Home Sweet Aurelia
"Spencer!" I exclaimed, excited to see a familiar face from my past, camera in hand. A grin spread across his face as we wrapped each other in a warm hug, one of the many joyful embraces I'd have over the Sesquicentennial weekend celebrations. This first gathering of Aurelia residence and former residents, students and teachers spanning all stages of life was a children's parade. I lined up beside my family and beloved childhood friend, Marissa, and we began pulling our wagons full of young ones. While these kiddos were delighted to take part in the fun, their life journey of making memories in this town was only just beginning. It was their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that could be found with smiles of remembrance as the parade began its path around the Aurelia pool.
There was a young woman over a decade ago now who swore to herself that she'd never be back. She was ready to finally escape the boring small town and the people who'd known her for her entire life. Funny enough, this woman (now slightly older and wiser) was back to enjoy the very things she once thought she didn't need or want... those friendly people who knew not only her, but her siblings, parents, and even grandparents likely present in spirit as they wouldn't be found missing a single Aurelia community event. What she once considered boring was now beautifully familiar and safe, a town where we felt no hesitancy in leaving doors unlocked or letting children play outside until dusk. Those sights of the blue water tower and town elevator buildings raised above the bike trail lined with American flags brought anticipation of the weekend's events yet to come.
A wide smile took up residence on my face for the weekend as I was greeted by former schoolmates and teachers. I took a moment to say hello to Mrs. Rohwer and her growing family... my former first grade teacher who taught my brother's son this past year in kindergarten. Waved to Mrs. Winterhof who not only taught myself and my siblings elementary music, but my Dad and several of his siblings as well. Gave a hug to Angie Bruce, who was an encouraging force found in the front office when high school seemed a bit overwhelming. As we gathered to enjoy the Aurelia alumni jazz band, my sister at the piano, I looked up across the bleachers to notice so many who were there in those same bleachers years ago, cheering on our jazz band as we swung our way to state. A former instructor, Mr. Meyer, stood up to solo on saxophone as his own student turned band instructor, Michael Swanson, conducted. Michael pointed to him in acknowledgement, the way Mr. Meyer had once done to him and the nostalgia of these good ole' days washed over me.
Gathering together for the alumni photo on Valor Field, I felt as much joy watching others reconnect as reuniting with loved ones myself. The field echoed with the sound of joyful chatter and laughter. Gentlemen in their eighties shaking hands and affectionately slapping one another on the back. Friends from decades ago discovering where around the country each was back home from. Meeting the children and grandchildren of their former schoolmates and betting whether the rain would hold off for the parade that afternoon.
Hold off it did, and the proud Aurelia Fire and Rescue headlined this parade before preparing their classic meal of burgers and turkey fillets served at the Fireman's Dinner. They served with as much joy and gratitude as the gentlemen of Kiwanis had that morning, community center filled to the brim with people present as much for the conversation as to enjoy some delicious waffles. I glanced up to see my dad pouring syrup with as big of a grin on his face as my mom, with her gaggle of grandchildren surrounding her. I introduced our children to Priscilla and the Otto family, as our daughters' eyes lit up to discover their mothers had done gymnastics together years ago. A handful of classmates would later gather on their family farm to reconnect and reminisce on getting together for bonfires at Travis's in high school. Classic cars filled the park and giggles resounded from the young ones on bouncy houses and slides while a cornhole tournament took place nearby.
We listened to cheerleaders of the seventies on their parade floats chanting the cheers we remembered, my younger sister beside me with imaginary poms in her hands as we recalled the moves to the Aurelia Bulldog fight song. This semi-retired bulldog mascot was dusted off and showed up to greet alumni. We said hello to one of the most recognized faces of the community, Mr. Radke, as he greeted his former students and football players... young men he helped to teach the value of respect and how to give a proper handshake.
After gathering for an Anderson family reunion at Uncle Ron's, we drove with napping children back across the state on Highway 20. I massaged my temples and sore cheek muscles and chuckled with the awareness that they were not sore from stress and tension... but from the amount of smiling and laughter I'd enjoyed over the course of the weekend. I reflected with a thankful heart of our visit to this small town called home. The kind of place where the entire community comes together to clean up their neighbor's home after being hit with a tornado. Where farming families span several generations and don't hesitate to lend one another a hand before they even have to ask. Where the roots of kindness are nurtured and grow into branches that spread this kindness around the country.
Where people of all generations feel such a love and appreciation for the place of their raising that they'd drive and fly hundreds of miles to return to this beloved place that we, our family, and friends call home... Aurelia, Iowa.
“Life takes you unexpected places, love brings you home.”
Photos courtesy of Spencer Bezoni Photography