The Universal Notebook: 50th reunions, real and virtual

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For some reason I seem to be spending a lot of time in the past lately. That may be both because the known past sometimes seems preferable to the strange new world of the abnormal present and because, at 68, the 50th anniversary of things keep popping up.

This summer I attended the 50th reunion of the Westbrook High School Class of 1967 at DiMillo’s floating restaurant, an excellent place for people pushing 70 to gather since it features concierge parking right in downtown Portland.

Attending my 50th made me feel old because I remember when my late mother-in-law attended hers, and she was old. There are people from my class who look exactly as they did in 1967 and there are some I probably wouldn’t recognize without a picture name tag. Suffice it to say, I did not have a beard when I was 18 and I was about 50 pounds lighter, so I fall into the latter category.

There is a group of about 10 classmates who plan and stage the reunions, Nancy and Rosemary chief among them. Nancy and Rosie were cheerleaders, very popular and active, so it’s not surprising that they still have that old school spirit. But I was as much of a pain in the butt in school as I am today, so my family finds it somewhat peculiar that I am still involved with people I went to school with a lifetime ago. But then I guess that’s the point.

Staying in touch, even if only for three or four hours every five years, reminds you who you were and, if you were a jerk, chastens you and perhaps redeems you. If you’ve matured at all, those teenage cliques disappear and the fact that you were a jock, a jerk, a rebel, a brain, a greaser or a nerd no longer matters. It’s just good to see everyone and, at our age, to be seen. We have already lost about 30 members of a class of 220.

There are some classmates who rarely if ever attend reunions, including several people a lot of their old friends would love to see. My lovely wife Carolyn has never been to a Portland High School reunion. If she ever gets invited to one, I’m more apt to attend than she is.

I stay in touch with a couple of close high school buddies by going out to lunch with them once a week, but I also stay in virtual contact with old Blue Blazes through the “You know you’re from Westbrook when” Facebook page. Last month I posted a picture of the Walker Memorial Library, remembering how it was a gathering place in the 1960s. The post got 250 likes and dozens of comments. So then I posted a picture of the old Deering Ice Cream shop (now a dentist office) next door and people came of the virtual woodwork to remember working and eating there. The website is a nexus of shared experience and pleasant memories.

In October, about two dozen of my former Maine Times colleagues gathered in Georgetown at the home of the late, great editor and publisher, Peter Cox. It was a very casual affair, but it had a similar where-are-they-now feel to it. Two of the former editors, a pair of photographers, three or four reporters and a lot of the advertising and administrative staff attended.

The big stars were editor Matt Storin, who went on to serve as editor of the Boston Globe, and Scott Allen, who joined Maine Times right out of Bowdoin and is now the editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe Spotlight Team. Seeing old colleagues put me right back in the 1980s. Now there is talk of a 50th Maine Times reunion in 2018 to which anyone and everyone ever involved with the newspaper, from staff and contributors to readers and advertisers will be invited.

Nostalgia for 1967 or 1968 is ironic. On the one hand, it was my youth. On the other those were years of great social turmoil, even more so than today. The unpopular and unnecessary Vietnam War taught us that our government would lie to us. The civil rights movement came to a head in race riots all over the country. And several of America’s most inspiring leaders – Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy – were assassinated.

That we survived those violent years gives me hope that one day Americans may be able to look back on these terrible times as the good old days.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.