As unlikely as it seems, it has been a month since I was in the heart of Plains country, attending the 55th reunion of my Kearney, Nebraska, High School class.
To get there I flew into Denver, where my sister who lives in Aurora, Colorado, met me. We spent the night at her house and headed east the next morning. She had plans to meet some of her classmates (1956) for dinner, while I attended the opening reception for my class.
I had attended the 50th reunion and the next year, an all-school reunion, attended by my brother and older and younger sisters, all KHS graduates. Even though we’d met the year before, a good number of my classmates came back for the all- school. Now here we were again, getting together just 4 years later.
This reunion was a very special one for me, as friends who hadn’t attended any reunions came. It was so exciting to see those special friends as well as those who regularly attended and some who hadn’t been for 25 years!
“No matter how long it is,” said one of our group, “when we see each other, we just start talking again as if we’d just seen each other the day before.”
t’s true. That’s exactly how it is, and it was so wonderful to see our reunion unfold, to catch up with each other as well as with all our other classmates. There were fewer than 125 of us to begin with. Those who have died make a number that seems way too large, so maybe that’s why it’s so special to see those still here.
One thing we were all forced to remember was the constant wind. Those of us now living in California, Louisiana, Illinois, West Virginia and Mississippi were reminded every time we stepped outdoors and the wind slapped our hair across our faces — at least, those of us who had longer hair.
On the second day, we all met for a box lunch at the new Yanney Park in southwest Kearney. The gift of a former resident, this carefully planned and newly developed park is not only physically beautiful, but it is the site of some well-designed buildings for meetings and senior services as well as for some significant sculptures.
One of these spotlights the fact that the Platte River at Kearney is a well-known stop-over for migrating birds of all kinds, most important, whooping cranes – and sandhill cranes. They are joined by geese, ducks and others every spring and fall.
Interstate 80 at Kearney is the site of the unusual Arch Museum. This museum focuses on Nebraska history. Visitors see the exhibits unfold as they move up and over the interstate through the arch. One almost has to experience it to understand it. It is not only a very unusual in structure, but it does an excellent job of portraying the subject.
After the reunion was over, my sister and I headed back toward Denver, via higher and flatter and more western points. Our first destination was Norton, Kansas, home of our last surviving aunt on either side of our family. The last aunt on our mother’s side died earlier this year, so this surviving aunt, our father’s youngest sister, is especially important to us now.
She is not that much older than we are, either, and she played with all of us when we were growing up. I have photos and great memories of visiting the Albin family farm and riding the pony. (I’ve been horse crazy since I was very young.)
We had a nice visit with her, our uncle and their son and daughter –in-law before heading on west to Norcatur, Kansas, a dust-blown, speck of a town that is gradually disappearing. We stopped to visit cousins on our mother’s side as well as to visit the city cemetery, which happens to be where all the ancestors on both sides of our family are buried, including our parents.
We came to leave at that cemetery the urn containing my husband’s ashes as well as those of his favorite cat, who pined for him and died a few months after he did. Her ashes were in a sweet container – a small gold canister with black kitty footprints painted on it.
Ken, who grew up in another tiny community, that one in Ozark County, Missouri, wanted half of his ashes taken to Sweeten Pond at Dora, Missouri, to be buried on his parents’ gravesite. The others he wanted put at my parents’ gravesite. Our relatives still at Norcatur found that very touching, as did I. We stayed the night, chatting away about all things family. The next morning we got to visit with two other cousins, one of which happens to be manager of the city cemetery.
The day we went to the cemetery happened to be one of those not unusual High Plains days when the wind coming off those treeless plains was about 40 mph, higher in gusts. We were doing well to stand up to it as we roamed the cemetery, looking for family grave markers. The only trees at the cemetery are aging cedars.
This trip north and west reinforced once again what the High Plains are to me, the terrain, the climate, the towns and cities, the people, my family and friends. I saw once again the great differences in all those factors from those of the South, especially the Deep South, where I’ve now lived for 35 years,
Whether you live on the High Plains all of your life or part of it, you don’t forget, just as you don’t forget living in the Deep South. So different, but the same in that each region makes a deep imprint on those who reside there.