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August 07, 2005: An almost-a-family reunion

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A month or two ago I received an email from the sister of someone I used to know back in high school. The director for the high school band was finishing up his 25th year there as a band director, and so some of the old band members were throwing a little reunion party, and she was trying to track down any old band members she could think of. I'm registered with the various school reunion sites (mainly as a way to hopefully track down some still-missing old friends) so that's how she found me, years ago, for an earlier reunion party more than ten years ago, and so I wasn't too hard to find again.

I forwarded it to the few band members I knew and still had contact with - mainly my best friend from high school, and my older sister. The old friend's in Utah these days, her hands rather full with taking care of three very active young kids, but my older sister lives close enough that going to this thing might be feasible. She thought it sounded like fun and we made very tentative plans, but then I never heard anything more from her about it and somehow assumed that meant she didn't want to go (it would be a very long drive for her). And as I'm not good in social situations where I don't know anyone, and I wasn't sure who all would be there or if there would even be anyone there I knew, I didn't really want to go by myself.

But the Friday of the party my older sister called me on my cell phone to ask how we should proceed. Which meant that we were going after all, and luckily she was caught in traffic on the way down so I could go home first and we carpooled up to Roseville together to try to find the house where the party was being held. They told us to just go in since it was likely no one would hear the door bell, but we knocked, and as we opened the door, the very first face I saw, I recognized right away. He waved us toward the rest of the house and as we turned a corner another familiar face, and then another one, and there, over there, more and more. We're all of us older and wider, some with a little more grey; some with a little (or a lot) less hair, but the faces underneath everything that nearly 20 years of age brings, they were still the same.

And oh, it was a wonderful night. People I hadn't seen or heard from since we graduated nearly twenty years ago came up to me and we hugged as if it hadn't been any time at all. The band director was there, with a lot less hair, but still that same Miami Dolphins hat and the same grin, and his wife was there, just as bouncy and bubbly as ever, and their daughter, thirteen years old and how could it have possibly been that long since we had seen them last? People had brought pictures, so we milled between rooms and paused by the table where they were all laid out, trying to dredge names for the faces of people we hadn't seen in so very, very long. Remember her? She changed her name and she works as a photographer down in Southern California now. Remember him? He works in computers and has four kids. And him? He's a band director at a nearby high school. A band director! How can he be that old? How can any of us be that old? Somehow someone had a copy of a video tape of some of our parade and field show performances from 1984, and we all crowded into one overheated room and watched it together, groaning with laughter, trying to put names to all the blurry faces, amazed at how small we were back then, how young.

It was a strange little nearly-a-family reunion that evening. I was in his third year of teaching and my older sister was in his second, and he'd come to our school fresh out of college, full of energy and enthusiasm and still with a lot to learn and a lot of growing up to do. He turned that little high school band from a lackluster group of nothing into a band over 100 strong by the time I graduated. We competed against the bigger, better schools and won awards. We played non-traditional music on the field like Dance Bachanale and Carmina Berana. He kept us all dedicated, willing to come to school and hour earlier than anyone else for marching practice in the fall, and then jazz band practice in the winter. He kept us after school for woodwind ensemble rehearsals, and asked us to give up part of our summers for band camp; and to live in buses and sleep on hard, noisy high school gymnasium floors to travel for band tour, sometimes even out of the country. During those first few years we were all still so close in age to him that I think sometimes it made it hard for some to separate students and teachers from friends, but we were so young and he was so gung-ho and he got us to learn and to march and to play. And through it all we became a family - a bunch of odd little outsiders, some of us, who came to the band because it was at least something we could do, but where we made our friends and forged connections that sometimes have lasted decades after the last bell of classes ended, and all of it, all because of what he and his wife brought when they came to that school, full of hopes and dreams and high aspirations that none of us ever questioned could be done.

We stayed far too late; by the time my older sister dropped me off it was nearly 11 and she had still another ninety minutes to drive home, but it was worth it. There was a sign up sheet for names and addresses and contact information. There were hugs and pictures and suggestions to do this again sometime, and maybe sooner than thirteen years and my older sister and I drove home, still playing the remember game. Remember when we went to there? Remember that girl, who was going out with that guy? Remember when?

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