Back to the Future

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Blog, Featured | 4 comments

Back to the Future

I graduated from high school in 1967. That meant that this year was my 50th high school reunion. If I was going to attend, I had to choose where to go since I spent my junior and senior years in Lawrence, Kansas, my sophomore year in Detroit, Michigan, and my junior high years in Grinnell, Iowa. I had already missed the reunion in Lawrence so I decided to head back to Grinnell for our reunion on Homecoming Weekend, September 29th-30th. It didn’t really matter that I hadn’t graduated from Grinnell High School— my old friends hardly even remembered.

Grinnell is a small college town smack dab in the middle of cornfields. Grinnell College is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. My father was a professor of psychology there. I had two sets of friends…. athletic friends who played sports and had girlfriends, and intellectual friends whose mothers or fathers were professors, read a lot, and dreamed of going away to college. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I could ride my bike anywhere in town or head out to Rock Creek Lake, about 4 miles west of town. We had so much freedom in those days.

So, I flew into Des Moines, rented a car, and drove about 40 miles east on Interstate 80 before exiting for Grinnell. It looked exactly the same. Downtown is thriving because of the college, the fall colors canopy the streets, and our old house is still standing. I started by driving around my old neighborhood. But then I realized that I needed to walk since I was too young to drive when I lived there. When I parked the car and began to walk, my memories came flooding back. I remembered shortcuts through yards, the houses where all of my old friends lived, my father’s office at the college, things like that. It brought back that small, wonderful town to me. I also fell in love with the sky. I’m more observant now that I’ve begun painting. There’s nothing more beautiful than the sky in Iowa.

One of the fun activities that weekend was riding in the Homecoming parade. Everyone from our class sat on a float with hay bales as we went around town waving to families and kids sitting out on their lawns. It was like the whole town was outside. I felt awkward at first, slightly embarrassed, but then I began to really enjoy it. I remember feeling like I was in the film Back To The Future.

Another fun activity was driving out of town to a wooded area where an old friend had built a cabin for his kids long ago. It was a magical place. Spending an hour exploring inside and around this cabin brought back fond memories of my years in Grinnell and all of my childhood passions.

The main event was held at the Elk’s Club on Saturday night. The jocks all sat at one table, the townies all sat at another table, and the intellects all sat together at another table. A few people, including myself, preferred not to pick a group and moved from table to table talking with old friends. Some people looked entirely different while others looked exactly the same. Some people acted really old while others still acted young. I flirted with the same girls (oops….I mean women) that I had liked when I was in ninth grade. It was both fun and nostalgic.

When I was flying home and thinking about my time at the reunion, I realized that returning to Grinnell, Iowa was probably more important to me than returning to my reunion. I loved seeing old friends and getting caught up, but what really put me at peace was walking around my old neighborhood and the college by myself. Place has always been important to me. I’ve been fortunate to love all the towns where I grew up. Returning to them connects me to my past in a powerful way.


  1. Love this story, John. Like a movie… I can see it, you’ve painted it so well.

    And what stands out for me is the importance of embodiment (which I so often forget, myself): the difference between driving and walking and what your body helped you remember.

    Lovely 🙂

  2. Enjoyed very much “Back to the Future.” I can relate as I grew up in similar fashion in a very small town in central Pennsylvania. Always a pleasure to return to Duncansville. The community features the best frozen custard stand (“The Meadows”) on the planet. We always claimed we grew up between death and insanity because the community was bordered by a cemetery and a state mental hospital. We constructed our own football and baseball fields and my brothers and I recruited sports participants from as far as we could walk or ride our bikes within about 15 minutes or so. Of course, we had a newspaper route, so any ball playing had to occur before or after the newspaper delivery. Suffice it to say, each trip back is a scintillating experience.

  3. I enjoyed this remembrance too. Was Farn with you? I am thinking of Evanston, IL where I loved to walk on the lakefront, in town and on the campus of Northwestern

  4. “There’s nothing more beautiful than the sky in Iowa.” The sky and its sunsets. One of my best memories from a year and a half of grad school in Iowa City.


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