AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
By Maureen Weber
Ask anyone and you’ll find that attending a high
school reunion does not feature prominently on a list of enjoyable activities.
In spite of that, more than 1,000 people recently attended the 100-year
reunion of my high school, Humboldt Collegiate Institute.
The first reunion I sort of attended was 10 years after graduation. I
say “sort of” because I got as far as the door and no further.
Bad memories were too fresh and not enough of life had passed to sand
down the mean edges of the ruling class. In school I was, to put it kindly,
unremarkable — shy, a little overweight, with large thick glasses
and an unbecoming haircut, not the least bit athletic, maybe smart but
not in math, as my algebra teacher loved to remind my mother. A sense
of inadequacy came roaring back when I saw the reassembled hierarchy
that existed in my teens.
Fast-forward a few more years and attitudes, and appearances, had begun
to shift. Some of the best visits I had 10 years ago were with people
I would have walked on the other side of the street to avoid in my youth,
so it was with optimism that I looked forward to this 100-year gathering.
It was definitely an older crowd — according to organizers the
bulk of registrations were from those who graduated prior to 1988 and
most from the 1960s and ’70s. This partly affirms my belief that
one needs to have distance — lots of distance — from the
pain of adolescence before it can be confronted with a relaxed sense
Many not interested in attending said it was because they keep in touch
regularly with good friends and don’t care to see people from years
ago they never were friends with anyway. But I was fascinated to see
faces I hadn’t seen in years, classmates or not — how they’d
changed and how they hadn’t. Like inimitable Darrell whose appearance
had barely changed in 36 years. The sound of his voice brought to mind
the black car with orange flames everybody had given him such a bad time
over. The silly panache of those flames. Only he could get away with
Or Leon who never forgets a face and wouldn’t miss a reunion for
the world — he’s still as tall as the prairie sky, and his
smile as wide. Blue-eyed Neil, exotic Cheryl, five brothers and the astonishing
way they’ve grown to resemble each other, and their father, as
the years go by.
People wore name tags and I laughed as I walked through the crowd, observing
that everyone’s eyes strayed to where the tags were fastened. One
person even congratulated me for greeting him by name without looking.
Nicely done! But recognizing people wasn’t easy every time. One
woman whose name I couldn’t quite place and whom I judged to be
somewhat older, stared closely at my tag and said, “Weber?” with
a shake of her head. I pointed out my maiden name and said perhaps she
remembered my father who was the principal. Saretsky. Oh, yeah, of
course. But you? No. And she walked away. It was at that moment I realized she
was actually a year younger than I am, and that in high school she had
been a somewhat leaner member of the basketball crowd. No wonder I didn’t
register on her list of People Who Matter.
The best name-tag encounter I had was when a woman stopped me to say
I looked familiar. “I want to know what your name is,” she
said. When she realized I was a Saretsky, she seemed delighted. “You’re
Tony’s daughter! He taught me in the '50s and I just loved him.” She
made my night.
The one visit that made me wistful was with a teacher who taught with
my dad on staff. Al and Dad were good friends and Al’s laugh, exactly
the same as ever, reminded me of the good times they had together. My
dad’s been gone six years, and many his age were still there to
reminisce. One person I spoke with had lost both his parents as well.
His eyes were moist. It’s hard to be an orphan. I could feel the
weight of his thoughts and wanted to ask more questions, but it wouldn’t
have been appropriate. People visited like butterflies flitting randomly
through a blooming meadow — so much choice. It wasn’t a time
to drink deeply.
A woman of about 60 paused long enough to tell us she’d been mistaken
for her 80-something-year-old mother. She was laughing about it and appeared
to be as good-natured as I remembered her back when I was just a kid
and hung out once in awhile with her sister. Not everyone would be as
accepting of being mistaken for one’s mother at a high school reunion
(it’s probably a hazard of the event), but it wasn’t an insult.
Maureen really did look like her mother — but as lovely as her
mother looked years ago when that person probably last saw her.
We remember in strange ways, and 40 years goes by in a blink. That thought
was on everyone’s mind. One of my classmates mentioned with some
apprehension the fact that the crowd was old and we’re not getting
any younger. But where she found anxiety, I saw hope in the spirited
conversations and animated faces.
As gatherings go it was pretty ordinary — people talked with shining
eyes about their children and grandchildren, their spouses, what they
do and where they live, they talked about their parents if they were
still alive, or not.
The circle of life goes round. What’s extraordinary is to be a
part of it at all.
ENCASED MEMORIES — The demolition fence goes up
around old HCI, Maureen Weber’s Alma mater. Trees along
the wall by her dad’s former office window were selected especially
for their spectacular colours in the fall. The building will come down,
but the memories will always remain. (Maureen Weber photo)