Staying Alive At Fifty-five

Full disclosure:  Don’t let the title of this blog post mislead you.  
I am not fifty-five,
but I am staying alive.

A few weekends ago, I gathered with my high school classmates for our fifty-fifth reunion.  When the invitation to the gathering arrived in the mail months ago, I saw that the theme for the occasion was: fifty-five and staying alive.  At my age staying alive all these years after high school graduation is something to celebrate, and in truth, the sobering fact is that so many of my classmates did not live to see this reunion.  

I’ve thought about that theme a great deal since our gathering.  Here are some lessons I’d like to share with you.

Lessons learned at my 55th high school reunion 

  • Stay connected!  I made some of the most amazing friends in high school.  Thankfully, these friends are among my dearest friends today.  Do you know why?  It is because we have taken the time to stay connected.  And when I say connected, I mean connected.  Not only do we meet on a regular basis (four times a year), but we also take the time at these gatherings to really share about what is going on in our lives.  Without a doubt, no matter what, I know these girls will be there for me until my last breath, and I will also be there for them.  They are among my dearest and closest friends.
A month before our reunion we realized we had not met for way too long because when we set up our yearly schedule for gatherings, we had decided to wait until the reunion to meet after our early spring gathering.  In July, we had an impromptu meeting and those who could went to lunch.  There is something really special that happens when a bunch of 70+ year old ladies meet for lunch and spend the afternoon laughing.  Kathy, seated at the far end of the table on the left, planned the lunch and gave us each a rose as we left.  
  • Laughter makes you look younger!. Find those friends that make you really laugh.  When you laugh, the wrinkles around your eyes and your lips come from laughter so you can fool people into thinking that you are younger and don’t really have any wrinkles.  “Those wrinkles!  They aren’t from age. They are only there when I laugh.”  Well, maybe not, but I am convinced that laughter not only makes you look younger, it also makes you feel younger. 
  • The eyes never age.  I look into the eyes of some of my girlfriends from high school and I see the same girl I used to tap on the shoulder in English class while we were reading A Tale of Two Cities and ask her if she had the answer to the question I didn’t quite get.  I see her blue eyes, and we are both sixteen again.  I know her life story and know it has been filled with triumph and tragedy, but to me she is both a naive girl of sixteen and mature grandmother of 73.  Those eyes connect hearts and those connections have deepened over the decades.  In each other’s eyes and hearts, we will never really age.

  • Guys still love their cars, so pose with them beside their cool cars.  This guy restored this old car.  He and his car both look amazing.  

  • Treasure friendships that span the generations. Tell the stories that include those whom are no longer with us.  This guy’s parents were best friends with my best friend’s parents.  I remember those days when our parents were all still alive and they all would gather together for a summer evening barbecue.  They would be laughing and telling stories, and we would be the kids listening to their stories of long ago.  Now, our parents are gone, and we are left to remember those times and tell the stories of long ago.   It seems that as we age, there are fewer and fewer of our acquaintances whom knew our parents.
  • High school sweethearts are the best kind of sweethearts to have.  I came home from my fifty-fifth high school reunion with the very best gift that my time in high school ever gave me: my high school sweetheart, the love of my life, my hubby.  
Fifty-five and staying alive is something to celebrate.
I’m so very grateful I had the blessing of being able to do so.

Reflections: My 50th Class Reunion ~ Pueblo East High School Class of '63

My inner processor has been on overload this week.
Sometimes I wish I could be like my husband and just attend an event and then be done with it.
That would not be me.
I must process the entire event to make full meaning of it.

Fifty years ago, I graduated from high school.
Just writing those words causes me great disbelief.
How can that be?
Where did the time go?
I will be attending two high school reunions this year because I moved just prior to my senior year.
Pueblo East High School in Pueblo, Colorado was my high school home
 for grades nine through eleven.
It was here where I met the high school sweetheart whom I would marry thirty years after high school.
The girlfriends from this class are among my dearest and closest friends.
I have written often about this wonderful group of women.  
We meet every three months for lunch, so I am well versed on the lives of these girlfriends who live nearby, but I had not seen many from this class for at least 50 years.

I was instructed by my dear friend, Donna to take good notes,

Donna & Sally 2010
so, Donna, here you go...

First of all, I missed you.  
I wish you could have been at the reunion with us.
I loved your response to the question I posed on whether or not you would be attending.  
You said,
Pity the girl that leaves the party early.
That certainly may have been true in high school, but
I found that all of us were so happy to see each other again that the pettiness that may have been there in high school seemed to melt away.  
I think you would have been happy to know that the reunion was a wonderful success that left us all basking in the glow of friendship.  We truly missed all who were unable to attend. 

