High School Reunion Tour Comes to a Bittersweet End by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

A high school reunion is a lot like an amusement park.  The first day, you have no idea what rides will be thrilling, so you run all over the place trying to jam in as much as possible prior to the park’s closing time.  The second time around, you know the lay of the land and can relax while applying the knowledge you gained the previous day.

Friday night was about hustling – trying to figure out who we knew, remembered, and still cared about.  On Saturday, that knowledge helped toward enjoying the company of old friends in a little more depth and without the angst.  We would probably still be there if the hall and the bar we went to after that hadn’t closed.

There was a moment on Saturday afternoon that I thought about bailing and heading home because Friday had been pretty good, and what more could be gained by sticking around.  Then I manned up and recognized that a night among good and smart people who speak a shared language built through insecurities, pain, and a lot of laughter is not something to be shunned.

That was my first hint that maybe I’m getting smarter.  The thing that I tell my son so often that he hears it in his sleep is that just because he will graduate college next year doesn’t mean that the learning ends, and the time has come to simply be who he is.  Self-discovery should never stop, and how valuable it is in the process to be around friends who have measured your character over a long period of time.

As I was in the midst of a great conversation with the girlfriend of an old friend about the idiocy of working for bad bosses, one of my classmates yelled from across the room, “Kent!  Hey, Sterling!  You’re perfect for a picture I want to take.”  I walked outside to see a sign that read “NEW ALBANY CLASS OF 1980”.  The sign was constructed in a way that Doc thought it would be funny if I sat and blocked out the C and L in CLASS, so it would look like “ASS OF 1980”.  That was a pretty apt description of who I was back in 1980.

Talking to Linda Christiansen, someone I always thought was very smart and never really understood why she wasn’t around a whole lot when we were in high school, she told me that I was like “kryptonite” in high school – fun from afar, but too dangerous up close.  In truth, that makes me sound much cooler than I was.  Linda is still really smart, animated, and insightful.  Our conversation – as was the case five years ago at the previous reunion – was very entertaining and thought-provoking.  It’s my loss that I was too busy trying to be entertaining to listen to people like Linda more often.

My behavior in high school was more than marginally erratic, so no argument at all with either characterization, but it was also nice to have a real conversation with people who might have thought that a ridiculous waste of time back in the day.

Julie Murphy Cook was always one of my favorite people in high school.  She always was and still is very comfortable in her own skin.  She never put on an act, and had little time for anyone who did.  Her honest disdain for my behavior was very entertaining to me.  We tied in the election for class treasurer with 192 votes each.  Julie did whatever work there was for that position, and I never even attended a single student council meeting.  The picture to the left is just a perfect representation of our odd friendship.  As the picture for the town newspaper was taken with the senior class officers, I (far right) reached back and pinched Julie’s thigh (second from the right).  She’s giving me a look that I saw almost every time we were in the same room.

Last night, Julie and I had a nice talk about our kids at 2:45 a.m..  Times change.  People change.

People become more interesting as they get older.  There is less drama, but the depth of their insight is amazing when compared to what we might have come with 30 years ago.  Our questions about life were no more complicated than who was driving to the party and how we were going to buy beer.  Now, we talk about the meaning of happiness and how we get there.  Being 48 is much more fun than being 18 was.  I don’t know how kids can stand their lives, but given my emotionally defective teenage years, maybe I’m not the best judge of what it’s like to be 18.

The people who worked so hard to put together a great weekend for our enjoyment won’t like this suggestion, but I would love to spend time with these people more often.  Once every five years isn’t nearly enough.  Who would have thought that listening to others would be more stimulating than my own incessant blathering.


Tour of High School Reunions Continues by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

It’s always stunning to me to see how incredibly easy it is to slip into seeming dormant friendships.  The language, comfort, and laughter resumes as though no time had passed after years and years.

Evidently, friendship knows no era.

For reasons too complicated to explain, this is my second high school reunion in as many weekends, and it’s been nice to wander around without having to explain my presence.  Last weekend was about what might have been had I not moved when I was 14.  This weekend is about celebrating the move to New Albany and all the friendships I would have foregone had my family not moved.

