Friday, February 19, 2010

I Could Have Danced All Night

I Could Have Danced All Night

We of the Harlem High School Class of ’63 were a tight bunch. Whether we were working on a school project like building floats for the Homecoming Parade or a community project such as Clean-Up Day, it often seemed that, without consulting one another, we worked as a unit, all of the same mind. We thought we would maintain that special closeness throughout our lives. Yet after graduation we scattered like seed in the wind, into jobs, the military, college, marriage, distant places.

So forty two years later, at the 2005 All-School Reunion, several of us put our heads together, looked into one another’s eyes and said, “We don’t know each other anymore. We don’t want to lose touch again. What can we do?” We made a commitment to meet annually. Since then we have come together in Virginia City , Big Sky and Ennis.

We have found healing and forgiveness in our gatherings, in re-union. Old hurts disappeared. New bonds formed. Smiles grew larger, laughter deeper. Between the reunions we email, write letters, and pick up the phone. We keep in touch. We are here for one another.

Reunions are such fun. First come the lies. And I love them. “Gosh, you look great!” “You haven’t aged a bit!” “We are a good looking bunch!”

Then comes all the catching up, the Remember Whens, the Children and Grand-children, and the Bragging-About-Accomplishments. Pictures are passed around. We look through old year books. In small groups and one by one, we regain the closeness we formerly had, but now with more depth. We have found that getting re-acquainted is a precious trust. We like one another even more than in the old high school days. By the second day layers of reticence peel away. We begin to tell the other stories, the things we each went home to and never talked about, things that made us who we are. Some were sweet, some were sad, some poignant, some brought tears. “I wish I could have been there for you.” “Ah, that’s why I liked to visit your home.” “I wish I had been a better friend.”

This year we gathered at the home of Donna and Duane in Lincoln . Donna had prepared mounds of spaghetti, huge vats of meat sauce and a table full of homemade French bread for Friday night supper. We played games in the back yard, a crazy kind of horseshoes. We mingled and mixed. Graduates from other Harlem classes who heard we would be in Lincoln joined us. We welcomed them and made them honorary members of the Class of ‘63. We didn’t want the evening to end but nightfall sent us, tired and happy, with hugs and handshakes, to our cabins or tents or rooms.

Bright and early Saturday morning we met for the promised skillets full of sausage gravy, platters of fresh biscuits and dozens of eggs. Did I mention homemade huckleberry jam? We fortified ourselves and headed out in search of the famous Lincoln grizzly bear. We toured the jerky factory, hiked, fished and identified wild flowers, and even poked through yard sale tables of treasure. We snared strangers to hold the cameras for group photos.

I love this stuff. Seeing my oldest friends, meeting their spouses, listening, laughing and even crying left me feeling full and overflowing. I could hardly wait for the Saturday evening finale. Donna and Duane had arranged for us to have steak dinners at the Bootlegger followed by dancing to live music.

Last year I had promised myself that this year I would dance at our reunion. At one time I loved to dance but that had been twenty seven years ago. Once I had small children I seldom had the opportunity, and finally, with a shattered knee, I was physically unable. I hoped that surgery a few months ago had given me the chance to try again.

Sax Cadillac, a band from Havre, were tuning up their instruments when we arrived at the Bootlegger for dinner. We devoured our steaks with gusto. When the music began, they played the same songs we had danced to in high school. Our songs. They were a hot band that night. The dance floor filled and never emptied.

But there was one problem for me. The beat was too fast. My brand new metallic knee was not ready for fast dancing. I was almost in tears. In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I did not dance this night, I might never have the courage to dance again.

Then Sax Cadillac changed gears and began a slow waltz. A man in a leather motorcycle jacket approached me, held out his hand and said, “May I have this dance?” With a smile, I took his hand and walked out onto the floor and into his arms. My feet flowed with the music. My heart sang with joy. Here we were, a group of classmates dancing in a small town pub to a small town band. For most people this would not be a big deal. But for me it was the best dance of my life. It was the dance I had almost missed. It was the dance that assured me I could do anything. I smiled at the stranger who guided me around the floor. I knew this would not be my last dance.

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