In late May, I traveled back to Minneapolis, Kansas for a family reunion and a class reunion. Thomas Wolfe once said, “You can’t go home again,” meaning reality never matches your nostalgic memories. This may be true, but I did not return to Kansas, expecting things to be the same as they were during my youth. My main reason for my trip to the small town where I was raised was to celebrate accomplishment and change. Two of my nephews were graduating from high school, and a niece was being promoted to high school. There was much to celebrate, and I wanted to be in the audience to applaud their accomplishments. As a bonus, I stayed for my high school reunion and reunited with high school mates I hadn’t seen in a long time.
I admit, the trip was a bit stressful for me. I am a solitary, introverted person. At our lodge, I host a variety of guests throughout the year, but the groups are small, and I would classify the interactions as conversations rather than large get-togethers or parties. On my trip to Kansas, it seemed as if I had one large function after another to attend. My sister-in-law teased me when she noticed that I took every opportunity to escape to the peace and quiet of the library, but I had to recharge my batteries for the next event!
My trip was wonderful in so many ways. I managed one-on-one time with several of my close friends, spent a good deal of time with my brother, Russell; his wife, Melanie; and their son, Nick. We laughed, shared memories, and looked forward, imagining what the future would hold for us. I spent time with my oldest brother, Bruce, and his wife, Karen. I chatted with my nieces, Gisela, and Andrea, and enjoyed talking to Gisela’s husband, Steve, who recently retired from the Air Force. I loved getting to know Gisela and Steve’s children, Tyler and Kaysie, better and was amazed by their artistic abilities.
My class reunion was a little overwhelming but otherwise perfect. I saw friends I hadn’t seen since high school, and some of us struggled to recognize each other. We talked about kids (or in my case, cats), grandkids, spouses, marriages, divorces, illness, and deaths. We had all seen each other at the best of times and at the worst of times, and of course, we didn’t hesitate to remind each other of those “worst of times” situations. I was excited when a classmate told me that he was writing his first novel. We sat and talked and have corresponded several times since the reunion. I think we can help each other with editing, promotional ideas, and technical advice (his – not mine!).
My trip was going well. Russell, Melanie, Nick, and I took flowers to the cemetery on the Sunday before Memorial Day to place on my parents’ grave, and then Melanie invited the family to their house for Memorial Day dinner. Since I was scheduled to depart the next day, this would also be my farewell dinner.
Life has this way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it, and at 7:00 am on Memorial Day, Melanie knocked on my bedroom door to tell me that my oldest brother, Bruce, had died unexpectedly, probably from a heart attack. It was, of course, a terrible way to end a trip, but I reminded myself how lucky I was to have been able to see him one last time. I was even happier that his daughter, Andrea, had flown back to Kansas from her home in Nevada to attend the graduations, and she had been able to spend time with her father before he died.
Graduation in Kansas takes place in May, and May is the height of thunderstorm and tornado season. I love lightning and thunder and looked forward to experiencing some storms since thunderstorms are a rare event on Kodiak Island. On Kodiak, a storm with soft thunder and dim flashes of lightning usually makes the newspaper. Unfortunately, I was reminded to be careful what you wish for. It was stormy nearly every day I was in Kansas, and when I tried to leave, my flight was cancelled due to thunderstorms in the Dallas area where I had a connecting flight. Since flights to Alaska in June are packed, the ticket agent couldn’t rebook me on another flight for three days, so I sat and waited and wrote.
You can go home again, but It won’t be the same as you remembered it. Some changes will shock or disappoint you, but others will delight and amaze you. Life moves on and is always changing. I was exhausted after two weeks of friends, family, laughter, and tears, but for many reasons, I am thankful I decided to make this trip back to my childhood home. I have to admit, though, after being stuck for a couple of days, fighting with crowds, and being crammed into packed airplanes, I craved the wilderness of Kodiak Island.