It’s the time of year that lends itself to reunions: not necessarily the official, capital “R” kind with college classes or multi-generational families that take place in late spring on campuses or midsummer at lake houses, but the unofficial reunions in which holidays or other homecomings bring us together with familiar faces from our past.
I was part of two such gatherings in the past week, though only in retrospect did I see similarities between the two events. One was a yearly party for high school friends. The other was an afternoon when it happened to fall upon me to feed the livestock at my parents’ farm.
I’ve hosted a pre-Thanksgiving gathering for classmates from high school for the past four years or so. The group that gathers isn’t a defined clique, like those at the center of so many novels. This isn’t about four women who were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings or lived together in New York apartments after college graduation. It’s just a general invitation that goes out over social media every fall encouraging anyone from our class – or the class ahead of us, or the class behind us, or really anyone at all who ever knew any of us during high school – to get together.
Sometimes only my closest friends show up; other years, alumni join us whom I barely knew during our Concord Academy days. But it always works out. There are the obligatory “Wasn’t it you who” and “Remember that class trip when we,” but by the time the evening ends, we’ve always gone so much deeper than that: into what matters most to us now. Our careers, whether successful or foundering; our marriages or lack thereof, our children or the choices we’ve made not to have children; our travels; our joys and disappointments.
The other reunion took place in ankle-deep mud, and was meaningful in a very different way. For about three years, it was my daily responsibility to feed the sheep and cows at my parents’ farm. The routine began after I almost simultaneously lost my job and adopted a dog; with the kids off at school in the morning, I was free, and spending time in the barnyard was a great way for the dog to get some exercise. My farmhand duties continued until my father took on a business partner in his farming enterprise three years ago and I was no longer needed. By then I was ready for a break from the daily slog out to the haybarn.
But this weekend, with my parents and their business partner all out of town for the holiday, it fell on me once again to care for the animals. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the task, but the minute I climbed over the fence and dropped into the mud in front of the barn, I became aware of how happy I was to be back there. The cows looked at me with eager hungry eyes, just as they used to. The sheep had the same benign gaze they always had. Retrieving the haybales and throwing them into the feeder was the same energizing stretch-and-lift workout I remembered from nearly a half-decade ago.
It was good to be back amidst the farm animals, and it was good to be back amidst my high school friends, and I hope neither group will be offended by the comparison. The point is that returning to old friends, be they agile (if increasingly middle-aged) two-legged humans or shaggy milling cattle, is rewarding. It reminds us of who we were, thirty years ago or just three years ago, and it reassures us that we can return. Familiarity is comforting, whether it comes in human or bovine form. At the party and in the barnyard, I was happy to be back amidst familiar faces.