Auld Lang Syne
My year of reconnections
This wasn’t supposed to be my year of reconnections; it was supposed to be the year of nothing. 2011 had been the year of moving to Annapolis; 2012 the year of my retirement. I assumed I would look back and find the months of 2013 unexciting and unmemorable.
But fate intervened. A series of events turned 2013 into my year of reconnections. I connected with 22 people with whom I had lost contact for anywhere from five to 45 years.
Old College Ties
The biggest of these events was a reunion of college co-op roommates. These 20 or so folks had been getting together once a year, but I could never find the time to devote a weekend to join them. This year, one of the ringleaders leaned on me. They’d all been talking about me last year, and they hoped I’d make it this time. With that level of encouragement and no more constraints on my time, I made the trip to upstate New York.
The gathering was an afternoon potluck picnic in the park. Informality is one of the reasons the old roommates returned year after year, they told me, and I could see why. No fuss, no stress suited my style; we were going to meet each other as we were rather than as we pretended to be. With a six-hour drive to no kitchen, I contributed a couple of Wegman’s cheese platters.
Despite no fuss, no stress, I felt the weight of 35 unconnected years as I approached the park.
Some of the people gathered at the park were instantly recognizable. Others I couldn’t associate face with name even after I had been reintroduced. But we shared the bond created by a common experience, and we were all delighted to see each other again and to catch up.
We reminisced, retelling the stories of our most notable college exploits. Perhaps some of those have grown over time. I don’t remember that we really lived in Animal House, as current retellings had it. Truth or fantasy, we enjoyed retelling our past and catching up on each others’ last three or four decades. When you haven’t seen someone in 40 years, there’s a lot of catching up to do.
Remarkably, almost everyone’s lives turned out as we imagined when we graduated all those years ago. An engineering grad, I spent my career engineering. Many returned to family farms they’d left for the most part only to go to college. All of the men in our group were eligible for the draft, and many had served but all came back pretty much unscathed. The women chose careers, some as farm wives, others as bakers, lawyers and writers.
High School Reunion
The other big event of 2013 was a reunion still deeper into time, and that was a more perilous journey.
I had twice attended my official high school reunions only to feel let down as very few of the people I really wanted to see were there. When I received the notice of the latest one, I decided to pass.
Then reuniting got interesting. A friend I wanted to see emailed me and the other eight in our cadre. He didn’t want to attend the big reunion, either, he said, but he’d love to see us.
The unanimous response was, yes; we organized our private reunion. The format (informal dinner) and the place (also upstate New York) were quickly agreed on. Finding a date compatible with everyone took a little more planning and some patience. On a weekend two and a half months hence, everyone was willing and able.
What, we wondered, would we find when we showed up?
The last time I saw my high school best friend was in 1969, when we went to Woodstock together. One friend lives locally, and we see each other now and again. For everyone else, last contact was 35 to 45 years ago.
When I walked into the hotel lobby, most everyone was there, looking — surprisingly — just as they had in high school. Getting together after all these years was no harder than when we’d been separated by spring vacation. Why had I let go of such fine people?
Picking up More Pieces
2013 saw my transformation from an engineer to a writer. At Bay Weekly, I’ve found myself exploring other reconnections. My first story, a review of Amsterdam Falafel House, set me thinking about the friend who introduced me to falafel. I hadn’t had any contact with her for more than 30 years, but these days if you have a name and a state, Google can find anyone. In short order we were exchanging emails and catching up.
Family added to my year of reconnections. An uncle came north from Florida, bringing my siblings together for a small family reunion.
In October, I heard from a woman who was now living in my mother’s old house. While cleaning the attic, the caller said, she discovered a couple of boxes of abandoned photos and letters. There was enough identifying information in the papers to track me down.
I used my high school reunion as opportunity to pick up the boxes. In them I found nothing radical, like the passcodes to a Swiss bank account, but there was a treasure trove of family keepsakes: photos, letters and papers I was glad to have as my own passcodes to return to other times and places.
The Year Ahead
Is reconnection an itch that needs to be scratched only every 30 or 40 years? Or will these old friendships rekindle in our different presents? Only time will tell.
In 2014, I might try reconnecting with lost friends from other stages of my life. Top of that list are the folks I lived, worked and socialized with on a two-year overseas assignment. We were very isolated, which drew us all close. But back in the States, we went our separate ways. Finding them might be difficult. Or they might only be a Google search away.