Saturday evening I was quite happy to read – name tags.

For my first time since graduating high school in 1969, I returned to my home town to be part of a class reunion.

Though I lived in that same town – Reed City – for many years after my graduation, I never attended a class reunion, until last weekend.

To be honest, I always figured since I had less than a stellar high school career – in a class of 131, I managed only to graduate in the top 125 – I always thought I might be invisible to my classmates, as invisible as a snow flake in the desert.

It didn't help that I was selected Class Clown our sophomore year, either. Like I've said before, I always figured I peaked too early.

So gathering with old friends who'd remember me for such foolish accomplishments might serve only as a much-earned source of embarrassment.

I was wrong. Wrong. What else is new?

As we took turns stealing glances of each others name tags, followed by looking into each others faces, then glancing back down at the name tags, one thing was for certain – I was among friends.

Whether we graduated at the top of the class, or at the bottom – like me – was never the issue. What was at issue that we graduated, together. We had completed our K-12 education, together. We had played football and basketball, run track and cross country, had enjoyed high school plays and band concerts, together.

And so much more.

My high school career – my lack of effort – has always been one of my greatest regrets. But going back and shaking hands with old classmates, even sneaking in a few hugs and sharing a night-load of memories and laughs, is now something I'll always cherish – always remember.

Whether we did it by ourselves, or gathered into groups of two and three and four, we all took our turn at standing in front of the poster that listed the names of our classmates who have passed on.

That was humbling.

And whether we were at the center of the evening's discussion, or standing off to one side and only listening in, we all had one thing in common – to hear the spoken words of our collective memories.

If, perhaps, we all have changed a bit over the years – me, for example, there's two of me now where just one skinny kid used to be – many voices sounded so familiar.

Without turning around I knew instantly who it was, when I heard Mike St. Onge's peaceful voice. The same with Bob G. Roggow, Tina (Straathof) Erbes, Jim White and Jim Fleishhauer.

And I recognized them, too. At least most them. Though I did have to read Jim Fleishhauer's name tag three times before I “recognized” him, for sure. And I mean that in a good way, if one can be good about admitting not to recognizing an old friend after you haven't seen him, or her, for 45 years.

What a nice night, it was. Invigorating. Re-invigorating. Affirming. Life-affirming.

It was a night of friendship.

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He will be contributing columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him atdlbarber1006@gmail.com.