School reunions: why are we suckers for them?

A year and a half ago I came back from an international school reunion in Vienna and felt so deeply affected, I wrote a blog post about it. Now, eighteen months on, I’ve just come back from a smaller but equally moving reunion (same school, different location) and … well, here I am again, writing another post.

What exactly IS it about school reunions that so tantalisingly draws us in? I mean come on, it can hardly be that we all had perfect schooling days, can it? Surely there isn’t a single one among us who successfully managed to dodge all of the following school-related maladies:

– last to be picked for the volleyball/baseball/football/hockey team
– first to be picked on by others
– accused of being Teacher’s Pet
– accused of daydreaming
– terrified of admitting bad test grades to parents
– terrified of admitting forgotten homework to Teacher
– terrified of being caught smoking
– terrified of being spotted by Teacher in Gasthaus-pub near school, age 13
– wanting to disappear into hole in ground when feeling the odd one out
– wanting to disappear into hole in ground when falling out with friends
– wanting to disappear into hole in ground when being called any of the following:
skinny, fatty, spotty, knobbly-kneed, stupid, dorky, geeky, gormless, carpenter’s dream … that particular metaphor being dedicated to the flat-chested female variety, of which I was one, sadly, although I’m happy to say that I filled out a couple of centimetres afterwards – that is, until my third and last baby sucked all the nutrition and flesh and soft luscious sponginess out of my boobs, after which they never regained their trampoline versatility, not that hubbies or lovers appeared to mind …

But where was I? Mustn’t get distracted from list. (F for concentration.)

Ah, yes. This is what I wanted to say. If any of you eavesdroppers out there in cyber-space can identify with any of my points in the above list, then that means you suffered at least a little bit at school, right? And yet I’ll bet you a hundred Belgian Malinois hounds that, regardless of your varied degrees of discomfort, most of you have been to at least one school reunion. They just keep sucking us back in, for better or worse.

So, duly sucked into the latest reunion, we smiled and we socialised and exchanged memories, and we went ahhh… whilst poring over old yearbooks, and we clinked glasses with ex-peers, some of whom we could hardly remember, or who we were envious of back in the day because they were more gorgeous than us, or cooler or older or wiser, while we were just giggly, gawky, gangly, goofy-toothed geeks (A+ for alliteration)…

I’m waffling again. This would most definitely be graded with a D, if it were an essay. Which, in a way, it is. Except that there aren’t any censorious teachers lurking out there to mark it. Where’ve they all gone? (Mr Modica? If you can hear me, knock three times on my laptop.)

Actually, most of my teachers were quite nice. Apart from a couple of not-so-nice specimens. Hmm. One in particular – a German teacher who I once said something only marginally cheeky to in the parking lot one unsuspecting day, upon which he shrieked, “Halt die Klappe, du freches Kind!” and pushed me so hard, I fell right down on the hard concrete, SPLAT! and cut my knee so badly, I cherished a crimson scar which then turned into a beautiful silvery hue for a couple of decades after the event. It only faded recently. (Okay, so more than a couple of decades.)

But let me continue on a more positive note. This latest school reunion took place in the breathtaking Canadian Rockies, and involved the delights of skiing on perfect pristine pistes (A+) that varied in arduousness, as opposed to ardour, from easy-peasy green runs to sheer, double-black inclines dispatched straight from the Snow Queen’s masochistic domain, except that some of the alumni apparently enjoyed them, I gather. Sports teacher’s pets, no doubt. (Definitely not me, of the last-to-be-picked variety.)

What I found particularly touching about this reunion, quite apart from its wonderful pistes and alumni and food and memories, not to mention the ghost-inhabited mountain lodge wherein we dwelt (used in a 1980s horror film, btw – perhaps the director had been traumatised at school and was releasing all his angst?), was that one of the married couples there had started dating way back in their high school days and, miracle upon miracle, are still together now! What’s more, another two couples have been with the same spouse almost as long. (A+ for effort!) Or is it just luck? In which case, it doesn’t count. (D for cheating.) But truly, a big BRAVO to the sticker-togetherers! However, what I really, really want to know, but don’t dare ask, is how do they DO it? Same partner since teens or early twenties? No WAY!

And finally, I hear that there was another couple out there; a couple who were not actually together, so to speak, and certainly not married, God forbid, but nonetheless, who apparently had some distant connection with aforesaid school, and who, thanks to the reunion of eighteen months ago to which I referred at the beginning of this post, have been feeling kind of nostalgic ever since, not to mention a bit ardorous, as opposed to arduous, except that the former adjective doesn’t exist. (F for corrupting the beautiful English language.)

So is that why we go to school reunions? Is it all somehow intrinsically connected to romance? And I don’t mean romance in the slushy sense. I mean the romance of all of it – the poignant beauty of nostalgia, memories, togetherness, the feel-good factor of being united with fellow alumni who were part of the same physical and emotional circumstances that helped form our budding characters, whether through perseverance in difficulties, or through gratitude in friendships, some of which became lifelong; a few of which even turned into love … or a bizarre juxtaposition of all of those intangible elements.

Anyway, enough musing! I honestly don’t know the answer. I only know that I’ve loved all my international school reunions – even if I was a shy, skinny, flat-chested girl back in that distant world, with a gap between my front teeth (all gone now – the gap, not the teeth); yes, a goody-goody-two-shoes, apart from the teenage smoking and drinking and being rude to my German teacher (he bloody well deserved it), and with a terror of any sports that involved throwing or catching a ball. But that’s the nice thing about memory: it’s very selective.

Despite looking back in selective fondness, I don’t have any desire to be that same girl again. Because the thing is, the woman she later grew into ended up leading a very full life, if somewhat challenging at times, but nonetheless full, and free, and not confined within the restrictions of school. Yippee! No teachers to grade my style of living! But all the same, I still love remembering those days, as all of us reunioners do. (F.)

I’m just about to crack open a bottle of wine, and then I’m going to raise my glass in a solitary toast, in the absence of anyone else being around other than my Mad Belgian Malinois, who doesn’t drink wine and in any case is fast asleep, just for once, and snoring big gruff bulldoggy snores by my feet.

So, my toast is to School Reunions – for better or worse, just like marriage!

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