I don’t know. Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic because our oldest grandchild, Colten, somehow thinks that he is old enough to graduate from high school when I know for a fact that it was just last year that we all hurried into that hospital room to meet him. If you’ve been there, you know exactly what I mean, don’t you? On one hand, it’s been a wonderful ride, packed full of birthday parties, ball games, and family outings. On the other, however, there is so much more that I meant to do….
And then out of the blue I received the following true story from Joyce Whitis, a free-lance writer who once again has me blinking back a tear or two as I travel with her back to her own school days, all the while reliving not only my own young years, but those of both my children and my grandchildren. I think her story will have the same effect on you as well.
“HEY!” The word was written in caps across my screen. “Hey, who in the world is that boy on the end of the third row?”
My reply was that I had no idea; didn’t have a clue. I wrote back that I thought that girl on the end in the print dress, holding her elbow in her other hand, was named Lucille something or other. We wrote back and forth across the miles from Huckabay, Texas to Kansas City, she in her condo on the edge of a park, me in our farm house facing a window where Cardinals swarm the bird feeder.
My friendship with Maida in Kansas goes back to our childhood, the fifth grade actually when she joined our class, transferring from Odell. Although we only see each other once a year at our school’s homecoming, we stay in touch through e-mail almost daily.
Recently I discovered, through our frequent letters, that apparently I am the only one of our classmates that has kept all the group pictures taken of our class through the years. As a person who keeps everything, finding the pictures in an old scrapbook wasn’t a surprise to me. I knew they were here. I just didn’t know where.
After several conversations via computer, I made copies of the class photos and sent them to Maida. Most of the class, we could identify at once, but there were a few faces where we both drew a blank. Our e-mails transcended the miles as we suggested names and struggled to put the proper name with each young face. Then one day we got into our memory books. When we were in grade school, all the girls had these little books with blank pages where friends and family would scribble poems and notes to us. Maida still had hers and I had mine and when we started reading those, we hit pay dirt.
Cleston Kennedy! That was his name, that boy on the front row in overalls and glasses! He has a smile on his face, like he is sharing a joke with the photographer. He was a funny kid. He wrote the old “Roses are red” thing in my book.
Finally we have everyone identified except that boy on the end of the 3rd row! Maybe somebody at the reunion will know him.
Our class of ’46 will celebrate 68 years since graduation at this year’s High School Homecoming! There aren’t many of us left but those of us still walking around will sit together in the old gym and eat barbeque and talk about that time that all the senior boys drove up to Trash Hill and how Miss Brooks gave them a blistering lecture on Monday morning in English class.
We’ll get together around a table at the Dairy Queen and talk about how Jacky had this wooden leg because he fell into a stalk cutter when he was little and his leg had to be amputated just below the knee. We’ll talk about Jacky because he was so popular and was elected Student Body President our senior year. We’ll all remember how he used to take a big stick of peppermint candy, the kind you get at Christmas, and break it across that artificial leg when strangers were around and didn’t know about his leg. He always got a kick out of the reaction from those watching.
Somebody will ask if Jacky’s killer was ever found and we’ll shake our heads remembering that the most popular boy in high school was knifed in his bed while working on a construction site after graduation. Now why would anybody do that to Jacky?
I’ll visit the little cemetery on the east side of town and put red roses in the little white vases on either side of a grey granite grave marker. I’ll say a little prayer of thanksgiving for being born into such a wonderful family with loving parents. Then I’ll spend some time at the graves of aunts, uncles and cousins finally stopping at the monument with a listing of local boys that served in the United States military during WWII. My brother’s name is there along with so many others that left the fields and changed their plows for guns. He came home but others did not.
On Sunday we’ll go to church, sit in the same pew where our family sat a lifetime ago. We’ll meet new folks and shake hands with those that remember our parents.
“Your mother was my piano teacher when I was 10 years old”, a gray haired woman says to me. “She was so sweet and patient with me. I loved her so much.”
“I used to play forty-two with your dad and his brother down at the Texaco Station,” an elderly man pushes through the crowd to tell me. His face lights up as he says that Gene could always tell what dominoes were in his opponent’s hand.
“We spent some great afternoons together back then. I remember how proud Gene was of you when you graduated college. He used to talk about his kids a lot; well I guess we all did that!”
After lunch at Dorothy’s it will be time to go so we’ll gather ‘round and tell one last story and say, “See you next year” knowing that some of us will not be back that way again. But then….we are grateful that we did travel that road once and remembering it all is almost like living it again.Joyce Whitis is a free-lance writer that contributes a Sunday column, Patchwork to the Empire-Tribune. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-968-8450.