Friday, August 12, 2011

Reunions

Some I attended and one I only heard about.

This past weekend my husband and I attended his 40 year high school reunion in New Orleans. The week before we left, my brother came to visit us on his way home from a 42th year reunion he had attended in Florida. My brother's reunion, however, was not a school reunion. It was a reunion of Grumman Aerospace Corporation employees who had worked on the Apollo Mission.  My brother was part of the group that built Lunar Exploration Modules, one of which "served as a lifeboat for the astronauts of the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight".  When the movie Apollo 13 came out, we took Frank to see the movie on one of his visits.

Grumman employees hold these reunions every five years or so. When the Space Shuttle contract was first being put out to bid, Grumman was in competition with North American Rockwell, formerly North American Aviation, the company that had built the Apollo command modules, including the Apollo 1 module that had malfunctioned and caused the death of Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The teams working on the Apollo Project components worked at opposite ends of the same building, with a very long center hall. Listening to the radio on his way to work, my brother heard the news that North American Rockwell had been awarded the contract. "If I hadn't heard about it just before coming to work," he told me, "I probably wouldn't have been so steamed." Be that as it may, as he arrived at work he hollered down the hall, "Well, I guess you have to kill three astronauts to get a government contract around here!"

Fifteen years later at a Grumman reunion, his peers were still talking about it. Frank didn't say whether they were still talking about him this year.

John's high school reunion took place over an entire weekend, the weekend of the Satchmo Summer Festival in the French Quarter at that. Friday night we went to The Howlin' Wolf, no live band though. Saturday night was a buffet and bowling at the Rock N' Bowl, with the Wiseguys playing after 9:30.  Sunday there was another buffet  at the Imperial Garden, with a short program consisting of slides of senior pictures, news of classmates who died, and a performance by the Bone Tone Marching Band. One of John's classmates was in the band.

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I tried to remember who everybody was. If you ever want to feel like a real outsider, just go to your spouse's reunion. Unless, of course, you married someone from your high school. Or, well, see below.

John's years in high school coincided with the schools in New Orleans being integrated, and whenever I've gone with him to reunions, it's always looked like there are two different reunions going on in the same room. I suspect that's true of high school reunions everywhere: there's an athletes' reunion and a scholars' reunion and a we-didn't-fit-in-anywhere reunion all going on in the same room. The big difference between a high school reunion and the kind of reunion my brother attended is that in high school, you are assigned to the school because of your age and location, not because you chose to be with that particular group of people. For my brother and his co-workers, they not only chose to work where they did, they had a common mission. 

Which brings me to the last reunion I want to mention, also one of John's . His old Boy Scout troop, Troop 48, holds reunions every so often. My first connection to Troop 48 came through my ex-husband, who was an assistant scoutmaster for the troop back when he was in graduate school. Our first date was to a covered dish dinner Court of Honor held by the troop. I actually met my current husband at the troop's 50th anniversary reunion, although neither of us remembered that meeting at first when we met again after my divorce. (I refer to our second meeting as "the one that stuck".) 

Shortly after our marriage, John got invited to another Troop 48 reunion. I felt a little awkward about going, but reassured myself that if anyone did remember me, they would only remember that I had been married to someone connected to the troop, not exactly who that someone was.

As I entered the room, I heard a voice call, "There she is". As it turned out, my ex had been in touch with the group a year before, so they knew about my divorce and remarriage. I had company, though. A sad story was making the rounds about a former troop mate of John's who got involved with drugs, and killed himself after his wife left him for a third member of the troop. I remembered both young men, and wouldn't have predicted this. As I was wandering around, I also heard an older man say, "Her husband is the one who introduced us" about his previously widowed wife.


There are all kinds of reunions: reunions for the things we chose and the ones that chose us and the ones we just endured. They can hold surprises (two of John's classmates met at their 20th reunion and were married by their 25th). The people we hoped would forget us can remember us and the people we hoped would remember us can forget. People seem drawn to reunions, though. I can't articulate the purpose they serve, but they seem to be part of what makes us people.

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