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Thirty Years and a Million Miles

I attended my thirty-year high school reunion last week. I had a fantastic time even though attendance was less than spectacular.

I lived in a small town during my childhood and attended a small christian school. We had less than fifty kids in our entire elementary and I was the only kid in the eighth  grade class. We did not have high school classes, my parents didn’t want me to go to the local public high school and many of the kids from my school went off to a boarding school which meant that I was pretty much destined for boarding school too.

The boarding school I attended was run by the Seventh Day Adventist church and was located about two-hundred miles south of home just outside of the town of Escondido, California.

Four years and numerous high school experiences later that are better left to another blog post I found myself graduating from the place. Each year thereafter I would return in late April for what they called Alumni weekend. The school set aside a weekend each year to celebrate all of the alumni and give the honored classes a chance to gather back at the school to see each other.

It was always an interesting experience returning year after year and finding out that not much had changed in those intervening days. After the sixth year I moved to Northern California and didn’t make it back until my tenth reunion and again for my fifteenth which was to be the final formal reunion the school was to sponsor as it closed that year.

For my twentieth reunion my class sponsored an offsite gathering which I attended with my then two year old daughter. The school had been sold to a local county agency which converted it into the “first residential education campus for foster youth in the nation.” It’s a nice thought to know that the old place is being put to good use. The twentieth reunion was well attended and I went home without thinking too much about the next reunion - until this year.

In the years since the school closed our alumni association has negotiated an agreement with them to allow the alumni to again return to the campus and while they honor the “five year” classes there is no formal class reunion planned. In past years we had literally hundreds of Alumni attending, and while I didn’t expect quite those numbers, I have to admit I was pretty disappointed by the extremely low turnout - particularly considering I’d flown down from Seattle.

I arrived on Friday evening in San Diego, then drove up to Rancho Bernardo to get checked in to my hotel before meeting the other early arrivals from my class at Hacienda De Vega, a Mexican restaurant in Escondido. Even though I was a few hours late in arriving it didn’t take me long to wander back and recognize the crew at a table in the back. Two hours and a lot of laughs later I have to say we were all having a great time reconnecting with each other and catching up on our lives.

Reunions are a lot different than how they were even ten years ago thanks in large part to social media and Facebook. These days there are few surprises on how people look, what they are doing with their lives or what their interests may be. However, for whatever reason, the people from my school tend to be a lot less engaged with social media which meant we still had a number of things we could share with each other that Facebook hadn’t already spoiled.

After dinner we all went back to our homes and hotels with the promise to meet up again on the old campus the next morning. Activities were slated to begin on Saturday morning at 9:30am with a church service followed by lunch under the eucalyptus trees in a place called “The Grove” on the old campus. When I arrived, on time, I was surprised at how few alumni were there. I said “hi” to a few people, found Cindy, one of my classmates and signed in before walking in to the church.

I counted about one-hundred and twenty people or so, though at least half of those were family member of alumni putting the actual headcount somewhere below sixty. Spying a former classmate I walked over and sat down behind Joe shaking his hand as I arrived. One of the things I like about attending the alumni reunion is that you get to see more than just your own class. 

Gradually, more people filtered in as I got word that some of my classmates were going to take a walk around the old campus. I slipped out the back doors and caught up with Adam, Ken and his wife as they went out to explore.

The school as it was when I attended was divided between a girls side of campus and a boys side of campus. We each had our own set of dorm rooms on opposite sides of the administration and classroom buildings. Mid way through my time there they built a new girls dorm and moved the boys into the old girls dormitory which was for obvious reasons in better condition than the forty year old boys dorms - guys are a lot harder on their spaces than girls it seems.

We drifted up the hill through the breezeway as memories assailed us of our favorite (and least favorite) teachers, meetings with friends, stolen kisses in the corners, movie nights in the chapel and rock music cassettes loaded into the players in the library.

It was odd how much had changed and yet how much hadn’t changed. The core features of the campus were still the same it was just the small details that would hit you - the missing memorial garden for Colleen Eggers, the new fencing in the fields, doorways moved and walls sealed off, all served to remind us that this was no longer “our” campus.

The four of us continued to walk our way through and around the campus before ending up back in front of the church, meeting up with the other seven classmates as well as some of our favorite teachers and staff including Mrs Brandmeyer and her beautiful smile, Mr. Chong with his crazy wonderful laugh, and Mr. Froning with his dry wit. Instead of heading back into the church, we just stood outside and talked for an hour before eventually realizing we were all hungry and making arrangements to meet for lunch at BJ’s Brewhouse in Escondido.

We had a few more attending lunch than we’d had a dinner but rather than spend time catching up we started right down the road of reliving old times. It may be hard for me to compare my experience spending four years at a boarding school to other more “normal” high schools however I like to think that I had a much more interesting and “high school” filled time than most. After all, how often do you spend four years of your hormone filled life living with the same people you are going to school with?

When you had a girlfriend you didn’t just see her during classes and for the occasional date but you spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with her. You met up with her for evening and weekend activities. Your friends (and yes those that you were on less than friendly terms) surrounded you in the dorm and everywhere you went on campus. And so because of this unusual arrangement we were able to plumb the depths of our strange memories of those days. From food fights to spiking people’s milk with salt, from the best hiding places to dodge church to the best way to fool the school nurse. We talked about the best tricks for sneaking off campus to the best places to kiss your girl friend and so spent the time reminiscing about the fun and crazy antics many of us got up to while attending.

Lunch soon wrapped and with the folks around us giving us funny looks every time we roared with laughter we made our plans for the evening to meet a Ken’s house and went off to relax in the beautiful eighty degree sunshine that San Diego had on offer.

I found myself by the pool with a few of the others staying in the same hotel as myself and just relaxed as they continued their conversations. Living in Seattle you come to appreciate every opportunity to absorb a bit of vitamin D. Being a father you also come to appreciate those rare times when you can relax and not have to worry about the children. I took full advantage of both situations.

As evening approached my thoughts turned to where they always do on a sunny weekend evening, beer! Being in Escondido afforded me the chance to sample the wares of breweries I’d not heard of before. That sent me off to the local Vons for a shopping trip so that I could grab a few bottles to bring to the evening gathering.

Ken lives only a mile away from where we were staying so it was an easy drive over to his house where the reunion was continuing into the night. After walking in I popped the beers into the cooler, Ken offered me a glass and I gladly shared some of my new finds with him as I settled in to a chair on his back patio.

The reminiscing and story telling then continued on into the evening as we enjoyed each others company, the cool evening, the sounds of Ken’s kids inside, the insects outside, the snacks and drinks and the walk through the pathways of our memories.

I sat there looking at my fellow classmates, all of us older, a bit grayer, maybe a few pounds heavier and thought how nice all of this had been. We were all much like rocks that had been tumbled in the stream of life for the past thirty years. It seemed that the rough areas had all been rubbed off, our years polishing us up, mellowing us out and relaxing us…

… Of course I also thought how the tarnishing of our elder years was not yet upon us!

And with that we called it a night, hugs all around. We had such a fun time we all expressed the hope that we’d find a way to see each other again but I also recognized that this was a once in a lifetime event. Yes, some of us would get back together but who knows when. Live in the moment, enjoy it for what it is. And there is always hope - hope that we’ll find a way to meet again for our thirty-fifth.

And the next time I sincerely hope that as many of those sixty-five some-odd other people from my class find a way to break away from their busy lives and join us for a little friendship, fellowship and fun times.

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