High School Reunions in Rural Nebraska,
Are they a small town phenomena or is it the pheromones?
Question: When are people like salmon? Answer: During their migrations back to their class reunion! Alumna of small town high schools travel many miles often under difficult circumstances to get back to their place of youthful memories. Their migration like the salmons’ is predictable and occurs in 5 or 10 year increments.
I ask, “What entices mature adults of the species to travel many hours over long distances, overcoming hazards and discomfort to join their age-mates for a 24-hour swirl of mostly unremarkable activities?
Maybe in part the call to return to their small town on the Great Plains of Nebraska stems from the attraction of summer festivals. Swedish Days call graduates from Holdrege. Cambridge grads return periodically during Medicine Creek Days. McCook alumni return for the Storytelling Festival, Oxford alums to Turkey Days, Orleans to the Apple Festival, Eustis alumni return for Wursthaug Days, Arapahoe to the Prairie Pioneer Days, Curtis alums are called back to participate in the Curtis Fall Festival, Alma Alumni return for the Fourth of July Parade, and Bertrand grads often participate in the Bertrand Days celebration and rodeo. The list goes on until we include all 200 of the towns under 10,000 in Nebraska.
The Festivals aren’t the main attraction although they may generate the pheromone calling the species back to their birth place. The festivals do organize the date and time of the bloom. Example: The Holdrege High School classes of 1959 and 1960 joined together to invite their own back home during Swedish Days, June 22, 2014.
The majority of this species live their adult phase in stimulating cities on the East or West coasts or points inland like Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan where they most often make a beeline following their school days, and where they busy themselves in production of useful items or services.
The migration drew them from these distant cities back to their rural roots. Traveling into the hinterlands of Nebraska is arduous. The alumni of the classes of ’59 and ’60 flew into airline hub cities of Denver, Omaha or Lincoln, and then drove 3 to 5 hours to a small town on the plains of Nebraska to join their age cohort for a weekend of looking into the eyes of their class mates, talking, smiling and joking and remembering themselves at the peak of their physical prowess and beauty.
Never mind the costs of time and money, they came. One of the most hardy of the species raised himself up and out of his hospital bed following a repair of a back surgery to drive 9 hours to participate in the ritual. Another who drove from Sparks, Nevada was overheard saying, “If we had one every year, I would come!” Another was heard to say,” I connect with old friends, and I like remembering the good times we shared.”
Our conversations sound like a musical composition that I title “Jazz from Towns Under 10,000.” Voices in the crowd rise and fall like the buzz of cicadas high in the linden trees. We talk without knowing what we will say or hear, nothing prearranged yet a cadence emerges that feels natural and familiar. Similar to musicians who play together over many years, we alumni of small town high schools evolved our relationships with one another over eighteen formative years of face-to-face meetings and daily greetings and shared experiences.
Age mates travel from distant cities to reestablish connections and to remember the music and retell the stories we share from our teen age years. Over time and distance school mates from small rural schools preserve bonds of trust in one another and take pleasure in periodic check-ups.
I explore the question posed by author, Terry Tempest Williams, “What is required to own your place on the planet, know it, and to share belonging with it? Class reunions in towns under 10,000 may be among the answers.