Fragments of your old life can look much different when you’ve put a few decades in the rear-view mirror. Most of us have been back “home” enough to know that things in our pasts appear …
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Fragments of your old life can look much different when you’ve put a few decades in the rear-view mirror. Most of us have been back “home” enough to know that things in our pasts appear smaller, but really aren’t. Your perspective just enlarges with time.
New perspectives on the old, however, can leave a real impression, too. On a melancholy trip back to Kansas last month, a few things I saw and did moved me deeply.
At my high school, for example, I briefly set foot in Miss Yadon’s old classroom, where I’d spent hundreds of hours as a student. Marcia Yadon, my Spanish and speech and drama teacher, was only 10 years older than most of her students when I was in school. She came to a few parties at our house my senior year. Unimaginable now — keep in mind that my mom was home at the time, and the parties were small, mostly subdued affairs — but back then, in our small community, it didn’t seem odd.
Miss Yadon (she became Mrs. Arganbright) went on to help design and serve as the founding principal for a high school in Oregon, then later curriculum director of the Portland Public School District. A brain tumor killed her in 2013. We exchanged Facebook messages before she became ill; she blossomed into an incredible educator and community servant. She was 59 when she died, but to me she’ll always be 27 — the age she was when I graduated.
The same day we visited my high school, I drove my wife Lee Ann through the gates of Blue Rapids’ town cemetery, separated from the back yard of our old house on East 4th Street by only a thin grove of trees. I spent hours in that cemetery honing my golf swing, launching 9-irons between rows of black walnut and cottonwood trees in the east-facing section of the property.
Back then, that section was devoid of gravestones, so it didn’t seem disrespectful. Now, several rows of family plots and headstones are there.
Among the graves — I was surprised to see — was the resting place of a classmate of my sister’s. Back in 1998, Brent killed a lover and then turned the gun on himself. He’s buried next to his mom and his dad, a man who was our town’s physician, a gentle healer who was beloved by everyone who knew him. The juxtaposition of their lives is still heart-breaking to me.
And for the first time in 40 years, that same day, I set foot in a large old house on Pomeroy Street that I’d been to a hundred times before while in school. It’d been the home my classmate Carol, whose sister, Mandy, was a year younger than we; Mandy was part of a group I hung out with during with my senior year. There was a third sister, Sue. I’ll never forget the night Sue made me walk her home from a party and stay with her at the house until someone else arrived — the house was haunted, she said, and she was scared to be there by herself. I dutifully obliged her, waiting with her until a sister arrived.
I didn’t see any ghosts that night, or on this visit. Today, that house is the home of my now-retired high school golf coach and math teacher, Larry, and his wife, Nancy, who have remodeled it beautifully. We spent two splendid hours in their kitchen reminiscing and telling stories, looking at family photos, and marveling at the passage of time and the fact that they have college-aged grandchildren.
Also on this trip, I saw many faces I hadn’t seen in 40 years, including married classmates who lived for years in Alaska and are now back in town, nearing retirement. I saw one of my sister’s best friends, Kathy, a girl I had a secret crush on for years as an underclassman. Upon my graduation, Kathy gifted me a beautiful leather-bound journal. She filled the first 10 pages with a long, heartfelt message that touched me with its honesty and frankness as she reflected about what she learned about life and herself during her just-completed first year of college — encouraging me to seek and learn as well. Four decades after receiving it, I was able to thank her for it.
And Lee Ann and I spent our last night of the short visit in Kansas City with my classmate Heather and her husband James. It’s been 40 years since we walked the stage together at Valley Heights at graduation — and 36 years since the two of us got our college diplomas together at the University of Kansas — but Heather looks exactly like she did in high school. She still has the easy smile and bright laughter that made her so popular back then.
But the purpose of the visit in the first place was to help the mom of my high school friend Darrell — who died unexpectedly on Christmas Day — clean out his house, then later gather for a memorial lunch at his favorite brewery and toast his memory. More laughter and more tears.
Darrell’s house seemed big and empty without him there. Looking at these pieces of my life through the prism of 40 years, though, I was reminded: it’s Darrell, Miss Yadon, Kathy, Heather and the people I’ve known — not the places I’ve been — which make my life full. My memories of them are large, not small.