About 350 alumni gathered for supper at the Hillsboro High School all-school reunion in the gymnasium May 29. The oldest were members of the class of 1938. The youngest were graduates from the 1980s.

The more recent graduates and youngsters planning to enroll when they get a bit older were present as plate servers and coffee pourers.

Even though I dropped out of high school in 1961, I felt welcomed at this amazing assembly. Someday I will tell my story about quitting school.

The formal program was mercifully brief-a welcome and invocation and acknowledgement of graduates by the decades they attended.

(A plea for donations to air condition the stifling gym would certainly have brought applause and maybe an indeterminate amount of cash.)

The guests themselves were entertainment enough as they moved from table to table, matching nametags and memories.

I met the Boese girls, who grew up on a farm next to ours and also attended Ridge Grade school-some of whom I had not seen since they were grade school students. I arranged a picture of some of us who were once fellow scholars in the second grade Sunday school class at the Ebenfeld Church. Folks I remember as skinny kids are now distinguished grandmothers and grandfathers.

A long time ago we were all neighbors, friends, classmates. Now we are mostly in the last half of our lives.

In the second half of life we can begin to relax. Life was, after all, never a race. Rather, we have all been composing our autobiographies-chapters containing our personal stories of achievement, failure, joy and tragedy.

Some absent friends are remembered at these events because they have written their final chapter.

At class reunions the living gather to compare notes. If we are all books in progress-many of us have become rather weighty tomes and our book jackets feature gray hair or no hair at all.

In short phrases we click off our chapter titles, “still working,” “retired,” “South Carolina for the past decades,” “Kansas City is now home.” Quite correctly we identify our accomplishments in our brief time together.

To tell the longer story of our accomplishments but also to include our tragedies, failures and losses would require more time than a one-night mass gathering allows.

So important data is not brought to the table.

In the movie, “The Big Kahonna”-ironically set in Wichita at a trade show-an old manufacturer’s representative, played by Danny Devito, says to a young man, “Until a man has failed four times in his life, he has no idea who he is. And you are too young to have done that.”

Our accomplishments are public domain but our failures and limitations are more private. What sustained us during loss and tragedy is most private of all.

For long-time Hillsboro residents, the all-school reunion may not be a big deal. After all, they are seeing many of the same folks they see every morning and afternoon at the farmer’s table at McDonald’s.

But I think the folks who thought up the concept of an all-school reunion for Memorial Day weekend have an inspired idea. The brief conversations with classmates, the decorating of gravesites and the haunting sound of taps at Memorial Park all combine to form an ever-changing community library.

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