I have been watching a weekly series on PBS called “The Ride of Our Lives,” where a fifty-something writer on a sabbatical rents an RV and takes his parents and adult children on a cross-country trip. The parents, both in their 80s, are healthy and spry, the father gregarious and talkative while the mother is reserved. They are the stars of the trip. We only occasionally catch glimpses of the others.
On a recent episode, they are traveling to the parents’ college Alma maters, one in Maryland and the other in New Jersey. The father excitedly looks forward to the visit, talking more and more about his old times there. He expects to be welcomed with fanfare, but they arrive unannounced and no university officials are available to greet him. Even an old acquaintance still living in the area is too ill to meet him. The young receptionist does all she can to cheer him up, but she is alien to the world he knew and he leaves crushingly disappointed.
The mother, on the other hand, has no interest in reminiscing. Who cares about the old days? At her Alma mater, she dutifully takes a quick, unsentimental look around and gets back on the RV, not expecting or caring about any greeting.
This is exactly what I have seen tracking down old classmates. Some are excited about reliving our high school days, while others could not care less. You would expect those most interested would be our class leaders, and those least interested would be the ones who were uninvolved in class activities, but I found no such correlation. There is not even a correlation with their accomplishments after graduation, or with their status now. Interest in the past, by my observations, is a random trait.
When I triumphantly tracked down one particular classmate whom we often hung out with, I expected he would want to get together since he lives only an hour or so away. But I recognize a brush-off when I get it, and I did not pursue it further. Nothing against him, that’s just the way some people are. All I could do was leave the invitation open in the unlikely chance he ever changes his mind.
A clue may be in the PBS program. At one point the mother says how awful it is to grow old, and her son, the narrator, says in a voice-over that she sees any reference to the past as an unwelcome reminder of her age. An interesting point that, perhaps, explains some of our classmate’s attitudes.