Remember those “American Graffiti” teenagers? We’re seventy-eight

“You have five months to lose twenty pounds and get your teeth whitened.”

That was my friend Sally after I told her I’d registered for my high school class reunion — sixtieth! As the date draws ever closer, I still haven’t followed her advice, including item three on her list: buy an underwire bra with power uplift. Solitary life following Covid lock-downs freed my girls to hang loose. We’ll never go back.

This will be my first reunion since the twentieth. That was a noisy, crowded cocktail party — the kind of event I like to avoid. Conversely, I enjoyed my late husband’s reunions. His small-town graduating class numbered fewer than a hundred; they got together for convivial, laid-back dinners. Everyone knew everyone, unlike my graduating class of some five hundred. 

My graduation photo

The Class of ’62 was comically and accurately depicted in the film “American Graffiti,” whose high school seniors were obsessed with rock ’n roll, cruisin’ and hormonal confusion. George Lucas, who wrote and directed the movie, also graduated in 1962, in Modesto, California. My high school was Woodrow Wilson, Tacoma, Washington. I travelled across the country the summer after I graduated and found that my fellow eighteen-year-olds were pretty much the same nationwide. I wonder, as we confront the deep polarization in our country now, if the Class of ’62 is still so homogenous.

No question these sixty years have been tumultuous, shaking our very foundations. We’ve weathered Vietnam and draft card burning, the fight for women’s rights and bra burning, racial protests and entire neighborhoods burning, and now our mother — Earth — burning. There’ve been assassinations, the technology revolution, 9-11, the longest war in American history, climate change, global shifts toward authoritarian governments, and a pandemic. Not even Lucas could’ve dreamed up such a sequence of events in one lifetime.

As just a slight tremor among all those earthquakes, Woodrow Wilson High School no longer exists by that name. Given our twenty-eighth President’s dubious record on issues such as racial equality, school district powers-that-be changed the name to Dr. Dolores Silas High School. She was the district’s first black woman administrator and also sat on the city council. We’re told students have shortened that to “SIHI,” which sounds like everyone’s taking a deep breath. Advisable.

I likely wouldn’t attend this reunion except that I promised Nick, one of the handful of classmates I’d kept in touch with. After the fifty-fifth reunion, Nick scolded me for missing — again! — and made me swear I’d be at the sixtieth. Last year Nick, the picture of health, keeled over and died of an apparent heart attack while running a weed-eater in his yard.

The reunion invitation was accompanied by a list of classmates who have died. I got out my yearbook and looked up the graduation photo for each name. Given our class size, there were many I didn’t remember. For those I did know, looking at their eighteen-year-old faces felt like they’d died way too young. By skipping all those reunions, I knew nothing about their lives after high school. I missed a lot of good stories. Everyone has at least one.

Catching up on those stories is reason enough to attend the reunion. That, and my promise to Nick.

Ah! The patina of age

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