Recently I went with my husband to a gathering of people from his high school class. It was a sort of impromptu reunion; one person connected with another and before we knew it we were sharing a deli platter at a nearby restaurant. Much better than those three day reunion marathons of picnics and formal dinners.
His was a smallish class, and the gathering was only about 30 people, but they represented a wide range of aging. I’ve noticed that the population over 60 can differ the way a class of 7th graders consists inevitably of altitude-challenged boys waiting for their voices to change and hip-swiveling girls who could blend in at any frat party. This group was no different.
Everyone in the group was on one side of 70 or the other. A couple of the women bore a strong resemblance to the way I remember ladies of that age looking when I was a girl – sensible shoes, tight white curls, and pastels. At the other end of the spectrum there were no real cougars, but you could easily imagine several of the women still being able to fit into their 1960s madras shorts. The bellies among the men ranged from hefty to flat, and the hair from luxuriant to non-existent.
And with that demographic there were the new knees, recent or conquered cancer diagnoses, and impending operations. The talk started with past memories and progressed to grandchildren, travel plans, and downsizing. Not having gone to my husband’s high school, I found myself wishing for a score card to better understand the players. Instead, I took people at face value, not knowing their back story.
I later learned the silent guy sitting next to me had been a social-phobic motor head in school and the fact that he even showed up that day was amazing. The chatty lady across the table was a classmate who had brought her husband, another quiet man who it turned out was struggling with dementia.
Of course someone had brought a yearbook and I wondered how some felt about that. A couple of people had actually grown better-looking over the years, but to the most part few bore much resemblance to their past selves.
One attendee, a slim blond woman, arrived late and sat across from me. Outside of a generic smile in my direction, she spent most of her time talking to a select few, in particular the man beside her. She was still markedly attractive, but her face was drawn and pale.
Feeling a little ignored, I decided her appearance was the result of hard living, and I imagined a life of drugs or alcohol. This set in a bit more firmly when I saw her yearbook picture; she had been nothing less than a knock-out.
When I mentioned her afterwards, my husband recalled that she’d had a rough upbringing, growing up on the less-advantaged side of town. That fitted tidily with my assessment; my judgment had apparently been spot-on.
Then he went on to say that at first he’d been surprised to see her so slim since at the last reunion she’d been much heaver. At this recent event though, he learned that her weight loss was due to cancer, and it was surprising that she’d come at all since she’d been battling for a year and had just finished her last round of chemotherapy. Those lines and that pallor were the result of illness, not fast living.
Not my finest hour. I still feel badly about my small-minded assumptions. Would I have made the same snap judgment about a less attractive woman?