Tuesday, May 13, 1997:
We found ourselves in Gothenburg, Nebraska, founded in 1882 just six miles west of Willow Island. We had hoped to meet up with the Mormon Trail’s 150th Anniversary Sesquicentennial Wagon Train, a 1,040-mile hundred-day event. Dawn and Floyd Sherman were aboard, a couple from Bainbridge, New York, just five miles from my hometown of Sidney.
We arrived around lunchtime and the wagon train was already camped in a park some six blocks beyond Ehman Park. By now, it was sunny and warm but the fierce wind was blowing dust everywhere. We bought lunch from the Mormons in the park pavilion and ate outside on a picnic table under a lovely shade tree. We were told we could drive through the encampment and search for the Shermans.
An elderly man pointed to a man getting water for his horses. “There’s their wagon and there he is now,” he said. “You’ll be better for meeting him.”
I went over and introduced myself to Floyd Sherman, sixty-one, who was definitely surprised to see someone from back home. He showed me his two small ponies, Crystal and Crisco, and the small, non-authentic, rubber-tired, three-by-seven-foot wagon he had built for the journey. Traveling with them was grandson Kevin, who would celebrate his ninth birthday on the trail in about three weeks. They had joined the train in Grand Island, Nebraska, but planned to stop 450 miles later in Fort Laramie, Wyoming and return home for another grandson’s high school graduation. Just then, his wife Dawn pulled up.
Anne asked Dawn where she grew up.
“In a little town in upstate New York you probably never heard of,” she replied, “Otego.”
“Otego!” exclaimed Anne, “I graduated from Otego High School in 1958. There were only twenty-eight students in the entire graduating class.” It turns out Anne and Dawn were high school friends who hadn’t seen each other for thirty-nine years!
Dawn beamed. “Floyd and I are celebrating our fortieth anniversary a week from today. Although our real anniversary was April 20, we wanted to celebrate “happy trails” in a big way!”
So for the next two hours, in the middle of a Nebraskan campground, these two former classmates held a high school reunion, catching up on old times and the whereabouts of fellow classmates. I took several photos to remember the occasion. At last, however, we had to part and go our separate ways. Truly, it had been a miraculous day, a day to remember, a day on the trail for which we will always give thanks.
Sadly, that wasn’t the end of the story. On July 3, 1997, just three weeks after they’d arrived home, Floyd died of a stroke. At the funeral Floyd’s son, Phil, took the seats out of their little covered wagon and helped load the casket. Henry Sherman, who was Floyd’s brother, and Kevin gave “Grandpa” his last ride up to the cemetery.
Dawn later called the photos I took their “fortieth anniversary” photos.
P.S.—While still on the wagon train, Dawn got Kevin to promise he’d join the bicentennial Mormon Trail Wagon Train in 2046. Kevin was aghast by the fact that he would be fifty-nine years old by then, the same age as Grandma.
But somehow, I think, he’ll be there.