This weekend of September 16-18, 2022, I attended a high school reunion in Madras, Oregon. It was the 61st reunion of the class of '61, postponed from the 60th due to COVID-19, held jointly for the first time with the class of '62.
There were about 70 including spouses from the class of '62 and about 30 including spouses from the class of '61, with some of the spouses being from other classes. In high school, there had been about 100 in each class, but at least a third of each class were deceased by now.
My classmates from '61 I had seen at previous reunions. At the 10th reunion, which I had missed, comparing schooling and jobs may be seen as competition for status. But at the 20 and later reunions, which I had attended, the discussions are more about high school and later experiences with friends and families. I had last seen them at the 50th reunion 11 years ago. But those in the class of '62, I had not seen since high school 61 years ago. Some I remembered, including those on the basketball team, with whom I had practiced, played games, and travelled to games around the state. But others I hadn't remembered, so it was nice to get reacquainted.
I had liked these friends very much in high school, and still liked them very much now. Everyone hugged when we gathered, and hugged again when we parted each day.
I had flown from LA to Redmond, Oregon on Friday afternoon, drove a rental car 26 miles to Madras, and checked into the hotel where those not living nearby were staying. We gathered in the hotel basement for an evening of talking and making our own sandwiches from a buffet of choices catered by a local restaurant.
While standing and talking with one of my classmates, he said that he needed to sit down. I asked if he felt light-headed and he said yes. Then he fainted and felt over, but was caught by another classmate before falling to the floor. After call to 911 and EMTs checking him out he woke up, but was still taken to the hospital to be checked out. Fortunately, he was okay, and was able to join us again for the activities on Saturday.
Saturday morning, some of us met at the breakfast buffet provided by the hotel and talked. We gathered with others to carpool to the high school that had replaced our old high school, to see the new performing arts center. We then went to a new whiskey distillery, where we learned how whiskey is made, and the difference between bourbon, made from 51% corn, and other types of whiskey made from other grains. We could taste tiny samples of different stages of the process, including some from a barrel where the whiskey is filtered by charcoal lining the barrel. There was an impressive still with several towers that can be used to distill different kinds of whiskey and other liquors, after syphoning off undesired components of the fermented grains.
While looking at the still, my youngest brother and his wife arrived. I had arranged to meet them for lunch. We had a nice lunch at a local restaurant, then drove to the cemetery where my mother and a brother had been brought there and buried next to my father since I had been in Madras for my previous high school reunion 11 years ago. I also saw again the grave of my best friend in junior high who had died in a traffic accident at age 14 the summer before high school. He was riding in the back of a pickup truck hauling a trailer, and the chain on the hitch swung and hit him in the head. Due to curiosity, we also drove out to see the location of the state prison that had been built 4 miles east of Madras in 2007.
After my brother and wife dropped me off at the hotel, I joined the gathering in the basement for a nice steak or chicken dinner catered by a local restaurant. We spent the evening talking, with time for a skit and an opportunity to share stories with the entire group. After dinner, one of those in another class complained to his wife of a pain in his shoulder. He was taken to the hospital where he died 45 minutes later. He had been fighting multiple cancers for five years after being told he had two years to live.
Sunday morning, I had arranged to meet some of the friends for breakfast at 7:30. As others left, some of us stayed talking until 11:30, when I realized I needed to check out of the hotel. While I was packing, a hotel clerk knocked on the door to ask if I needed more time since checkout time was 11. I drove to the location of where I had lived in Madras for junior high and high school, and saw that the house was finally gone. It had been damaged by a fire many years after my family had moved out, but the remains were there a decade later. I also drove by the building that had been the old high school that I had attended, which was the location of many memories.
I stopped at a Dairy Queen that had been there when I was in high school, and had a milkshake and a burger, before driving to Redmond for my flight home. I checked in and went through security, then I had to wait two hours to board so I read on my Kindle. During the flight, I talked with a father of two young children who had been reading psychology books that were relevant to my research on intimate relationships. My wife met me at the LA airport for the ride home and a good night's sleep after a meaningful weekend.