By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and forth: Memories of homecomings past connect with new experiences

Blending the expected with the unexpected is kind of the point of homecoming or reunion events.

I fully expected to see the Linfield Wildcat football team roll over whoever it played in this year’s homecoming game. I didn’t expect the barrage to start on the first play of scrimmage, but there you go.

I expected the tour of the Journalism & Media Studies facilities to be interesting and welcoming, and it was. But I did not expect to learn KSLC, the campus radio station, closed last year.

The students and staff brought me up to speed on the new, 21st century learning opportunities in the communications department. In my days studying journalism, the quarters basically consisted of two classrooms and the KSLC studio.

I knew the food would be delicious and the company enjoyable at the Bar West Classic tailgating party, though there was no actual tailgate in sight. Colleague Rusty Rae, a fellow Linfield alum, invited me and squired me around at the event — a gathering that truly embraces the whole reason for Homecoming, with friends from afar showing up to get reacquainted.

It was inspiring to hear the affection for the late Gil Hargreaves felt by his 1969-72 contemporaries, as Chuck Humble of the Class of ’71 described the creation of the Gil Hargreaves Endowed Scholarship. And chef Bill Hayden (’71) provided a delicious gourmet meal, with stations for brisket, tacos, salmon and chicken.
With that, I was ready for the game, the centerpiece of any Homecoming. My wife, Lorre, and I were invited to the VIP section, and we enjoyed a further pre-game repast. There’s nothing like a Golden Valley pale ale and a chocolate cookie to get ready.

I had not attended a game in four years, but by the third quarter, I finally caught on to the tradition. Upon Wildcat first downs, the announcer calls out “Wild” and the crowd responds “Cat!”

As Catdome traditions go, it’s almost as sweet as the days in the 1980s, when we all knew the game was in the bag when head coach Ad Rutschman descended from the stadium box, to exuberant applause, and joined his team on the field.

The jumbotron, definitely not a Maxwell Field feature in my student days, periodically showed promos for coach Rutschman’s new book, “Winning With Class.” Unfortunately, one happened to flash on the screen just ahead of the replay of a Linfield unsportsmanlike conduct call.

My Class of ’80-’81 reunion meeting was canceled due to lack of outdoor meeting space. I regretted that, but understood.

I saw no one else from my era at the game, but a few familiar faces surfaced, courtesy of the BWC event. With 2021, Homecoming got back most of the way to normal.

We tend to think of 2020 as a lost year, and while the coronavirus impact is much less this year — thank you, vaccine — 2021 still feels like a year seriously dented by the coronavirus.

In a kind of retroactive sense, 2019 was also dented, in ways we did not realize two years ago. I’m haunted by this feeling, “What did we miss in 2019 and when did we know we’d be missing it?”

I had the pleasure a few times of attending Homecoming with my Dad, including a couple of times 10-15 years ago, and last in 2017, when we took in the barbecue and game. We both encountered people from our respective Wildcat eras that year.

My father, Don Rea, Linfield ’49, died in February 2020 at the age of 94. He was living independently until September 2019.

That month, I approached him with the idea of attending Linfield’s Homecoming. It would have been his 70th, and he was receptive to the idea. I told him I’d come get him and he could take as little or as much as he’d like.

But within a couple of weeks, he told me, “Kirb, thank you, but it’s just too much.” A month later, he moved in with my brother and sister-in-law, and by January, we knew his time was nigh.

So with 2019 and 2020 passing as they did, I approached 2021 Homecoming with anticipation, being a new McMinnville resident and all. 

Lorre and I also attended Friday night’s Homecoming choir concert in Melrose Hall, the first time the ensemble had performed together live in 18 months. The program included premieres of wonderful works by 2014 alumni Zach Gulaboff Davis and Alex Zhang.

As we settled into our seats in beautiful Ice Auditorium and pored over the program, I was suddenly consumed by a strong emotional reaction. I was deeply moved upon seeing Dad’s name listed among alumni who had died in 2020 and 2021.

The concert, artistic highlight that it was, took on larger, almost holy, meaning by framing “Goin’ Home,” from Dvorak’s “From the New World,” in the tapestry of Linfield loved ones’ names.

My father, who taught me to appreciate classical music, would have been weeping in his seat right along with me.

The kindness of listing all those names cannot be understated. The concert experience was a humbling and joyful beginning to Homecoming weekend, and a signal to me that my father was more on my mind than I had consciously realized.

We walked home, uplifted by the concert, and my gaze fell on the newly painted mural on the cinderblock Outdoor Education building at Cowls Street and College Avenue. Lorre and I walk by there frequently, but this was the first we had seen the new exterior — a remarkable replication both of angular branches in nearby oaks, and of the shadows they cast.

I’ve still to find out who painted the mural, but it’s worth checking out. That night, after the concert, I was taken by the way the mural aligned shadows and branches as memories of what came before and extensions of what is with us now.

A re-reading of the lyrics of “Goin’ Home” helps say it: “Shadows gone, break o’ day, real life just begun/there’s no break, ain’t no end, jus’ a livin’ on.”

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at kirby@newsregister.com or 503-687-1291.

Comments

@@pager@@