Day 2 Woodland hills in a flurry Friday Nite Lights, all the girls I knew pep fest alikum
I only lasted till ten in the evening at the bar we alums first gathered at. As young people swarmed into the main room I had decided a good night’s sleep made more sense than a late night carousing which, frankly none of my old classmates seemed all that interested in. I would spend most of Friday sealed up in my hotel but I did venture out once. I headed to Woodland Hills. This is the cemetery where my Dad was interred 32 years ago and where I took my Mother’s ashes 27 years later. This was the first time I saw both their names on the bronze marker. With a whipping wind carrying a bit of snow from North Dakota I blinked away a couple tears, kissed my fingers and placed them on their grave. The surrounding hills were full of autumnal colors as they were when my Father was laid to rest. He loved fall colors and I remember trips he took us on in Kansas when we were little to view the sugar maples in Hiawatha and Olathe.
A tour was offered of Mankato “West” which was sundered six years after I graduated when my Sister’s graduating class found itself divided. Half of her classmates attended a newly build Mankato East High School. Today even with ninth graders added to West’s attendance it is a smaller school that it was in 1969. Where my graduating class was 454 (although the number varied depending on which 69 grad you talked to)
The class of 2019 was only 278. It was also larger than the graduating class in the eastern school. If the other three classes were similar then there were only a little over 1000 kids at Mankato West. The total enrollment of three classes in 1969 was probably closer to 1500 students.
Because of radon gas in the buildings nether regions our tour was limited to the top three floors.
We visited a biology class that looked a lot like the one Mr. Behrend taught us in. As we hustled through the building I got a chance to pick out the faces I recognized. I could pick out about one in four without staring first at the nametags which dangled over tummies. Our last stop was the classroom that had once been the office of the Superintendent of Schools. It was the classroom of Governor Walz before he was elected to Congress. The Governor was one of a half dozen MHS personalities about to be given a distinguished Mankatoan award later that evening at the Homecoming football game.
We mingled and chatted while we waited for the pep assembly during which we were to be honored and the Homecoming Queen was to be crowned. The gymnasium was the same but it was full of a lot of scarlet signs denoting winning athletic teams. The awards had proliferated over the preceding fifty years. As adults and kids seated themselves one friend of mine who had been posing with a poster about girl power that was being revived from our annual noticed two Somali students garbed in fashions covering their heads. Now a resident of the Saudi Arabian nation of Oman she leaned towards the girls and said, “Wa alaykumu s-salam.” Both girls smiled broadly at the unexpected bit of home offered up to them and Sue engaged them in a brief conversation before they headed up to the bleachers.
The student body was a little different than I’d left it. I made a quick guess that 100 of the students were of African or Asian heritage. In my day it had been all white except for my good friend who was half Sioux and half Scandinavian and the Ethiopian exchange student my family had hosted in my junior year. We had effectively integrated the school for the first time.
The homecoming queen candidates were more familiar. All of them were girls that could have walked to the coronation when I was in school.
Two of my classmates on the organizing committee gave thoughtful and humorous presentation about our class to they kids. They remarked how ancient the class of 1919 had looked to us during our last homecoming. The commented on what we experienced and the changes for the new crop of Scarlets. (Scarlets are Mankato West’s teams. The East teams are called the Cougars.) And then the Choir director encouraged any former members of the choir to join in singing the School’s anthem pegged to the tune “Finlandia” by the Finish composer Sebelius. I happily headed up and attempted to help the bass section. I’d forgotten most of the verses and didn’t have a clue what the harmonies were for the bass section after fifty years. Still, I chimed in the best I could.
When I returned to my seat and my old homeroom pal I whispered in her ear that another pal, a reunion no show, had talked me into joining choir my senior year by telling me I could sing. That was based on our annual get-togethers to build a homecoming float. A wurlitzer in her cousin’s house played 45’s of the popular tunes of the day and I kept singing the annoying song Sweet Pea. At that my seatmate brightened up. She pulled out her cellphone and said, “that’s the name of my racehorse!” Sure enough she showed me a handsome fellow (or was it a mare?) I asked if she raced it at Canterbury and she said not yet but that was her aim.
I spent much of the afternoon back in my hotel practicing French and reviewing old comments scrawled into my yearbooks fifty, fifty-one and fifty-two years earlier. At six I headed down to the football field to watch my first football game outside since college. I hadn’t really come prepared for temperatures just above freezing. I hadn’t planned to stay long as alums were once again invited to the bar we’d stopped at the previous night. I managed to last through the half and the presentation of the Queen’s court parading around the field in golf carts and the presentation of awards to significant Scarlets. The Governor wasn’t there but my old photography classmate was. She was honored for having been the President of the Minneapolis Teacher’s Union for a decade. I never got around to asking her if she knew some of the Union leaders I’d dealt with in Duluth.
I found out later that Mankato had won a close fought battle. The opponant was not one of the larger Big Nine Conference rivals but Kasson. My classmates from 69 joked about that because its a tiny farm town and our first thought was that it had been chosen to guarantee a victory for Homecoming. Not true according to Mr. Banwort our old Biology teacher I would talk to the next day. Kasson and Manterville and no doubt several other rural schools had been consolidated like crazy in previous years and the school had over 600 students or better than half of Mankato West’s attendance. They certainly punched above their weight class losing by not much more than one touchdown.
I’m disappointed in my account yet again. I’ve barely touched the surface of who my fellow grads were and the lives they lived. Some of the folks who were no shows that I would have liked to see didn’t enjoy school much. High School can be cruel. I may give you some thumbnails in part 4. Or I may not. TBD.