Voices from the Past

by Jodi M. Webb

Baby photos – they seem to be a staple of reunions. But since many reunion members met as young adults, the idea of matching chubby, bald, toothless babies to the young people they remember seems like an impossible task. Instead, try using voices from the past that start people reminiscing. Set up a match-the-quote activity. Although it may be difficult to recognize snapshots taken decades ago, words always have a familiar ring.

Who could forget the classmate who was forever explaining forgotten homework to exasperated teachers with, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Did we change the clocks and lose an hour yesterday?” Or the shipmate who finished every cleaning job with, “That’s as clean as my mama’s kitchen floor. And believe me, that’s clean!” And the grandmother who greeted a dirty face at her dinner table with, “You must be one of the neighbor’s kids. No one in MY family would come to the table looking like that.” Or who prefaced each Sunday family dinner with, “We’re never going to eat if you people don’t get those extra chairs in here.”

He said, she said, they said

When choosing quotes, make sure they’re memorable to more than just you. Pick frequently repeated quotes, like the grumpy comment dad made as he walked into the house after work – every day for 40 years. Words remaining in people’s memories are those associated with special occasions. Tom Smith may have ended only one Christmas Concert with a muffled, “Yeow! Get off my foot, George!” but everyone in the Glee Club and audience still remembers it. When choosing quotes, avoid troublemakers. If an off-color, cruel or controversial statement led to arguments, tears or detentions the first time around, chances are hurt feelings still exist.

What’s your favorite quote?

Setting up a match-the-quote activity is much easier with many people’s input. Include with each invitation a request for famous words; contact people to help. Don’t rely solely on your memory; get quotes from many sources. After all, if you don’t know the Kansas relatives very well, someone has to introduce those famous Kansas quotes.

What the principal said

Don’t be afraid to include posthumous quotes. Often reunion planners ignore missing friends in order to avoid grieving during what they hope will be a happy occasion. Quotes can be an effective way to alleviate sadness as attendees relate fond memories brought to mind by a quote.

Unsaid quotes

In addition to the words of old friends, quotes can be found in many other places. Quotes can include everything from the administrative warnings posted in the cafeteria (that were meant to be threatening but everyone found ridiculous) to the muffled announcements over the PA system to the one-size-fits-all excuse note that Aunt Martha sent whenever someone was absent from school.

Answer box

Memories have a way of dimming just when we need them most. To help your friends unravel the puzzle of quotes, provide an answer box of names to make choosing easier. You can also preface quotes with a hint that sets the scene such as “Every time the dog got into the garbage, who could be heard to yell …” or “When he pulled guard duty for both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, who threatened …?”

The fun with quotes doesn’t end with finding out who said what. Each quote leads to a story, a memory, a laugh. Let the voices of the past turn awkward semi-strangers back into the good friends they once were.

About the author
Jodi M. Webb is a freelance writer from Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Although she has only one brother and three children, Ms. Webb always describes herself as coming from a “big family.” The majority of her 12 cousins and their 14 children still live in Pennsylvania.