How I survived my husband’s 50th high school reunion – Or: Everything was going rather well until this old guy flashed me . . .

This is the story of how I survived my husband’s 50th high school reunion. It is also a book review of my new favorite book: “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari.  And, yes, the two are connected.


First, the back-story: Jack, my husband of 43 years, graduated from Wheeler High in Fossil. Fossil is located in Central Oregon and is about an eight-hour drive from Redding.

For those of you lucky enough to have never made this drive, (something I have done 32 times) here are the directions: Drive to Bend, turn right on a twisty two-lane road where the town of Willowdale used to be, and about three hours later you arrive in a hamlet with one store, one stop sign, five churches and about 400 people. Oh, and there’s a bar. Thank God. I’m not a huge drinker, but somehow in Fossil, well, it’s a survival mechanism.

Wheeler High, class of 1966

Wheeler High, class of 1966

I tried to get out of going to the reunion, but Jack bribed me by promising two days in Ashland including play tickets and shopping.  I agreed, but upped the ante and made him agree to listen to the audiobook of my choice.  (Jack only reads non-fiction; I prefer novels.) I was going to choose something I knew he’d hate, but I considered how I’m not quite ready to die in a car accident caused by him falling asleep at the wheel.

Just for the record, I did torment him for a few minutes with a Jane Austen selection. That was so he could be truly grateful (and attentive) when I turned on “Sapiens”. I should not have worried; within minutes, we were both mesmerized. Harari suggests that what propelled homosapiens to the top of the food chain was their unique ability to create fiction.

Animals live in an objective reality. There are trees, rivers, monkeys and lions. Animals can communicate, i.e. “Look out! There’s a lion by the river–climb a tree!”

But they cannot fabricate; a human can tell six lies before breakfast. People also have an objective reality, but the nuances of human communication allow for the transmission of stories. This led to a cognitive revolution because with these stories sapiens created social constructs and imagined realities — like government, money, hierarchy and gods.

Humans are primarily social animals and yearn for connection. We actually get a little surge of oxytocin when we converse with someone who agrees with us. Shared delusions, whether it be religious beliefs, cultural mores or nationalism, allow populations to cooperate and engage in group think. Thus armed, sapiens took over the planet.  The author speculates that this was not a terribly propitious thing for earth or other living things.

I could insert some interesting quotes here—I liked the audiobook so much I actually bought the hardback version—but I hope I’ve told you enough to entice you to listen to or read this for yourself. I was so entranced by my foray into non-fiction that I went on to listen to “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond—also excellent. And I’m on the library waiting list for “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger.

I don’t know about you, but I really get into my reading/listening material. I was so excited by the concepts in this book I thought I could apply them to my life. And specifically, maybe I could use what I learned to survive yet another bout of what I sometimes call “Fossilization.”

By now, you have probably surmised that I’m not fond of our trips to Fossil. I always start out OK and then I get really startled by something  I consider aberrant.  And I freeze. Like the time I asked for a martini (they didn’t have wine; they did have vodka) and it came with a black olive in it. That’s just so odd.

Once, in a neighbor’s front yard, I admired a hutch of bunnies. I was just being nice. The woman said, “pick one.” I said that I really didn’t have a place for a pet rabbit. She said, “Naw, I meant for dinner.” What happened next was violent and graphic. We did not stay for dinner.


Then there was the time we went to the Shamrock (the bar) on a Saturday night and there were about seven women with curlers in their hair. Yes, hair rollers with hair nets. You have to admit, that’s like Twilight Zone weird. I didn’t know you could even buy those brush rollers anymore. I asked Mac, a friend of Jack’s, about it. He explained that they were Baptists. I was still confused, so he elaborated, “They want to look good for Jesus tomorrow morning.”

I have hundreds of these little vignettes. But the endings are pretty much all the same: me, wide-eyed,  slack-jawed and speechless. Not a way to win friends and influence people.

But that was years ago. I like to think I’m a better person now. And after spending   several hours listening to “Sapiens” I thought I could improve my behavior. I would find connection. I would be convivial. At the very least, I would not embarrass Jack.

And everything was going rather well until this old guy in a vest flashed me. More about this later.

I skipped the first two hours of the event. I know my limits. When I arrived, I found Jack, who introduced me to many, many casually dressed people. Who knew that camo and shorts were the dress code? Not I. Did I mention this was not just a 50-year reunion? Anybody who ever graduated from Wheeler High was invited. There were attendees who graduated in the ’40s. That’s why they held it at the fairgrounds. There must have been a hundred people there.

I made a valiant effort. I smiled, I listened, I nodded like a bobble-head doll. Jack had abandoned me, but I could see he was laughing and having a wonderful time. I was wearing my most comfortable cute shoes, so even on concrete floors I was doing pretty well. I heard stories about people I did not know or care about with punchlines that didn’t make much sense to me. But I was doing fine.