This weekend long celebration of not what we used to be, but the relationships that helped us tolerate a high school experience that was neither fulfilling nor challenging started today with a golf scramble that started horribly and finished with a flourish.  Valley View Golf Course in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, is not terribly challenging, nor lush.  That’s not the point of a bunch of formerly adequate athletes punishing the course more than the balls.

Golf at a high school reunion is a five-hour conversation interrupted by the inconvenience of swinging a club.  My group was as motivated to win as we were talented, and after 12 holes, we were at an abysmal three-over par.  On a course like Valley View a foursome of raccoons swinging broomsticks at walnuts should be able to go three-over after 12.  Then, magic.

I almost never drink beer on a golf course.  Maybe to this point in my life, I’ve done it twice.  My playing partner and high school best friend Lewie suggested we abandon any focus toward golf, and get a couple of beers.  My philosophy of agreeing to virtually anything suggested by a person I respect.  It took three holes for the beer to work its way into my swing.  On 13, birdie and a beer.  14 – birdie.  15 – a third straight birdie.  On 16 – eagle after a drive that I couldn’t have place any better, followed by a brilliant knock-down eight-iron, and that an easy 12-footer that curled left into the cup, and followed by another beer.  17 – another birdie.  On 18, we couldn’t get a tough 25-footer to fall.

My game found relaxation and tempo.  I don’t recommend wandering around a golf course ordering up beers all day, but today a little liquid tension reliever hit the spot.

The guys are all basically the same give or take a few pounds and follicles.  Most have done well professionally.  Some have gone through a divorce or two, and all are still figuring out how life works. Many of us thought that after high school then college, the learning is done.  The truth is that the lessons really don’t start flying until you hit 40.  I hope they stop soon, but the stories from the tenth reunion about girls have now become tales of health crises narrowly avoided or boldly confronted.

Tonight, we head to the exact kind of structure at which we had endless fun during high school.  This place is four walls, and roof, and a concrete slab.  There is no food, bar, or if memory serves from the last reunion even folding chairs.  There will be no distraction from whatever strange nonsense transpires, and it will be just right.

We’ll stand around laughing and asking each other, “Who the hell is that?”  After being told, the rest of the group will shriek, “No way!”  Then they will look at us and have the same response to the same question.  We’re not 18 anymore, thank God.  I wouldn’t turn back the clock for Warren Buffett’s money.  Another spin of life’s wheel would never allow me to marry the best woman in the world and get to experience to joy of watching the maturation of our son.

But for one weekend, we get to take a peek behind the curtain to see what our youth was, and resume the arc of friendship with people who remain very important to us.  The contact is erratic, but the moments of connection are still pure and precious.

New Albany High School Reunion Planning Is Worth Some Laughs Some by kentsterling

by Kent Sterling

High school reunions can be fun, or they can be a disaster.  My ten-year reunion was depressing enough to extricate me from the reunion business for 15 years.  The the ten-year, I was yelled at several times by the many people I passed idle time making fun of during high school, and there was one guy – a very smart guy – who was near the end of his battle with alcoholism.  He went from laughing and enjoying himself to passing out drunk in front of the hall in no more than 30-minutes.  He was dead a year later.

Most everyone else had changed so little that I thought it was more efficient to rely on my memories of what they were like during school than to schlep down to New Albany to witness it again first-hand.

Last weekend, I went to a party hosted by a guy with whom I was friends in high school, and the chief planner of our next reunion was there.  “Keek” works her ass off every five years organizing reunions for our class, and she is great at it.  Most of the people I’ve run into who do the same thing are determined to put on some kind of fancy-schmancy deal where everyone gets dressed up and tries to impress each other with their heightened status and wonderful stories of familial bliss.

We are very lucky to have Keek.  She keeps the committee in line, and reminds them of who we are, not who someone image conscious boob think he is and we were.  We spent some time talking about the reunion Saturday, and I asked whether we were going to have a great Friday night planned like we did last time around.

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