There is a scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie Hook where one of the Lost Boys kneads and pulls at Robin Williams’ adult face until he finds the young Peter Pan inside. Last Friday I attended my 50th high school reunion, and two or three times that night I had a similar experience. 

When I first walked into Green Bay’s Riverside Ballroom with a hundred fifty former classmates in attendance, I didn’t recognize anyone. Had not the three women handing out photo IDs at the door looked familiar to me, I might have panicked. Quickly I realized, however, that most of the other people in the room were having the same problem – and rather than sneaking glances at each other’s name tags to find out who was speaking to whom, they were openly grabbing each other’s lanyarded badges and reading the names written there. 

I looked at my share of badges, but the best moments were those when I did not have to. More than once someone standing nearby would turn his head or change his facial expression just a little bit, and the18-year kid I knew in high school would come out. Once that happened, I could not unsee it. The best such encounter was when a woman sitting at a table called my name as I walked by. She could tell by my expression that I didn’t immediately recognize her, but instead of telling me who she was, she smiled, almost laughed, and I immediately knew it was Patty Ripp. Patty was one of my favorite people all four years of high school, and as soon as I ignored the contemporary hair style that circled her face, I was looking at the girl she used to be.

Throughout the evening I had short one-on-one conversations with at least forty different people, and every one of them (by the age of 68) had retired. A half dozen had sold their homes and either moved permanently to a Northwoods cabin they already owned or used the money from the home sale to buy waterfront property out of the city. No one at the reunion brought up their former jobs, and only a few mentioned their kids or grandkids. Most of the conversations were recalling stories from fifty years ago. Although it was not explicitly stated, I sensed these people had been carefree twice in their lives. Once was during high school, and once was in retirement. Many novels are written and many movies are produced about the angst of high school. For the kinds of people who attend a 50th high school reunion, the teenage years were some of the best of their lives.

Steven Simpson