Sunday I was fortunate enough to attend my father's high school reunion. For him, a 1950 graduate of Harrison Technical High School (on the West Side of Chicago, closed in the 70's) 62 years has flown by all too quickly. With classes as far back as 1939 in attendance, I was excited and curious to go. Think about it, people were there that had graduated 73 years ago and they were there to talk about it. Amazing.
My father, author of the Chicagonow blog "Chicago Then", has not had an easy time of it since losing my mom in 2009. When he received the reunion invitation he said he did not want to go alone. I volunteered to be his "date".
I didn't know what to expect. I've attended several of my own reunions (and crashed several from the class before mine) and seem to always find myself out until dawn, dancing and partying the night away. I find those times to be some of the best of my life, being with people that I knew as a teen and feeling like one. Yet, I graduated in 1975, 36 years after the oldest class at this reunion.
What I discovered upon arrival was the outward appearance of a very large coming together of senior citizens (some complete with oxygen tanks) yet I could somehow see the teen in all of them. Not from the priceless name tags that bore their high school graduation photos, but from the looks in their eyes when they saw an old friend.
When ours or younger generations attend their reunions, conversation revolves around careers, children, homes, etc. This was different. The hugs people were giving each other were tighter, maybe even a little fearful. Would this in fact be the very last time they would ever see each other? Talks were of failing health, grandchildren and great grandchildren, friends and spouses that had passed. But there was sheer gratitude at seeing each other.
The women were all dressed impeccably, still wanting to maybe dazzle an old crush, rekindle an old flame. The one detail that truly stood out to me above all was the level of respect in the room.
This was clearly not a generation of baby boomers. These were a generation of people that knew the true meaning of the great depression, had lived it. They knew what it was like for our country to involved in a world war; to live in a time when atomic weapons were not just a fear. They hadn't just read or learned about it in history books; they lived it, grew up with it. This was a group of people that have lived their lives with wonderful old fashioned morals and values that we can only wish the world had today.
Before lunch was served, the Star Spangled Banner was sung. I looked around the room as nearly every single person was singing, hand over heart, every word with such feeling I'd never seen. One gentlemen saluted through the entire anthem; likely a war veteran with complete respect for his country. It brought me to tears.
This is the last generation of people that will know what life was like before technology. A life where innocence lasted past the age of 12, a time when marriage meant you stayed together for better or worse and vows meant something.
I had the time of my life at the reunion. I met some of the sweetest people I could ever have the privilege to spend time with. I walked away feeling as though I had witnessed something that I will never forget.
I hope I live long enough to enjoy my own 62nd reunion. It's awhile away but 2037, I'll see you there.