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Sandy Banks

Putting Aside the Present to Dwell on Past Perfect

September 01, 2002|Sandy Banks

I should have spent less time primping and more time trying to scrounge up a copy of our high school yearbook from 1972. Because while I collected plenty of compliments at my recent class reunion in Ohio, I didn't recognize most of the classmates handing them out.

It's not that people had changed that much. The guys tended to be shorter than I recalled, minus the towering afros they'd worn in high school, and most of the women had added some pounds. Their faces seemed hardly to have changed, yet I couldn't remember their names.

Not that it seemed to matter much. Everyone else was struggling too, and nobody bothered with pretense or guessing games. "Your face looks familiar, but I can't remember your name," was the weekend's most frequent refrain.

And no one seemed to take much note of our physical changes. Cleveland, after all, is not L.A., where we are expected to appear perennially young. There is a different body aesthetic back home, one that makes accommodations for aging.

By the first night of our reunion weekend, I realized I'd exercised and starved for naught; the old me would have stacked up just fine. By our dinner dance on Saturday night, I regretted my choice of short, black dress and wished I'd opted for something that sparkled more and showed less leg.

But by Sunday brunch--as we said our goodbyes and joined hands to pray--I stood amid the stockings and suits in a sundress dotted with palm trees and realized that what mattered most to these old friends was not what we're like now, but who we were then.

All weekend long, greetings between long-lost classmates began not with "What do you do?" but with "Do you remember when ... ?"

I'd expected photos of the kids, updates on careers, occasional clashes of ego and image among folks who had spent years nursing grudges or waiting for their chance to shine. Instead, we laughed and reminisced, resurrected friendships, flirted with old flames.

My high school boyfriend (now married, with six kids) showed up, to my delight. Dancing with him to the Isley Brothers--eyes closed, my head resting on his chest--made me feel as if time had stopped. A glimpse of current beau Johnny on the sidelines, deep in conversation with one of the prettiest girls from our class, yanked me back to the present pretty fast.

Time had dulled our memories, of course. It is humbling to realize that someone you once considered a confidant doesn't remember you at all, embarrassing to learn that your legacy--the one thing about you that folks recall--is your loud mouth or short skirts or the time your girlfriend dumped you in study hall. The things that we seemed to remember best had nothing to do with grades or SAT scores.

We recalled the times we skipped class for bid whist games and the sinfully good cookies our cafeteria baked. We talked about pep rallies and house parties and football games, the teachers we loved and the ones we hated, the fast-track classmates who crashed and burned, and those who dropped out of sight without a trace.

We struggled to put high school in its place, with a new appreciation of the forces that shaped us. Thirty years has brought life into focus, moved us beyond an accounting that divides us into successes and failures.

And as we stood and held candles aloft in the dark and honored our classmates who have died, the angst of the evening seemed to fade. We've all been challenged; we've all survived. And the grace I felt in those moments of silence made the weekend worth traveling the thousands of miles.

It took just one day back home for me to make the transition from erstwhile teen to the mother of teenage daughters. Waiting for me were piles of laundry, lists of school supplies, a calendar loaded with reminders of appointments with doctors, beauticians, the orthodontist.

But each day in the mail some reminder arrives of my weekend retreat to my past ... a packet of articles written by a classmate trying to launch a career in journalism; a book about coin collecting from a fellow who mistook my polite conversation for interest in his obsession; a note and photo from a woman I've known since we were in junior high.

"I thought you'd like this. It was great seeing you. Please keep in touch," she wrote. The picture is from Spirit Night. Johnny is wearing baggy jeans and a baseball cap turned backward. I'm in white jeans and a red halter top. We are smiling broadly, dancing with panache to a hip-hop song that belongs to the current generation.

I hang it on the refrigerator, where it draws chuckles from my girls. They think we look like two old fogies practicing karate or casting for trout. I think we look pretty cool ... getting our groove on at 47, just like we did at 17.

*

Sandy Banks' column is published Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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