Long ago, in a small Dutch town, the choices were not only limited, we had no say in the matter. Doesn’t sound fair does it? Adults weighed the pros and cons without seeking any advice from us on the matter. What these parents may have considered a minor decision of no consequence would have a huge impact on a group of 45 pounders, happily playing outside during the last, lazy days of summer during August, 1956.
What we didn’t realize, (we were only 5 at the time) the conversations of our parents that summer would be life changing. For some families there was no discussion, others might have been torn trying to decide which way to go. Could really go only 2 ways. You either sent your kid to Rock Valley Community School or the Christian School.
The church my parents were attending for the 3 years prior preferred sending their children to the small Christian School exclusively. But for some reason Mom & Dad sent me to the public school (a mere 2 blocks from our house). Don’t know if they couldn’t afford the tuition for 3 kids because I never asked. In my heart I know I would have been just fine had my parents chosen a different school choice path for their youngest wayward child, but that’s real hard to see when I’m reminded of the life long relationships with the core group of 5 year olds I met on those first days of school.
Our initial kindergarten group wasn’t very big. Two classes, morning and afternoon, each about 20 kids. But Rock Valley was growing and it was with manufacturing and retail, plus a few more farmers. A couple of factories were booming, more workers were hired, bringing in new families. Over the years families moved in and out, (Reinke’s in-Harmon’s out) but this initial group remained-bound at the hip. For better or worse. By the time we were finished meeting on a daily basis, the class of ’69 would number closer to 60.
Did you catch the part about ‘on a daily basis?’ Think about that for a minute. Say what you want about a humongous graduating class of 350, 500 or more, but this fact remains. The starting team of our 1956 kindergarten would attend school TOGETHER over 2,300 days. With 180 days of school a year averaging about 7 hours, we were TOGETHER over 16,000 hours. Just in class TOGETHER. Yes there was an imaginary (social) caste system (ha-ha-gotcha, I did learn something in school) some cliques, friends for life while other friendships faded, but our basic group remained intact. And those were just the required hours of learning.
Extra curricular activities, speech, sporting events, shopping trips, bowling alley pizzas, camps during the summer, Lake Okoboji, cheerleading, swimming, yakking on the phone (my phone number was 691), slumber parties, pep rallies, bus rides to and from games, field trips. The class of ’69 spent some quality time together. Seriously. For 13 years. Longer than many marriages these days. Wow. We did good. Really good.
From tears on the first day of school with some frightened tykes wanting to go back home, to skinned knees, resisting our nap time with the shades pulled, broken bones from playing too rough during recess or PE. Watching one of our classmate’s tongue get stuck to a frozen slide pole during a cold spell (I’m being kind here. An Iowa cold spell means not getting above zero-sometimes for several days in a row, but we still played outside for recess and after lunch).
At the beginning of each new school year as our class continued to age and grow, you were never guaranteed who would be in your class, which fabulous or so-so teacher you might have. This was good and bad. You might be separated from your bestie for 7 hours a day, but it was a unique opportunity to get better acquainted with some other kids who weren’t in your (social circle) the previous year either. And everyone from our class still had lunch together and recess.
So do kids from gigantic schools have the same ‘close’ feeling like our core group from a small, rural Iowa town? I find it hard to believe that a group of 350 just goes around hugging everyone in the class during reunions, but hey, maybe they do. More likely though, you stick with your small group of kids you ran around with most of the time when you were in school. That’s how the caste system really works.
As hard as it is to fathom, my class of ’69 had another reunion last weekend. I wonder if anyone ever actually thought about being OUT of high school for 50 years? I sure didn’t. Our turnout was terrific. I was hopeful 20 classmates plus spouses would show, and the number was about double that. My theory on this is things change drastically after your 25th reunion. Everyone’s pretty much done with one-upping anyone, no one cares if you’ve gained weight, got new joints, have less or no hair, nor the color. We’re way past house size, and high paying stressful jobs. Our conversations now include bragging about the kids and grandchildren. When those subjects have been depleted, we’ve all got health issues that require second, third or 4th opinions.
Still it’s scary when you walk in (like the first day of a new school year). Unless I’m friends with them on Facebook, there’s only a handful of kids I actually recognize. It’s the truth. And no one recognizes me. No one. Ah well, it is what it is. There were several tables set up and 30 people milling around when Hubs and I arrive. I’m looking for ANYONE who looks vaguely familiar and praying there are name tags or I’m gonna have to say Denise Gerritson 50 times throughout the night. Although I can’t remember who said it, this is one of the best lines I heard, “we were sitting at the table when you walked in-trying to figure out who you were. After we decided you were Denise, we all could pretend to know who you were all along!”
I talked with several friends I hadn’t seen for decades, but it wasn’t at all awkward. It was, I’m glad you’re here, let’s catch up with each other-time. Good for the soul visits. Let’s not wait so long again in between chats. You look great. How’s the family?
I wasn’t the nicest kid in school. Heck, I’m still not nice. But I have matured a bit. I want to thank each of my superlative classmates from the bottom of my heart for their part in my story whether it was huge or tiny. When I was a shit, I apologize, even though it’s come years too late. (Yes, I see several nodding heads. Don’t know if you’re in agreement of my shittiness or just dozing off out of boredom). Back then, I didn’t realize what a huge impact all of you would make on my life. How often I’ve thought about being on the playground with different kids, telling scary stories on the merry-go-round as daylight faded, or an evening school party that’s made me smile and give thanks I was along for the ride.
There was a memorial board at the reunion with notes about the classmates we’ve lost over the years. Eight kids-gone too soon. Over 10% and none of us have reached the age of 70 yet. A sad and sobering moment. Laura Vogelzang, Pam Bunch, Harv Voetberg, Wayne Miller, Rod Hulsolf, Tom Gayer, Andy Kaupins and one of my best buds from school, Randy Vandevelde. You are missed and thought of often.
A special shout out to one of my oldest buddies, Dave Suter for remembering the horror movie, Mr. Sardonicus we saw during a blizzard in 5th grade. I was so petrified, I begged Dave to walk me home from the theater in waist high snow.
A big thank you for the crew of classmates (led by Sue) who threw our reunion shindig together. You guys did an awesome job and we appreciate the effort you put into our special night together. Another heartfelt thanks to Robert and Lorna Huyser for hosting the venue. Next time, let’s shoot some hoops! So, no sarcasm, no tall tales, just love, appreciation and a grateful heart on how lucky I was to be included in the class of ’69. Thanks for that. Neese…