High-school reunions: becoming our parents

Forty-one years later, a writer reflects on small-town life, special teachers, her car-hop job at A&W, and the realization that she and her classmates are turning into their parents.
Mrs. Hovik's first-grade class at the Lincoln School in Arlington. The author, Sue Frause, is pictured first row, fourth from the left. John Koster, now a Congressional candidate, is second row on the far left.

Mrs. Hovik's first-grade class at the Lincoln School in Arlington. The author, Sue Frause, is pictured first row, fourth from the left. John Koster, now a Congressional candidate, is second row on the far left.

Arlington High Class of '69 friends: Peggy (Swensen) Grimmius, Marlene (Davis) Rosenbach, and author Sue (Bjorn) Frause

Arlington High Class of '69 friends: Peggy (Swensen) Grimmius, Marlene (Davis) Rosenbach, and author Sue (Bjorn) Frause

One of the best parts about attending your 40th high school reunion is that the desire to drop a couple of those post-prom pounds is long gone. You are what you are. OK, I did visit the hair salon on the day of the event to spruce up my locks. And in the interest of full disclosure, it wasn’t my 40th reunion, but my 41st.

I graduated from Arlington High School in 1969. Not Arlington, Va., but Arlington, Wash. The Snohomish County Tourism Bureau’s website touts it as “the scenic northern gateway to the Mountain Loop Highway.” I know it better as the place where I was born and spent my first 18 years.

I lived in a house that my dad built on North Dunham Avenue; walked to school with Jay and the other neighbor kids; rode my bike to swim in the Stillaguamish River; watched the freight trains rumble through town; worked as a car hop at the A&W; and late at night listened to KGO’s Ira Blue from the hungry i in San Francisco, wondering where the road would take me.

Back then, there were only a couple thousand people in town; today that number has swelled to 17,280. It was a "Cheers" type of town, where everybody knew your name. Olympic Avenue was the main drag, and that’s where my dad ran the lumber and hardware store; Peggy’s father was the pharmacist and proprietor of Rexall Drug; Blaine’s dad had the insurance agency; and Marlene’s pop held court at Davis Chevrolet. It was a combination of "Leave It To Beaver," "Father Knows Best," and "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." The only difference was that my parents slept in the same bed, pretty much a TV taboo back in the 1950s.

I’d been involved with our previous reunions, including the 30th in 1999. For whatever reason, we thought it would be fun to include three classes, so I coined it the Triple Bypass Class Reunion. The concept stuck, and 11 years later it surfaced again, featuring the classes of 68-69-70. On a recent Saturday night my hubby and I headed over to Arlington’s Medallion Hotel at Smoky Point, just off I-5. He’s been to all my reunions, and although a graduate of Seattle’s Evergreen High School, he’s much more akin with my classmates.

The fluorescent-lit banquet room (hey, where’s the dimmer switch?) was packed with "kids" of all ages. Although we were all about the same age, late 50s to early 60s, the look was all across the board. You either recognized the person immediately; realized they looked better than before (women for the most part); or were so stumped you had to gaze at their chest and photo name tag to decipher who this stranger was standing before you. After the first few minutes, I realized this wasn’t my high school reunion, it was my parents'. Did we finally become them?

The evening unfolded with cocktails, a buffet dinner, and a video presentation. One of our classmates compiled photos from our yearbooks, and it was like watching an old black-and-white movie. Once in awhile there was a splash of color, usually a picture of our school mascot, the eagle, that filled up one wall of our gym. There was no shortage of cat calls and cheering as we recognized one another or not. Hey, that’s me, clutching my racket on the girls’ tennis squad, marching in the drill team, and playing French horn in the high school band.

The tone turned somber with a pictorial of the 35 classmates in our three classes who died. Still smiling out to the world in their senior portraits, they lost their lives to cancer, suicide, plane crashes, heart disease, murder, and Vietnam. In the background was the music of Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton’s "Tears in Heaven." I don't think there were many dry eyes in the room.


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