When I first walked into the room, I thought I was in the wrong place. These people are too old, I thought. But a familiar face peered into mine. I recognized the grin, the dimples, and the twinkle in her eyes.
“Patty Mihalic!” I exclaimed, surprised that the name came so easily.
Then more familiar faces gathered around me, some identifying themselves, some whose names slipped off my tongue as though 40 years had not passed since we graduated from high school.
Until then, I’d gone to only one class reunion—the twentieth. My reasons for not going were mixed: some practical—I couldn’t afford it—and some prideful—I didn’t look like I did in 1969. And I wanted to go when I’d sold my first book to a royalty publisher—and it rocketed to the bestseller list. I wanted to go when I lost weight. I wanted to go when I could show them!
I wasn’t in with the “in crowd.” In grade school, my classmates made fun of me, and some continued their mockery throughout high school. I didn’t even make the mermaid group, the group of sophomore girls chosen to serve tables at the junior-senior prom (the theme was “Under the Sea” or something like that), an honor reserved only for the prettiest and most popular. And boyfriends? Don’t even go there.
But when the invitation for the fortieth class reunion came, I wanted to go.
I decided to give the 55 classmates who attended a copy of both my books—compilations of my column that I self-published. The morning of the reunion I wrapped 120 books, two per package, in white tissue paper and tied each package with maroon and gold yarn—our school colors. Since I’d decided to wrap them that day, I didn’t have time to run to town. I had to use what I had on hand. All the time I wrapped and tied, I fretted. Would my gift be considered tacky or cheap? Should I have splurged and bought nicer wrapping paper? Did the yarn look stupid?
On the two-hour trip to the resort where the reunion was held, I confess I was a bit concerned about showing up in a rusting Ranger with 114,000 miles. I was a tad embarrassed that I weigh twice as much as I did when most saw me last.
My fretting was all for naught. Nobody saw the Ranger. Nobody looked at me with that “Boy, has she let herself go!” look in their eyes—others had gained weight, too. And when I handed each classmate the wrapped-in-cheap-tissue paper, tied-with-yarn gift, no one smirked.
Funny how our insecurities nag us needlessly, even after a lifetime. But thank God I was able to lay them aside. Perhaps because I realized it really doesn’t matter anymore. I’m happy, content and secure in who and what I am. I know God has a lot to do with that.
I had a wonderful time. Linda is even more gorgeous than she was back in the day. “She takes the prize,” another classmate said. I agreed, without even a tinge of envy. Cathy’s smile still ignites the sparkle in her eyes. Darlene’s nurturing heart still blankets her words. Jeannie still carries herself with that devil-may-care attitude. Cary’s happy-go-lucky spirit infused the evening with joy. Lulu hasn’t lost a bit of her sweetness, nor Debbie her warmth.
Vivian and I laughed ourselves to tears as we recalled the time I invited the entire third grade class to my house for a birthday party, but didn’t tell my mother because I knew she’d say no.
For nearly 40 years I remembered the hurtful words and actions, the feeling of being invisible, insignificant, unpopular, not pretty. But as we chatted and caught up with each other, I remembered the good times, the notes, the words of encouragement when I needed them.
Our alma mater was torn down nearly 20 years ago. At the reunion, each classmate received a brick from the building, couched in a maroon velvet bag with “MVCHS Class of 1969” embroidered in gold. I put it in my writing room, where it reminds me everyday that the bonds forged in youth cannot, like the building, be torn apart—that my past is as important as my present and my future, for the past has made me what I am today.
And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Dear God, thank you for the blessings of good memories. Amen.
Special-Tea: Philippians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13