I was my mom’s date at the Class of '54 Reunion recently. Any of you who dip into My Fishbowl regularly know being able to write that is INCREDIBLE! (This time last year, we were ready to call in Hospice—yes, that scary bad.) So of course, when Mom called to tell me she’d received the reunion invitation, I said “Yes!” If she could go, I would take her.
Not only did she/we go, but Mom, who not long ago couldn't walk 3 steps without resting—or falling—walked herself into the luncheon. Her girlhood friends, a table full who’d grown up together—friends from 4 years old—were waiting to greet “Mary Ellen!!!”
Truth is, I was looking forward to the weekend—for Mom. It was her 60 years since High School graduation? Six-O??
The movie Cocoon sprang instantly to mind. You know, the opening scene? With all the oldsters from the nursing home fading like milky mashed potatoes?
I know that sounds unkind, but . . . Truth is, my mom is one of the most vibrant people at her assisted living and she doesn't interact much. I'm sure others living there have fascinating stories to tell—if they could/would tell them. But many can't hear and beyond "hello," don't seem to have much to say. This one's for you Mom, I told myself.
As soon as we arrived, my mom’s BFF, June, pulled me over to introduce a “former beau” of my mother's, Tommy. “Your Grandfather scared the hell out of me once,” Tommy blurted out.
Tommy recalled how he brought mom home a few minutes late from a date one night and my grandfather charged out of the house hollering at the top of his lungs.
I knew—everyone knew—how strict my grandfather had been.
I asked Tommy. "So, what did you do when you saw Poppy charging the car?
That, and other stories like it, were for me, Class of '54 reunion highlights—who doesn't love imagining their parents as naughty kids? But this wasn't about me. This was an occasion for Mom and her classmates to play a game of “Remember when?” and "What ever happened to?" Great fun for them trying to remember. For me? Come now . . . (Insert huge sigh.)
I tried sneaking out my phone so I could disappear into Facebook, but Mom caught me and gave me “THE LOOK” (How old must we be before we can ignore “THE LOOK”?)
What saved me from diving headfirst was a photo display and Class of ‘54 memorabilia. As luck had it, one of mom’s classmates volunteered at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association. The display included the beloved Coach’s bronzed hat, one student’s class notes, sports uniforms, etc. Leather football helmets. Personal aside: while I was reading the notes, one of my mom's classmates came up to me, peered intently at my chest-badge, then said, "You look familiar, who were you?" Just what I needed to hear. (Note: more wrinkle cream...facelift?)
During introductions, someone mentioned how for him watching Happy Days was like reliving high school.
(I wondered which character he fancied himself: the Fonz? Richie Cunningham? (Mom, & her friends: June, Marcia, Betty, Carolyn, Gracie were way too cool to be LaVern or Shirley, weren't they?)
Was I looking forward to Sunday brunch? For Mom, sure. For me, ah . . . yes and No.
If I ask mom a question. About anything, anytime. She claims not to remember and snaps: "Don't ask me!" I couldn’t see how, after the long Saturday lunch, she, or anyone really, would find more to talk about.
Then it happened.
Maybe it was the rare Watsonville drizzle, Dana, the brunch hostess's zen backyard, the carrot cake, or some elixir in the mimosas and coffee. . . .
Before my eyes, in the same way Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and the rest of the oldsters in Cocoon were youth-enized, Mom and her classmates came back to the present and gave me hope for the future in a League of Their Own way.
You know the part at the end of League of Their Own where the former members of the Woman’s Professional Baseball League gather at the Baseball Hall of Fame to celebrate the opening of their exhibit?
How as the women begin recognizing each other, swapping stories, rediscovering their younger selves, the years seem to roll back until, by the end they’re hollering “Play Ball!”
That same magic happened at the Sunday Class of '54 Reunion brunch as “way back when” morphed into “present day."
Having reminded themselves and each other who they’d been, Mom’s friends began sharing their who we are NOW selves: Vibrant, interested, active in the community, volunteering at food banks and shelters, rabid football fans, jokesters, gardeners, grandmothers, greats. . .
While I listened, and laughed, I thought of myself and my friends, my classmates, my writing buds: Some of them young—young enough to be my daughter, young; Some my age; Others of them old—old enough to have played, smoked straws on the roof, ogled boys, gone to grammar-high school-this reunion with Mom, old. Future me, old.
Rather than making me feel sad, it gave me hope. OLD ISN’T MANDATORY!
I could become like them. This is my time. But, tomorrow can be—will be—my time too, with all the possibilities!
At the end of the weekend, everyone bid farewell, calling “See you next time!” Me as loudly as the rest.