I’ve always said my grade school years were better than my high school years. Not that my high school days were bad, but there was something about those times at Clarmar Elementary that just seemed even more special.
Sure enough, as I stayed way later than I had ever intended at my 20th Fremont High School class reunion, it was actually the Clarmar class of 1983 that was the real highlight of the night.
I had actually arranged to go to this reunion a few days before with my best friend Chad Nielsen. I’ve known Chad since kindergarten and we grew up about a block away from each other. Quite frankly, he was the only person from my youth that I have ever maintained consistent contact with. I’m generally an anti-social person at heart.
It looked like it was going to be a pretty boring event after the first 60 minutes or so. Chad and I never really saw anybody that we hung around with in high school. I had even mentioned to him that the real reunion that should have been taking place was the one between all my friends and co-workers from our long-ago days at Sapp Bros. 77 truck stop. That’s where the real fun happened anyway.
But that’s when things started to change. Though Chad is my oldest, dearest friend. My first ever best friend was the girl who grew up right next door. Teresa Lehr was kind of a tomboy. She was never afraid to mix it up with all of the guys in the neighborhood and when we played, it wasn’t dressing up dolls or doing girl stuff. It was riding skateboards in my basement (long story, but really fun); acting out Star Wars in the front yard; racing bikes; midnight tag; trying to sell tap water to the postman; midnight tag and singing the “Poopa-poopa” song (again, long story.)
As soon as she spotted me, that’s when the evening went from the mundane to reliving our childhood for pretty much the rest of the night. Teresa and I went to separate schools in Fremont. You either went to public or Fremont Bergan. A lot of the old Clarmar gang went Bergan, including Teresa. It didn’t take long for the memories to come back from the old 19th Street gang. Including the time I insisted upon playing tackle football and got a full-frontal dose of irony when Teresa tackled me and I sprained my thumb. Boy did I hear about that the next few days in school trying to explain that green splint on my thumb.
We caught up on families, we caught up on friends. I asked about my old buddy Jeff (J.J.) Johnson. Teresa took off like a cannon shot and within 30 seconds had produced my old football-playing pal. I hadn’t seen J.J. since probably sometime in junior high. He was another Bergan guy. A great athlete and a super fun guy. We were both Rams fans – in fact about the last time I had thought about Jeff was the night St. Louis won the Super Bowl. Pretty soon, even more memories came flooding back. I think I was scaring some people with how I was able to recall so many stories. The grade school romances (I never seemed to be involved); the playground mischief; the old teachers; that cursed intercity elementary school flag football game against Lincoln Elementary where we were screwed out of a two-point conversion that would have won us the game.
Then the night became complete. Teresa asked about Noel Nielsen (no relation to Chad). Ironically, Noel heard our show that morning when I was still “debating” my decision to come to the event. He called my late Friday afternoon and asked if I would be there. I told him Chad and I were coming and encouraged him to come. Noel works here in Lincoln, yet I think I see him once every five years. He said he’d try and we left it at that. Sure enough, about five minutes after Teresa asked about Noel, here he came, walking in the side door of the marina at Woodcliff. It was sure great to see him again.
Noel had a difficult childhood. Separated from his birth parents by domestic violence. He came to Fremont to live with his aunt and uncle. I first remember Noel as the guy who would chase girls around the playground – Teresa included. Though Teresa and I always had a plutonic relationship, I still recall wanting to “defend her” from this crazy outsider. That’s when Noel and I became friends. Even though he carried his crazy streak all through high school – partied hard, grew his hair long, wrecked his car – there was always something stable and secure with the guy. You could trust him with anything and he never betrayed your friendship. Noel’s married to a great girl, adopted two kids and working his butt off doing landscaping. We’ve already got plans to watch the Virginia Tech game together. I’m not letting this friend get far off my radar again.
Chad and I, as we always do, will meet up again next month for our annual trek to Knoxville, Iowa and the Sprint Car Nationals. I’m sure we’ll recap that night – seeing some of the faces of classmates, how some got bloated, some got bald, some got cosmetic surgery and some actually stayed the same.
I’m sure we’ll laugh about how one classmate got hold of me and went on for 15 minutes about how he enjoys my radio work (yes, there was a couple who remember my days doing Husker sports.) It was fun to be recognized. We’ll recall how some of the girls we used to dream about don’t look so dreamy anymore (not that neither one of us ever were desirable.) But mostly, we’ll recall those classic days of youth. The Saturday football games, the late night rounds of hide-and-go-seek, the injuries and the laughs.
In the end, my 20th class reunion wasn’t so much a reminder of those three years at Fremont High School. It was more a reminder of the 18 wonderful years I spent growing up at that white house on 19th Street. It was a reminder that as you go through life, you always meet special people that make life worth living. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as I followed Noel’s minivan back to Lincoln at 1:30am (I hadn’t stayed out that long in years) to return to the special people of my present. And I look forward to the next time I might see these special friends of my past.
Thanks to my friend, my blood brother, my tag team partner Chad for first suggesting that we go and to all of you who called last Friday or posted on my Facebook encouraging me to attend. And I better throw an assist to my NRG Media co-worker and classmate Heather, too. After all, she barged into a very important meeting last week telling me that I “had to be there.” She’ll kick my butt if I don’t give her some credit. So if you want to buy some airtime in Omaha on this season’s Friday Husker Tailgate show, call (402) 342-2000 and ask for Heather.
That should save me from getting injured by a girl……again.