Why you shouldn't miss your class reunions

I highly recommend you go back to your high school/college/kindergarten class reunions (any reunion!) if you get the chance. It's a great way to reconnect with your roots and share stories that only longtime friends can know. This was my 3rd time at Dupo, Illinois' "No Class Reunion", lovingly conceived and orchestrated by Marsha Bieber English, Rose Freppon Falana, Mary Todd LaMantia, Mindy Mernick, Sandy Dixon Thomas, Scharmayne Lanterman and Ken Phillips.

It was another perfect day in Southern Illinois...the sky was a Windex blue and there was a slight breeze, not boiling hot like this time last year, which was so nice. And besides, most of us look better in sweatshirts than clingy T's if I'm being perfectly "candid." Tables under the pavilion in Dupo Community Park had been staked out early, thanks to dear friends Karen Weber LaCroix and her cute brother Paul Weber (class of '69) for making ours the BEST! Even down to the red and white checkered tablecloth, Karen had made this a true picnic with homemade snacks, beer and more she'd brought from home. Someone had brought a yearbook and we all (including another dear friend Tommy Hundley) pored over it. Lots and lots of photos were taken, phone numbers were shared and promises made to reach out.

It was idyllic and made me appreciate my small town upbringing even more. These friends are the salt of the earth--the ones who helped mold my early years and who gave me a sense of right and wrong and what's truly important. As we grow older and move away, oftentimes, these values get lost in the noise but going home makes you realize how lucky you were and how far you've come. It's life-affirming.

The night before we had dinner in Columbia, Illinois with longtime, dear friends Carolyn (we were cheerleaders together) and Wade Teeter (we missed Rod Lavender who was home sick). Their home is so charming and chic, it should be in a magazine. The candlelight and the beautiful antiques they have collected over the years made the get-together so cozy we didn't want to leave. But we were on a tight schedule as this same night was the kick-off party at Good Times, a local bar/restaurant/hangout in Dupo.

When we arrived, the party was in full swing with two bands and a packed house. I saw people I hadn't seen since high school and many looked almost exactly the same. More photos were taken, Budweisers drank and dancing ensued. Again, I didn't want to leave.

Saturday night, Chuck and I got a chance to reconnect with family. My dear Aunt Lora Stott (who never ages!), cousins Cindy and Greg Groce, Mark and Conan Stott joined us for dinner in Waterloo, where Lora lives. This town is just oozing with charm and beauty and has been listed on many "Best" lists about Illinois. The town square looks like something staged for a photo shoot and is the spot for the annual Pumpkinfest (happening this year on October 13 and HIGHLY recommended). We had dinner at Gallagher's, a neat restaurant owned by the Gallagher family (John and Susie and their 5 sons). It is a study in recycling with the 1870s building being completely restored (by the family) with relics from the past--original railings from the 1908 McKinley Bridge, pocket doors from the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel in St. Louis and so much more. The polished mahogany bar is original and over 100 years old. The food is good too--they're known for their Sunday fried chicken (all you can eat) dinners!

We discovered another cool spot that's only been open for 3 months, Sunset Overlook. Located at 11604 Bluff Road, this small wine and craft beer bar (with a limited menu) was created from a 100 year old farm house. Its tranquil rural setting offers sweeping views over cornfields and then the Mississippi River beyond. The "witching hour" is sunset when you can see jaw-dropping, beautiful sunsets.

And, as always, we drove by my childhood home at 325 Louisa Ave., an annual pilgrimage so-to-speak. On our way back to Chicago, we made a stop at Cahokia Mounds, the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico built in AD 1050-1200. The weather remained perfect so we kept the convertible top down as long as we could....the 5 hour drive flew by as I relived all the fun we'd had in my head.

We're already planning our next trip that I'm hoping will include a visit to Maeystown , an historic German village built in 1852. And, despite being a tiny little town (only 168 occupants), it's loaded with charm. So much to see, so much to do.....you can go home again and you should.

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