This happened two weeks ago, so I’d better write about it now or never.

The Willow Lake High School Class of 2001 decided to reunite after 20 years—and officially, for the first time in 10 years! There were just 22 of us who graduated that year, and unlike a lot of classes, we kinda wound up all over the country. So to get a sizable enough group of us to commit to something like this was the first step. It seemed, after a long Facebook Messenger conversation, that at least half would be able to make it, and that felt worthwhile enough to make the pilgrimage back to South Dakota over Memorial Weekend. It was decided the event would be held at the Carpenter Community Center, because at the time of discussion, very few of us were vaccinated and it felt like that day would never happen before the reunion. So we picked something out of the way where we could be more distanced. As it turned out, most of us got vaccinated shortly thereafter so it was all kind of a moot point.

I embarked on my journey back to Carpenter solo on Friday, May 28. I was up at 3am for my 6:00 flight to Minneapolis. Upon landing, I had a 4+ hour layover, so I worked up the courage to leave the airport. Patrick Lynch picked me up and we grabbed breakfast together. I never felt on-edge, and we were back to the airport with two hours to spare. Can’t beat that! I arrived in Aberdeen, SD that afternoon where Mom picked me up. We stopped in Doland to put flowers and flags on the graves of Grandma and Grandpa Bell at the cemetery. Also nearby were Great Grandma Penny and Great Grandpa Clifford, and even Great Grandma Myrtle who died a year before I was born.

That night, I tagged along with Alex and Ann to the Rusty Nail in Willow Lake for their class’s 15th reunion. I mingled with all the locals who I don’t regularly see, but still know well. We closed down the bar and I finally went to bed around 2am—23 hours after I had woken up that morning!!!

Saturday was the big day of the class reunion. I arrived in Carpenter and welcomed the classmates one by one as they entered the building, some with spouses in tow. Kathy, Marianne, Davies, Jenny, Victoria, Kyla, Angela, Josh S, and Sara were all there, giving us 10 out of the 22, a respectable showing. We had a few drinks and chit-chatted for about 4 hours before driving out to the Glanzer farm for dinner, which Mom and Dad were kind enough to host. Another couple hours of laughter and reminiscing on the farm, and a few of us drove into Willow Lake for the annual all-school alumni dance. Kathy and I explored the school, lots of which is new to us. Still in tact were all the grade school rooms which felt ridiculously tiny compared to how I remembered them. Always fun to go back to the old kindergarten room 33 years later.

Rather than head back to Austin on Sunday, I decided to hang around a while longer and enjoy some time on the farm. I have a real problem of being overcome with guilt in these situations though. Lauren was back in Austin all alone with both kids for four entire days, which wouldn’t have been such a huge deal except it was Memorial Weekend and they had all 4 days off school. So she had no breaks to speak of. And at this point, the point of my trip was over. I tried my best to just put that out of mind and enjoy the downtime. I tagged along with Alex into Watertown and then helped him and Ann build a fire pit. After dinner we all hung around and got all smokey. On Monday, I still had over half the day before my flight out of Aberdeen, so I rode into Huron with Mom and Dad and we visited the other grandparents’ cemetery and put flowers and flags on Grandpa Dick and Granny’s graves. Finally, it was off to Aberdeen for the trip back to Austin.

It was very good to catch up with the old classmates again after so many years. Honestly, after hunkering down for so long during the pandemic, I have become more socially awkward and find it difficult to make much conversation with even my closest current friends… not that conversation was ever a particular strong suit. But meeting up with those 9 classmates—8 of which I had known since pre-school or earlier—was much-needed. I suppose that is what should be expected when you spend 14 years of your life in a small, confined room with the same people.

There were talks of a destination reunion in 2031… wouldn’t that be something!