Laughlines: Facing your past at reunions
Never trust anyone over 30 for they are the ones who organize reunions.
For most of my life I have successfully avoided attending reunions – high school, baseball, college and especially that weird family reunion in Kansas a couple years ago at which 33-year-old Richard Lorenc finally found his biological mother Vivian Wheeler, 62, who just happened to be Barnum and Bailey's Bearded Sideshow Lady. Awkward!
Look, I'm not saying your long-lost Aunt Elizabeth once went by the name of Lizzie Borden but it could happen – and probably at a reunion.
At reunions age jokes come with weight jokes the way hairpieces accompany platform shoes. Familiar faces come with forgotten names and long, very long pauses.
"Oh sorry, no, I only asked if your daughter was pregnant because she has that wonderful glow about her."
Last fall, against my better judgment, I attended the Dain City Reunion to honour the longevity and vibrance of the little village on the Welland Canal where I spent the first 17 years of my life. I only went to spend time with my childhood buddy Malcolm Hilton who, showing much better judgment than me, did not show up.
And it was fine, really. Old scores were not settled, nobody streaked the stage while I was speaking and a lot of compliments were exchanged – followed by "for your age." Everybody avoided the guy holding up a photo and looking for "the one who got away" mainly because he was still with the one who didn't. No real fathers were discovered if you know what I mean.
But there's always that question you never want to hear: "Do you remember how you humiliated me when we were growing up in Dain City? " I didn't of course but I had a feeling I was about to hear all about it.
We were having a drink, me and my buddy Paul Stout, who married Brenda Poll, who was still staring at me. "Well, do you?"
One summer, as the story goes, I coached the Dain City Girls Softball Team. I was about 16 years old and the girls were 12 and 13.
As Brenda started naming the players – ace pitcher Carolyn Rominger, Joanne Williams, Lynn Dorsey and Nancy Jowett – it all started coming back to me but not in a good way.
I was hitting grounders to the infield, which was anchored by Brenda at third base. Brenda was one of the best players on the team but today was not her day.
The drill was called "bring it home," – I'd hit to an infielder and she would throw to home plate to stop a run from scoring. The first one I hit to Brenda went between her legs and into left field. The second grounder hit her in the shin and the third popped out of her glove. In a real game we'd be behind by three runs, all on errors by the third baseman. That's when I lost it. I walked out to third, relieved Brenda of her glove and told her to sit on the bench nearby. "Watch and learn," I said, as sternly as a 16-year-old with acne and clam diggers could.
"Penny!" I yelled. "Come!" No not a girl but my super dog Penny, a medium-sized reddish mutt with buck teeth, the result of a collision with a motorcycle. In a flash, Penny was sitting beside the third base bag, panting and smiling and watching my every move.
"Stay!" I ordered, returning to home plate, where my catcher had her mask up on her head, squinting toward third base.
I hit a sharp grounder toward third that took three hops before it reached the base. Penny jumped straight up in the air, rising twice as high as he was tall and cleanly caught the ball in his mouth.
"Bring!" I yelled, and in front of 10 disbelieving teenage girls, Penny articulated the routine. He brought it home.
"Now Brenda," I said, using the bat as a pointer, "when you can play that position as well as my dog can, I'll give you your glove back." There was a fair bit of gigging and stifled laughter and not all of it was from the dog. I realize now it was the wrong thing to do and I understand how Brenda must have felt humiliated. I just didn't realize she'd be still bitter about it 50 years later.
Much more mature and wiser now, I'm not saying you shouldn't use household pets to show humans how to perform rudimentary tasks in life. I'm saying do not attend reunions where you can be confronted by these kinds of embarrassing stories. Reunions – no place for old men with a bit of a checkered past.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to williamthomas.ca