It was a typical high school reunion in a way, but for me it was a reunion of my present with my past. It was an eventful weekend for me spiritually.
I’m a proud graduate of Meadows Valley High School in New Meadows, Idaho. My class of 22 students in 1988 was the largest graduating class for years (my brother’s graduating class from that school was just 6 people). It is a tiny rural school district where Kindergarten through 12th grade is in one building. The teachers were outstanding and supportive, and I have to say that attending school there was one of the best experiences of my life. I could go on and on to list the unexpected opportunities the staff created for us there, and the unwavering support from the community, but that would take up too much space and I want to talk about my weekend.
An all-class reunion was planned. It’s a typical thing for small schools: invite everybody that ever graduated, in order to make it worth the effort. A few of the old classmates I messaged beforehand weren’t going to make it because they had just been there for the funeral of our former lunch lady. Yes, back then all our school lunches were homemade and served by women who loved us. We loved them back. Anyway, I worried that people I knew well might not show up.
As I was parking my car, the music teacher arrived, spotted me through the windshields, and waved enthusiastically. After we got out of our cars I called across the parking lot to him, “How did you know it was me?” He replied, “Because you look exactly the same!” was his complimentary answer.
Also at the same time, one of my class of ’88 classmates walked out to the lot to her car. We all hugged and said hello. Another woman parked and began talking to us. I could tell the visit was momentous for her, too. She was a graduate when this school was brand new, in the 1950s, and recalled attending school prior to that in the nearby town of Meadows. (New Meadows came into being when the railroad was built 2 1/2 miles to the west of the original town.)
Another classmate joined us. She is currently a teacher at the school. “Look at this,” she said, pointing out covered disks in the floor. She explained they were all the outlets for the typewriting classroom, that hadn’t been updated yet, though electric typewriters were a relic from the past. As you can guess, the teachers each took on multiple roles. The science teacher taught biology, chemistry, life science, physics, etc. The math teacher taught geometry, algebra I and II, trigonometry, etc. The German teacher, a lovely woman from Germany, also taught American History and Government. We had exchange students from Germany every other year, and I recall that when they attended our civics classes, they would often be the ones explaining things to us about our own government.
One of the people from my class had brought all her photo mementos from high school, and I happily took photos of the photos for myself. Those are the ones you see above, from my high school days.
Soon it was over and we dispersed. One of my old classmates invited some of us to come over and visit, which is kind. But I had not yet explored the town. It was my first time there in ever so long, and I needed to reminisce. My first stop was the old train depot – the one I mentioned above that caused the town to be reformed as New Meadows. It has been undergoing renovation, which is wonderful, because it’s one of only about four truly historic and remarkable buildings in the small town.
I left my car parked near the depot and walked on one side of the highway all the way to the end of the town. I crossed Highway 95 (the only north-south highway that stretches the length of Idaho) and walked all the way back to my car. I was walking very slowly and taking pictures. It took me about 30 minutes. The entire town is four blocks long.
What delighted me the most were the things I could remember, which means that the things I loved the best were derelict buildings that had been untouched for 30 years.
The photo above shows the post office on the right, absolutely unchanged since I was a kid. It also shows a guy who had just come down Highway 95 (that’s the paved road on the left) on his lawnmower, and turned onto a side street. At the same time, a guy came up the side street on his four-wheeler, and waited for traffic before pulling onto the highway. For some reason, while I explored the town, I passed four different quads and one John Deer tractor (pictured above), carrying local residents around town. Maybe those folks are maximizing fuel efficiency? Apparently in New Meadows, it’s a thing to ride your quad to the store.
Next I got into my Jeep and drove the dirt streets, up one and down the next. Crawling along, having waves of memories crash over me. Obviously I had to visit my old house first.
My boyfriend would throw tiny rocks at that window when he wanted me to come out. The exterior is much changed, due to the house being converted into a restaurant for a time. An enormous weeping birch tree used to be the crown jewel of the front yard, but it is gone and so is the largest juniper tree I ever saw, which grew beside the front door. Possibly tree removal was to make room for the deck you see, that did not exist when I lived there. The shop to the left I recall as being gigantic, but it looks small to me now. There was a little wood stove inside, and my Pa would get it cooking in there and even when it was 10 degrees below zero outside, it was T-shirt weather inside the shop while I watched my dad work.
After staring at my old home, and taking as many photos as I thought was prudent before I would begin to raise the alarm of someone in the neighborhood (or even in the house), I decided that I had seen enough.
New Meadows is one of those rare instances where the town really hasn’t changed much in 30 years. The population was 576 when we moved there, it rose to 603 while I lived here, and the 2020 census counted 517 people. Those numbers don’t tell the story I felt in my heart though. It had changed so much to my eyes. I was feeling melancholy and decided to drive 9 miles up the winding canyon road to the “big city” of McCall, Idaho.