A Look Back …

50 Years of Me

While the rest of you were celebrating what is being termed “The Soggy Fourth” in the Midwest, I took some time out to travel north to the little town of Memphis in Scotland County up by the Iowa border.  This is farming country …

The occasion was the 50th anniversary of our high school graduation and I was there to reconnect and catch up with some very dear and “somewhat” old friends.

Some folks not as far along on the road might not appreciate how quickly 50 years can flow by, even with all the twists and turns of life.   I was a very callow young fellow in 1966, full of enthusiasm, spirit, and optimism… The times were changing.

We were a small class from a small town, by most people’s standards.   Less than 70 graduated and 16 have passed on since we burst forth with excitement after completing what I now know was a pretty good basic education.   Over 30 of us were able to join together this weekend to remember, laugh, cry, and catch up.

Class of 1966 - Tom Fender

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these folks and the evening went by far too quickly.   As I drove back to St. Louis through the dark night rain, I had ample time to think about all this  and came up with a few thoughts to share.  Some of this relates to those with whom I grew up and some of it relates more broadly to my home community.

Be warned – this is a ramble, rather than a polished essay:


Many of us at the reunion are tech-saavy to a greater or lesser degree and a few of us connect regularly through Facebook.  Some of us, like me, use technology and social media on a daily basis.  We know how to communicate electronically and can be just as focused on our phones as any kid.

But we also know how to talk to another person in real-time and the same space.

While we shared many common memories of our time together as children and adolescents, we don’t all agree now on many things.  I know that some classmates have distinctly different and strongly held views than I on a variety of things political, religious, and cultural.

Some of us are retired and some of us will be working till we die.   Some have large families spread over several generations.   We span a wide range of life experiences.  Some have lived close to their roots, while others have wandered far away.  Some have faced great trauma while others have been blessed with more peaceful living.  

However, we all know how to have a nice conversation with each other.  I know that part of this comes from our schooling, which reinforced civil discussion, rather than out-shouting another.

Maybe it’s something about seeing the person, instead of just the beliefs or positions.  Maybe it is reflective of our having lived long enough to know that every fight does not have to be fought with every person on the other side of an issue.  Maybe it’s just that country politeness coming out.

Whatever, I was sort of proud that no fist-fights or screaming matches broke out:).


I often felt I was the laziest person in my world growing up.  It seemed everyone, regardless of position, age, or gender was working harder than I was.  When I mention adult role models below, I am remembering people who worked hard, did not complain (at least around me), and who thoroughly enjoyed the daily flow of life.

Summer evenings were sweet when we had spent our days “bucking” hay bales, fixing the roof, or weeding crops.  When you live on a farm, you quickly learn that everyday repairs or fixes were up to those who lived on the farm, not some other group somewhere else, but those on site.  The term “self-resilient” comes to mind here.

On the other hand, real help in an emergency was always as close as the next door neighbor or the next farm over.  When my father lost part of his hand in a farming accident, we had folks at the house, providing food and support, while others went out into the fields to finish the work, tend to the animals, and do whatever was needed to help their neighbors out.

It only occurred to me years later that those folks farming our land and tending to our animals were then going back to their work, which was equally as massive and strenuous.  I wonder how late they stayed up to put in “overtime work” on their own crops.


About those neighbor farmers and others …

I found myself on a number of occasions during the evening telling someone  I remembered their mother or father with deep affection.   I don’t remember any adults who were NOT positive roles models.  I’m sure some existed, but the ones who made a lasting impression on me were solid citizens, hard-working, and generally amiable folks.

Living and working in a metropolitan environment, I would like to think that those characteristics continue to be important to me and make a positive difference in my interactions with others.

Like many young people, I could not wait to get away from where I grew up, thinking that out in the world was a much better place to be than this sleepy little farm town.   Now I look backward with just a twinge of regret   Not that I left, because that was the right thing for me to do … Just regret that I have not appreciated my beginnings and those who were part of my upbringing more over the years.

I will have more to share about all this another time.  Right now, I have a question for you:


Feeling rather blessed to have grown up where I did in the Heartland ….



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