Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Miramonte Reunion

High school reunions are frequently the stuff of months-long torment.  Will the same cliques still exclude me?  Will the cheerleaders still appear far more beautiful than I could ever hope to look?  Will any of the boys on whom I once had youthful crushes still cause my heart to race?  As the years go by, these angst-inducing concerns fade into curiosity of a different sort.  Who still has hair?  Who has made noteworthy contributions to society in their lives and careers?

On the occasion of my high school’s 40th reunion, all those questions and others wandered through my mind.  Two delightful classmates, Orinda Aquatics volunteer Margot Keenan and Hollywood actor Greg Cummins, worked tirelessly for months to locate far-flung students like me who graduated from Miramonte High School in Orinda, California, in 1974.  Margot and Greg organized a well-orchestrated shindig at our classic hometown venue, the Orinda Country Club, complete with a pre-reunion social at a local restaurant and attendance at Miramonte’s homecoming football game on the Friday night preceding the big do. Because our class of 325 students was relatively small, the grand reunion on Saturday night was combined with two previous classes, the graduating grades of 1972 and 1973, creating a logistical nightmare that Margot and Greg seemed to negotiate with the ease of seasoned party-planning professionals.

Greg Cummins, part of my high school
graduating class, is now a respected
Hollywood actor
I had purchased my cross-country plane ticket months in advance and had looked forward eagerly to all the festivities.  The week before the gala, my world turned upside down when my sister suffered a serious medical issue. In the midst of finalizing plans to host a dinner for 15 family members at my home in Baltimore County, Maryland, in celebration of a long-awaited visit by my cousin from Switzerland, I changed my plane ticket to accommodate my sister’s unexpected health crisis and made arrangements to be in California far longer than just for the reunion weekend.  Two days after the family gathering in my east coast yard (see Oktoblerfest), I flew to northern California to be at my sister’s side.

Leslie’s brain surgery, although not without complications, was ultimately successful, and after several days at her hospital bedside I was ready for an emotional break. Dressing for Miramonte's Friday night social, I pulled on my favorite pair of BrazilRoxx jeans at the tidy home of my brother, Dave, and his wife, Jane, in Walnut Creek, California. The ombré auburn hue of the boot-cut denim was perfect for a cool autumn evening; the embroidered flowers and metal studwork down the length of the legs really made the pants stand out.  I added a brown sequined tank top by Anne Klein for a little sparkle and then tamped it down a bit with an asymmetrical openwork shawl that was custom made for me by a talented designer at the American Craft Council’s annual juried show in Baltimore several years ago.

Eric Eckstein offered musical
entertainment at the Friday
night social
With sparkly copper baubles from Chico's at my ears and around my neck and wrist, I pulled on brown booties from Spiegel.com and drove my rented car to the old high school.  Teens, dressed in pink to honor a homecoming football game dedicated to breast cancer awareness, gathered in the Miramonte parking lot to cook hotdogs and gossip before the big game.  I walked across the grassy quadrangle, distant memories of pep rallies flooding my brain.  Small groups of middle-aged men and women talked excitedly in the school cafeteria as I entered the cavernous room to see memorabilia I’d been told would be on display.  People turned to look but no one approached me or waved hello.  The old anguish crept up into my throat.  I was a teenage outcast once again.

The new gym at Miramonte High
School is a bit bigger than the old one
I walked the perimeter of the cafeteria, gazing at the class photos of years gone by, at uniforms and trophies old and new, and pondered the passage of time.  I walked back out into the evening air and down the exterior hallways between buildings and classrooms, searching for the corridor that once held my locker.  Eventually I found myself back at the cafeteria door.  Couldn’t I be brave and approach the dreaded cliques myself?  Surely I had moved beyond such primal fear of schoolyard rejection after all these years.

I marched back into the cafeteria.  Almost immediately an attractive woman broke away from one of the groups and approached me, smiling. ”I know who you are from your blog”, said the reunion’s organizer, Margot Keenan.  At Margot’s earnest greeting, all my trepidation washed away.  Suddenly I was surrounded by old classmates who were greeting me warmly.  Some I could remember and some I couldn’t.  Several looked just like they had in high school.  I was amazed at how much -- and how little -- some things had changed.

As everyone began to make their way to the football field for the homecoming game (Miramonte trounced Acalanes High School in the final score), I climbed back into my car and drove to the tiny suburban center of Orinda, home to only 9,000 residents even today. Behind the historic Orinda Theater, where I watched Captain Marvel movies for 25 cents in my youth, was now the expansive outdoor patio of Barbacoa restaurant, where the Miramonte class of 1974’s Friday night social was just getting underway.

Doug Harlan, left, and T.J. Bergren
were in my class at Miramonte
There I met and marveled at the youthful vigor of many more classmates: Kim Severns and Katy Rand, Tish Gleason and Gail Brewer, Paige Ballard and Betsy Patmont all looked just as they had when we were 16.  I was in Girl Scouts with Sharon Cotteral, attended grade school with Cathy Stone, talked philosophy with Doug Harlan and T.J. Bergren.  I remembered how much older I thought everyone looked at my tenth high school reunion. Now everyone looked so young and fit.  We were a good-looking bunch of kids, I thought to myself with no small amount of pride.

