th and 20th, and really did want to experience at least one reunion in my lifetime — and I opted for the school from which I ultimately graduated, and the one closest to my New Jersey home. This was Parsippany Hills High School, home of the Vikings. (Blue, black and white. Fight, fight, fight!) Besides, I got to know several of my classmates there even better at a local college we all attended for a couple of years afterward.
I prepared for this reunion by telling myself that if I wasn’t having a good time, or felt the least bit uncomfortable, I’d just head back in my car and drive the 14.2 miles home. Needless to say, I stayed the whole four hours. Then I spent the next several days texting old and newfound friends and happily posting massive amounts of selfies and messages on social media.
I had no expectations walking through those doors at the Elks Club that Saturday evening, but was pleasantly surprised by the genuine fun I had — it was awesome! — and the number of people who I remembered (and remembered me back) after all. I suppose being the new kid, with a hint of a Texas drawl, can make you stand out just a little in a Jersey senior class of more than 400, even if you weren’t a star athlete or popular cheerleader.
That night we all seemed to be on equal footing. And although there were a number of people who hadn’t a clue who I was, I observed just about everyone being kind and welcoming and interested in what other former classmates had been up to over the last four decades. Sure, you can get the CliffNotes version by logging into Facebook or Instagram, but nothing beats the face-to-face conversation, belly laughs and heartfelt hugs.
This reunion was a chance for me to not only reconnect or meet with the people I truly wanted to see again, but to make peace with my teenage past.
I can’t wait to do it again!