08/15/2014 05:23 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2014

50th Reunion First Rule: Just Admit You Don't Recognize Most of Your Old Pals

I've never attended a school reunion in my life. Not high school, college, or graduate school. Never. But the 50th Oswego High School (NY) reunion was irresistible to me. I asked myself, "If not now, when?" And so I booked the hotel, rental car, and flight, and took off for Lake Ontario.

What I know now, absolutely for true, is what I had feared all along: Other than a handful of those who had been close friends, I hardly recognized anyone. And the same blank stares, and surprised, "Oh, really? That's you?" greeted me even with those I thought I knew pretty well.

I certainly don't look the same, and neither do my old friends, with a few exceptions. So I was an easy mark when the jovial class clown decided to pull my leg, figuratively speaking. I was as easy to entice as an old Oswegonian by a Rudy's Texas Hot.

"Hello, Martha!" he said, all six foot two of him, now with more than one chin, a receding hairline, and a grin I just didn't recognize. (Look right into the eyes, a friend had advised me before the trip --- you usually can remember who they are through the eyes). I peered intently into his big brown eyes. Nothing.

"You have to guess who I am," he said, towering over me, his right hand covering his name tag. I told him I didn't think I could guess because I had just arrived after a 17-hour trip to get to the Friday night get-together, and I was bleary-eyed. "Oh, sure you can," he persisted. "Who do you think I am?" I looked closer. I had no idea.

"Okay, okay," he laughed. "I'll tell you: I'm Doug Buske!"

Well, Doug Buske. Doug and I had gone all the way through school together, from kindergarten to high school, and although we weren't close friends, Doug was a good friend. But this fellow before me didn't look at all like the Doug Buske I knew for thirteen years. My fault, I thought, and so I gave in.

"Doug! How wonderful to see you!" I said, moving closer, opening my arms to give him a big hug and kiss on the cheek.

Hahahahaha, came the return, as the hulk whipped his hand off his name tag. "I'm not Doug Buske! You missed it by a mile!" I recoiled, gave him my least lovely smile, and said, "I feel pretty foolish, but I have to say, I still don't recognize you at all." He told me who he was, and the truth is, I still didn't remember him.

Sometime later another tall fellow presented himself, hand over his name tag. Oh, no, I said. I won't go down that "guess who" trail again this weekend. He smiled and gave me a big hug. "I'm the real thing." And I saw it immediately in his eyes: Doug Buske. We talked for a long time and I was very happy to have spent time with him again, reminiscing about elementary school.

Rule #2: If you go to your 50th, and it's anything like ours, don't expect to dance until dawn. At our Saturday night gathering at a formal venue, dinner was served as we took our seats at tables for six, and although Greg Smith, our class and school leader for many years, attempted to get the crowd going with a pass-the microphone-and-tell-us-about-a memory-you-have of OHS, it was relatively short-lived. By 9:30 p.m. a few couples were waltzing and several gals line-danced on the ballroom floor as people began to gather their auction items and make their way home to hearth or hotel. By 10:30 p.m., I was tucked in and ready for sleep.

Had we lost our verve? Not at all. I think it's just not as easy to party hearty when our joints talk back, the glass or two of wine kicks in, and we can barely read each other's nametags. And so it is at 68 in Baby Boomer land.

Rule #3: If you're on the fence about attending your reunion, go, go, go. It is worth the trip and the time to see your childhood friends. I applaud those who spent the better part of the year making the arrangements for all of us, and for the constant communications involved. I understand a post-reunion newsletter is planned and I suspect I will open it the minute it comes to my inbox.

Regrets? My only regret is that because of time and tide, I was able to reconnect with only a few of my classmates in any depth. Still, the number and variety of surface connections was very satisfying. When it was all over, memories of our smiles, gray hair, laughter, stories, and the receiving of real hugs of joy for, and from, each other made our 50th Reunion the bomb.

Here's to you Huck and Diane, Joe and Nancy, Ann, Greg and Ellie, Kristina and Rich, Terry Smith, Joanne and Jim, Tony, Margaret, Roseanne, Ronnie Nix, and the ever-cool Fran Clark. And to the prankster? Next time I'm wearing a wig, and covering my nametag. Gotcha.

Martha Nelson is an award-winning journalist and a former educator, nonprofit executive, chef, and musician. Her first novel, Black Chokeberry, was published in April 2012 and is available on She currently is at work on a collection of short, and short-short stories, a children's series about the adventures of Lulu, Bart, and Charlie, her beloved dogs, and has started a new novel.