The air is finally crisp and chilly. The trees look tired, and the leaves are turning dull. School has been in session for several weeks, and students are into fall sports. It’s finally autumn and time for the most terrifying event any of us, well, any of us past a certain age, can imagine: Homecoming and the class reunion. Don’t laugh. You know what I mean.
The first few Homecomings after I had graduated from high school were fun. Since my family had moved to Blue Springs almost immediately after my graduation, I rarely saw anyone from good old THS. I was the only person who had decided to attend William Jewell, so I was out of the loop when it came to knowing where anyone else had landed.
I remember the excitement I felt as we drove over the then-horrible roads from Blue Springs to Thayer on those Fridays. We had to leave early, of course, because the parade began around 2 p.m., and the drive was typically about five hours. After that, we had to hang out at the local hamburger joint – the Dutch Oven – until the game started. Typically, at the end of the evening, I didn’t know who won or lost because I talked during the game, noticing only that the band was not nearly as good as it had been when WE were there, and that the cheerleaders’ uniforms were not nearly as stunning as when WE were jumping up and down on the sidelines.
Then, after a few years, the trip became difficult – I had Friday classes, my mother was teaching, so we couldn’t leave early on Friday, and, well, we just became more involved with life in the present rather than life in the past. For several years, then, we just didn’t go.
In fact, I didn’t go to Homecoming until the class of 1970 invited my mother to their 40th reunion, and I volunteered to drive her. That was when I realized Homecoming is terrifying. Who were all those old people? I recognized almost no one, though this class graduated the year before I did. I took Mother to the game and sat with her, and a steady stream of her former students from the 1960s kept coming up to her, telling her what a great teacher she was. They recognized her, obviously, but neither she nor I recognized many of them.
To her credit, she was gracious in telling them that she needed help with names, but a couple of times, before she got the courage to say that, she accepted the compliment with a smile, and then said to me after the former student left, “Who WAS that?” I had no idea.
The next year, I went back for my 40th class reunion, and realized I had been deluding myself when I told myself that I didn’t look my age. I knew people were looking at me and wondering, “Who is that old woman?” I also remembered laughing long ago with the other cheerleaders about people who were returning for their 40th and 50th reunions. They were ancient! Old! We, of course, would either never be that old, or if we were, we wouldn’t be so excited to come to Homecoming.
Ah, the fatuousness of youth! Of course, WE were not old at 58! We just wanted to see everyone with whom we had shared a classroom for 12 years! The only problem was that we didn’t recognize many of the people with whom we had shared a classroom for 12 years.
After that, I decided not to let Homecoming be frightening. I would just own up to the thing that everyone tries to hide. So at Jewell’s Homecoming party last weekend, I just walked up to people I didn’t recognize and said, “Hello, I’m Debbie Gillespie, and I have no idea who you are.” That usually got a laugh. I did feel better, though when some of the unrecognizables said, “I graduated in 1980.” I couldn’t know them. I am much older than they!
Overall, a trip down memory lane at Homecoming can be gratifying, not terrifying, as long as you don’t hear, “Who ARE those old people?”