Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota Class Reunion in Poetry April 30, 2015

LAST SEPTEMBER THE WABASSO High School Class of 1974 gathered at the Wabasso Community Center for our 40-year reunion. That’s on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, in Redwood County.

I lived on a farm 15 miles to the north and west, just outside of Vesta, an hour’s bus ride away from Wabasso. It takes time to travel gravel roads, backtracking and weaving to farm sites to pick up all those country kids.

Forty years. I used to think people who’d been out of high school for four decades are really old. I don’t think that anymore.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Still, that’s a lot of years and much has happened since 89 fresh-faced rural Minnesota kids walked across the gym stage in May 1974 and received their diplomas. As you would expect, the reunion mixed nostalgia and reconnecting, sharing of memories and sharing of lives.

And for me, the gathering inspired a poem, “Class Reunion,” recently published in Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9. My other entry, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” was also published, among the 30 winning poems chosen from 157 submissions in the adult division.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

I attended and read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening. The event was a delight with some poets reading their works and Minneapolis poet Todd Boss as the featured speaker.

I am grateful to Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for publishing this annual collection of poetry from writers in the 11-county SELCO region. I’ve entered the competition eight times with 10 poems published in seven volumes.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

And because April is National Poetry Month, here is the poetic version of a rural southwestern Minnesota high school reunion:

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right. That’s me in the pink striped shirt, front right in image on the right.

 

Class Reunion

Bulbous red clown nose clamped onto face,
boa thrust around neck movie star style,
pirate hat tilted upon bald head,
skull patch positioned across left eye,
we cram into the photo booth, all smiles,
pretending to be someone we are not.

“How are you?” We pause, then hug,
hoping the response will be a lie
rather than the truth of the past forty years
chiseling our faces, greying our hair
(if we still have hair),
etching grief into our souls.

A classmate pulls the curtain tight,
shuts out reality for the lens.
Memories overtake us, filling the booth with laughter.
We remember when nothing seemed more important
than our anti-establishment defiance of choosing
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

The camera flashes again and we swap accessories—
Vikings horns for Peter Pan hat,
leather biker hat for Mickey Mouse ears—
the promise of never growing up
and living in a happily-ever-after fairytale world
almost Disney believable if we didn’t know the truth.

In this moment, all seems right with the world.
No husbands dead. No children buried. No cancer battled.
No eyes blackened. No marriages broken.
The future lies before us, full of promise and hope
and all that is good and wonderful and perfect.
Except it isn’t and wasn’t and never will be.

The camera flashes for the third, and final, time.
A classmate draws back the curtain.
We drop props into a basket, revealing receding hairlines
and sagging necks and worry lines edging our eyes.
Then we chat about our children and our grandchildren
and our dreams, as if our entire lives lie before us.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

 

Wabasso High Class of 1974 celebrates 40 years since graduation September 16, 2014

FORTY YEARS AGO, my Wabasso High School graduating class voted “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

But our senior class advisers nixed the choice and “We May Never Pass This Way Again” became our theme song instead.

We never were a class to follow the norm, to keep quiet, to go along with whatever the adults desired. We were outspoken teens—some more than others—challenging authority, growing into adulthood in the turbulent early seventies. Kids who’d just missed sending our male classmates off to fight in Vietnam.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion group photo. That’s a teacher seated in the front row, right. I’m in the back row near the middle with the pink, white and black striped shirt. Photo by Randy Helbling.

This past Saturday we gathered at the community center (and then moved to the Roadhouse Bar & Grill) in the southwestern Minnesota prairie town of Wabasso to reminisce about our school days and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our graduation in May 1974.

Forty years. How do four decades pass that quickly?

WHS reunion pic 7 and 8

Maybe we haven’t grow up so much. Or perhaps it’s just that we still like to have fun.

So much has changed, yet so little. We’ve grown up and reached the point in our lives when we realize life is too short, that the years we shared are worth celebrating.

In responding to questions for a reunion book I helped pull together, nearly every single classmate wrote that the best thing to happen to them since high school was getting married and having children. There was not a single answer like “I’m rich, live in a mansion and run a Fortune 500 company.” Not a single person placed wealth or career above family.

One other question—What has been the most influential book you’re read since high school?—also garnered a single most popular response—the bible. Many classmates wrote of their spiritual growth and the importance of God and faith in their lives.

On the right are the three of us from Vesta who attended the reunion.

On the right are the three of us from Vesta who attended the reunion. Micki, Dallas and I grew up on farms within a mile of each other. That’s a V, for Vesta, that we’re shaping with our hands in the top image.

This was, by far, the best class reunion of all I’ve attended. And I believe I’ve missed only two.

We mingled and laughed and talked about our kids and grandkids (those who have them) and all sorts of things and simply had a really good time. There was no cornering off of friends, no division, none of those issues that seem to plague classes even decades later.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

As one of my 88 classmates noted, we were always a class that got along. He’s right. At one point Saturday evening, we crammed as many people as possible into a photo booth (New Ulm-based Up All Night Photobooth) contracted for the event. I was an initial naysayer on the photo booth. But I’d recommend it. The photo sessions got us out of our chairs and totally mixing it up.

My husband and I pose for a photo that I told him will be our Christmas card. In the photo to the right is Lindsey, right front, whom I have not seen in 40 years. He promised to return for the next reunion.

My husband and I pose for a photo that I told him will be our Christmas card. In the photo to the right is Lindsey, right front, whom I have not seen in 40 years. He promised to return for the next reunion.

I saw classmates I have not seen in 40 years. And, yes, I had to sneak a sly peek at several name tags to identify people. But for the most part, I recognized my 29 classmates and the single teacher in attendance.

One classmate told me I still looked the same. I took that as a compliment. Obviously, he didn’t notice the gray hair, the creases in my face or the pounds added since I was a hip hugger, mini skirt, hot pants, go-go boot wearing teenager.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling