Maybe You Really Can't Go Back

Frankly, I didn't think the trip would be satisfactory.

I was going home. Or what was home. Because this is home now. The timing was terrible. Last week of the Legislature.

But I had promised to take my mother's ashes back to Iowa, to be scattered on the Missouri River, half floating to Iowa where she spent her life, half floating to Nebraska, where she was born.

My flight was cancelled. After negotiating a later departure on another flight, they promised to "redirect" my mother, who was safely stored in my already-checked luggage.

They also re-directed an entire soccer team (they were too lean to be football or rugby, too old to be collegians) from the bar onto the plane.

They were heading to Salt Lake City, they did not speak English, and they did not smell good. The guy next to me also made strange noises, from both ends, while he slept.

The next flight, which I assumed was also on a major carrier, was Mesaba (Indian for "an airline you can call your own") with the notice "please board bus 5 minutes before departure." The bus, and flight, were better than to be expected. And Sioux City (SUX, what an awful designation for a destination) came into view shortly after midnight.

The friends who picked me up are the same, good, midwestern stock, with senses of humor that I remembered. But changes were everywhere.

The big sign was missing. The sign that read "Welcome to Sioux City, the Hog Capital of America" (we slaughter more hogs than anywhere in the world) . Most of the stockyards was gone, too, compared with not too many years ago when 5,000 hogs were slaughtered daily.

Roads had moved, new art museum and convention center, changes everywhere. The best being complete development of the Riverbank along the Missouri, so you could walk or bike or blade for miles, surrounded by greenery and rolling water.

Suzy, my friend of 50 years, went with me to the Riverbank and said goodbye to Mother, just downstream from the new riverboat casino.

On to, can I be that old?-my 40th High School Reunion. East High School Class of January 1960. The East High Black Raiders. Singing the alma mater, "On the banks of old Missouri, rolling to the sea." And the fight song, "On the field on the floor old East High will make the score.

Preston and Jane and Shaun and Parnell and Barb, and Harold and Terry and Bob and Sandy, and Connie and Vicki,too.and the June class was there as well.

What are you doing? Are you married? Where do you live? Let me show you my grandchildren.

Some were still jocks or cheerleaders, students or shy or outgoing. Some had changed. Some had moved away, some had stayed. Some, of course, aren't around to attend any reunions. There weren't really any big surprises.

We toured the high school -- the old typing room where Gladys "Hands on the Guide Keys" George made us sit up straight, the gyms where we'd been forced to take naked showers, the chemistry lab, which I almost succeeded in blowing up.

We talked about Steintjes and Seubert and Ryder and Reilly, the teachers who made a difference and those that didn't. Two of them are still alive, and attended the reunion.

We all agreed, that it was a good place to grow up, to go to school. We learned good penmanship, along with basic English skills and the ability to write sentences, paragraphs and spell correctly. Sew aprons, fix cars.

We toured the city, complete with a look at everything from the new super K-Mart and Menards and the Highway 75 bypass to Roberts Stadium, where we watched football every fall.

Sue Bee Honey, Jolly Time Popcorn, Gateway Computer, the hospitals, the riverwalk, Historic Fourth Street (which was the south bottoms when we were there), the ballpark the Exhibition now, no longer the Soos).

Familiar stuff: Floyd Monument, commemorating the death of Sgt. Floyd, the only person to die on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and War Eagle's Grave. (Real name,Wambdi Okucize). The rare bluffs, of loess.

The flight 232 memorial. They're rehabbing the 1927 Orpheum theater, so they can return the Wurlitzer to its rightful place.

There was "Trinity Heights," where a college had been,and now the site of a lifesize wooden carving of the Last Supper and two 30 foot stainless steel sculptures of The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Queen of Peace. The lady herself. Detractors call her Metal-Mary.

I had dinner at my favorite steakhouse, the unassuming Hungry's, just over the bridge in Dakota City, Nebraska. And lunch at the Tastee-In-and-Out (onion chips and dip, and loose meats).

Finally, back to the airport, which has the longest runway (9,002 feet) in Iowa. And SUX didn't seem so strange anymore.

As I left, again on Mesaba, and looked down on all the square miles of farmland,with a straight road every mile,whether you need it or not, I knew that-although I might return for my 50th reunion-it would never be home again.

And I cried.

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