Grandma Goes to College: Notes From My 60-Year Reunion

Our class reunion atmosphere now is one of affectionate acceptance and support. Even if the support includes a cane or walker and the discussions center around body parts, with emphasis on retrofitting to avert collapse.
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I had my eyebrows tattooed for the occasion.

No, not hearts or butterflies or skulls. I looked in the mirror one day and thought OMG, my 60th college reunion is upon me and something's missing: Eyebrows!! I'll be the only one without them.

So I had this salon kid make dark tracks with an ink marker. Or whatever she did. "Yikes, I can't go out like that!" I howled when I saw it. "Many famous people have dark eyebrows," my husband said. Except in my case, the effect was more Groucho Marx than Frida Kahlo. With just a touch of Dracula. The tattoo kid assured me the color would fade. Thank goodness I wear glasses with dark frames.

I've been out of college for more years than the president of the United States has been alive. Sixty years... that means only one thing. My friends and I are really old. Although most of us will insist we don't FEEL like octogenarians. Old people always say that.

I was lucky to go to a great Seven Sisters school, then all-girls (oops, women!), now co-ed and full of really smart, helpful, attractive young people who major in things like cosmology, as opposed to cosmetology, and go on to advanced degrees. In my day, most of us got the M.R.S. degree, although we did have some 50s-style female overachievers: doctors, lawyers, scholars, educators, a distinguished actress and, of course, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who bailed after two years, preferring Paris to Poughkeepsie.

At our 60th this year, Main Building looked reassuringly familiar, except for all these college girls wandering around dressed up as grandmothers, many with gray hair. Obviously a costume party.

I asked one of the granny impersonators where our class sign-in place was. "Heathie!" she hollered. "Bunny!" I yelled back. There followed an orgy of college-nickname screaming: Fergie! Twiss! Looper! Is Fuzzy here? (Katherine B. hasn't been called Fuzzy in 60 years. Her grandchildren don't know that was her nickname, so don't tell, OK?)

And all of a sudden it's 1950 and we're stumbling across the Quad in the rain late for an eight o'clock with our raincoats over our rolled-up pajamas. Brought back my most embarrassing college experience, the time I got my pink pajama leg stuck in my bicycle chain and sort of limped my bike over to the window of French class and tried to signal a pal to come out and help me. But of course the professor saw me. So there's our teacher down on his hands and knees trying to untangle my pajama leg from my bicycle chain in full view of the whole tittering class. I could have, as they say, died.

I've been back to college many times in more than half a century, so I've gotten over the shock of seeing half-naked boys drinking beer and lounging around on totally-naked mattresses in my old dorm room. We had room inspections to make sure our beds were made and a strict no-alcohol rule. We made up for it by nonstop smoking and card-playing.

I read somewhere that only happy and successful people show up at reunions. That is absolutely not true, in our case.

Over the years, the reunion ambiance has naturally reflected our stage of life, the striving years, the bragging years, the hot flash reunions, the confessional reunions where we learn of infidelities, addiction, suicide, mental illness and other serious problems. In other words, Life. In our middle years, reunion conversations often covered what I think of as the D topics: Divorce, drugs, disease, disaster, death. And the realization that no college offers Preparation For Tragedy 201. Prerequisite: Be born.

A fun side effect of reunions is that, in addition to catching up with friends, you often get to know interesting classmates you didn't know, or hardly knew, in college.

Long past the competitive My-kids-are-smarter-than-yours-and-my-job's-more-important-even-if-your-chandelier's-bigger phase, our class reunion atmosphere now is one of affectionate acceptance and support. Even if the support includes a cane or walker and the discussions center around body parts, with emphasis on retrofitting to avert collapse. Even the bragging about grandkids was mercifully muted.

There's the continuing sadness of knowing that the class In Memoriam list will get longer than the mailing list. And of watching our class notes section gradually creeping to the front of the alumni magazine, dragging its obituaries.

But now, at least and at last, my classmates and I feel we're truly mature and can finally concentrate on what's really important. Like counting the number of women on the campus tour bus who color their hair (only nine out of 22). And figuring out who's had what "work done."

And, like me, practicing really hard to relax my forehead so my eyebrows won't appear above my glasses.

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