Coming Home to Where the Heart Remains

Author Karen Setlowe, center in yellow vest, with her Lawrence High School, Class of 1961 50th reunion on Long Island, New York. Photo courtesy of Larry Hacken, Absolute Elegance.
Author Karen Setlowe, center in yellow vest, with her Lawrence High School, Class of 1961 50th reunion on Long Island, New York.
Photo courtesy of Larry Hacken, Absolute Elegance.

by Karen Setlowe

Thomas Wolfe wrote that you “can’t go home again.” Structures, people and landscapes change; memory is selective and can shift in nature. High school reunions, in particular, bring back a myriad of reflections and emotions. They vary widely, depending on individual perceptions of connections to the past. One person’s fond remembrance is another’s tortuous experience.

My Lawrence High School Class of 1961 50th reunion was at the Lawrence Yacht and Country Club on Oct. 22. I was part of the committee who had the task of finding classmates. Some had stayed in the same place for decades; but some had moved, and it was a challenge to find them. Most, when found, were glad to be found whether or not they were able to attend; and there were those who preferred to forget their high school experience. I knew better not to call those who I knew wanted to be left alone or “lost.” All the people I spoke with had interesting stories to share regardless of their personal high school experience. The difficult part of the search was when I discovered that a fondly remembered classmate had died.

The fun part was finding the longtime “lost” who were grateful to be “found.”

The most rewarding part was when I was able to connect friends who had lost touch with each other and wanted to reconnect. Life has a way of getting in the way of staying in touch with valued friends.

The unforgettable occurred when I found a classmate who had lost and needed personal information I had gathered during my effort to find her.

Before the reunion, I visited many places that held the most precious memories of my youth.When I passed through the front door of Lawrence High, a security guard informed me I couldn’t go any further. At that moment, the bell rang and the hallway filled with students and the noise of chatter. I tried to embrace the scene around me, but it was as if I had been transported to some alternate society to which I didn’t belong. I reminded myself that things and people change; LHS is no exception.

LHS may be different, but the students will find their own unique way of keeping it important in their lives just as my classmates and I did decades before.

The reunion itself was like a costume ball. If we had held up really well and looked good, we came looking like our parents did when we were in high school. If the ravages of time hadn’t been kind, we resembled our grandparents as they looked when we were teens. Either way, we gave it our best shot and bravely faced our fellow classmates, who had come from as far away as Sweden and as close as the Five Towns.

The reunion got its predictable start with the usual traffic jam at check-in due to hellos, hugs and surprise at encountering classmates not seen for a long time. Hors d’oeuvres, drinks, dinner and story-sharing followed. We had the usual mix of classmates who come to every reunion and those who have come to one or two. The surprises were those who were there for the first time; one guy had never been to any reunion and was surprised he was having such a good time. He wished he had attended all the others. I had reconnected him with five of his friends after 50 years, but they couldn’t attend.

The highlight of the evening was when almost everyone was on the dance floor moving as a group in unison and letting it all “hang out.” Time and space shifted, years dissolved, and the room was transformed to a time not forgotten, not lost. The energy in the room was unforgettable; it belonged to a group of people who meant a great deal to each other – the good and the bad. Each of us was a piece of a huge mosaic, and it was approaching wholeness once again.

I’m particularly proud of the fact that one of our classmates offered to assist with expenses for anyone who would be financially challenged by attending the reunion. This offering is a prime example of the heart of our class. It helps to counterbalance the fact that after our Senior Skit (which was hilarious but somewhat controversial for its time) the LHS administration discontinued the tradition of senior skits. In a way, I’m also proud of that; it was who we were. We were an interesting mosaic of people who went on to live sometimes controversial but nevertheless important lives. We even have a few who are quite well known; I will let their reputations speak for themselves.

Our 50th reunion was made possible by someone we affectionately refer to with a variety of titles, including “Reunion Guru.” For decades she has spearheaded our reunions and assembled a committee to help produce great reunions. For our 50th, she moved beyond personal tragedy in order to once again bring us together to keep special memories alive and to create new ones. She acts as a role model for the rest of us as we continue our journey in life.

The reunion will be etched in our memories forever. There is already talk of a 55th; we think it might be a bit risky to wait for a 60th. Many heard what a great time we had, and they want to make sure they’ll be able to come to the next one. We remember those who’ve died; they’re with us in spirit.

Yes, structures, landscapes and people change; but special friendships and memories are never destroyed. Most of the LHS class of ’61 no longer lives in the Five Towns, our parents are long gone, and we don’t go back to the neighborhood for the holidays; yet, there will always be that one precious moment when we can go home again, because home is where the heart is.

About the author
Karen Setlowe’s work in the performing arts has taken her throughout the United States and overseas. She has been a contributing feature writer for a variety of US publications.