There was so much love in the room — 40-somethings from all walks of life back together again. These people form the core of my being; some I’ve known since my school days at Dillard Street Elementary, many I met at Lakeview Junior High and still others I became friends with at West Orange High.
My 30-year high school reunion was earlier this month, and it was truly like going home. Even though I grew up here and still live here.
We’ve grown together. We’ve laughed and cried together. We’ve loved and lost together. We’ve made lasting memories together. And so much of it came rushing back that weekend as friendships were renewed and strengthened.
There were extra wrinkles, a little more gray hair (or a little less hair of any color), another inch or two around the middle — but none of that mattered. We weren’t there to make comparisons between then and now.
Stories and memories were shared: which football players looked the best in the cheerleading outfits for the Powder Puff game, who connected on the senior class trip to Gatlinburg, whatever happened to so-and-so.
Pictures were shared. Classmates gathered around the memorabilia table to look at photographic reminders from three decades ago when the world was our oyster. A pair of reading glasses was passed around so some people could better see the images. Many said they were grateful that social media had yet to be invented.
Both of our Homecoming royalty were there — Mike, now a pastor; Michelle, looking like she was just crowned yesterday. Several of our cross-country runners, Boyd, John, Brian and Carl, attended, telling tales of out-of-state meets and wrong-way driving. Other sports teams and the cheer and dance groups were well represented. Three of the four class officers, Mike, Heather and Terry, came.
Scott, a fellow wordsmith, gave a sentimental toast about growing up in such a special time.
In the 1980s, there was very little school choice, so you went where you went — the Socs learned to get along with the Greasers; and the jock, the brain, the outcast, the princess and the rebel discovered they weren’t so different after all.
It’s interesting how the older we get, the more inclusive we get. Classmates who probably never made eye contact in school were talking like old friends and having a good time together.
It was fun to gather the night before at the Friday football game with former Warrior football standouts Randy, Kenny, Joe, Mike and Bret as they watched a new generation of gridiron stars. Susie, the fourth class officer, was at the game, too. Former art instructor Rod Reeves joined the crowd in downtown Winter Garden afterward.
Another teacher, Pete Abatiello, came to say hello Saturday night.
The memorial board was a somber yet important reminder of classmates we had lost. But we celebrated the presence of Bret, a classmate we almost lost to a heart attack last year. Illnesses and surgeries haven’t stopped others, either.
The reunion was a different kind of homecoming for me, as I got to visit with people, like Bret, Valerie and Vince, whose family medical stories I have written for the West Orange Times through the years.
Some people might say that Facebook has ruined the “specialness” of class reunions, but I say it has done the opposite. Knowing so much about our classmates made it all the more fun to talk in person after so many years. Being connected on social media keeps the familiarity present, no matter where we happen to be living now.
On Saturday night, we were all back home again. The deejay was spinning our familiar ’80s music but also pulling people together on the dance floor with songs to Wobble and Whip and Nae Nae to.
It was a time to relax and to reminisce, a weekend of first friends and first crushes.
For one evening, we were 18 again, we had a lifetime ahead of us, and we were laughing in the purple rain.