Many will testify, along with a rich domain of social scientists, that "coming of age" in a small cohesive agrarian community (Midwest and Northern Midwest harvesting the highest per capita electoral vote), presents boundless opportunities for personal growth and civic participation. John Deere, Minneapolis Moline, and Big Smith as "Gibraltor icons,” small towns with a homogenous economy offer fertile ground for maximum personal inclusion and strong group and cultural identity. These demographics serve to foster solid values and self-reliance. Heck, even "real farmers and outdoor folk" might eat rutabagas and quiche!
As transplants from Oregon, twin brother Ron and I discovered our introduction to Iowa Jr. High and High School to be a "Cossack" mix of ruggedness and friendliness. From tackle football (co-ed) on snowy frozen playgrounds, to group joy and caramel apples at class academic and extracurricular activities, school became a complete experience! Numerically, our class stood at about 160 with minimal influx or outflux in a town of twelve thousand population. We all knew each other for “better or worse,” and all were beholden to the same rules and norms in our academic environment.
Our class was loosely stratified into several categories. Like a classic Clint Eastwood Western, there were the “Super Elite,” the “Good,” the “Regulars,” and the "Socially Challenged." An additional category was the "College Prep" group, where the precocious, and often socially and physically clumsy flourished, and helped ensure the local library shelves were dust-free! A unique feature in our town was the presence of the VA government hospital. This offered a group of us from family backgrounds of extensive higher education with the expectation we would follow that tradition.
Following graduation, some of us were to stray from Wonder Bread and local fence rows, and those beautiful beckoning perennial verdant waving fields of corn --to seek adventure and service on a national front and distant shores. The "homecoming lure" was deeply implanted and powerful, so in subsequent years the return to class reunions was inevitable!
Being faithful and supportive attendees to several reunions, certain themes and experiences have stood out. Here are a few of them.
Name Tags May Be Required
It was our first reunion; it was a Sunday picnic as my girlfriend Helga from Bavaria, Germany and I, bringing two jugs of apple cider strode up to my classmates. As my appearance was nature-bleached long wavy hair like a San Francisco "flower child," I could perceive they looked confused, so politely announced my name. Then stunned silence erupted into hand-pumping fellowship. Presently, I found myself talking with a very pleasant classmate that I frankly couldn't identify. Finally, eureka! Those eyes imbedded in a visage now the size of a Hoosier pumpkin was Henry! Other classmates were recognizable, however many had undergone horizontal expansion!
Saturday Night Calories
The banquet was held at a converted sale barn. If osmosis works, one could almost detect some lingering fragrance and history of the prior inhabitants! We were served a voluminous meal. Besides the iconic corn, 3/4 of a chicken appeared on our plates. I murmured to Ron, as I scouted for extra napkins, "this is enough to last us a week!" That meal, with most talking and moving progressively slower, may have at least satisfied the appetite of any testy Norseman!
The Ultimate Accolade
It was the night before the 10 Year Class Reunion. I had put on my training shoes and was enjoying a leisurely and deja 'vu run through the streets of my old hometown. In time, I was joined by a very friendly and accomplished runner, who after a mile stated he was visiting from Ohio. He then asked me what high school I ran for.. Someone, please, say the "Time Machine" is true!!
The Ugly Duckling Is Real:
During her high school years Naomi was quite comely and rather ungainly, somewhat reserved, but a very sweet person. Her Dutch heritage seemed to be accented in her pallid and anorexic appearance. However, in 15th Reunion, this beautiful and cultured creature appeared, to everyone's delight. Her wardrobe was even captivating. Talk and wonderment occurred long after she left, mainly among the ladies of course!!
Reconciliation and Restored Ego:
Years hence, there was a dance for our 7th Grade held in the Junior High Gymnasium. The guys and gals were nervously seated on those black folding chairs on separate sides of the dance floor. as the music picked up, my confidence grew, as my wavy hair looked right and Dad had presented the surprise of a new sport coat. After a few slow dances, which did not require 'Fred Astaire' finesse, I spied Ruby looking more bashful and cuter than ever, adorned in a beautiful dark blue dress. I walked up and asked her for a dance. She then giggled, and replied "no." Stunned, I smiled and moved away. (Actually, I considered vainly I was doing her a favor to dance together). Around the 20th Reunion, it was great to see Ruby as a strong class event facilitator. I couldn't hold back while we were sharing Mexican food at the only such restaurant in town with class leaders. "Do you remember the 7th Grade Dance? And what was it about your refusing to dance with me that exciting evening?” She religiously confessed the reality: " I came to the dance to be with my friends, but since I am a Seventh Day Adventist, I am not allowed to dance." So I retorted in mirth, and nearby friends likewise; "forty years of rejection now completely healed!" We hugged, and went on to higher subjects!
Recall of Crushes
Upon review of high school teachers, some of us came to the admission that we tended to blush and stammer around a few certain teachers, and tended to have attention lapses while in impossible fantasies about those lovely creatures! As a senior, I walked a specific route returning home from school. This junior named Paula had a magic quality and design, and would emit the sweetest 'hello' as we passed. Somehow, my system got into meltdown, as each time we passed, and the best I could muster was a muted "hi." I felt to be a living example of the English duo, Peter and Gordon, with their hit song, "I get so shaky and can't hold my feet, every time my baby passes by." If these feminine mystics only knew the planets they moved!
At the 25 Year Reunion, one very likeable classmate who was known to miss more answers on tests than most, proudly introduced her husband at the main banquet: "He's all ah got, but ah think all keep him after all," while leading him around by the neck like a prize bull at the Iowa State Fair. As the years tumble forward, it is observed that many of the classmates with their long-term marriages seem to look, talk and ambulate the same. As Twin Ron concludes: "The years seem to make for similarities and differences among classmates in general. There is a downhome friendliness to a Midwest gathering."
Psychologists say the core personality steadfastly remains the same through the years. Our class exemplified that point--the hearty laughers still bellowed out a broadside or ten, the complainers still complained, and the moody bluers were still meandering in melancholia. "The humanness of it all in our small hometown makes it all the more colorful and delightful."
A Sage Summary: Ten Reassuring Commandments for Mitigating Midwest Reunion Jitters
* Not necessary to have an extra pail of university degrees.
* Not necessary to get a new job.
* Not necessary to drop that extra tonnage.
* Not necessary to have a facelift or radical new hairstyle.
* Not necessary to acquire companionship (if single) that rivals Kim Kardashian or George Clooney. (A facsimilie of Elvira or Mickey Rooney will suffice!)
* Not necessary to arrive at the main banquet in a limo from a converted hearse.
* Not necessary to show up with a pot-bellied bullfrog or gay gecko!
* Not necessary to display a real estate dossier of more condos on Kodiak Island.
* Just the transparent authentic you is good enough.
* We are valued for who we are.
Jim and Ron Barker