Where did all us old folks come from, I wondered while scanning the dining room filled with tables. Weren't we the same people who shared the exuberance of youth just a few years back? When did so many decades pass? And why are we still here to celebrate reuniting when nearly a third of the Harrison High School Class of 1964 already departed?
I believe similar thoughts must have crossed the minds of those attending the 55th class reunion luncheon the other day at the historic Seville Hotel.
Once-velvety faces filled with high expectations and hope now were etched with wrinkles of experience. What hair still remained on most heads had turned silver or white. The bouncing gaits we knew at 18 had become methodical and measured.
None of this was unexpected, since becoming a septuagenarian is now daily life for those who earned their diplomas when gasoline was a quarter a gallon, The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and Roy Orbison released his hit "Pretty Woman."
At our table, I spent as much time watching as talking, trying to recall how friends like Danny (Rev.) Timbrook, Mike "Pee Wee" Rogers, Mike Sessions, Kenny Jones, Meredith Miller and Linda Bell looked back when we changed classes and visited lockers in bustling hallways. The name tags we'd stuck to our clothes made identification much easier.
Truth be told, I graduated in 1965. Such minor technicalities really haven't mattered in Harrison since so many of this graduating class of 142 intermingled with graduates from our year. Athletics and activities played a big role in blurring the lines of friendship between 17- and 18-year-olds. Once on a team of Golden Goblins together, you're always a member.
In those years most of us were riddled with typical juvenile insecurities. We had no clue as to who we were or what we would become, or even what we believed in. For me, the biggest concerns were enough Clearasil and Old Spice and with whom I (carless) could sponge a double-date that weekend.
Then, as each of us aged into the early winter of existence, we didn't change who we were as much as we steadily blossomed into knowing (thereby understanding) ourselves.
Lunching over a catered meal of pork tenderloin, chicken, mashed potatoes and apple cobbler, most found it difficult to stay put long enough to eat. The cacophony arising from so many conversations rebounded from walls, leaving most of us shouting to be heard by those beside them.
I've written before about the values and connections that characterize this Ozarks community. Some might believe I'm just another homeboy singing the praises of his birthplace. Yet everyone in this room would attest Harrison is indeed an idyllic city in so many ways, the kind of caring place along a meandering creek that every child should experience as they grow.
Kenny Jones, the Class of 1964 president, at one point stood and grinned. "It's so good to see so many of us could make it back here. You may have noticed those of us who stayed look so much younger."
Like every graduating class, this one continues to lose classmates each year, which prompted its members, including Marilyn Williams Jones (instrumental in organizing the gathering) to decide to begin reuniting every five years.
One hundred and one members remain from its graduating class of 142. Some drove for hours not to miss the opportunity to physically reconnect with fond memories from their years of letter sweaters, rings on chains around the neck, football nights, parking on Speer Lane, and carport sock hops.
There was a list on each table of the 41 who have left us. All were remembered. A special tribute was offered to Bige Edward Wray, who died in 2018. In 1964, this Hall of Fame distance runner established himself as Arkansas' undefeated high school 880-yard runner, then led the Razorback track team to numerous Southwest Conference championships while setting the nation's individual collegiate 880 record.
Some began departing the luncheon at 2:30. By 3 p.m. the room stood empty as if nothing of significance had just occurred. For most, it was a return to grandparenting, golfing, gardening, reading, porch-sitting and such.
Christian apologist C.S. Lewis reportedly once said how funny it is that day by day nothing really changes, yet when we look back, everything is different.
Charles Dickens wrote in Nicholas Nickleby that the pain of parting is nothing compared with the joy of meeting again.
New York Times best-selling author Ally Condie captured the moments of this particular gathering by expressing that "growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled."
Finally, there's my quote, which, for me anyway, pretty well wraps it all up: "Our lives together in this strange world, by their very nature, involve a continuing stream of hellos and goodbyes."
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 10/08/2019