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Chuck Haga: Reuniting with friends, once again

If you have a reunion coming up, especially a big one like the 50th, you should try to be there

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Chuck Haga is a columnist for the Grand Forks Herald. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)
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Assuming things are going as planned, I am this morning on a flatbed trailer with many of my classmates from Valley City High School, Class of 1967.

We had so much fun at our 50-year reunion in 2017, we decided not to risk waiting for the 60th anniversary of our graduation to do it again.

We’re going to ride in a parade, toss Tootsie Rolls to kids and wave to people who maybe thought we were all gone, or at least too mobility challenged to climb onto a flatbed and hang on for 10 or 15 blocks. We will be flanked by youngsters who finished high school in 1977, or ’87, or maybe 2007.

Then we will tour our old high school, remembering favorite teachers and toughest classes and smelly gym lockers. Fortunately, we won’t be served hot lunch, but at least two or three classmates will remind me how I always had to pick peas out of the tuna noodle casserole before I could eat it. I’d give back a small pile of those pasty gray-green peas, which were so loathsome I still can’t eat peas. “My granddaughter Emma loves peas,” I will tell my old friends, with a mixture of wonder and disappointment.

Later we’ll check out the county museum, which has promised to have our big class portrait on display, so we can see how we looked 55 years ago (better, in most cases) and remember the 26 classmates we’ve lost, about a fifth of the class so far. We’ve lost five since 2017, and we will feel their absence acutely.

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But we intend to spend most of the weekend celebrating our shared history and the fact we can still get together and remember when we were young. Old romances and crushes will stir a few hearts. Athletes will recall heroics. I will try again to persuade Larry Martin to reprise his “Casey at the Bat” dramatic performance from senior year.

If you have a reunion coming up, especially a big one like the 50th, you should try to be there. Overcome those natural reservations. You say you didn’t enjoy your 10th, or your 25th? All the more reason to get together with your 68-year-old (or 73-year-old) classmates.

Several of my classmates have talked about how our 50-year reunion was different — better. When we got together just 10 or 20 years out of high school, we were still young and ambitious and … well, still full of ourselves. We were on our way. We were going to be somebody, and the world was going to take note. We preened and postured and competed.

But at our 50th, most of us had come to terms with who we were – modestly successful, fairly presentable, but hardly world beaters. We laughed at our younger selves. Some of us apologized for old slights, but we didn’t dwell on regrets and disappointments. We accepted each other and ourselves for who we are.

And it is really something, at this stage of our lives, to look into the eyes of “first friends” and see again the third grader who invited you on a family fishing trip – there’s a picture, the two of us, each holding a stringer fat with bluegills. Or you see the junior who held you close at a dance, and maybe there was a kiss.

First friends are so important because you really do know each other. You share so much history – in our case, the sleepy 1950s, the chaotic ‘60s, and all that’s happened since. We were there for each other when a parent died. We all confronted Vietnam, and one of our friends died there: Tom Senne, so young and serious in his uniform in the picture that appeared in the Times-Record. Whenever we gather, we remember and honor Tom.

We’ll be careful when we talk about Vietnam, whether we went there as soldiers or protested the war. We always recognize and honor our veterans, and we talk about what they are owed. We shake their hands and say, “I’m sorry it’s late, but welcome home.” And we ask, “How are you doing?”

We will need to be even more careful with talk of current events and politics. Our VCHS Class of 1967 mirrors the country, or at least this part of the country, in that we are deeply, hurtfully divided. Some of us have agreed, for the sake of lifelong friendship, to avoid political talk.

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Maybe that’s a cop-out. Maybe they’re right, the people who say we have to engage and thrash these divisions out. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, to the country. But the risk of permanent alienation bars the way. Better to argue over which Beatles hit was the best, which TV show most memorable, or where the moon landing ranks in human achievement.

Or better still, we will agree on most things (“Yesterday”, “Gunsmoke”) and in remembering we will sharpen each other’s recollections of when we were young. And maybe that girl will be there, 73 now, still cute, and she will smile at the memory of that dance, that night, that kiss.

Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at crhaga@gmail.com.

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