My confidante/familiar/muse/consigliere/voice of the average reader said, “We don’t want to read another piece about your ideal childhood. Not all of us had one. It just makes us feel bad. If you’re going to write about your reunion, it has to be universal.”

My childhood wasn’t perfect, but there is an aversion in some people to revisit the past because the things they didn’t like about it may not have changed. But I find that most of the time, the people have changed, so I usually go, and I’m usually glad I did.

That was the case Saturday night as some 50 members of Ascension School’s class of 1966, about a third of our Baby Boomer graduating class, gathered on the second floor of Skrine Chops in Forest Park to revive a long-gone era by bouncing memories off one another.

In large gatherings, my voice washes out almost immediately and I can’t be heard over the din, so I do more listening. Which is good because I get a better sense of who my classmates have become. People do change and mellow and evolve and that’s nice to hear. 

What I heard was not the verbal equivalent of an “isn’t my life great?” Christmas card. Four members of our class died recently within a 12-month stretch. Those who were once close to them are still mourning and trying to understand what happened. At 64, the good news and bad news is decidedly mixed. And we wondered about all those classmates who have not been heard from in 50 years.

At one point, when everyone was talking to someone else, I wandered over to the memorabilia table and got lost in the class photos, from first grade on. Each face so different — unique, youthful personalities shining through. People change much more during the nine years of grade school than they do in the four years of high school or college. 

And then there was my face. Who was that kid? How much I have forgotten — or maybe never knew. That’s part of why I go to reunions. I think there is something to be gained by stretching back to the past like this, to our former selves. We get a fleeting, godlike glimpse of our lives, a momentary view from on high.

I don’t know if our class will venture beyond 50 years. We might come together again, or we might not. As we trickled out at the end, I wondered if this was the curtain closing. Class dismissed. If it is, then it is.

But a closed curtain doesn’t offer closure. So I want to say something to all my classmates (and hope it has universal application):

What I want to say is thank you. Thank you for being there way back then. For being exactly who you were — even if we didn’t interact much or connect, even if you can’t really remember if we connected or if I can’t remember. 

In many ways, our experience was defined by quantity — 150 kids per grade level is a lot of kids. Quality came later. It was on display at the reunion five years ago and again Saturday night. Thank you for becoming quality people and for the life you have lived because everyone’s life has quality, which is different from mere achievement.

The quality of our lives is partly because of Ascension and the Ursuline nuns and the secure, highly defined parochial culture we grew up in. Whether you embraced that culture or got as far away from it as you could, whether you took what was positive and shed what wasn’t, whether you look back on it fondly or are still recovering from it — or maybe an amalgam of all of the above, like me — it is partly what made us who we are, and for that I’m thankful. The nuns may have been a little too authoritarian for my taste, but they were human beings with shortcomings, and those habits were probably hot, and they had 50 kids in a classroom!

That culture defined us, but not entirely. We did most of the work ourselves. Thank you for living a full life with all its struggles and mistakes and loves that lasted, or didn’t, and minor triumphs — as well as the triumphs that seem minor but actually required considerable courage, which we don’t give ourselves enough credit for.

Life, as they told us back at Ascension and at home, would have its ups and downs, and it did. The ledger doesn’t balance. But as my familiar says, there is always joy, a series of moments we string together like a necklace of pearls, which we call happiness.

Reunions like this help put our lives in perspective. They remind me, and I hope all of you, that our lives were good once and still are. So whether your memories have faded to grey or are vibrant with color, recalling the excitement of a future stretching out before us — or both, like me — I want to thank you for sharing this path with me during that remarkable period, 1957-1966, when so much changed or was changing, in the world and in us, a time I consider myself lucky to have witnessed. And thank you for whatever brought you back to this rest stop to check in. Just one more time. 

The writer Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” 

That may be. But a reunion gives us an opportunity to come home to ourselves.

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