Saturday, August 08, 2009

A name on a tag, a memory in my mind

The old saw “memory plays tricks on you” isn’t quite accurate when it comes to high school reunions. Memory just tries its best to please you.

Last night Cecile and I attend the first of two soirĂ©es for the 40th reunion of the 1969 Shasta High School class. Viewed with the detachment of a documentary filmmaker, it probably was hilarious. A couple hundred graying (and/or balding and paunchy) grandparents wandered around the spacious hall glancing only briefly at the faces of their classmates. Our eyes were most often fixed on the paper nametags stuck to the dresses and casual-chic shirts we hoped would show we still had “it.”

Not that I viewed it with that detachment. I, too, was reveling in the pleasant warmth of selective memory.

The Class of ’69 will never be the subject of one of those inspiring movies about little guys changing the world. When I ran into Principal Duggan years after graduation, he said our class was more like a bad dream.

But give us a break, Mr. Duggan. Between Vietnam and the barely-cold war, “future” seemed an ethereal term. Unfathomable authority was not limited to the Pentagon. Here in Northern California, girls were sent home for wearing pants, but could wear mini-skirts even shorter than today’s fashions. And Duncan’s puzzling new school motto, “Only the best is worth trying for” seemed to license the cynics of ’69 to ignore the expectations of our elders.

We didn’t need one of Mr. Longnecker’s history-class analyses to understand the significance of Woodstock that summer. We let other classes step up the challenge. We were simply challenging.

But 40 years later, those cynics are wrapping up careers as teachers, carpenters, nurses and cops. Pretty traditional after all, but for those wonderful nametags. One glance at a nametag and that gray-haired lady was the svelte girl who distracted me in English. Another tag put a mop of my buddy’s hair on the shiny-bald head asking me where I was living now.

A few drinks and a few hundred nametags changed a room full of respectable oldsters into a mob of wise-assed (high school) seniors who thumbed their noses at the world.
At least that’s the way I remember it.