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I drove to my hometown of Lincolnton, Ga. this past weekend to visit with old friends and acquaintances at a 40 year reunion of my high school graduating class. It was quite an experience. We’ve done some changing.

Of the 61 people listed in the program, six are dead, two by their own hand. The rest of us are, for the most part, showing significant signs of aging. Some of us, I thought, looked a bit worse for wear, while others are better preserved.

I was thankful for name tags. Some class members still bear a close resemblance to their high school appearance, but others were harder to recognize, especially if they’d radically changed their hair color — or lost it altogether.

We are generally 58-59 years old, and while many of us will be working for a while yet, at least a fourth of the class has retired already, most from state or federal jobs that pay full retirement benefits after 30 years. One is retired from several years in prison, and not as a guard or administrator. Locals believe he still has barrels of drug money buried somewhere. He was also the only person there who appeared to be under the influence of something other than the sweet tea and barbecue prepared by a classmate who runs a dairy farm and caters barbecue on the weekends.

That, I found, was a nice change: as we’ve grown older and perhaps more self-confident, fewer folk felt the need for excess alcohol as a social lubricant. Most of us were quite able to eat and converse and dance a little to music from the sixties, and find in that all the enjoyment we needed.

I was surprised to learn how many of my classmates still live in town, or have moved back after a time away. I was even more surprised, and a bit saddened, by how many of the local folk chose not to attend the gathering, including the three brave African-Americans who integrated our class back in the ninth grade. The way we treated them then remains one of my life’s greatest regrets.

I enjoyed catching up with old friends and learning how they have spent the past 40 years. Some have known a lot of heartbreak. Some have surprised their parents by turning out good after all. Some have made a difference close to home, some in the wider world.

I was grateful for the experience, and especially for the small group of “girls” who formed a committee and put the evening together, and who spent many hours trying to locate everyone and invite them to attend. It wouldn’t have happened if not for the women.

Some things don’t change.

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