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We are the same

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

I've been gone longer than I lived there but there's no doubt my roots are tied deeply to the mountains of Appalachia and the people who live there.

This past weekend, I made a 12 1/2 hour trek back as those vibrant verdant hills beckoned me once more.

They are not the mountains of my childhood where narrow two-lane roads were crammed with heavy trucks carrying even heavier loads of coal.

Once impressive homes are now in a state of disrepair and kudzu blankets abandoned properties.

More mobile homes are precariously perched on steep hillsides not far from $300,000 manors.

And yet it is home; a home I left in 1988 but yet have carried with me everywhere I have gone.

I have not been back as often as I should – usually only for a funeral, but this weekend was a happy occasion with some built-in time for exploration and visiting. It was my 40th high school reunion.

We were a small class; a small school. Only 85 graduates marched down the narrow aisles of an auditorium in a school built by the WPA in 1939.

Once it housed grades 1-12, but when high winds toppled the elementary building the summer after I was in first grade, a new elemntary school was built and the solidly built main building became home to grades 7-12.

Because of its size, we just didn't know our class – we knew practically everyone in the entire school – all 800 plus students who came from as far away as 30 miles to learn at one of the 10 high schools in the county.

In seventh grade, another elementary school joined those of us from the new school and in ninth grade, yet another elementary school partnered with us to become the graduating class of 1978.

Last week close to half of those who graduated came together for four brief hours to reconnect, reminisce and share our lives in ways we never would have 40 years ago.

Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive as I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant where the festivities were held. My heart raced and I was assailed by what ifs.

However as soon as I saw Ricky Jones, the first arrival, those unwarranted apprehensions vanished and 40 years melted away. Suddenly it was German class and Ricky and I were playing chess while speaking German, and sharing our deepest and darkest secrets.

With each arrival, the hugs, kisses and genuine smiles eradicated everything but the moment.

The cliques that once were disappeared as classmates came together and discovered new commonalities – even things we had in common back then but never even thought about discussing.

For many who thought they had nothing in common at age 17, they discovered now, four decades later, that there are more similiarities than differences.

Marriages, children, grandchildren, unemployment, the deaths of loved ones – these are the things that bind us now.

During the self introductions, we listened intently as some decribed the death of a child, the loss of a husband, the pain of addiction, the joy of a grandchild, the happiness of retirement, the thrill of a long marriage.

Envy and jealousy were non-existent. Only the sheer blessing of being together in the same place, healthy and whole, was present.

As the evening drew to a close, there were promises made to stay better in touch, to visit more often and to come together in two years, rather than wait longer.

As I drove back to the hotel, I grinned like I had not in years.

My heart was full and while many chose not to join us, I knew the 1,472 mile trek in a beat up 10-year-old sun blistered car with questionable air conditioning was worth it.

Forty years! How could it be? In those four hours we were again the 17 and 18-year-olds we once were.

There was no gray hair, no wrinkled faces, no aching joints.

We were, however, extensions of our former selves: the unfiltered talkers, the sweet good girls, the rough-and-tumble boys, the rebels and the conformists.

We are the same, but different.

Wiser, classier, more tactful, more loving, more nurturing, more sympathetic, less judgmental, less selfish.

We are the Virgie High School Class of 1978 and I am proud of us.