Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Who Are Those Old...and Young People?

The 40th reunion of the East Orange High School class of 1974 was last August. I wasn’t able to go because of a conflict with taking my oldest daughter back to college, but I did get to see the pictures that were posted on many Facebook pages. And as I looked at these photos, I wondered who were these people who looked like my grandparents’ friends.

Yes…not my parents’ friends, but my grandparents’ friends. Most of these people in these photos looked like the people I saw in old home movies and photographs of my grandparents and their friends, not of my parents and theirs. Of course, there’s a very good reason for this…the memories of my parents and grandparents, and each of their friends come from the same time; and at that time, my parents and their friends were in their 30s and 40s while my grandparents and theirs were in their 50s and 60s.

The reunion photos that would have us looking as we remembered our parents and their friends would’ve been taken 10 to 20 years ago, and I wouldn’t have been so shocked to see them. In fact, I wasn’t shocked at all when I went to my 20th reunion and saw these people in person…looking much as I remembered their parents…simply looking like grownups. But now…now I found myself looking at people I grew up with, looking like my grandparents, and the people they hung out with…and that was a little jarring.

Now…if you age along with someone, the process happens gradually, and you don’t notice as it happens to either you or them. For example, the other day I ran into my friend “Donna” from my undergrad years. We’ve run into each other on and off over the course of the past 34 years, and as far as I’m concerned, she hasn’t aged all that much. But the flip side of this is that when I look at a photo of her when we were students together, she looks like a kid. I’m so used to the adult Donna, that photo of the 20-year-old version seems strange to me.

But this isn’t all about what a shock it is to see photos of people I was a teenager with in their 50s and 60s. I figure that we’re lucky to have gotten this far…because quite a few of our cohort haven’t. No…it’s about something else very important that I realized as I looked through those photos.

Suddenly, as I gazed at those pictures from last summer, I became aware of something that I had known intellectually, but hadn’t grasped fully: my grandparents, who I had only ever known as being old, probably looked at photos of their friends (black and white photos, of course), and thought the exact same thing! They wondered where the teenaged or 30-something versions of Clara, Otto, Ethel, Prince, Jeanette, Marcel, Pearl, Carl, Katherine, and Ollie went. Especially since except for a few malfunctioning and slower-moving body parts, they didn’t feel like old people.

Suddenly, as I saw old people in my friends from years gone by, I saw young people in my grandparents and theirs.

I no longer saw those old photos of my grandparents as younger people as some sort of artifact from an alternate reality…

But instead, as evidence of younger days that were just as real for them as ours were for us.

Yes…because I see us as old, I can now see them as young.

1 comment:

  1. When I've gone to high school reunions, everyone looks old at first but then after a few hours, they begin to all look like they haven't changed. And no, I don't even drink! I think when you talk to people in real life, you get used to how much they've changed really quickly because you're listening to what they say.