Earlier this year when Sharon Levtzow Jurgensen found my Vagabond journal entries about Redfield, South Dakota, she contacted me to let me know how much they meant to her. She was born and raised in Redfield. When her sister Jackie moved to Chicago some fifty years ago, Sharon was 19; she and her parents moved to Chicago as well. Earlier this month, Sharon and Jackie flew into Brookings, South Dakota, rented a car, and drove back to Redfield for their Redfield High School class reunions. I had hoped to meet Sharon in Redfield and interview her about the experience of going home, but ultimately that wasn't possible. Sharon agreed to keep a little journal of the experience and let me share it with my readers.
In her letter to me which accompanied the journal about her experiences, Sharon said: "I loved my trip to Redfield, South Dakota. I felt like there were not fifty years between this visit and my last one. Everybody knew me and I knew everyone. One day we were at the Senior Center and there were a hundred-twenty people in attendance, and I felt like I talked to every one of them. I should have been a politician. My sister and I did a lot of laughing and reminiscing." Here follows Sharon's journal of the trip:
RETURN TO REDFIELD
by Sharon Levtzow Jurgensen
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Drove from Brookings to Redfield. As we entered Redfield on Highway 212, there was a big sign at the Courthouse: "Welcome the class of 1950, 1951, and 1956."
Sister Jackie is from the class of 1950, of which Mayor of Redfield Duane Sanger graduated. His wife Juanita and her twin sister Bonita were the best of high school friends with Jackie.
I, Sharon, graduated with the class of 1956, with Jerry Hanson, owner of the car dealership. Also in my class was Nancy Terry, owner of Terry's Bar. The Vagabond should interview Jerry Hanson when he visits Redfield again; Jerry is a great guy.
As I drove into town, I hollered: "Hello, Redfield. The Levtzow sisters are here. Let the party begin."
Went to Super 8 motel where Marti Thelen greeted us. I asked her what her Mother's name was and she said Marie Levtzow (a distant cousin of ours). Told her that her mother raised a lovely daughter. Marti Thelen drove my car up to the back of the motel to pick us up when they were fixing the sidewalk in front of the motel.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Went to Terry's bar for my reunion. I spent seven hours visiting with classmates and all I had was Diet Coke. All my classmates were gracious, polite, fun, and believed in long hugs.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Us two sisters went to Rockham, town of 53 population. All my sister could say as I was driving: "I can't believe this beautiful, panoramic view." It was very windy (35 miles per hour). So all the pheasants and birds I was hoping to see were nestled down in their habitat.
The town of Rockham was desolate. We drove to our big, pink brick three-story schoolhouse (where my dad went to high school), and it was torn down. My mother also taught me in first grade and Jackie in sixth grade in that then beautiful school. Also my grandfather's general store, which sold everything, was no longer there. It actually collapsed after my Aunt Violet got out. I worked at my grandfather's grocery store where I candled eggs, filled people's containers with vinegar out of a barrel, and made ice cream floats and sundaes. It was the years 1951 to 1954 that I worked in the store.
We were the only car in sight. I looked out my rear window and said "Jackie, there is a car following us." I pulled over and a lovely lady got out and said, "I had my hair fixed in Redfield, and Colleen Hardie was in the beauty shop and said the Levtzow sisters went to Rockham." This great lady, Agatha Sherman, was our neighbor in Rockham, and Jackie and I had always baby-sat with her five children over fifty-five years ago. We went to her house for coffee and a delightful visit.
We sat in front of the house we were raised in, which actually still looked good. It has been well maintained, with a beautiful yard and many trees.
A myriad of memories went through our minds.
Sad memories - All our relatives buried in the cemetery.
Happy memories - Playing piano duets with my sister at church and at Memorial Day functions. Jackie giving piano lessons to so many Rockham children. Sharon singing at weddings.
Romantic memories - Sitting in the driveway with our dates.
Momentous memories - We entertained so many friends in that house. Mom was an excellent cook. And Dad had a great sense of humor.
Work memories - We pitched hay, corralled pigs, drove tractor, cultivated corn rows, cooked for threshing crew.
Just about ready to leave Rockham when we see this run-down two-story house that looked like a haunted house. It saddened my sister when she saw it, and she started to recite Joyce Kilmer's poem, "The House with Nobody in It."
Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track, I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black. I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute. And look at that house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.
We praise our grade school teachers for encouraging us to memorize poems and read all the classic novels. Our mother Pearl was a great teacher in the area from 1944-1954. We are excellent spellers also, because we had spelling bees on Friday.
Okay, then it was my turn to recite the inspirational poem, "The House by the Side of the Road."
Let me live in my house by the side of the road - It's here the race of men go by. They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish - so am I; Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat, or hurl the cynic's ban? Let me live in my house by the side of the road - And be a friend to man.
Back to Redfield. Again my sister said the horizon, the panoramic view was so beautiful.
Now we were sitting in our car where the dance pavilion was in Redfield, by Turtle Creek. It is so sad that they didn't rebuild it. We could hear the strains of Harry Eisele, Blue Barron, and even Louis Armstrong, who had played there. We couldn't dance on Sunday, so when the 4th of July was on Sunday, they started the dance after midnight. I got home at dawn after dancing all night with Jerry Marlette. My mother was very angry when I got home at four in the morning. But I said, "Mom, I told you it was a dawn dance."
Friday afternoon we had home-made pie and coffee at the Senior Center. There were a hundred-twenty people there, and my sister and I talked to almost all of them.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
My class had breakfast at Leo's Restaurant. Again, it was so much fun. Leo's was now where the First National Bank was located when I was in high school. The salad bar was in the area where the bank vault used to be. I enjoyed working in the bank from age 16 to 18 years old. I would work after school until evening, posting checks. I even had a key to the bank because they were closed when I worked.
By 1954 my sister Jackie moved to Chicago and married her college sweetheart. My Mom, Dad, and I missed her so much, we moved to Chicago also. We were always happy in Illinois. I married a marvelous optometrist and we raised two great children. Daughter Shari is an optometrist like her dad, and son Paul is regional manager for Abbott Labs.
Jackie went from a farm community to the big city, where she taught in a private school, played classical piano on the radio, and raised three super children.
Sharon left Redfield at 19 years of age and received her Master's Degree and taught school. Also Sharon and husband Ray sang in Orchestra Hall in Chicago and performed on the Lee Phillip TV show, which in the 1960s was similar to the Oprah show.
Lee Phillip and Sharon's husband Ray went to high school together in Chicago. Lee went on to Hollywood with her husband Bob Bell, and they created "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" soap operas.
Who says you can't go home after fifty years? As Jon Bon Jovi writes and sings:
Who says you can't go home
There's only one place that calls me one of their own
These are my streets, the only life I've ever known,
Who says you can't go home.
Who says you can't go back,
Been all around the world and that's a matter of fact.
There's only one place left I want to go.
Who says you can't go home.
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright.