The Last Page

Granny Goes to College

By Marian Heath Mundy-Hooper ’51

Notes from a 60th Reunion

Marian Heath Mundy-Hooper ’51 (center, shown with classmates Anne Eddison Brainerd and Virginia Cretella Mars)

I had my eyebrows tattooed for the occasion. No, not hearts or butterflies or skulls. I looked in the mirror one day and thought OMG, my 60th college reunion is upon me and something’s missing: Eyebrows!! I’ll be the only one without them.

So I had this salon kid make dark tracks with an ink marker. “Yikes, I can’t go out like that!” I howled when I saw it. “Many famous people have dark eyebrows,” my husband said. Except, in my case, the effect was more Groucho Marx than Frida Kahlo or Brooke Shields. With just a touch of Dracula. The tattoo kid assured me the color would fade. Thank goodness I wear glasses with dark frames.

A somber thought: I’ve been out of college for more years than the president of the United States has been alive. That means only one thing: My friends and I are really old. Although most of us will insist we don’t feel that old. Old people always say that.

I was lucky to go to Vassar, now full of really smart, helpful, attractive young people who major in things like cosmology, as opposed to cosmetology, which would actually be way more useful. They often go on to advanced degrees. In my day, most of us got the M.R.S. degree, although we did have some vintage female overachievers, doctors, lawyers, scholars, educators, a distinguished actress, and of course, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who bailed after two years, preferring Paris to Poughkeepsie.

At this year’s reunion, Main Building looked reassuringly familiar, except for all these college girls wandering around dressed up as grandmothers, many with gray hair. Obviously a costume party. I asked one of the granny impersonators where our class sign-in place was. “Heathie!” she hollered. “Bunny!” I yelled back. There followed an orgy of college-nickname screaming: Fergie! Twiss! Tigger! Is Fuzzy here? (Katherine B. hasn’t been called Fuzzy in decades. Her grandchildren don’t know that was her nickname, so don’t tell, okay?)

And all of a sudden, it’s 1950 and we’re stumbling across the Quad in the rain late for an eight o’clock with our raincoats over our rolled-up pajamas. It brought back my most embarrassing college experience: The time I got my pink pajama leg stuck in my bicycle chain and sort of limped my bike over to the window of French class (Rocky, ground floor). I tried to signal a pal to come out and help me. But of course the professor saw me. So there’s our teacher down on his hands and knees in the rain trying to untangle my pajama leg from my bicycle chain in full view of the whole tittering class. I could have, as they say, died.

I read somewhere that only happy and successful people show up at reunions. That is absolutely not true, in our case. Over the years, the reunion ambience has naturally reflected our stage of life—the striving years, the bragging years, the hot flash reunions, the confessional reunions, where we learn of infidelities, addiction, suicide, mental illness and similar serious problems. In other words: Life. In our middle years, reunion conversations often covered what I think of as the D topics: divorce, drugs, disease, disaster, death. And the realization that no college offers Preparation for Tragedy 201. Prerequisite: Be born.

Long past the competitive “my-kids-are-smarter-than-yours-and-my-job’s-more-important-even-if-your-chandelier’s-bigger” phase, our class reunion atmosphere now is one of affectionate acceptance and support. Even if the support includes a cane or walker and the discussions center around body parts, with emphasis on retrofitting to avert collapse. Even the bragging about grandkids was mercifully muted.

There’s the continuing sadness of knowing that the class “In Memoriam” list will get longer than the class mailing list. And of watching our Class Notes section, dragging its obituaries, gradually creeping to the front of this magazine.

But now, at least and at last, my classmates and I feel we’re truly mature and can finally concentrate on what’s really important—like counting the number of women on the campus tour bus who color their hair (only 9 out of 22). And figuring out who’s had what “work done.” And, in my case, practicing really hard to relax my forehead so my eyebrows won’t appear above my glasses.

Marian Heath Mundy-Hooper ’51 (center, shown with classmates Anne Eddison Brainerd and Virginia Cretella Mars) is a writer whose serious work has appeared in numerous publications. She also writes a nonserious monthly column, “Today’s Mundy,” for a chain of New Jersey weeklies. A version of this article first appeared in the June 14, 2011, issue of the Huffington Post.