I was feeling a bit cornered by a pot-bellied guy in a pocketed vest (fishing vest?) He had spent several minutes regaling me with an in-depth explanation of why his venison jerky was the best in eastern Oregon. I had smiled so much my teeth were dry and my lips tired.

I thought I was saved when the self-appointed Master of Ceremonies decided to give a spontaneous invocation before dinner. Everyone bowed their heads, so I had a chance to look around and give my smile a rest. He went on quite a while because he wanted to let everybody know he had quit drinking and had accepted Christ as his personal savior and we should too.

I felt very tired then, as I remembered this was a dry event. And then again, maybe I wasn’t saved as vest-guy gestured that we should move to the line snaking out from the buffet. I explained that I really should find my husband. He then gave me a gold-edged grin and said, “Nice talking to you, pretty lady, I’d like to give you this . . . ” and then he flashed me. No, he didn’t reveal his genitals. No indeed. He jerked open his vest to show the large red, white and blue campaign button on the inside: VOTE TRUMP 2016. “I have a bunch of these out in my truck.”

And it happened again. I was Fossilized. My eyes glazed over, my mouth dropped, and I just stared at him. As he was fumbling with the pin, I made an indecorous retreat. I found Jack already in line for the meal and I joined him.  On the bare banquet tables there were large metal rectangular vats with boiled sliced beef, boiled sliced ham, boiled sliced white potatoes, canned green beans, and carrots. And Jell-O salad.

I thought, “ewww.” But the man next to me said, “Oh, boy! Comfort food!”


The general mercantile in Fossil aka “the Merc”

IMG_0182And then I laughed. What can I say? If the worst that happens to me is I’m mistaken for a Trump supporter or served “comfort food” in the company of really very nice and well-meaning people, well, I suppose I’ll survive.  Not everybody is going to be part of my tribe. At home in Redding I rather make it a point to surround myself with people that share my delusions.  It’s very comfortable.  But being comfortable does not initiate growth and even at my age I’d prefer not to stagnate. So, I’m chalking this up as a “growth experience.”

Still, I did talk Jack into not spending another night in Fossil. We drove on, listening to the soothing words from an audiobook with which I was in perfect accord.

Hollyn Chase
Since her retirement, Hollyn Chase has served as VP of operations at Chez Chase--she also cooks and vacuums. Darling Jack, her husband of forty-two years, gets to be President; they agree that this is because he works much harder than she does. Being the VP is not all glitz and glamour, she does many mundane things. But she does them happily since she discovered that listening to audiobooks makes the boring bearable. Because her mind is always occupied, she's stopped plotting to overthrow the government. Her children, who rarely agree on anything, are both happy about this. Besides her addiction to fiction, she's fairly normal and sometimes even nice.
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24 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    Although I love attending reunions in my small home town, I can certainly understand why spouses either don’t attend or spend the evening with their eyes glazed over.  All three of the titles you mentioned are available as eBooks.  Never thought it would/could be, but I’m addicted to eBooks.  Could anything ever replace holding a print edition?  Well, yeah, it’s happened to me.  As one friend said, he can now eat a sandwich while reading and not drip mayonnaise on his book since he can read without using his hands.

    Thanks for the fun article.

  2. Great read – Fossil sounds like the setting for a Coen Brothers film.  Thanks for the books recommendations.

  3. Avatar Auntie Bee says:

    What a great way to start the day- a little observational (sarcastic) humor.
    Almost as good as this morning’s comparison of Ms. Trump and Ms. Obama’s convention speeches.
    I also loved Sapiens, it explained why we are what we are, and why we do the ridiculous things we do.
    Can’t wait to hear more………………………….

  4. Avatar Sharon Owen says:

    Hollyn’s posts should come with a warning: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. I laughed so hard reading this one that I nearly choked myself.

  5. Hollyn, I love your humor, wit, observations and style. We look forward to more of your columns. Thank you! Keep them coming!

  6. Avatar A Brady says:

    I want a picture of your face when confronted with TRUMP 2016 button.

  7. Avatar cheyenne says:

    This was a good read as my wife’s 50 year reunion is coming up in Hayfork.  It sounds like a lot of similarities between Fossil and Hayfork.  When my wife graduated the high school was at the fairgrounds.  She was part of a class of thirteen.

    • Avatar Hollyn Chase says:

      I’ve been to Hayfork and you are right! When my husband was growing up there used to be a lumber mill just outside of Fossil–Kinzua. Have fun at the reunion! Where will you stay? Are there any motels in Hayfork? There are none (of course) in Fossil.

  8. Avatar Darcie says:

    Hollyn thanks for sharing both the book and your experience!   I can so relate.  First time I had dinner at my future spouse’s house, I complimented his mother on her stew.   She told me one of the boys shot the squirrel for dinner.  I promptly lost mine.

