High school was the pits for me. Maybe it was my ankle-length gathered skirts, unshaven legs (which my mother assured me looked just fine) and the saddle shoes that set me apart from the others. Combining my lack of fashion sense with my incessant studying definitely qualified me for the “out group.” In a class of more than 400 students, I felt disconnected. The “in group” girls waltzed through the hallways every day perfectly groomed in their plaid tight skirts, nylons, and penny loafers. No hair on their legs. Everything about them was perfect—at least, that’s the way they appeared to me. Plus, guess what? They dated, and even got asked to the prom.
So when the e-mail appeared in my mailbox with a list of women I hardly knew, I wondered, Why would a Mounds View High School classmate invite me to a mini-reunion? Most of the ladies on the list were cheerleaders, honor students, and class leaders, and had grown up together in the Mounds View area. I, on the other hand, spent my elementary years in the city until my parents transplanted the family to New Brighton, Minnesota—a rural suburb of Minneapolis—where I started junior high with no friends in sight.
I was wary. But I figured, “Oh, what the heck. Go.”
The day of the event, I loaded myself into the car along with my Trader Joe’s brownies, a bag of photos, and a bottle of Italian wine for the hostess. Cruising west on I-94, my mind jumped from one negative thought to another. Did I have on the right outfit? Would I recognize anyone? Even worse, would they recognize me?
Arriving at the home overlooking Lake Johanna, I walked up the steps and knocked on the door. The hostess greeted me with a vibrant smile. In spite of the wet hair from her shower, and despite our wrinkles, I recognized her and she recognized me!
Diane Dettmann (left), whose laugh resonated with Sharon Radmann Chatterton (right) after a gap of 50 years.
Before lunch, one of my classmates lead us in grace, asking God’s blessings on us and the afternoon ahead. Gathered amiably around the table on the deck, the nine of us munched on delicious salads, fruit pizza, and desserts. A couple of the women talked about their involvement in outreach programs that helped support people living in impoverished conditions in South Africa and Haiti. One woman, who was widowed, had recently taken up hooping. She loved it—her knee, not so much. But no matter what her knee thought, she had no intention of giving up. The challenging exercise helped her process her grief.
A couple of women reminisced about their cheerleading days. I had tried out, but the cramps in my legs from practicing every day for a month made it impossible to successfully complete a cheer in front of the judges. A high school classmate across the table smiled and said she’d had the same problem and didn’t make the squad either. Remembering the painful experience, we both broke out laughing.
After lunch, our hostess took us on a tour of the lake. As the pontoon boat glided along, I thought that, even though we weren’t that close in high school and our lives had moved in a variety of directions, we had more in common than I thought. These women radiated vitality, humor, and a strong sense of self.
After the relaxing pontoon ride, we hiked up the steep steps and gathered in the front porch. My classmates wanted to know about my writing life. Like many authors, I always carry copies of my books in the car, and was more than happy to have an impromptu book signing. The afternoon ended with hugs and promises to get together again next year.
Driving home, I realized that 50 years had passed by as fast as the scenery at the side of the freeway. Spending a wonderful afternoon with these ladies made me realize that all of us had experienced changes, both positive and negative, that had impacted our lives. Now, at the age of 66, the things we valued in high school—like clothes, hairdos , or the group we hung out with—weren’t all that important anymore. Our life experiences had pulled us out of ourselves, allowing us to embrace our broader community and connect in meaningful ways.
I’m still not totally sure why, after almost 50 years, this group of fine, accomplished women had included me in the e-mail invitation, but I’m happy we reconnected. I truly believe that people pass through our lives for a reason. As we interact, we leave impressions on each other’s lives. The hockey cheerleader’s comment to me says it all: “I knew it was you before I saw your face. I recognized your laugh right away!”