Loyalton, California

We arrived in Reno about 9AM local time, walked outside and gulped in the cool dry air. After leaving the record-breaking heat and humidity of Austin, I just wanted to stand there and breathe air which actually has air in it.

The drive to Truckee via interstate 80 took only 45 minutes and then it was another 30 minutes to Sierraville along my favorite stretch of road. We arrived at 12:30. After we checked in, I headed immediately to the onsen and JQS headed to bed. (We had been up since 2AM local time and both of us required some down time before facing a barrage of family and friends.) About 5PM we headed toward Loyalton.

As we cleared a rise and glimpsed the eastern part of Sierra Valley, we saw that we were headed for stormy weather. JQS said, “It looks like we’re going to Mordor.” Despite appearances, no rain fell in Loyalton at all.

We arrived at Betsy’s (it’s difficult to get lost because there’s only one road connecting all these places) and joined the family convoy back to Loyalton High School. Stephan had arranged seats for our family and the Melancons in the reserved faculty seating.

The graduation ceremony began at 6:30 with the 39 graduates filing in to applause and “Pomp and Circumstance”. Principal Dan Piel addressed his class of champions, 23 of whom are going on to college with $600,000 worth of scholarships in their pockets. Our own Selina earned a $38,500 a year scholarship from St. Mary’s college. The three valedictorians (Selina was one) gave their speeches. All stressed how much the lifelong friendships and community in Loyalton meant to them. That sense of community became even more apparent during the slideshow which showed three or four photos of each graduate growing up, ending with the senior picture.


Sean and Selina, Class of 2005, Loyalton High School

All of us city folk were impressed with the thunderous applause given to each and every graduate. The whole community was cheering the class of 2005 on. In contrast, I didn’t know 98% of the people in my graduating class at my graduation. No one in my community knew who I was. Nor were they aware of my accomplishments or my plans for college and the future.

In Loyalton, each graduate received had a moment alone on stage to receive his diploma, to shake hands or hug the principal, and to stand before the entire community and give a little bow. Both in mine and JQS’s ceremonies, we formed two lines that filed past each other quickly, grabbed a piece of paper that represented our diplomas (but wasn’t), as if we were receiving batons in a relay race. Some people were cheered. Others weren’t. It all depended on the size of your private cheering section.

After exchanging hugs and congratulations with the graduates, the four of us headed back to Sierraville and dinner at Dos Hermanos. JQS again opted for bed, and MJN, Carol and I had another long soak in the hot springs. Walking back to the lodge in the starlight was exquisite.

I continue to mull over my ideas on a sense of place and a sense of belonging. I can see how much being part of the Loyalton community means to the people here. And how difficult it is for Betsy’s family to be moving to Las Vegas in two days. It would be easy to say that I’m envious. But I wonder, could I have survived in a very small town for 12 years? JQS thinks it would have made him more outdoorsey…as he’d seek refuge in long bike rides or solitary hikes.

6 Responses to “Loyalton, California”

  1. KAT Responds:

    Amazing clouds!

    I have always been very grateful to have grown up on the move. I’m sure our idiosyncratic and eccentric personalities would have adapted to a small community. I used to assume living in a small community would be oppressive but now I wonder if gifts that I have would have been recognized and nurtured in a way they weren’t in…well, that massive high school we both graduated from.

    I don’t remember graduation at all. I think I didn’t attend. I do have a class picture, though. Do you?

  2. mss Responds:

    I went to the graduation. It was outside in the Texas heat and humidity. It seemed to last for hours. My parents didn’t come. I think you were there, but we couldn’t sit together because we were seated alphabetically. So I didn’t know anyone around me.

    Didn’t we go to the Pizza Hut across from the cemetery afterward to celebrate. Maybe with Albert. Maybe with Mark and Steve. Michael had planned to come down for graduation. All the photos I have of him are backstage at “Madwoman”–so I wonder if he came early for that instead.

    Our high school graduation was so terrible that I skipped my college one.

    I did have our class photo…but at some point I cut out the faces of the few people I knew and didn’t keep the whole photo.

  3. bill Responds:

    I did not move around much as a kid but I went to a big-city high school where I was virtually anonymous. There were 500 in my graduating class. I won an award in my senior year for an essay contest and there was a little ceremony where the principal had to give me the award – He had this puzzled look on his face like he had never seen me before. Maybe he never had.

  4. mss Responds:

    Bill, your story reminds me of my first year at St. Ed’s. Most of my classes were very small, but my American History class had 60 or 70 people in it. I felt safely anonymous, especially since the class was more lecture than discussion. The class was right after lunch and I was often late to it because I’d linger over lunch chatting with my friends.

    One day I was walking across campus and my teacher, Dr. Nolan, greeted me. I had no idea that he’d recognize me as one of his students, much less know me by my first name. I was never late to his class again.

  5. KAT Responds:

    All I remember about graduation is sprawling somewhere on a plastic couch and wishing I could get drunk or stoned. Yeah, we probably did go to the Pizza Hut with the cemetary view and got a pitcher of root beer. That’s what we did those days….

  6. bee Responds:

    As you drive in the serene “looking” town of Loyalton, those looks are deceiving. The small “quaint” town takes on a new meaning once you become a part of the community. Is it because of the long lineage of people who have lived here all their lives or is there really something deeper and more mysterious than just heritage?

The surface and beneath the surface