    • Avatar Hollyn Chase says:

      Oh, Darcie, I can so relate to your squirrel dinner.

      Jack’s mom used to serve chucker casserole–complete with instructions to chew carefully as she couldn’t always get the buckshot out!

  9. Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

    This is hilarious! Thank you for the photos of the Fossil mercantile too, because I only had my husband’s description to go on, from about 8 years ago when he spent a few weeks there in November working on a road construction project. Verizon didn’t work there, so he had to borrow a phone from another guy every other day and drive to the top of a hill to get a signal and call me. He was so lonely that he asked me to try to come visit him for the weekend, and realized that it would cost me $913 in airfare, car rental & gas for a grand total of 6 hours with him, after taking a 5:45am flight to Pendleton with only 2 changes, then renting a car and driving a few hours…then leaving at 2:30am to drive/fly back, returning at 4pm Sunday. I never did see Fossill!

    • Avatar Hollyn Chase says:

      Thanks Valerie,

      I appreciate that you missed your husband, but trust me, you didn’t miss much else. There is a reason so few people choose to live there . . .

  10. Avatar Deborah Spiess says:

    I loved reading this, Hollyn.  I did not read the byline and didn’t realize it was you until I got to the bottom…..though I sure heard your voice throughout.  Great read! Looks like you have found another calling for your considerable talents.

  11. Avatar pam Alexander says:

    As a long time friend of Hollyns, I always thought she embellished her stories about Fossil.  I even thought maybe she gave Jack’s hometown the fictionalized name Fossil to indicate what it would be like once  you arrived.  Sorry, Hollyn, but I did have my doubts until we experienced for ourselves being “Fossilized.”  OMG it was like going back to the 50’s.  Add Jack’s class reunion and the weekend had to be EPIC.  I hope you bought lots of things in Ashland.

  12. Avatar name says:

    Is that an old cash register in the photo?  If so, it appears that it could be worth quite a bit these days…

  13. Avatar Barbara N. says:

    Really…a black olive in a martini! Made my day!!

  14. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Great article Hollyn.  I will read that book.

    May I recommend “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer?  It’s a book that explains some of the new neuroscience discoveries about brain communication, and I think, explains why what sometimes seem like a “feeling” about something is very often accurate.  I mention this because oxytocin is part of the communication network.

    It sounds as though visiting Fossil is as foreign to you as moving to Los Angeles was foreign to me when I left the canyon north of Bishop to go to college.   I love that you went to the reunion with your husband and traded for for tickets to plays in Ashland and some shopping.  Again, wonderful article.


    • Avatar Hollyn Chase says:

      Thanks for the recommendation–I just downloaded the e-book from the library. Gosh, I just love free books!

  15. Avatar KarenC says:

    I loved your story and I can also relate.  The last time I went to my husband’s class reunion it was the last…for me.  He is 83 and the reunions are held every 5 years.  They are held at the Elks Club in Eureka which has a nice, grassy parking area for RV’s.  Perfect for us to go over to the cool weather and park right there.  No worries about driving, after having a few glasses of wine.  That last time there were so few people, and most had left by 8:00 pm.  The ones that were still there were my husband’s closet friends in high school and they wanted to come to our RV to continue to drink and have a good time.  I put the brakes on that and went to the RV and went to bed.  He stayed another hour to visit.   This past reunion he went by himself.  I have not heard of anymore class reunions.  There comes a time when events have to be given up.

  16. Avatar Vick says:

    It could have been worse. You could have been mistaken for a Hillary Clinton supporter! Eeeeewwww!

  17. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Good heavens . . . or is it good gracious . . . you are, no doubt, destined for saint-hood! I can envision the trip even as I type.

    I’ve played gigs which included playing on a parade float and playing for the dance afterward in an unheated metal (that’s metal, NOT mental) barn, in towns that I believe are the suburbs of Fossil. Towns like Prineville and Christmas Valley. But I’m on my way to pursue Sapians on my e-reader so I’ll have some ammunition next time I’m contacted about playing in eastern Oregon.

    • A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

      Oops, mis-spelled Sapiens. And that should have read ‘peruse’, not ‘pursue’ . . . . don’t know if that was spellcheck or sloppy fingers.

  18. Avatar F Huntsman says:

    Having spent two days at a Fossil “B&B” in the recent past, I know everything in your post was true.  You nailed the essence of the place perfectly. In spite of the two evenings I spent batting away moth clouds in my room and the limited cuisine at the café, I have fond memories of the place.  Perhaps because it was a journey through an alternate universe!  Thanks for the funny travelogue!

  19. Avatar Jorgib says:

    Loved this story. And, I believe it’s true! I’ve been through a few “Fossils” and preferred going through to staying. Very funny experience you described so well.