Friday Night

I'm afraid, I didn't take many photos. I was having too good of a time just catching up with all of my classmates to take a photo.  Our first night of the reunion, we all gathered on the patio of Gray's Coors Tavern , home of the famous Pueblo slopper. (click on the link to read about the slopper)  Judiciously, I did not eat a slopper.  I did overhear a lot of conversations regarding those who chose to eat a slopper.  "I hope I don't have a gall bladder attack tonight."  I guess our age was showing when it came to food choices.  
A Pueblo Slopper
Gray's Coors Tavern

It was a hot Friday night in Pueblo.  The town was hopping.  There was a very big football game in town.  Central and Centennial were playing for the Bell.  Many were stopping by Coors on their way to the game for a quick hamburger.  Traffic was heavy.  It was hard to find a parking place.  Some things never change.  Friday night football games between the town rivals still create a sense of excitement.  Already, as we walked towards the reunion, I felt the years begin to fall away.  I was off to see my high school buddies.  

As soon as I walked onto the patio to register, I was asked to remove my sunglasses so those at the registration table could see who I was.  "The eyes don't change," I was told.  "You won't be recognized if we can't see your eyes."  True.  I found us all looking deeply into each others' eyes and seeing the girl or guy from long ago.  Also, some of us still had good enough eyesight to read the large letter name tags from a distance.  That helped too!  

My husband had thought he might skip out of the reunion early, go to the football game, and then return later to pick me up.  It was my reunion after all.  I sent him over to a table where other spouses were sitting and went off to connect with my friends.  Soon, I saw he was drawing his own crowd.  The underclassmen went over to see a favorite upperclassman, my hubby Jim.  He had as good a time as I did.  

Time after time, I found myself being spun around by a guy or gal I had not seen in 50 years.  "Sally French.  How long has it been?"  Someone asked me where a certain guy was.  I answered with, "He's that one over there that looks like an old Fonzie."  I was told to remove the adjective "old" from my description.  "Where is so and so?" was another often asked question.  "What, she has short gray hair now???"  "Yes, don't we all?"  

The evening was way too short.  I left thinking to myself, "We had the nicest group of people in the whole world in our class."  Truly I just could not get enough time with these people.  They were all so nice!
Saturday Recap

Many spent Saturday morning and early afternoon touring the old hometown.  I met up with my dear friends Dove and Eileen and Dove's husband David who heading toward the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Depot.  There were joined by Dennis, former class president, who was here from out of state.  He and I discovered our mutual history:  our father's both worked for the railroad at the same time.  He had even worked at the depot in as a baggage handler during his years in high school.  
Eileen, Dove, Dennis, Sally
Oh the memories this old depot held for me.  It was great sharing stories with my friends of their memories of the building.  We sat on an old railroad station bench for our photo.  We then posed in front of the building for another photo.  

Sally, Dove, David, Eileen

Somehow, Dennis and I started discussing the work of William Stegner.  I imagine it began when I told of recently reading Angle of Repose.  From there, we then began to discuss what I am currently reading, Crossing to Safety.  I could not help but draw parallels from that book to the weekend.

Saturday Night Recap
"The Trajectory of Our Lives"

Again, I didn't end up taking many photos on Saturday night.  (Dear Blogging Friends, aren't you glad?) I was having too good of a time chatting and catching up with friends to take photos.  

Here are a few:
Our awesome leader:  Carol and husband Andy worked tirelessly to keep all reunion committee members on task.  The reunion was a huge success.  Thanks, Carol.

Elaine and Marilyn worked so hard on the planning.
Elaine & Marilyn

Iris put together a phenomenal "year book."
Iris & Ginger
Loyal Eagles
These two can still light up a room with a smile.
Sharon & Kathy
The table decorations were made by Carol D.

I think she would be voted homecoming queen again if a vote would have been taken.

Carol D. and Cliff J.
Val brought her cheerleading outfit.
It was made of wool.
The waist was tiny.
It had been lovingly preserved.

Val is still one of our great cheerleaders!  I can always count on her for the best hugs.
She is always in your corner cheering you on.
Love you, Val.
Val & Sally
Kathy, pretty in pink, or any other color, handled all the finances for the reunion.
What a job!
Here she is with Frank, Ray, and Ray's wife.
What wonderful people these four are.
Kathy, Frank, Ray, and Ray's wife

Karen, Val, and Dennis caught up on the past 50 years.
Karen, Val, & Dennis
Annette says that Jim taught her to drive.
She says she is a good driver and has him to thank for that skill.
Annette & Jim
I love these ladies!
Here is a photo of just a few of the girls who mean the world to me.
The EHS Girls of '63
It was a treat to spend time with the guys from the class also.
After the reunion, I could not help but think what a wonderful group of men this photo represents.
I am proud to know each these men.
The EHS Guys of '63
Sunday Recap

On Sunday morning, the group gathered at the high school to tour the school, and to enjoy a continental breakfast.  Jim and I attend the breakfast and then left for home.  I understand the tour of the school was great fun and brought back many happy memories for all who took the tour.


