Octo Observations: Reunions Rock!

The Merry Month of May is one of my favorite months of the year. It is spring time at its most beautiful, with blossoms in full bloom, trees a lush shade of green, and floral fragrances filling the air. We humans seem to come alive after our winter hiatus. Sadly, May is already more than half gone, and before long the heat of summer will descend. 

College graduations are in full swing. High school seniors will soon be awarded diplomas. Families and friends gather for these special events, weddings, too, and hours of happy memories begin. Reasons for reunions? Multiple and varied, but oh, how they are to be celebrated and cherished. The noun reunion has different meanings:

1. An instance of two or more people coming together again after a period of separation.

2. A social gathering attended by members of a group of people who have not seen each other for a long time.

3. The action of being brought together again as a unified whole, as in the ‘reunion of East and West Germany.’

A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a memorable four-day “Mini” reunion in Charlottesville, Virginia (only sixty miles from our home) with about 20-plus members of his Princeton University classmates who traveled from the South, Northeast, and as far away as St. Louis. This was the 36th “Mini” since its inception many years ago. Wonderful destinations have attracted several from the Class of 1957. The tradition was begun by an energetic and outstanding member of the class, when he determined that merely having an opportunity to see each other every five years did not suffice. Hence, the birth of the Mini! Although there are faithful followers of these reunions, the groups do vary, particularly as aging and health issues become more prevalent.

During bus rides and over wine enhanced dinners, it was fascinating to watch these men who had shared four formulative years of their youth reconnect. So different from long ago major reunions, when it seemed that many fellows were more impressed with their own career accomplishments or their “trophy” wives than they were with those around them. There was a lot of posturing! Since the Big Fiftieth and especially since the Big Sixtieth Reunion, superficiality has been cast aside. Instead, people share their highs, their lows, their losses and their challenges. Most share a very positive attitude toward living life to the fullest as the sands in the hour glasses sift downward. How refreshing! 

As my husband’s first and (so far) only wife, I found these recent reunions energizing. In depth chats with wonderful wives, or “girl” friends. Their stories revealed magnificent courage. Most “new wives or lady friends” were widows who married or became bonded via “an arrangement” with a widower. One woman in her late 70s told me that she was introduced to “Jack” through mutual friends in Florida. First meeting laid out the ground rules. According to “Jack,” he announced to “Cynthia,” “I lost my wife and mother of my children to Alzheimer’s. I don’t ever want to marry again. But I would like to have a meaningful relationship with a woman who also does not want to marry again, and who is independent financially.” Several years later, this couple still share their lives and radiate a loving relationship. While their children are not particularly close, they willingly gather for occasional two-family reunions. This is only one story. Another was told by a dear lady who told me her current husband is #5. Her first marriage took place before she was 20, produced two children. Because her young husband turned out to be alcoholic, she divorced him, returned to school, earned her RN, and supported her daughters until she met husband #2 who died prematurely, as did husband #3 and #4. Now she is happily and hopefully married for the rest of her life to a wonderful widower. They deserve a contented ending.

Not all alumni are eager to return to a reunion with long ago classmates. One friend of mine told me that it took her husband, a renowned doctor, 35 years to return to his Yale reunion. Why? Who knows, but he was hardly alone. Friends of my John never appear at any reunions, and they do not say why. One can only speculate and honor their reasons. Because I left college to be married after only two years, I have never felt I belonged at a Conn College reunion. I did not earn a bachelor’s degree in English as I wanted, although I can safely say I achieved a happy marriage, plus a “degree” in moving 12 times in 20 years while raising four children. Surely that counts for something!

ANYWAY, another aspect of school reunions at my husband’s and my ages is that they are quite different than those high school or early college reunions when looks, money and position seemed to be major focuses. HAPPILY! Octogenarians have cast aside the vanity of their youth in a good way. Life is hardly all about looks these days. It is more about, “Yay, I can get around just fine; I can stand for more than five minutes without wanting to sit; I can keep my sense of humor if things don’t work just right; I will put myself together with as much pizazz as possible, and I won’t apologize for forgetting names or stooped shoulders, crows’ feet or thinning hair, etc. To be honest, I must admit I worked hard to lose five pounds (not as much as I would have liked) on purpose, as I didn’t want people to look at me and mutter, “Boy, Joy looks old and fat!” Vanity, for sure!

Speaking of which, there was an article in the New York Times about Vanity in Older People…a whole other topic. Yet, the point of including this reference is that at this delightful Mini Reunion, people absolutely DID care how they are perceived, they do the best with what God has given them, and they maintain their pride. A positive sign that they are still “with it:” while they care about making a good appearance, about being genuinely interesting to others, and to living each day with as much joie de vivre as possible, they care deeply about each other, their children and grandchildren’s futures, the state of the world. They also care about instilling strong values in their younger generations. So healthy and uplifting! One observation about a good pal who is a unique, fit man of amazing physical endurance. Against all common sense and his wife’s wishes, he still rides his unicycle every week…and intends, once again, to lead the annual Princeton Alumni Parade proudly peddling his cycle.  In addition to physical fitness, this fellow is a ground water specialist and well-known expert who continues to write erudite articles about the environment, global warming, the earth’s climate… An inspiring attitude, at any age.

As graduations, high school and college reunions highlight the Merry Month of May, so, too, do summer family reunions and weddings. Special events are wonderful opportunities to gather loved ones together.  We look forward to our fourth  granddaughter Olivia’s high school graduation in a few weeks; and although none of her paternal aunts, uncles or cousins can join us, her maternal grandparents and relatives live close enough to attend. I am grateful that at least her paternal grandparents are only a few driving hours away and will represent our clan.

So many families like ours are spread all over the USA. Even with air travel, good highways, life intervenes, and regular reunions are difficult to achieve. Having a spacious enough place to congregate is also a challenge when the number of family members, original and extended, multiply. For many years we were able to accommodate our growing family of grandchildren at our time-share in the mountains of Virginia. Now, however, three are graduated from college, working on their careers, and younger ones are managing summer jobs. Our last complete family reunion happened when my husband turned 80. The clock is ticking.  Goal for 2020: aiming for a full complement of every far flung chick next March, when pop pop turns 85.

Talking about Family Reunions always evokes conversations about personalities, doesn’t it? Just because people are related by blood does not mean they believe alike, think alike, vote alike or have similar life styles. A memorable quote by an unknown author is: “Family is like branches on a tree; we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”  Another one, with a slightly irreverent twist, is: “Family is like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts!” And my favorite one of all: “Family: We might not have it all together, but together we have it all.” That defines our family. Isn’t it true of so many, many others?

Hopefully this beautiful new season of the year will afford each of you the opportunity to gather with long-time friends, dear family members and those whom you hold close to your hearts. Rollicking reunions create happy memories that stay with us through many a dark night or cold, dreary winter. And as Memorial Day draws nigh, please remember that one of the most poignant reunions possible is that of a military service man or woman returning from precarious duty in Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever, to be greeted with rapturous hugs and love by adoring children and spouse. They don’t get much better than that….REUNIONS ROCK! 

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock