Archived Story

It’s not about the years; it’s the moments

Published 9:24am Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Column: Tales From Exit 22, by Al Batt

I walked to the mailbox.

I had letters to mail.

I’m trying to save America, one stamp at a time.

The faithful rural carrier had beaten me and the mailbox had been stuffed full. One of the things it held was an invitation to a reunion.

I was pleased to receive it. It sang a song only I could hear, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I’m fortunate that I’m invited to a goodly number of reunions. I attend some every year. Each year, I’m reminded that friends may come and go, but relatives accumulate.

As much as I love the invitations, they have dark sides. They are mileposts of time’s passage. I considered Andrew Marvel’s words, “But at my back I always hear, Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near.”

We attend reunions to tell stories and to hear stories. We like “How did you two meet?” tales. A friend met her husband in a coffee shop. She sat down with her bucket of coffee just in time to see his glass eye pop out when he sneezed. She snagged it on the first bounce. She returned his peeper and they began dating. He added, “There was something about her that caught my eye.”

There are those who try to enlighten at reunions. If we’re lucky, it isn’t a Ponzi scheme, but is someone like Dennis Hopper. In “Apocalypse Now,” Hopper played a photojournalist who said, “Hey, man, you don’t talk to the Colonel. You listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he’ll, uh, well, you’ll say ‘hello’ to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you. He won’t even notice you. And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say, ‘Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life?’”

Typically, we hear something like that from the guy who tried to mimic Jimi Hendrix on an electric guitar and neutered every cat within 12 miles.

Have you ever been behind a vehicle adorned with enough bumper stickers to convince you that the driver is a complete idiot and watched as that car turned into the same place you were headed? Then you discovered that not only is that person at your reunion, he or she is someone you know and like. Reunions can be illuminating.

Reunions are assemblages where we sit around with people who look like the parents of the folks we expected to be hanging out with. It’s an episode of the “Twilight Zone.” In high school, white hair was on the teachers’ heads, not the noggins of students.

A schoolmate told me, “I ran into an old classmate the other day. She looked younger than she did when we graduated. She hadn’t gained an ounce and didn’t have a single wrinkle. So I ran into her again.”

Reunions are great memory prompts. I recalled John Edwards, a teacher back when a celebrity chef was a lunch lady and radios were all staticky, who tried teaching me chemistry and physics and once told the class, “I’m dropping this silver coin into a glass of acid. Will it dissolve?”

“No,” I said, never so sure of an answer in my life.

“And why not?” asked Mr. Edwards.

I replied confidently, “Because if it would, you wouldn’t drop it in.”

I remembered an English teacher, who taught me that I shouldn’t start a sentence with “well” because it was a deep subject for such a shallow mind, that gave a unique writing assignment for each student. Mine was to write a response to, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?”

In those days, a million dollars was some serious scratch, not a mere down payment on an SUV.

My entire paper consisted of, “I’d hire someone to write this for me.”

It’s good that we attend reunions. There are other things we could be doing. We could be at home, watching cat videos. Those things don’t watch themselves. It’s easy to dodge a reunion, spending that time hoping to amount to something better by the next reunion, but it’s important to be with those with whom we’ve jumped off cliffs.

The older we get and the more people we lose, the tighter we cling to memories.

Nothing is fun for everyone, but I like being around the right people. I find them at reunions.

Always remember that it’s the nuts that make a family tree worth shaking.

 

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.