I was an interloper of sorts to this group.  I did not go to grade school and junior high with these 'kids.'  I moved to Pueblo and joined this class in November of my freshman year.  East High School was a brand new school.  It had been built to handle the great influx of baby boomers who had reached high school age.  In 1959, Pueblo, Colorado was larger than Colorado Springs, my hometown where I had attended grades K - 8.  I joined this convocation of Eagles when they were taking its first year of flight. It was great fun to be a part of a brand new school creating new traditions.

I was welcomed into this group immediately.  We had such good times together.  There were:  sock hops, bon fires, rousing football and basketball games, proms, homecoming parades, and exciting pep assemblies.  We drug Main after games on Friday and Saturday nights.  We ate the best French fries after these games.  We had slumber parties where we talked and laughed all night long.  I loved my times at East.  And then, my senior year my father was transferred to another town and I had to leave the nest and go to another school.  I did not graduate with these classmates.  No one seems to mind.  I am still one of them.

Pueblo, Colorado is a steel town.  It is a blue collar town.  It is a town of immigrants.  It is town that has gone through hard times.  It is a town where people don't forget their roots.  Life is centered around family, school, and church.  Ethnic and cultural foods and traditions, religious affiliation, and familial ties are greatly honored.  Perhaps that is why these people are such nice people.  I just kept hearing from everyone at the reunion that we sure had a nice group of people in our class.  We seemed to just enjoy being together again.  

I found it interesting that we didn't seem to need to listen to or dance to the old tunes from the '60's like we did at other reunions.  I think this reunion was not so much about a look backward where we were trying to recapture those days of our youth that had vanished.  This reunion was more about reflecting on how short life is, and about how important the people in our lives are.  

When the former class president spoke to the class, he said he wondered if any of us ever even imagined this day that would occur fifty years later.  I'm sure I did not.  I thought we would be forever young and idealistic.  Fifty years ago we had no idea how much the world and our lives would change. The 60's were in their infancy.  Martin Luther King had not had his March on Washington when we graduated.  The Viet Nam War was just beginning.  President Kennedy had visited Pueblo in the summer just before our senior year.  We could not imagine that he would be assassinated before 1963 was over.  Our dreams for the future were just as hopeful as those our parents had instilled in us, the generation that was born just after World War II.  We were all born just as the war was ending.

As I have reflected over this reunion, I find it hard to sum up my emotions.  Mostly, I came away with a sense of gratitude for a time, a place, and for the people who were there with me in that time and place.  Dennis, our class president, spoke of the trajectory of our lives in his remarks.  Certainly, we had all been launched from this same Eagle nest with great dreams to soar through the future.  Now, fifty years later, to me, and I think to others, it did not seem to matter to what heights we either soared or did not soar.  It only seemed to matter that we were able to be together again.  The flock had made it safely back to our beginnings.  

The words of Terry Tempest Williams in her introduction for one of the editions of William Stegner's Crossing to Safety   sum up the thoughts I have been processing about attending this milestone:

Stegner shows us again and again that it is love and friendship, the sanctity and celebration of our relationships that not only support a good life, but create one.

As I grow older,
I value these primary relationships and experiences more than I ever could have imagined 
when I was younger.

Thank you, 
East High Class of '63
for your
and friendships.
I can't imagine what my life would be like without you.

Your laughter echoes in my ears.
The tears you have shed as you have shared your trials and triumphs with me are stored in my heart.
You have made my life rich and full.

You are all Golden Treasures!

Observations on Then and Now

Observations and Reflections 
on Then and Now
1962 vs 2012

This morning, as I stood idly at the counter of Starbucks waiting for the barista to make my de-caf, skinny cafe latte, or as one barista called my coffee choice, "a why bother," a girl dressed in a high school letter jacket and sitting in the cab of her truck waiting for her morning coffee at the drive-through window caught my eye.  Her make-up free face looked tired and a bit harried.  My first thoughts were, "She's a bit late for first period.  School has already started."  That was the teacher in me.  Then I thought how harried she looked.  It seemed to me that a girl of seventeen or eighteen just should not look as if she were the mother of three and in her 30's.  I don't remember looking that tired and overwhelmed in high school.
Coffee Shop Reflections

Suddenly, I found myself comparing my life as a teenager, a senior in high school, to what I found myself observing of a quick snapshot into this girl's life.