Tom Taylor, pictured here at the
reunion, was kind enough to
walk me to my car after the Friday
night social at Barbacoa
As the evening progressed, I was joined by my good friends and former classmates, rental property owner Becky Richardson and gifted jewelry designer Lily Corrieo, who drove down from the California foothills near Placerville to attend the reunion festivities.  Guitarist Eric Eckstein entertained the growing crowd with classic hits from the 1970s as we noshed on tasty Mexican fare.  By 10:00 p.m., the exhausting events around my sister’s hospitalization had caught up with me.  I was walked to my car by my old classmate, Tom Taylor.  Funny, I hadn’t remembered Tom being such a handsome guy. I didn’t remember him at all, in fact.  That’s okay.  He hadn’t remembered me, either, he said, until he looked up my picture in the school yearbook the next morning.

The stately Orinda Country Club was
the site of my 40th high school reunion
On Saturday afternoon I checked into the hotel where most of the reunion attendees from out of town were staying.  I slipped into a one-shouldered dress by Bisou Bisou that I’d purchased last December for a Helicon Christmas concert in Baltimore, and plucked sparkly platform pumps by Rachel Roy from my suitcase.  With the addition of beaded earrings I’d picked up at a boutique in St. Michaels on Maryland’s eastern shore in 2010, a crystal cocktail ring I’d purchased in Las Vegas in 2011, a gorgeous crystal and beaded bracelet hand made last year by Lily, and a sparkly "Dea Dread" hair accessory custom made for me by Theo Osato of Baltimore, I sauntered down the third floor hallway and knocked on Becky and Lily’s hotel room door.

Lily Corrieo Williams, left, and Becky Richardson Elisher,
right, were high school classmates and have been
lifelong friends
As my friends put the finishing touches on their makeup and slipped into stylish dresses of their own, the three of us giggled like schoolgirls preparing for a dance.  In effect, that’s exactly what we were doing.  The anxiety of our teenage years may have been well behind us, but the giddy anticipation of spending an evening reconnecting with the people and memories of our youth sent our pulses racing.  As we climbed into Lily’s Mercedes Benz we could hardly contain our excitement.

The reunion unfolded much as I had imagined it would.  Classmates from near and far caught up on each other’s lives as we greeted old friends and made new ones.  I got the prize for having traveled the farthest, beating out even Peggy Hacker and her husband who flew in for the reunion from their home in Costa Rica.  296 people from the combined classes of 1972, 1973 and 1974 turned out for the event, with our class of 1974 forming almost half of the total attendees.

The next morning, ten of us met for brunch at an outdoor café in nearby Pleasant Hill.  Kim Severns passed around more yearbooks and contact information was exchanged among those with whom we’d been out of touch for so long.  It was hard to say goodbye when there was so much news to catch up on, so many life stories to share.

The back yard of Becky's well-appointed
home near Placerville looks out over
six scenic acres of wilderness 
Eventually, Becky and Lily and I piled into Lily’s car and traveled up the interstate to Becky’s lovely home in El Dorado.  This is where I would spend the next two days, unwinding from the trauma of my sister’s ordeal and reminiscing about the reunion just past.  But first, our attendance at the El Dorado German Club’s annual Oktoberfest was required.

In my rush to pack a week’s worth of clothing for my sister’s hospitalization I had neglected to include my own handmade dirndl, brought back to me from Switzerland in the 1960s when I was but a child.  Not to worry.  Becky had a spare.  We made the short drive to the El Dorado Stammtisch, where a traditional oompah band was regaling the crowd with time-honored folk tunes.  There, Becky’s mother-in-law, the eternally youthful past president of the German Club, Gretel Elisher, looked radiant in a lovely dirndl of her own as she rushed into the clubhouse kitchen with enough apple strudel to feed a small army.

I had a great time with Becky, right, and Lily at the
El Dorado German Club's annual Oktoberfest 
As the band played lively waltzes, we dined on bratwurst and sauerkraut, German potato salad and that apple strudel, which was really good.  Soon after, Becky and Lily and I found ourselves on the dance floor, kicking up our heels with Gretel and other patrons as a variety of old-fashioned polka dances brought everyone to their feet.  I felt the worries of the previous week slowly start to slip away.  Between the yodeling and the accordion playing, both of which my father used to do on a regular basis, I felt myself transported back to my childhood even further than the high school memories of the past few days.  This was nostalgia at its elemental best.  I couldn’t suffer beneath the weight of my sister’s health crisis when my inner child was dancing to a long-forgotten Schuhplattler.

Gretel, center, has been like a
mother to Becky for many
The next day Becky and I played tourists, spending a leisurely afternoon perusing antique shops and candy stores in old Folsom.  The autumn weather was glorious. I felt relaxed and well-rested for the first time in weeks.  In the evening we dined at a local restaurant with Becky’s husband, Bruce, his mother, Gretel, and their youngest son, Benjamin.  The next morning Becky drove me to the Sacramento airport for an early flight back to Baltimore.

This was my oh-so-comfortable room
at Becky's beautiful abode
I had barely arrived at my connecting gate in Denver before I was once again inundated with emails and phone messages regarding my sister’s care, which have persisted at a fairly steady pace since I’ve been back.  But for those few languorous days, immersed in childhood memories of high school and the years before, I was a carefree child again.  I was home.


  1. Wow! Lynell, that is a great story! It really was a wonderful event. I am so happy we got time to chat at brunch on Sunday. You look terrific and it was a pleasure to see you again!

  2. Lynell, you are such an awesome writer and bringing us all back to the events. Hugs to you and hope all is well.
    Kim Rice