Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Golden Threads Among The Silver


It was surreal, so many elements of life colliding, shattering, then coming together again and forming new entities. The gathering of individuals who, in most cases, had not seen each other in fifty years, having intensely shared each others' days for many years a half a century ago. What surprised me most was the glamour, the 4 inch heels, the blondenesses, the decollet├ęs, the designer dresses, the perfect make-up, the Mediterranean tans. I must make it clear I do not fit into such a category. Not even close. I brought the LBD – my only dress, I hasten to add, and abandoned my high heels in Canada at the last minute and brought sandals instead and a sparkling trailing scarf.

Did we have fun? Amazingly so. What did we talk about? Our teachers, what we remembered about classes, how strict it was, how terrified we were of failure, the Irish economy (nobody of this group hurting as of yet) summer homes, travel. Some had already lost adult children, one was bald from chemotherapy, one was a nun with a startling turquoise dress, some memories of high school faces were erased by surgical interventions.

The class bully (I still bear the scars of one of her assaults on me) flew over from South Africa for the night, wealthy, handsomely bejewelled and sweepingly clothed in royal purple. There is no divine retribution. She was still being assiduously avoided by most of us. She finally gave up on swooping down on individual groups whose animation faded as she arrived and suspended their chatter until she moved on like some purple turkey buzzard plucking the innards out of a flock of starlings. Yet another validation of the old saw that we never change, try as we might.

One of the more attractive of our number was an Olympic runner who as a very young mother of three had competed in the Olympics. An extraordinary achievement for that day and age. A few had become medical doctors but gave up practices upon marriage. More than a few had gone back to school in their fifties and achieved post graduate degrees.

Shockingly, our science teacher was there. Eighty-eight years old. She had made a point of travelling from a science conference in Thurles to be with us for the night. She is still an active scientist along with being a nun.

The (lay) principal of our school addressed us and to say we were underwhelmed is to be kind. Mainly I was struck by the “Woo Factor” of my classmates. All still practising Catholics as evidenced by the devout prayer heads before and after the main meal. All, apart from the one unmarried, bearing their husbands' names. All with four or more children. The two who bore children outside wedlock all those years ago were still being gossipped about and speculations made as to subsequent relationships and progeny.

Do I feel odd amongst such creatures? I can honestly say no. I am old enough to be finally comfortable and unapologetic in my own skin and I would think loved enough by the classmates I have stayed in contact with. I am probably considered 'fierce odd' but I wear that designation as a badge of honour. I managed to escape the awful confines of rigidly Catholic Ireland and I feel I am all the better for it.

Ireland is lovely to visit. I love the seamless way I blend into “my people” - Irish social life and my Irish family.

But I am always so very happy to leave it all behind me when I go. For in my opinion, Ireland has changed so very, very little from when I lived there. And that is not a good thing at all.

15 comments:

  1. I never attended any school reunions. I can scarcely remember the names of any I shared those terrible days with. My ass was out the school gates at the first legal opportunity, and never a backward glance.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it, though, and understand what you mean by, "I love the seamless way I blend into 'my people'". I get a similar feeling on returning to mainland Britain, but like you, I'm now happy to leave it behind when I go.

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  2. i'm also glad you had a good time...i feel similar when i visit Germany...i love the visits and food and my family , but i'm just as glad when i'm back home on Canadian soil.

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  3. I think Ireland has changed enormously since I left in 1998 - almost unrecognisable in some ways - a lot for the better but not all. Religion is all but dead among my peers . Thankfully the cultural life is as strong as ever.

    And that badge is one you most certainly should wear proudly - you're in inspiration!

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  4. I never had any desire to attend a school reunion. My days were not happy within those walls. I am still friends with one of my class mates and that is enough for me.

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  5. I hope it was all that you hoped it to be. I'll never attend a reunion. I have no desire to see any of my classmates again. I don't have the fond memories that you have. I hardly remember their names, nor am I curious as to what happened to them.

    I live in the country I grew up in again and it changed a lot, yet in many ways it stayed the same. It did grow up and evolve. Thank goodness religion does not play a big part in it.

    I'm not one for nostalgia and am glad to see the old days gone to a past where they belong. I'm willing to leave them there. I'd like to think I belong to a newer, more modern Europe. The past does not belong there.

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  6. I am old enough to be finally comfortable and unapologetic in my own skin - I too feel that way and would say it's hands down the best part of reaching cronehood.

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  7. we love your fierce oddness. this is great description. i can see it all.

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  8. Sounds like you're so different from the others with their opulent clothes and surgical interventions, I'm astonished you didn't feel completely out of place. But as you say, if you're happy in your own skin you can get on with anyone whatever their lifestyle. Glad it was such fun.

    I've never been to a school reunion myself though. After years of bullying, I just wanted to consign my old schoolmates to oblivion asap.

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  9. A school reunion would be my worst nightmare, but you have handled yours with great aplomb I think
    :-)
    Bet you looked stunning in that LBD and trailing scarf - I can picture it now!

    (Catchpa word today "ZINESSSE" - and that's what you had at that reunion, WWW:
    ZINESSE!)

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  10. My trouble with a school reunion of 50 years, would be that I would hardly be able to remember any of the names......... so I guess I won't go.

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  11. Such fun to read an account of an event we've been anticipating right along with you. I'm glad you did not feel ill at ease :)

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  12. Congratulations. How I envy you your reunion. The class bully resonates for reasons that I shall explain in a post soon in my blog.

    In the year 2007 I wrote to the present Principal of my school that he should organize a fiftieth year reunion for the graduating class of 1958 and I would be prepared to do the bull work and even spend money on the project. I wrote three reminders and got no response. I finally discovered that the school as I remembered has changed and the management now is involved in all kinds of politics and scandals involving misappropriation of funds. At my time, it was the best school in town and its students were considered to be very lucky to be studying there.

    It was heart breaking and yet somehow reassuring that I did not get involved in anything with the management with the reunion project.

    My Post Graduation class which passed out in 1967 however had a grand 40th reunion and since then has been meeting regularly in many parts of the country every year. This has been made possible thanks to the internet which we used to located and correspond with all the alumni.

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  13. Went to one high school reunion, it got interesting when I met up with an old friend. She and I talked for hours. She really did well for her self,(from very humble beginnings) by herself.
    Have not gone to one since.

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  14. Hi Wise, I am happy for you - think it must be a most wonderful thing to do. Great for the soul. Doesn't it take a hell of a long time to get finally become "comfortable and unapologetic in my own skin"? Over 75 years for me. This week I went to a Pot Luck in my new town with new friends. Seven women in their Seventies - we sat at the table for 3 1/2 hours laughing uproariously at each others words. I felt like I was in a movie. Such fun! take care,
    Betty

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  15. What a lovely reunion. Must have been incredibly interesting to see everyone again after so long.

    Irish women are always very glamorous when they go out I find. Probably because most don't get out that much, they always seem to make it an occasion. Such a refreshing contrast to we scruffy English! Though like you, am not so fond of certain other Irish national characteristics.

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