Last week I returned to my home town, Port Townsend, WA, for my fortieth high school reunion. As it turned out, I was due for reunions of many kinds from the moment I boarded the Jefferson Transit bus.
It was the last leg of my outbound journey, a travel adventure that started with a one-hour delay of the Walla Walla to SeaTac flight. As originally scheduled, I would have had two hours to catch the light rail to downtown Seattle, plenty of time to make the 3 PM Bainbridge Island ferry and catch the first of two bus connections. I consulted a copy of the bus schedule, which had a clever footnote about the 3:45 PM ferry connecting to a Kitsap Transit express bus that would get me to exactly the same transit station at the needed time. Happily, I spent 45 minutes less on the bus than planned. At the transit station I bounded off the Kitsap bus, victorious, and trotted to the waiting Jefferson Transit conveyance.
“Look who’s driving the bus!”
The Jefferson Transit driver laughed and we said hello. He’d graduated from Port Townsend High School the year after me. We had a fun and informative visit, catching up on old times and new.
Next reunion- -Mom meeting me at the Port Townsend Park and Ride. Bindy the wonder dog was waiting for us at Mom’s house. We had a visit from my sister, too.
Over the next two days, three fabulous reunion-type meals awaited me, with friends I made at the Key City Playhouse (now Key City Public Theater). I’ve known most of these folks for twenty-plus years (and one of them for forty-plus years). We picked up as if we’d seen each other the day before, without the yawning gap of a one-to-ten year hiatus. I also visited a dear friend and writing mentor who recently moved to a memory care facility. Sadly, it was the first time she didn’t know me. However, she was happily engaged with new friends. They had a recurring conversation about what fun they’d had the night before, one elderly woman saying she’d gotten into much trouble with her mother for coming home so late!
This tale of teenage hi-jinks got me in the frame of mind for the main event, the Port Townsend High School Class of 1977 40th reunion.
Over and over again came the powerful moment, two people facing each other, getting the flash of recognition. “You!” Sometimes we even remembered each other’s names. Enthusiastic hugs abounded, not just between best friends of decades past but between everybody. We’ve survived! We belong!
Appearances had changed. One celebrant said “Who the f*&k invited everybody’s parents?” He wasn’t far from wrong. Confirmed: human noses and ears never stop growing. A particularly observant classmate noted that if all else fails, look at their eyes.
Everyone had stories to tell. I learned things about my closest high school friends that I never knew, particularly things that happened when we were still in high school. Families weren’t as open about their home lives as they are today. There were conflicts and sorrows in my friends’ lives that I’d never imagined. I started to remember how hard it is to be a teenager, navigating between what you are and what you are trying so hard to be, if you can even define what that is. When I was huddled with two particularly close friends one of them, who is a retired teacher, asked, “What was it that made you able to ‘do’ high school? What got you through?” Theater was my immediate answer. The teacher friend named our US history and CWP teacher who both challenged and supported her. The other said, “My friends. I never would have made it through without you.” That response keeps coming back to me.
There are new trials for the Class of 1977. People are working through major health problems, caring for elderly parents if they still have parents, launching their kids on their own lives and praying that they succeed. We fight our own demons like the rest of the world. We hope to prevail.
There are also new joys. At least two classmates run in marathons. Several have retired and are enjoying new freedom. The longest marriage amongst us is 38 years; the shortest, 10 days! Pictures of children graduating from high school, from college, getting married, popped up on smartphones. Pictures of grandchildren, too. In fact, a new grandchild has arrived for one of our number in the few days since the reunion.
Hours passed quickly. There wasn’t enough time to visit. I missed the chance to say “It took me forever to recognize you” to the classmate who’s thick mane of white hair is so beautiful it belongs in fiction. I was so wound up I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Fatigue set in. I’m not seventeen anymore.
It seemed as if sixty of our original ninety-six had gathered, though a group photo on Facebook proves it was closer to thirty. Already there’s talk of a 45th reunion. May we all return.
In a city by the water
Reared against the sky
Proudly stands our alma mater
As the years go by
Forward ever be our watchword
Conquer and prevail
Hail to thee our alma mater
Townsend High all hail!