by Brian G
Four close high school friends make a pact to return on the 4th of July in twenty years.
A true story.
In 1952 Cozad, Nebraska had a population of 2910. It was nestled in the Platte River Valley and served by U.S. Route 30, a descendent of the Oregon Trail. A sign at the city limits proudly stated, “Welcome to Cozad, the Worlds Largest Alfalfa Producing and Shipping Center.” The 100th Meridian ran through town, and the main North-South Street was named Meridian Avenue. There was one stoplight in town, at the intersection of 8th Street and Meridian Avenue.
In that year, three high school friends and I formed a kinship. We were all farm boys raised near Cozad. We called ourselves the Oddballs, and at times did goofy things to live up to our name. We weren’t exactly daring, but one time we went into a local café and ordered, each of us wearing one glove. In a small town, someone is going to know you or your parents, so it took some nerve to do that with people wondering, what the…?
We spent most of our leisure time (there wasn’t much leisure time for a farm kid back then) doing something together. We might have played basketball or Ping-Pong in the haymow of my parent’s barn, challenged each other to a foot race through the hills along spring creek, played two-on-two football in the stubble of an alfalfa field, gone to the county fair or a rodeo, or just hung out and talked about important stuff. Stuff like getting together for a reunion in twenty years.
We were a diverse lot.
Sam was a quiet, dependable person, of strong build, and destined to be a farmer like his father. He had boyish good looks, rosy cheeks, a quick smile, and got along with everyone. He was a crack shot with a rifle, and a champion blue-rock shooter.
Hank was a handsome, athletic boy, tall and lanky, seemingly with no cares, and with no particular agenda. Spending time with Hank was great relaxation.
Rod had rugged, good looks and seemed determined to do something important with his life. He was passionate about every undertaking, was a gifted writer, and was destined to seek his fortune elsewhere.
I was a skinny kid, undersized for my age, and had a wisecrack ready for any occasion. I had no future plans, but luckily my father had some. Dad hadn’t finished college because his father became ill and he had to go back home and tend to the farming. He never broke away from the farm and felt trapped there. He was determined that I attend college and get an engineering degree. It happened.
The Oddballs needed a landmark, date, and time for the reunion. As high school kids, looking ahead to a date that would more than double our lifetime, we imagined that big changes would likely take place. We worried that if we picked the stoplight as a meeting place for the reunion there might be many other stoplights, and confusion could result. So, we decided to meet at Landy’s corner, on the Fourth of July, 1972, at twelve noon.
Landy’s corner was the intersection of two farm roads at the northwest corner of Landy’s farm and the southwest corner of my parent’s farm. Landy was Rod’s brother-in-law. Rod had been staying on that farm so that he could finish high school in Cozad. His father had found work in another state, and his parents had moved there.
I hadn’t lived in Cozad since 1958, the day of my marriage. Two days before my wedding, was the last assembly of the Oddballs, a bachelor party to remember. No guests, no entertainment, just drinks and fellowship, in Sam’s car, parked in a freshly harvested alfalfa field, reminiscing. Except for the drinks, it was typical Oddball craziness. We awoke at daylight, with hangovers, still in the car, still in the field. I vowed never to drink again.
As the years went by Sam and Hank married and remained in Cozad, on their family farms. Rod attended college, married and became a college professor and writer of note. I attended college and became an engineer. Rod and I both moved away from Nebraska.
I didn’t try to contact any of the Oddballs immediately prior to the reunion. I thought it would be more exciting if everyone showed up unprompted and unannounced.
My 1972 vacation was scheduled with the reunion in mind, I took my family to Nebraska, but I didn’t tell them about the importance of this special day.
At noon, on the Fourth of July, 1972, I stood in my parent’s farmyard looking over a field of knee high corn and staring at Landy’s corner, about half a mile away. The scent of freshly mowed alfalfa was in the air; it was a beautiful day. I didn’t drive to the intersection because I didn’t really expect anyone to show up, but I was ready to go should cars begin to arrive. It was thrilling to think that The Reunion might happen after all these years.
Noon came and went, and no one appeared.
I spent the rest of the day wrapped in melancholy, but at the same time enraptured by a stream of memories from those days as an Oddball.
I often wondered, but until 2010 had never asked, if any of the others had thought about The Reunion on the 4th of July in 1972. By 2010, only Rod was still living, and he apologetically said that he hadn’t.