In early summer I received in the mail an invitation to my 50-year high school reunion. I was at once conflicted — both excited and alarmed.

I was never fond of my hometown: Jeffersonville, Indiana. My high school years were difficult, at best. In 1972, I barely managed to graduate from Jeffersonville High School — by the skin of my teeth, as it were. Nowadays I have practically no family or friends there.

I had never attended a high school reunion. When I was invited to my 30-year reunion, my response was a resounding No. When I was invited to my 40-year reunion, I wanted to go initially — but posts I saw on Facebook made me change my mind.

A number of women were all atwitter and agog at the prospect of revisiting the glory days of their youth. They posted pics of themselves at age 17 or 18, and recounted stories of “hot boys” they had dated in high school, naming names of who was hot and who was not. After 40 years, I saw the same old cliques and alliances reforming. I decided to pass on my 40-year reunion. I quit Facebook, oh, about 5 years ago. Perhaps that same kind of girly foolishness preceded my 50-year reunion, too. If so, I didn’t see it, because I’m not on Facebook.

I asked some of my older friends about their high school reunions. Their reports were mixed — both positive and negative. If not for the $50 I had prepaid, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the reunion.

There was one guy in particular, Tim Abts, who once was a close friend. We had had a falling out, oh, maybe 25 or 26 years ago. And that was mostly my fault, really. I was hard to get along with for a few years after I was discharged from the Army. (Some people might say I’m still hard to get along with.)

I was worried that seeing Tim again might be awkward — if not downright unpleasant. I had no idea if Tim would attend, but somehow I thought that he probably would. Sure enough, I was standing in line to get in the door, when Tim and his wife Sharon arrived in the line right behind me.

Once inside the building, I met with them in a room off the hallway, and I apologized sincerely for any and all past transgressions. They were both exceedingly kind and friendly, acting as if my erstwhile sins had long since been forgiven. Whew! I was glad that worked out okay. What a relief!

It was past the time when I usually eat supper. After making up with Tim and Sharon, I headed straight for the “heavy appetizers” mentioned in the invitation. I filled a small plate with large icy-cold cocktail shrimp, and I assembled a pulled-pork sandwich on a bun. The shrimp and pulled-pork slider were delicious.

I sat next to Tim and Sharon. We had a ton of catching up to do, but the PA system was way too loud, and Tim and I (and many if not most of us 68-year-olds) are hearing impaired. We soon gave up on trying to engage in meaningful conversation, and spoke instead in short phrases and gestures. I invited an old friend of mine, Robbie Chapman, to sit at my table — and he did. Robbie had once worked for me, remodeling in Louisville back in the late ‘80s. Ronnie “Cov” Colvin stopped and said hello. Ronnie had been a rock-n-roll legend in high school, an electric guitar virtuoso. After high school, he became a professional musician, settling near Nashville. Numerous people wandered up to our table, mingling or mixing, as it were. Virtually all of them were women. The men seemed more inclined to keep to themselves. I recognized a few of the women from their high-school photos and name tags affixed to their chests.

I remembered the ladies who I once had found attractive — and not the ones who I never thought were cute. Old age seems a great equalizer. At age 68 — how can I put it delicately? — the bloom is off the rose for most women, and men.

Only now have I googled “how to enjoy your high school reunion”. (Perhaps I should’ve done that beforehand.) Most of it is basic, common sense advice. I’ll list a few tips here in no particular order of importance.

Don’t comment about a person’s appearance — even if it’s a compliment. How people look usually doesn’t make for good conversation, and it can be downright offensive.

Don’t drink too much. You don’t want to be seen as a drunk or alcoholic. This was easy for me. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 6 years. Don’t ask people about their significant other. Indeed, I was prepared for people to ask me about my first wife, Karen, who had been my high school sweetheart. Fortunately, no one asked about her.

Don’t ask about children or grandchildren. Some people choose to be childless. Some can’t have children. Some have lost a child, or children. Of course, there were people sharing photos of their families on their phones but, according to the experts, it’s better not to ask. Don’t sit at a table and wait for people to approach you. Well, gee — that’s pretty much what I did. I made the rounds and mingled just before I left. I tried to say hello to everyone with whom I had once had a real friendship or relationship. But the fact that I had once attended the same high school as this person or that did not and does not mean much to me, really.

Only one of the people I talked to still lives in Jeff. Most were like me; they had moved away decades ago and had largely lost touch with Jeff and everyone they had known there.

I obtained email addresses from Tim and Sharon, Ronnie “Cov” Colvin, and Robbie Chapman. I emailed them the day after the reunion, and they all replied quite graciously. It’s especially gratifying to once again be friends with Tim and Sharon. There is a moral to this story: Don’t wait 25 years to make up with long-lost friends. Don’t wait for a reunion, or a funeral, or any such event or special occasion.

There is no time like the present, and Christmas is the perfect time to reach out to old friends and estranged family members in a spirit of love and forgiveness.

Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.

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