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Fierce in Seattle: 20 Years Later… A Few Months Later


a blogumn by Kelli Bielema
Yes, this really was me in high school

Yes, this really was me in high school

A few months ago, I wrote about going to my 20th high school reunion.  It’s still incredibly difficult for me to fathom that I graduated twenty years ago. Regardless of my disbelief, it is reality and was celebrated a few weeks ago in my hometown of Prophetstown, Illinois.

I flew into Chicago and picked up my rental car. Morgan, my Enterprise service agent, offered me the upgrade from the crappy compact car to the less crappy sedan. Included in this VIP experience was Sirius radio. Seriously cool. Once I stepped inside the vehicle, I noticed the audio was pre-set to the 80s station. Classic. As I drove the expressways that eventually veer to Route 88, I felt as though for one of those few moments in my life that I was exactly where I needed to be at that moment.  Kismet? Serendipity? It felt kinda good.

The Friday night prior to the actual reunion was a pre-reunion party. A pre-union, if you will. The establishment known as “The Jailhouse” is a bar/restaurant that used to occupy a bowling alley. The lanes have been replaced with your standard boring floor, a couple of seating areas, fluorescent lighting and a pool table. The juke box that sits where the gutters once lived includes a catalog of such small town anthems as “Pink Houses” and the entire Molly Hatchet oeuvre. You just know I put in 5 bones and punched in 20 songs from the 80s.  With that soundtrack underscoring the evening, it definitely felt like I was in touch with my youth.

Chatting with my former classmates had a tinge of familiarity.  Mostly the faces, but certainly, we have all changed.  Marriage, family, divorce, death, unemployment, success, failure.  This stuff happened, but the one thing we could all relate to each other on were high school memories.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t discussed that much at the pre-party or the actual event.  We mostly talked about what we’ve done since and what we’re doing now.

The reunion itself was about 20 miles outside of Prophetstown at the Candlelight Inn in Rock Falls.  It’s pretty much your 4 star restaurant for the small town set.  Nestled in a banquet room were about 25 of my PHS alumni.  After my vegetarian entree, which can best be described as “food,” we settled into the PowerPoint presentation/interactive trivia game. I realized I really don’t remember anything from those 4 years. I wish I could blame it on the drugs, but I didn’t touch the grass until University.  It was a charming, if not comical, look at a time when we thought we were invincible, a time when our dreams weren’t unobtainable.  Some people seem to have lost that along the way, others created new ones that they’re still reaching for.  Consider me among the dreamers still finding their way.

The question I’ve been asked most since my return was “are you glad you went?”  And the answer is a resounding “yes!”  When you grow up in small town America and go away to a number of metroplitan areas to live your life, you really don’t forget where it is where you come from. You cannot forget the people who loved you.  Sing it, JCM….