My Ashton, High School class reunion is coming up in just over two weeks. Ashton is up in northern Illinois not far from the Wisconsin border and I don’t get up there as often as I should. My cousin, Wayne Page, and his son, Kyle, do a great job with the farms, and my sister, Joyce, doesn’t beg for attention.
My graduating class consisted of 24 students, and, as I recall, we were split 12 boys and 12 girls. You can guess the voting deadlocks on things like themes for the prom. The girls refused to accept our desire to decorate in a tractor motif, selfishly holding out for something that included flowers and soft lighting. But we were a family, a family of 24 kids who had difficulty in planning our future because we didn’t know what was out there. What did all those people in Chicago do for a living – they certainly didn’t farm?? Did they work in factories? I for one, didn’t know, and could have been perfectly happy playing it safe and staying on the farm.
Of course, some of my classmates who lived in Ashton, population 800, were more sophisticated and might have some idea what engineers, architects, and “business people” did. But the Ashton urban contingent included the rural students in their social set and we all had a great time together with sports, music, drama, and frequent bus trips to Chicago to visit museums or attend a play. All this togetherness created a bond that has lasted a lifetime. There were no outcasts in our little family of 24 and anyone who might appear to be was quickly defended or assisted by the “popular” kids when the need arose. We didn’t have enough people to be divided into popular, unpopular, athletic, science nerds, etc. We each had to fit into all the categories.
Now here is the serious part of my little essay: I have been asked to “just say a few words” about the nine of us who have departed. This presents multiple problems:
1. If I took 15 minutes per departed classmate, I would consume two hours and 15 minutes, which is about two hours too long.
2. But, fifteen minutes each is, of course, not nearly enough, so how do I cut by two hours?
3. I speak for no more than 15 minutes, this gives me less than two minutes per departed classmate – that doesn’t work.
4. Although I was always looked to as the “go-to” emcee for events, how can I, who has separated myself from Ashton and my beloved classmates for decades, just show up and pretend to know much about these people as adults?
5. Can I speak about the losses to our “family” without breaking down from a combination of normal “mourning” emotions and remorse at not staying in touch.
I have decided to e-mail the dozen or so attendees, asking them to think about those no longer with us and to bring memories of them to share over the weekend. For my part, I will list each name along with carefully scripted two or three sentences for each. Maybe that will work.
This trip will take me well beyond nostalgia into something for which I may not be prepared. Nine people that I will never again see at a wiener roast, explore Chicago with, go to a dance with, or try to outrebound. It will be tough.
So, you may ask, what is my point? It is simply to suggest that each of my fellow Rotarians might want to reflect a bit on things like: how you would describe your friends, how others might describe you, what you consider the important things in life, and the thought of reconnecting with those who were once part of your family, or are they still?