Karen Galatz in high school
Karen Galatz in high school

My 50-year high school reunion was strange, nostalgic, fun and bittersweet

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The number 50 has symbolic and practical significance in Jewish thought. It spans the days between the Exodus from Egypt and Shavuot, when the Torah was revealed to us at Mount Sinai. The number, in the form of 50 shekels, even addresses the financial obligations of the ketubah, marriage contract.

For me, the number 50 was recently tied to a powerful event in my life. While not Biblical in scope, it was rich in meaning and impact. The 50 in question was my half-century high school reunion.

I was reluctant to attend. It was a multiyear reunion, five classes from Ed W. Clark High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, coming together at one time, in one place, due to pandemic postponements. The thought of more than 400 people crowded together, hugging and kissing, and throwing caution to the wind didn’t fill me with confidence. Surely somebody would have Covid. Surely somebody — more likely lots of somebodies — would get sick.

Then, days before the reunion, I received an “In Memoriam” list of deceased classmates.

It was distressingly long.

Staring at it, I recalled many sweet faces and happy memories. It was a stark reminder of the obvious: time was passing. If I didn’t attend this reunion, I likely would never see many of these people again.

So, reluctantly, I pushed aside my Covid concerns and signed up to attend.

RELATED: Reuniting with old friends gives me a window into my past

A 50th reunion is a remarkable event, seismic really. For some, high school is a high point in their life. For others, a low point. For me, it was a pleasant midpoint in my education and growing up. I graduated one year early, applied to three colleges, got into all three. I also graduated early from college, went on to graduate school and twice studied abroad in the former Soviet Union. It all sped past in an exciting blur.

Thinking back to high school, I had kind, smart, lively friends. No deep dramas. No dating traumas. After I graduated, my parents moved back East, so trips to Las Vegas were infrequent and most of my friendships there faded.

Seeing and reuniting with people from my teen years after so many decades was strange, delightful and deeply nostalgic. How had I forgotten the intensity of those times?

I had attended the 25th class reunion, but a quarter-century meetup is an entirely different sort of event. That reunion was a mostly carefree blast from the past. But still …

Anybody who shows up for a 25th is content with themselves and successful, but also, if you’re honest, there’s still a bit of jockeying for position, still some striving to prove who’s the coolest kid in the class.

It’s a mix of “Tee-hee. Remember when we …?” “How about the time we …?” and “Yeah, I’m on Wall Street now. Living the good life.”

Gathering at the half-century mark is different. More bittersweet.

Even the spritely among us were more inclined to hit the buffet line than the dance floor.

It wasn’t just the sadness of thinking of those classmates who had died, but also feeling a palpable, deep (and somewhat embarrassing) sense of “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Also, we missed classmates who could not attend because of ill health. Yes, illness and aches and pains stalked our 50th reunion. Several classmates used electric scooters or canes. One was stiff with the beginning stages of Parkinson’s.

Even the “spritely” among us were more inclined to hit the buffet line than the dance floor. Oh, well, time on the buffet line gave us more time to talk.

But while makeup and hair dye couldn’t hide the fact we’ve aged, they also couldn’t stop the fun. We talked and laughed till we were hoarse!

It was amazing how many years of catch-up we crammed into one evening. And it was equally amazing how much honesty flowed. I’m not saying it was a reality show “tell-all,” but we shared a lot. It was cleansing to the soul.

We didn’t cover all the joys and regrets of 50 years of work, marriage and raising children, but when a woman faintly, wearily, all the while clutching her husband’s hand, says, “We’ve had our highs and lows,” you know she’s sharing deep pain. You don’t question. You just nod, hug and say, “I’m so glad to see you.” She understands. You’ve been there, too. Now we’re here. Together. Surviving.

For most of us, after all this time, there’s nothing to prove. No need to brag. No need to show off. Nearing 70, we are the “come as you are, take us as we are” crowd. We were just happy to be together, share memories and renew friendships.

In the end, it felt poignant. For all the hugs, exchanging of email addresses and plans to stay in touch, the question is: How many will gather again at the next reunion?

But just as in Jewish mystic thought, the number 50 sparked a moment of transcendence for me. The joy my 50-year reunion brought will stay in my heart forever.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is an award-winning journalist who loves to make women and men "of a certain age" laugh, think and feel. In addition to The Matzo Chronicles, Karen is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. She can be reached at [email protected].