February 13, 2016: Day 68


Saturday, Day 68, I joined some of my high school friends in Chicago. Just coming off of our 30 year class reunion, I was very excited for this hurriedly planned weekend (at least for me). I had meant to blog about our reunion weekend in Remsen last September, but as was common for me those fall months, time slipped by with no posted story.

I will give it a short summary as I believe it's never to late to share.

The reunion was fantastic. A night of sharing friendship and life with the people I grew up. Fast forward thirty years. Before leaving Omaha to make the two hour trek to Remsen for the reunion, I went to a baby shower. An older lady at my table asked what I was doing for the rest of the day. When I told her of my reunion in my hometown, Remsen, I loved her enthusiastic response on my trip.

"The 30 year reunion was the best! You will have a ball. No one cares about so-called success milestones of the past....kid accomplishments, schools, cars, jobs. No bragging because no one is listening. It's all about having fun and sharing life for a while."

She nailed it. For a night, we all took a time machine back in time. With 80's music blaring in the background, we laughed at favorite stories, called each other by nicknames, and passed a bottle of Fireball around the barn where we gathered. Pure bliss.

Our high school priest and principal came to celebrate mass with us. His great sermon was laced with specific stories around our innocent shenanigans during these glory years of past.

Since my parents moved to Arizona the year after I graduated, I many times don't run into classmates without a specific event or reunion. Little last minutes outings like this Chicago trip are a big treat for me.

Fast forward five months and I found myself boarding a plane to Chicago to meet a group of my classmates. I carefully packed my hat, gloves, and scarf in the front of pocket of my luggage for quick retrieval post-landing. I was very aware that my 60 degree days of Denver were not following me to Chicago. It was a frigid 9 degrees when the plane touched down.

And then the fun began.

I'll share our day together by first telling a story that started our day and one that ended it.

The cast of characters for the weekend are listed below. Note that we graduated together in 1985 from Remsen St. Mary's High School. Our class consisted of forty-four students, making our Chicago representation roughly 11% of our class.

Laura - Our hostess for the weekend and Chicago suburb resident. She was a farm girl with many over-nighters at her farm while growing up.

Lora - The other Lora. Another farm girl. We had parties at her house along with over-nighters (sorry, Paul and Marlene). Lora and I are third cousins. Our grandfathers were brothers.

Roxanne - Rocky. We were both town girls. I grew up on the north end of Harrison street and Rocky on the far south. She lived by my grandparents and I often played at her house while growing up. We are technically sixth cousins.

Joan - Farm girl and my relative by marriage (non-technically, but we always liked to think we were related). Joan's oldest sister is married to my uncle.

We all currently live in the Midwest. Lora is in Lincoln. Joan and Rocky are in Des Moines. And I'm in Omaha. A road trip brought Lora/Rocky/Joan to Laura's home outside of Chicago. I flew.

So on a frigid Saturday morning, my gal pals loaded in a silver mini-van, picked me up from O'Hare airport. And nothing happens with our crew without entertainment.

One would think a drive-by pick-up from an airport would be an easy task. Not for us. After many texts and phone calls with both Laura/Lora's, I could not find the said mini-van and they couldn't find their wayward friend in the turquoise scarf.

As they were forced to do a 'drive around', a nice lady who overheard my conversation pointed out the correct level and location for our meeting point.

I finally found them, with their shouting voices calling me name, and climbed into my waiting seat next to Joan. Our greeting to each other was a roar of laughter. I went on to share with them a similar story when my parents picked me up at the Santa Barbara airport. We were kicking off a 5 day road trip starting with driving the beautiful California Highway One.

Although I found my parents and their car without issue at the airport, the issue was with the next step. Getting out of the parking garage. As I took the driver's seat position, my dad told me that I was 'in charge'. The map was mine. They were just along for the ride. And then I proceeded to loop around the same floor of the parking garage three times until my dad pointed out the repetition of the parked cars we were seeing.

Roaring with laughter, we three brave travelers followed the exit signs out of the airport parking garage successfully. Ready to take on the world, but couldn't get out of the airport parking garage. I laugh out loud every time I think of this start of a great adventure.

(90 Days Off realization #10: Laugh often and laugh loud. And never take yourself too seriously. If you think you are 'above that', it is a guarantee you are not.)

Before I tell about the 'in between' of our day, I am going to go first tell a story of the end.

We had just taken the train in from the city and were back at Laura's house, arriving at a late (or early) 1:00 a.m. Lora had just went to bed. The rest of us were enjoying a final nightcap, reflecting on our fun day together and life in general.

Knowing the road trip crew would be taking off in the morning, we were starting to say our 'good byes'. Our train rides, dinner, and drink stops were filled with many of funny stories of the past as well as our reminiscing on the many shared life moments along the way. 

Finishing our final drinks, knowing it was soon time to move back into the normalcy of daily lives, Rocky turned to me and asked a question.

"Sandy, what will you blog about? What did you feel was the most important part of our time together?"

I don't remember my exact words, but without hesitation I shared that my personal reflection was one of life and death. Growing up together in the 70's and 80's in small town Iowa, we learned how to live. But then we learned about dying too.

Although we did live our lives with glorious naivety and uninhibited joy, we were not spared the pain that came with death. It was a raw part of our childhood. After sharing many conversations on Saturday on this subject, it was very apparent to me that these experiences still shape us in our experiences of today.

Joan lost her older brother to leukemia when he was just eleven. Joan was four Although we were all too young to understand the feelings of pain and loss, Joan describes in meticulous detail stories of her grieving mother and words shared between siblings.

The pain that we all felt and remember well was when Rocky's dad died. We were seniors in high school. We vividly remembered Rocky and her younger brother being pulled out of school to be told the news. He was the dad who made us eggs with hot dogs for breakfast and attended his kids many school activities fur interior van. We all loved Glenn. And we all loved Rocky.

With no road map on what to say or do, we learned how to support a grieving friend. Only then did the mortality of ourselves and our family become apparent. Glenn's sudden passing shaped our senior year and our perspective on life.

Within the next few years, Joan's dad died suddenly. With each passing year, there have been weddings and births, but there have also been funerals and tragedies. The Norman Rockwell setting that surrounded us did come with finality of mortality.

The 'in between' of our day in Chicago consisted of eating lots of Garrett's popcorn, enjoying drinks from the 96th floor of the Hancock Center overlooking the great windy city, deep dish Chicago style pizza, and the Harry Caray Bar. The book ends to our day were an hour train ride to and from Laura's home. Those train rides were golden. It was these conversations and sharing memories, all with the great backdrop of a cool and fun city, that made our day special.

A particular conversation that struck me was Rocky talking about her mom, now deceased as well. One of her parents died suddenly and the other suffered a long journey. Both were painful for the surviving children, but the long journey to death was even more difficult for Rocky. She misses her parents every day.

The rest of us have parents with varying degrees of good health and bad. We have also experienced loss in our lives and have personal obstacles to overcome. But we keep smiling, laughing, and sharing the small things that continue to give us joy. And we pull each other up and learn from each others experiences. That's what friends do, regardless of the number of years you've been apart. You just pick up where you left off....

(90 Days Off realization #11: Life is fragile and not a forever thing. Each day is a blessing. Live it to it's fullest.)


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