As a senior in high school, I did not stop by a coffee shop on my way to school to pick up coffee because:
  • I did not drink coffee.  I ate two pieces of toast and drank a glass of milk, both of which were prepared by my mother every morning of the world before I went to school.  I didn't like breakfast in those days, but my mother insisted I eat something, so I did eat what she fixed me.
  • I did not drive.  My father drove me to school every morning of my senior year at Leadville High School.  My first class, college prep English, started before 7:00 a.m.  Mornings were very cold at the two miles high altitude where we lived.  I would freeze just sitting in the car as my father drove me school.  
  • I did not drive because I did not have a driver's license.  My father didn't support the idea of me having a driver's license.  He insisted I learn to drive, but he saw no need for me to have a license to do so.  Once my driver's learning permit expired, and I knew how to drive, I never got a driver's license until I was 21.
  • I never would have had my own car, nor would I have had access to a car.  My father would never have even dreamed of getting me a car.  He wouldn't let me get a job during the school year either, so I wouldn't be able to earn the money to get a car.  In fact, the idea of having my own car never even entered my mind as a young woman.  Very few of my friends had a car.  A few guys had a car, very few, and my girl friend Mary had an old '50 Ford.  Other than that, it was just unheard of in my town for high school girls to have cars.
  • If I had a car, and if there had been a Starbucks or some other coffee shop to drive up to and buy a cup of coffee, and if I had drunk coffee at the time, I would not have had any money to buy a cup of coffee, and I would never have dreamed of all the coffee drink choices there are today.
Even today's visit to a coffee shop is a rare one for me.  I had some time on my hands after dropping my husband off for a medical test at a hospital near-by and thought I would settle in with my book and a cup of coffee while I waited for his call to pick him up.  After observing the girl in the truck,  I couldn't help questioning whether I would have liked to live today's teenage life, or if I preferred the life I lived as a teenager.  With my 50th high school reunion coming up this year, it only stands to reason that times have changed.  

I'm thankful I came of age at the time I did.  My life was much more sheltered than the lives of so many teens today.  Since I was under my parents' roof, I was also under their rules.  These rules protected me in many ways.  I didn't have the responsibility of driving.  I didn't have to have a job during the school year.  My father thought there was plenty of time for having job responsibilities later in life.  My mother made many of my clothes, or I made my own.  I had a difficult schedule at school, but I also had plenty of time to study.  I loved to read and spent hours doing so.  I didn't have anything handed to me.  Whatever clothes I wanted beyond the basics made by my mother or purchased just before school started, I bought with the money I made as a car hop at the local A&W across the road from our home in the summer.

I had a very active social life with much time spent at Teen Town dances, attending ball games, taking jeep tours with my friends in the mountains, hiking, biking and having a lot of fun just "dragging Main' with the lucky ones who did have cars.  I was not a cheerleader; I was too clumsy for that.  I was involved in drama and acted in high school plays with lead roles.  I was elected homecoming queen.  I guess I must have been popular.  

If there is one regret, it is that in those days, before Title IX, girls did not participate in sports at school.  There were no teams for girls at school.  I wish I could have had the chance to develop my skills at a sport.  

The early sixties was a different time from now.  We did our research projects by using note cards, and I typed my senior paper on an old upright typewriter.  We listened to records and danced to the Loco Motion, Wipe Out, and Our Day Will Come on recorded '45's.  We watched Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, and The Ed Sullivan Show on television.  

There were no coffee shops that I knew of in our town.  A memory stands out in my mind of walking to a bakery after school before play practice would begin.  We would buy the most delicious cream puffs and eat them as our after school treat.  On a Saturday, we would go to a restaurant with a group of us and order cokes and French fries and take up the booth for a very long time talking and laughing with each other.  We didn't text; we talked.  Our talks were sometimes long and quite philosophical.  We didn't facebook; we had lots of face to face time.  All I remember is that high school was a fun time in my life.   I had a chance to gain my own identity.

The summer after I graduated from high school, just before I left for college in the fall of 1963, I visited my boyfriend's home to say good-bye.  I am now married to the one who snapped this photo of me in front of his parent's home.  High school provided me with a time when I made life time friendships.  It also was a time when I met my true love and partner for the second half of my life.  I remember how proud of me Jim was because I had earned a scholarship for college tuition and was going away for college.  Dressed in my new shirtwaist dress, I thought I was the picture of a college girl.  Now I think I look terribly young and if naiveté is written across my forehead.  When this photo was taken, I had wonderful dreams and goals.  I am happy I reached all of them.  I do wish I'd had higher goals and loftier dreams.  It was a different time then.  Women didn't really think of doing much except being a wife, teacher, or nurse.  For the times, I am happy with my choices and that I accomplished what I set out to do.  I wouldn't trade the time in which I came of age for anything.  I grateful I grew up when I did.