I've never heard anyone compare a high school reunion to a funeral.
Yet even though I shared a fine evening of reminiscing, joking, belly laughs and good-natured ribbing with my fellow Sykesville High School Class of 1966 at our recent 45th anniversary reunion in August, there was, for me, a hint of melancholy to the mostly fun and laid-back evening.
A couple dozen or so of us "66ers," most with respective spouses or significant others, convened in the community hall of the Winfield Volunteer Fire Department. It was on the same Saturday evening that the gusting winds of Hurricane Irene scattered leaves and toppled trees across South Carroll.
I don't think any of us could fully come to terms with the cold, hard truth that close to a half-century had whizzed by since that sunny June day when, armed with our diplomas, we strutted across the auditorium stage of what is now Sykesville Middle School into a future that seemed to yawn before us with wide, limitless possibility.
(It still makes me laugh to recall how that year I became the first person I ever heard of to be voted "most likely to succeed" despite having failed French I two years in a row.)
I didn't have any great expectations of any kind for the reunion — no heartwarming hopes of tear-stained reunion with a long-lost first love, or that sort of hooey.
Fact is, even though my high school days still hold a tender place in my heart, most of my memories of those years now seem hazy, disjointed and largely irrelevant. As intense, meaningful and angst-ridden as those times were when I was living through them, I've hardly thought about them at all in recent years, except in passing.
But what really dented my psyche that Saturday night was the stark reality of just how quickly the better — and worse — parts of our lives, careers, marriages, divorces, etc., have blown by, much like those leaves being scattered across the parking lot by the gusting hurricane winds.
That truth was undeniable as I glanced around the room and realized just how many of the world-weary, late-middle-aged faces I could no longer match with the youthful, chipper faces in the senior yearbooks some had brought along.
For nearly a half an hour I sat or stood at arm's length from a guy who was one of my best friends when I was 12 or 13, and didn't even recognize him. (I probably would have taken better care of my own self had I known I'd still be around for our 45th!)
Again and again, I got that dizzying, "now-you-see-`it, now-you-don't" sensation of decades rushing by while I was hardly paying attention.
Later that evening, after we'd said our goodbyes on the rain-swept parking lot and parted ways, I was home lying in bed with the screens open, listening to the wind and rain … and feeling a bit sad.
For the next few days, I thought a lot about the most bittersweet moment of the evening — when Terry Lettie, a former classmate who's now retired from the U.S. Air Force and lives in Florida, gave a heartfelt tribute to Frank Boyce, his good friend and fellow "66er" who died late last year of cancer.
Terry, his voice occasionally breaking, spoke movingly of Boyce's life-long passion for painting and drawing — he left behind more than 400 of his art works, was once offered a full scholarship to Maryland Institute College of Art and for a while had a gallery in Savage, Md. (All of which was news to me.)
Lettie recalled Boyce's devotion to family, friends and country — his two tours in Vietnam with the 83rd Airborne, when he earned two Purple Hearts with Oak Cluster.
I'd never known either man — Terry or Frank — very well. I admit it: When I saw Boyce's obituary in the paper last year I could no longer match his name to a face.
Yet I was deeply touched by Lettie's tribute, and afterward made a point of thanking him profusely for sharing it with us.
As I told him that night: When it's all said and done and the sands finally run out, what more could any of us ask for than to be remembered in such glowing terms by those who knew us best?
Bob Allen writes from Sykesville.