One of my favorite cinematic moments is the closing scene of the movie “Love Actually”. The plot has reached its climax. “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys fills the gaps left by the narrator. A montage of airport embraces, kisses, and caresses fill the screen. And the tenderness of reunions comes to life.
While I wasn’t expecting my high school reunion to be dramatized with a charming Beach Boys soundtrack, I very much looked forward to seeing my old friends. We keep in touch, speak frequently and even get together a couple of times a year. But there’s something special about gathering in the nostalgic setting of our childhood.
Shelley and I flew in early Friday morning. I was bursting with excitement. It had been six years since my last visit to Brownsville, and I had heard so much about the changes that had taken place. This dusty old city was turning into a thriving metropolis. A cosmopolitan destination for jet-setting trendsetters… or something like that.
As we drove into town, I was confronted with an alternate reality.
I was horror-struck by how unsightly the city had become. Granted, Brownsville had never been palatial or lavish, but it possessed an undeniable charm with its unique border-city culture and nearby beach.
Old buildings had become severely dilapidated. Empty spaces filled in with tacky strip malls. Litter scattered throughout the streets.
The hardest part was driving through my old neighborhood. Not long ago, this was one of the best-kept and more desirable areas in town. Now it looked like people had stopped tending to their gardens, ceased with general house maintenance, and just generally stopped taking pride in their homes. My old house looked so sad. A fading shadow of its former splendor.
I felt like a confused George Bailey wandering the streets of Pottersville looking for ZuZu’s petals.
At this point I was ready to get back on the plane.
But all was not lost. Hope remained. And it came in the form of a beef taco.
As long as I can remember, Antonio’s has been one of Brownsville’s most popular restaurants. A favorite of the entire Boudreausian household, I spent nearly every one of my adolescent birthdays there. And during the summers of my high school years, Jerry Ruiz and I would eat there multiple times a week. So it was only fitting that my first meal back in town had to be with my old friend Antonio.
We picked Jerry up and raced towards a mealtime destiny with the Fajita Taco Dinner. Suddenly, things started making a turn for the better. So what if Brownsville looked like a giant flea market? Big deal if there was a chalk outline surrounding the tattered remains of my childhood home? These were just temporal props in the story of our lives. As Jerry and I shared stories from our childhood with Shelley, while we enjoyed the perfection that is an Antonio’s meal, and while we all agreed that a lifetime of memories was still yet to be made—in the midst of it all—everything seemed right in the world again.
By that night, everyone that was going to make the reunion was in town. The cast of characters included Carlos, D.D., Abelardo, Eric, Jerry, and me. Unfortunately—Teno, Ruben, Jorge, and Jacob couldn’t make it, but many (and I mean many) a toast was made in their honor. Along for the ride were the incomparable Danny, Abelardo’s partner, and—of course—the lovely legend herself, Shelley.
That first night we spent the evening at Abelardo’s dad’s spectacular restaurant over in Mexico. Fine wines, tender steaks, and catching up. It was the perfect combination for a night that could only be described as flawless.
The next day we spent the afternoon at the beach soaking in the rays and swimming in the blue waters. There’s something about being on the beach that makes a vacation truly relaxing. The smells, the sounds, the breeze … it must all just come together and release some kind of relaxation endorphin.
And then came the moment of truth.
The night when ten years of changes would occur in an instant. Forgotten faces would reappear. And everyone would see how kind or unkind the years had been. To make it even more authentic, our high school reunion took place in our old cafeteria. Yes, the cafeteria. St. Joseph Academy really broke open the budget for this celebration!
In spite of the dining hall backdrop, the night was a smashing success. Everyone was familiar in a small high school like ours, with many of us having been in school together since kindergarten—some longer than that. So it was very fun to see and hear where life had taken every one.
It should come as no surprise that Shelley was a big hit. I once lost track of her for well over an hour, only to find her outside hanging out with all the cool girls—laughing it up and making me a legend. It was priceless.
Two after-parties and numerous beverages later, it was 4 a.m., and we were finally back at the hotel. So many stories could be told detailing the many escapades of the night, but for now, those will remain between me and the streets of Brownsville.
When it was all said and done, my ten-year high-school reunion was an unforgettable experience. It was filled with personal reunions of every kind. Hugs with old friends. Catching up with estranged acquaintances. Laughter at how some things never change.
Most of all, it reminded me that no matter how much change life brings, there’s nothing quite like an old friend. Whether it’s put on some pounds. Lost some hair. Or been filled with strip malls.