Greg Dennis: College reunion, with new hips and knees
At college reunions five through 20, you’re busy telling everyone how much you’ve achieved in life. Reunions 25 through 40 are about catching up and catching your breath for a weekend in June.
The main topics of conversation at the 45th reunion — where I found myself last week — consisted of:
“Are you retired yet?”
“Tell me about your grandchildren,” and (said in a slightly lower voice),
“How’s your health these days?”
It’s not that anybody looked unhealthy at this past weekend’s gathering. People who are ill, grossly overweight or not doing well in life don’t come to reunion.
But in the nearly 50 years we’ve known each other, various classmates have had new knees installed. There have been enough other surgeries to form a golden-oldies cover band called the Hip Replacements.
And having seen breast and prostate cancers among our cohort — along with a couple of brutally abrupt heart attacks — we now feel in our bones the ancient truth that life doesn’t last.
It is, as they say, a damn short movie. But at least it’s turned out to be an interesting one.
We recounted stories about that mud-encased demolition derby behind the frat house. About the guy who lived on the third floor and routinely drove his motorcycle up the dorm stairs so he could store his bike in his room.
We relived parties where the aging barn itself threatened to come down. The time Elvin Bishop played a concert in the field house and ended up jamming with a garage band of college kids at the after-party. Where the milk machines were dispensing margaritas.
Then there were those full-moon extravaganzas up in the three-story treehouse on the edge of the golf course. And feeling the painful weight, still alive 46 years later, of the night when I left the treehouse early and my girlfriend ended up ensconced in a sleeping bag with another guy.
A friend recalled the spring day in junior year when he stopped to watch the baseball team play, and loudly greeted a buddy who was also watching the game. But his buddy was tripping on acid and could only reply in a whisper, “Ssshh! The grass is breathing!” (For the record, taking acid — LSD — can be dangerous and is not recommended.)
Spouses and partners rarely come to reunions. They weren’t there at the original unions, and so the stories get old and boring in a hurry.
But I didn’t have to worry about bringing my significant other to this particular reunion. She was already there because we went to the same college.
C. is five years younger than I am, so this was her 40th reunion. We met just three years ago — meaning this past weekend was another opportunity to learn more about each other and the six-plus decades we had been on the planet, before fate and a mutual friend’s wedding brought us together.
Compared to C., I seem to have formed more enduring friendships with a wider group of college friends. But she has more close friends in her daily life than I do. (Note to self and virtually every other 60-something American male: Make more friends.)
I had approached reunion weekend with one main goal in mind: to beat my friend Mark at squash.
He’d trounced me on the squash court at our last reunion. So I had vowed at the time that I would exact my revenge at this reunion.
Mark is a much loved newspaper columnist in his part of the world, but I have always known him as my sink-mate. Senior year, we shared two private dorm rooms connected by a sink. So when I hear someone call, “Hey, Sinkie!” across a crowded room, I know that can be only one person.
He has always been the healthiest of people — the guy his newspaper sent on assignment to the starvation droughts of Africa and the slums of India. But this past December when Mark went in for treatment of a kidney stone, the ultrasound also revealed a large mass on one of his kidneys.
Stage 3 cancer.
Mark bounced back from the surgery with most of the diseased kidney intact. An image of it was featured on the front page of his Sunday paper, where he is the hometown celebrity, to celebrate his survival and accompany a compelling account of his cancer journey.
After he told me all that, let’s just say it didn’t much matter who won our squash match.
So when we reached a tie at two games to two, we decided the better part of valor was to stop there and not play the deciding fifth game.
Besides, settling our longstanding grudge match gives us something to look forward to at our 50th reunion.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.
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