I had never returned to a college or high school reunion. Call it the Thomas Wolfe you-can‘t-go-home-again syndrome. I preferred to keep the past safe, intact and neatly encased in a nostalgic cardboard box where it belonged. Then, in early September, 1997, an intriguing voice spoke to me from our telephone answering machine: “If this is Joyce Sloan Anderson from Eastside High School in Paterson, please call me. We’re having a fiftieth reunion, and you’ve been on the ‘lost’ list until today.”
With the caller’s name and phone number, I then searched for my yearbook to look for her picture before I returned the call. There was her face at eighteen, swimming up through the decades, head of the cap-and-gown committee and still apparently active in keeping the class spirit alive. In a senior class of more than two hundred students, we hadn’t known everyone, but I remembered her. I called her right away. After our initial exchanges, she told me, “We’ve been working on this for a year and a half. You were missing along with many other women whose married names we didn’t have and some of the men too.”
I then asked, “How did you find me?”
“Well, someone knew a friend of your sister. We called the friend and he gave us her married name. Then, we called your sister, and that did it.”
“ And who was the someone,” said I.
Her answer identified my high school boyfriend, the closest to a “steady” in those days. We had dated on and off throughout our four years at Eastside; the final event being a disastrous fight at the senior prom. I remember spending half the night in the Ladies Room of the Crown Court Hotel in New York City. The Ladies Room was where we went in those years to be consoled by our girlfriends when things went wrong at a dance. Looking back fifty years, it all seemed too hilarious! I decided to go to the reunion, and the next morning I called back my former classmate again.
“Is there going to be a booklet? With write-ups about each person?”
“Yes, Joyce. But it went to press last week. Sorry.”
“Am I going to be the only one there who won’t be in the booklet?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Well,” I said. “How about my writing up a summary. I’ll make copies and stuff the booklets before the others arrive.”
“Fine. I’ll send you the questionnaire we all answered as a guide.”
The reunion was set for Sunday evening, October 5, 1997 — only a month away in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. I planned to arrive with my cooperative if somewhat skeptical husband in tow. He had never attended any of his reunions either. It would be a first for both of us.
While I awaited the questionnaire in the mail, I knew I certainly wasn’t going to be the only one without an interesting past. A five-decade cipher! I had been the editor of the yearbook and had to live up to that title. The first question was, “What have you been doing since l947?” My mind usually goes blank when people ask me what I did last summer or last weekend. Now, I had only four lines to summarize my entire adult life. I was tempted to start with the Nobel Prize in Literature but thought better of that and played it straight. Highlights: Married with three children… appropriate names… College professor… subjects taught. Writing articles and Op Eds. For New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer. Just filled up the four lines.
The major decision looming ahead was what to wear. I usually opt for a classic outfit and was considering my Brooks Brothers black and white checked blazer over a black cashmere sweater and slacks, The trio of my daughter, sister and hairdresser unanimously turned thumbs down on that idea. In fact, they were vehemently opposed. Daughter, “You want to look smashing!” Sister, “They already know you’re smart.” (Valedictorian). Hairdresser, “You’ll look like a college professor.” Of course, that was accurate, but the facts were beside the point. I then came up with an outfit that met total enthusiastic approval from my three fashion consultants. I would wear my elegant Chinese-red ultra suede suit ( Hong Kong splurge) with a grey silk blouse and gold bordered Mabe pearl earrings. I was ready to make a grand entrance.
The list of other attendees arrived and I was happy to see the names of my closest friends during my four school years. I called Adele in Arizona and we caught up on five decades of living. She had moved away and we had been completely out of touch. I called my erstwhile boyfriend and surprised him by saying, “It is I…(pause)… Thanks for finding me.” when he answered his phone. We caught up on our basic life history. I was looking forward to seeing him, Adele and my other former school mates and friends. I was ready.
The day after the reunion, I realized that Thomas Wolfe was wrong after all. I had one of the best times of my life. The classmates were warm and embracing. My ex-boy friend and Adele and I sat at the same round table and enjoyed recalling old stories. Neither he nor Adele had brought their spouses so my husband enjoyed his role as the resident spouse. He and I danced of course and I also danced with my frequent high school partner. Neither of us could remember why we had the big fight at the prom. It was too long ago and quite unimportant.
My fiftieth reunion turned out to be a life-affirming experience for me, as well as an emotional high. With the l940’s music playing in the background, the years fell away; and for one lovely night, I felt like eighteen again.