11/18/2008

25th College Reunion

I went to my 25th college reunion recently, and it was not only a trip down memory lane, it was (as we used to say in the 1960's) "a trip, man" - in all the meanings of the word.
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For this gala event, hubster and I (we both attended Rice U, and both graduated 1983 - so this reunion event was one we shared) decided to take a Friday off work - something we have never, ever until now, done- to drive from the DFW area to Houston. We decided not the leave the kiddies home with granny, (they are getting too wild and woolly for her to manage these days), but opted instead to park the junior rugrats with my ex for the weekend - that , in itself, was a Christmas miracle......still not sure how I convinced him to take the little devils ! My ex just happens, conveniently, to live in the same town our reunion was being held in, so we had to take the kids out of school for a day, too - to make all this work out. We've never really been the kind of parents who pulled kids out of school to go on a family vacation; have always preached that school is important and comes first, but it was the only way we could make this weekend, which kicked off with a Friday afternoon cocktail party, work.
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So off we all drove on a sunny autumn day, heading to hubby and my 25th college reunion .....hubby looking forward to a weekend of drinking too much and convincing himself he is the same person he was . I was filled with a bit of trepidation, not really wanting to relive being the person I once was, or the person I was supposed to be now.
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Hubster attends these college reunion events every 5 years, and knows what to expect. He has also kept up with all his old college buddies much better than I have . Neither one of us is the kid we were 25 years ago ......at the cusp of middle age, who really is ? Hubster was not too cool in high school, but "blossomed" into a widely known and popular campus character known far and wide as "Bluto" during our college days. I think I reached the apex of my social life in high school, and was sort of an odd duck in college. Not sure where I fit in - had some popular friends, but alternated between them and some rather quirkier sorts, as well . Worked long hours, lived off campus some, avoided mainstream spots like the dorm dining hall. Didn't take the expected path after graduation, either....For the most part, the choices I have made in my life in terms of career, husbands, how I live, what I spend my money on, are all deliberate ones. In the words of Robert Frost :

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. "

Corny though it may sound, this quote holds great meaning for me. I started my college career thinking I'd be a lawyer. I finished my undergraduate days planning to get a PHD in history or anthropology and be a college professor. Life sort of got in my way - I needed to work right off the bat to support myself, couldn't afford years of grad school, and wasted almost a decade of my life supporting husband number # 1, thus putting my own dreams and career goals on hold. After awhile, I made the conscious decision that a career in teaching met my core values ( service to others, working with young people, not too terribly materialistic, prefer to spend my time thoughts and energy on academic interests, and a strong desire for periodic time off .) I've been a teacher for 20 years now and never regretted it. It was an unfashionable decision during the 1980's . Most of my peers were engineers, pre-med students, or went on to get law degrees or MBA degrees. Twenty years later, they are all comfortably wealthy. Many of these women married well and have not worked for awhile. I'm not really complaining about my life ; I am comfortable with the choices I have made, and enjoy my life. It is exactly as I wish it to be, and I wouldn't change a thing. But I have very little in common with most of my old college buddies these days. Our paths are so divergent that it leaves very little available in terms of meaningful conversation at this point......maybe if we kept up more, maybe this is why we don't. So spending a weekend with my old gfs, engaged in small talk about the kids, who vacationed where, what our husbands were doing - all the while secretly assessing each other carefully, to determine who's had a little "work " done on themselves, and who has yet to do so - was a sort of slow torture for me, comparable to the medieval practice of being placed on the rack for 48 hours. One emerges taller, certainly, but with a lot of emotional wear and tear.

Don't get me wrong - I love my old friends. They are part of who I am - or was. But as with most things women create, our relationships are so ........complex. We were a generation of smart, competitive women who graduated from a challenging , tough university. Many of us are at the top of our careers , having surmounted a variety of mountains to get there. I am proud of us all, proud to know my old friends, proud to be among them. Sometimes, I wonder : do we compete now over non-important things, because, like Alexander the Great, we have no worlds left to conquer ?



Hubster, with his guy friends, never has these issues. In the words of Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" : "Why can't a woman be more like man ? " All hubster's buddies want from their reunion experience is to drink some beer and act ridiculously childish for a few days, like they did all those years ago. Retell all their old war stories, laugh at all the silly things from days gone by. Because they perpetuate the old collegiate habit of dressing schleppy, there is no subtle competition over who has the most expensive purse/shoes/jewelry. Economic barriers fall by the wayside if everyone is wearing khaki shorts and a collegiate t-shirt. The ubiquitous base-ball cap covers varying degrees of baldness. Their simple revelry , releasing the inner Id, so long ago clamped down by the Superego they exercise most days, was refreshing. I can understand why one of them said to me, as we parted ways when the weekend was over , "Uh, ok guys, see you again in another 5 years ?"

"You bet ! " I replied. "We'll keep doing this, even if we have to gimp along, in our walkers ! We just need to invent a walker with a beverage holder attachment."

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From the musical "My Fair Lady", words and music by Lerner and Lowe. This song is titled "Hymn to Him", and is actually rather ironic : It comes at the moment in the story where Eliza has been received at the ball as a princess, and Henry Higgins has won his bet with his friend, Col.Pickering (that Higgins could pass Eliza, the Cockney flower girl, off as a "lady" by changing her diction and speech). Eliza is heart-broken that Higgins congratulates himself, but not her, for this achievement, and Higgins, perplexed and angry that Eliza has left him, makes the following argument, in a song, with Pickering. Of course, both men have missed the point : They are so self-congratulatory that they don't even realize how they have hurt Eliza's feelings.

HIGGINS Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?

PICKERING Hmm?

HIGGINS Yes... Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;

Eternally noble, historic'ly fair;

Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.

Well, why can't a woman be like that?

Why does ev'ryone do what the others do?

Can't a woman learn to use her head?

Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do?

Why don't they grow up- well, like their father instead?

Why can't a woman take after a man?

Men are so pleasant, so easy to please;

Whenever you are with them, you're always at ease.

Would you be slighted if I didn't speak for hours?

PICKERING Of course not!

HIGGINS Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?

PICKERING Nonsense.

HIGGINS Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?

PICKERING Never.

HIGGINS Well, why can't a woman be like you?

One man in a million may shout a bit.

Now and then there's one with slight defects;

One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.

But by and large we are a marvelous sex!

Why can't a woman take after like a man?

Cause men are so friendly, good natured and kind.

A better companion you never will find.

If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?

PICKERING Of course not!

HIGGINS If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?

PICKERING Nonsense.

HIGGINS Would you complain if I took out another fellow?

PICKERING Never.

HIGGINS Well, why can't a woman be like us?

Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so decent, such regular chaps.

Ready to help you through any mishaps.

Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.

Why can't a woman be a chum?

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