When I mentioned to my New York City friends that I was contemplating attending my class reunion in Idaho, I first deflected questions about which number it was, perhaps subliminally refusing to admit the number of years that have intervened since my class graduated. My friends’ comments ranged from, “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” to “Why would you put yourself through that?” to “You’re nuts.”
I myself wondered what drew me to fly across the country for a short weekend, incurring jet lag with each leg of the trip, to spend an evening with people I hadn’t seen in decades. I hadn’t gone ‘home’ since my father’s memorial eleven years ago, and with few family ties there, the intervening years had given me no compelling reason to do so.
Merry (in pink) with her classmates
Contrary to the common myth that high school years are the best years of our life, mine were not. Painful memories haunted me—some self-inflicted, others stemming from a chaotic and unstable home life that left me ill-equipped to deal with the ubiquitous nonsense inevitably experienced by teenagers struggling to find themselves and forge their identity. I attended our ten-year reunion, drank too much, and, from what I can recall, probably behaved badly. A subsequent reunion came on the heels of my marriage, and I enjoyed reintroducing myself as ‘Mrs.’ This time, I would be on my own.
I recently read Sally Quinn’s new book, Finding Magic. She recounted a comment made to a television reporter during an interview that she never walked into a room full of people thinking, Will they like me? Rather, she always asks, Will I like them? I admire that kind of self-confidence. I wish I had it.
Vacillating between deciding whether to go or not, I recalled the adage of an older person I once knew: In life, we regret the things we didn’t do, not the things we did. Her words have guided my decision making on several occasions. My son also weighed in: “Mom, go, and look hot!” Doing my best to comply, I bought a conservative dress that would play well in Idaho, cashed in some airline miles, and arose at 3:00 a.m. to board a 6:30 a.m. flight headed west.
Merry with Toni Blacketter, a friend of 40 plus years
Filled with trepidation upon landing, I nonetheless prepared for this event the way I do for anything major: I went for an invigorating run, put on a smile, and arrived a few minutes before the cocktail party to break the ice with fellow early birds before the onslaught of the crowd descended. Actually, crowd may be a misnomer: Our class numbered around 160, and 85 managed to get to the event. That in itself says a lot: Although many have never left the area, a few had, and they ventured back from the states of Washington, Texas, Arizona, and California. One came all the way from Christchurch, New Zealand. (At reunions past I received the prize for traveling the furthest—not this time.)
As I worked the room, asking my fellow classmates about their lives, I was struck by how many intact marriages there were, and the pride they took in their children and grandchildren. Others mentioned wholesome values, such as church and community activities, that have kept them involved and productive. Many enjoy hunting and fishing, and are committed to Second Amendment rights. Although most have grown a little rounder and grayer (which some of us hide by becoming a little blonder), my classmates all espoused values that often define our country’s heartland—family, faith, hard work, simple pleasures—that both the left and right coasts frequently scorn.
There was no talk of politics, nor was there the need for the one-upmanship on display at past reunions. We were merely a group brought together by an urge to reconnect, aware that the occasions to do so will become fewer as time marches on. Some asked me about my life in New York and appeared curious about how a girl hailing from a town of 2,700 could survive in a city of eight million. (Truth be told, the survival skills I learned when I lived there prepared me—and they’ve continued to serve me well in the years hence.)
Friend and class Homecoming Queen, Carla White, with Merry
Spending a couple of hours with the few friends I’ve stayed in contact with was fun. Although our lives are vastly different, the bonds we formed back then haven’t frayed. One or two apologized for their behavior years ago. Others saw no need to reopen old wounds and managed to feign a modicum of interest, and even if it wasn’t genuine, it doesn’t seem important now.
I came to my class reunion hoping that on some level I could put long-ago demons to rest. I left knowing that most of that angst that once seemed so terribly consequential no longer matters. We’ve all moved on, and the challenges we’ve met and overcome and the losses of loved ones have put the pettiness behind us, or at least in perspective. Although I’ve never regretted leaving my hometown to craft a different life in New York, with a fascinating career and exposure to people and experiences that are part of the rich mosaic that informs it, attending my class reunion gave me a profound respect for the people who once were part of my life. They’ve created lives of happiness and contentment that often elude those of us on the treadmill that defines life here. For starters, they don’t suffer the indignities of commuting, nor are they subject to terror attacks and alerts that keep us on edge. And even if they don’t have access to (or care about) the same cultural events as we do, country music artists know Idaho is a lucrative stop on their tour schedules, classical music and theatre is on tap in Boise, thirty miles away, for those so inclined, and the Boise State University Broncos games are sold out.
As I arose at 2:30 a.m. the next morning to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight back to New York, I was exhausted, but glad I made the trip. I would have regretted missing the chance to see old friends and acquaintances. The years have been kind to some; for others, not so much, and were painful to observe. I’m grateful I had an opportunity to once again embrace my roots and the values they engender. There was a time when admitting I was from Idaho brought raucous laughter from those who disdain “flyover country,” and the jokes about potatoes made me wince. No longer.
The taxi ride into Manhattan from LaGuardia Airport was long and fraught with traffic jams, partly due to the convening of the United Nations General Assembly in our city this week. The cacophony of horns from frustrated and impatient drivers was annoying in the extreme. But it was music to my ears. It was good to be home.