Anyone remember upper elementary classes where your teacher ‘strongly encouraged’ you to carry-on a back and forth written friendship (using neat, legible, cursive penmanship and proper grammar) with a complete stranger you knew absolutely nothing about? (Kinda sounds like stalking and a PPO should have been recommended, right) Goodness those educators were hellbent to introduce us to new relationships weren’t they?
I don’t remember all the particulars but somehow our teacher had a long waiting list of eager preteens, living far away who were in desperate need of a sympathetic/empathetic/confidential friend they where they could relay their deepest fears, aspirations, hobbies and goals, without repercussions. Which meant as 5th graders, the paragraph read, (I got to go to the bowling alley for supper with my friends and without our PARENTS)!
I recall writing several letters but remember not one solitary thing about the person I’d been forced to bond with to keep all of my hopes and dreams in deepest confidence. I might have gone through this process a couple times before high school, conversing with a complete stranger in letter form, filling their heads with all the vital statistics of a day in the life of Neese. We called this strange phenomenon Pen Pals.
Fast forward 50 years and a more informal means of getting acquainted or reacquainted with some unknown folks or long forgotten friends was being introduced to a more mature Neese (ha) via Facebook.
I joined Facebook in 2012, clueless and light years behind millions of savvy, hip folks of the world. I had less than 50 on my friend’s list and was content with social media. But big changes were for in store for one of the most computer illiterate gals on earth. It all started with a rather insignificant site called, “If you grew up in Rock Valley.” Holy frigid Iowa winters! I somehow met the site’s stringent, formidable by-laws. (I was born and raised in Rock Valley, Iowa). A fellow classmate of the Hubs (Ray) made it official. He ‘approved’ my initial request to join the group who were following the Rock Valley site. (That hurried approval from Ray might have been regrettable for some). I was like member number 30. Although we were a tight knit group, because of our age differences which ranged from the 50’s through the 70’s, many of us did not know each other-personally. Something else that was gonna change for some. Every day posts about growing up in our small Midwest, mostly Dutch community would appear. While most posts were a couple sentences long (mine were the exception, and tended to be quite wordy) for this small group of adults, some still in Rock Valley, others living all over the United States, the comments from these threads often lasted days.
As our numbers grew, we became better acquainted with each other (similar to attending a 6 month, welcome to the neighborhood potluck, but without the good casseroles). I tried to hold my sarcasm in check (epic fail) in the comment department and to my surprise received several friend requests. Didn’t matter what the subject matter was from our past in the post, several folks were ready to offer their version (in the comments) to what ‘really happened’ that day at school, Benson’s Hill, the swimming pool, Doc Hegg or Doc Schroeder’s office, the drive-inn, dump, roller rink, gym, bowling alley, Koster’s market, little known ‘parking spots’ around town or the kid who had the guts to swipe the cop’s car and take it for a joyride! Still one of my personal favorites (Lyle), although Erwin Kooistra’s rendition of an office visit/chat with Mr. Liaboe ranks up there too.
Friendships were revived or renewed. New cliques were formed and popularity no longer mattered. Just because someone was 5-10 years younger/older and not in your social circle during their youth held no merit once you hit 50. Age difference just didn’t matter anymore. What a relief and why didn’t we always do this?
Had I not joined I grew up in Rock Valley, I would be missing out on the lives of about 100 friends. That lonely life would suck right? Well this is about one of those friendships, now nearly a decade old. All of the ‘kids’ from this Rock Valley family were older than me. One was in the Hubs’ class, and one had been in my brother Larry’s class, which is how we got acquainted. Allan’s (2-l’s) brother Norm was a good friend of Larry’s and a pallbearer at his funeral. Not the happiest topic but I brought Larry up often in posts I wrote. Rock Valley was small enough that if you were in school in the fall of 1958, Larry’s tragic death had an impact on you. The whole town felt his death.
Finding old/new friends because of this nostalgic Rock Valley site, reliving everyone’s version of their childhood has been a bonus and a blessing. (Thanks to our administrator Betty Hauser who thought to start this site). Long forgotten memories re-surfaced and brought laughter and tears some times. What was vitally important to certain kids during a simpler time (50’s & 60’s) were now shared for a second time in riveting detail. Dutch slang language, used differently in every household was explained and written out phonetically because no one knew the correct spelling or pronunciation! Hut-fa-duttie. (Dutch meaning, oh for Pete’s sake).
So back to the Cruisers, not their last name, just their favorite pastime. They (Allan, 2-l’s and Dianne, 2-n’s) have taken cruises (too numerous to count) over the years. Dianne (2-n’s) was not part of our Rock Valley, Iowa history, having grown up in the south, using y’all when talking about more than one person. They are happily ensconced in Florida and offered us some advice when deciding where we would go with our newly sprouted snowbirding wings this winter. “Y’all might not be happy in Alabama. It gets cold there. Y’all need to come further south,” drawled Dianne (2-n’s). But Neese (2-ee’s) doesn’t do any better with high heat and humidity than she does with snow and below freezing temps, so the gulf coast of Alabama was our destination for 2 months.
With a couple of ‘rub it ins’ since new year’s when their temps were hovering near 90 and ours (7 hours northwest) were struggling to hit 50 became a friendly sparring contest about watching/teasing each other about the local weather. Because of the pandemic, the Cruisers total boarding of luxurious ships in 2020 hit a standstill. They were bummed, with no noteworthy trips to look forward to. Allan, (2-l’s) and Dianne (2-n’s) decided to rough it, bring out their long forgotten winter gear, (jeans and a light jacket), heh-tah, (Dutch meaning, oh good grief) and ‘rough it’ to the frigid shores of Alabama for a weekend to meet their long-distance penless pals.
Gifts were exchanged (a box of my home canned goods) for one of their delicious, freshly home-baked Pecan (pee-can, Dianne (2-n’s). “Uh no, it’s (pa-con) pie,” corrected Neese (2-ee’s). After hashing over the Dutch/Midwest language version versus Southern speak and getting past the barriers of understanding (y’all), we went out for a leisurely lunch, then back to our tiny dwelling to recount the last half century of our lives. It was a wonderful day to finally meet in face to face. Hope the good Lord let’s us get together again…