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U3A Writing: Fifty Years On

Barbara Adams tells a delicious tale of progressive attitudes at a 50-year school re-union.

A light hearted cheer drifted over the crowded room, and then a voice, louder than the rest, said, “What’s that great smell? I hope it’s food. Yeeesss!”

Janet nudged Marie and giggled. “I hope that someone’s not referring to my new vanilla perfume.”

The speaker gave a contented sigh and continued, “It smells just like the queen cakes that my mother used to make.”

“That can only be John Hill. I’d remember his voice anywhere,” Janet said, as she peered over the heads of the crowd and spotted a cheerful plump man with receding gingery hair and bushy ginger eyebrows. She eased her way between a chattering bunch and glanced quickly at his name tag, and then at his face.

“It is you, John,” she said. “That voice. It had to be you.”

John looked down briefly at her name tag, then smiled. “Janet Mason, nee Campbell. You look great after all these years, and you smell just like a walking kitchen.”

She gave him a hug. “You’re still the same, John. You haven’t changed much over the last fifty years.”

“Flatterer,” he said, as he rubbed the bald patch on the back of his head.

“Janet, it’s worth coming to a school reunion, just to be hugged by you. What have you been doing all these years?”

He looked straight at her. His eyes seemed tired. The bright blue irises she remembered, had dulled and greyed.

“Not too much. Everything went well, until two years ago when my husband was killed on the motorway, just north of the city.”

He gave her arm a comforting pat.

“What about you? Any family?” she asked.

“Well, I’ve got three lovely daughters, but their mother moved out over ten years ago with a guy from her work. But enough about that. It’s over and almost forgotten.”

Marie joined them at that moment. “I love reunions,” she said, “I’ve had more cuddles today than I’ve had in the last fifty years!”

All around them, groups were hugging and kissing and taking photographs. Janet and Marie made their way across the hall, looking at name tags, then shrieking excitedly as they recognised some of their old class mates.

“Who would’ve thought we’d still be here 50 years on? We’ve been lucky, haven’t we?”

“It must have been that school milk. Made our bones strong. Helped us to live longer.”

There were comments from all directions and they all had memories of the warm creamy milk which was served up each morning in little glass bottles.

“Remember John Hill,” said someone. “He didn’t ever shake the bottle. Just drank that thick cream at the top, and even licked the cardboard lid.”

“I wonder what happened to him?” said one of the group.

“He’s here,” said Janet. “I’ve just been talking to him. He hasn’t changed at all. There he is. Over there in the corner.”

She edged her way through the crowd and tapped John on the arm.

“We’ve just been talking about you. Come over the other side. Stella, Dorothy and Mary are over there. And Ken James. Do you remember him?”

“Of course I remember. You watch yourself, Janet Campbell.” He wagged his finger at her.

“I’m in my 60s, and nowhere near my dotage.”

She took his hand and led him across the room.

“I can’t remember carpet on the floor when I was at school,” said a woman’s voice.

“We didn’t even have it at home,” said another, and they started to reminisce about varnished floors and carpet squares.

“Wasn’t life strict when we were kids? Our families were old fashioned and narrow minded.”

“My old Bible class teacher once told us that we weren’t to hold hands with boys because it gave them silly ideas.” Stella was off again on another story.

The others were hooting with laughter. Janet was still clutching John’s hand.

“Are you getting any silly ideas?” he said with a cheeky grin and squeezed her hand. “Wouldn’t it be fun?”

She looked at the wrinkled skin around his face and neck and the discolouration on his fingers. She recalled the soft smooth hands that she’d held on the way home from the high school dance.

“Yes, it would be fun,” she said, a little sadly, and then changed the subject. “You know, one day you sneaked one of the meat patties out of my desk after the cooking class.”

“Not true,” he protested, while the others chuckled.

“Yes, you did, or at least the others said that you’d eaten it.” That provoked more laughter.

“Anyway,” Janet continued, “I was pleased. None of the other girls had their cooking stolen.”

“Well, in that case, it’s safe to own up now. That rissole was as good as the ones my mother used to make.”

They both moved to a less crowded area at the back of the hall by the orchestra stalls, and sat on the wooden forms.

“Have you retired yet?” she asked him.

“Yes. I gave up work two years ago and now I play golf and eat well. Two of my great delights.”

“I play some golf myself,” said Janet. “Just social games, mind you. And I like to cook. I forget that I’m on my own now, and I’m forever making stuff in large quantities. Then I eat it.”

She laughed as she patted her hips. “It’s no good for the figure.”

John noted that she had a comfortable shape, and he smiled.

“But,” she added, “after coming through the war years, nothing can be wasted,” and she smiled back.

“Yes,” he said, rather thoughtfully, and then he added, “It’s good meeting old friends. We have a lot in common. Our backgrounds were all similar.”

Janet looked serious. “Is that what it is? I feel as if I’ve come home this weekend. It’s hard to believe where those fifty years have gone.”

“Can I write to you?” John asked. He held his hand out to her again.

“I’d like that. But aren’t you up with the play? Don’t you use e-mail?”

“Yes I do and you’re obviously up with the new technology too.” He really beamed towards her as he said, “By the way, just how progressive are you?”

“Enough,” she said with a meaningful grin, and gave his hand an encouraging squeeze.

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