A SLICE OF AMERICAN LIFE

A few days ago I enjoyed a weekend experiencing that staple of small town Americana, the high school Homecoming.  For those who have never seen various movies or grew up in large urban areas or have never lived in the United States, let me explain.

In most small towns large enough to have a high school and a football team, they hold an annual celebration called a Homecoming, where alumni who remember their high school days fondly (or wonder about their classmates’ lives in the years between graduation and the present) gather back together for a day or two.  A pep rally is held to cheer for the football team and raise enthusiasm for the following game.  The alumni are recognized.  There is usually a parade at some point with groups of alumni creating and riding in floats, on trailers, or sometimes just vehicles.

I graduated from a town in north Texas named Rising Star.  There were 21 in my graduating class as I recall (haven’t located my yearbook yet), and at least two of them were juniors who took extra classes to get the necessary credits to graduate a year ahead.  The entire high school had a total of about 100 students the year I graduated.  We were so small that during the field and track season, there were only about three students who were not involved in the various events.  I was one of them.  We would spend the entire day in study hall with one teacher when the track meets were held out of town.

In a town this small, football is a huge deal.  Homecoming weekend is pretty much the biggest deal of the year, except for perhaps the Halloween school carnival.  People who have been away for decades come back for it. The representative for our class who went to the alumni business meeting  (yes, they have those) said they had started a roll call of alumni classes with the 2015 graduating class, and she finally left when they reached 1948, and were still going.

I graduated in 1976.  Forty years I’ve been away, and this was the first time I had made it back for a Homecoming even though I lived only four hours away.  Why so long?  Mostly, I think, I was so busy living my life I wasn’t really curious about my classmates, and hadn’t really been involved in the town or the school in the two years I spent there before I graduated.

Now, however, I’m retired, and thanks to social media and the enthusiasm of classmates who did want to gather, I decided to go.  About half the class was able to make it, one even despite nearly dying in an auto accident in August.  Several classmates still lived there in the still very small town and one was even a businessman and city council member.  (Still shaking my head over that, Johnny.  You, a politician?)

I had a terrific time, I have to admit, and also have to admit I was pleasantly surprised.  My sister had gone to her graduating class’ Homecoming several years before and was not inclined to ever repeat it.  She went with me only to provide transportation and get away for a weekend and figured she would get in a good amount of reading while I socialized.

She forgot that, even though she graduated from a different school after our family moved following my graduation, she had gone to Rising Star’s junior high school with the younger siblings of my classmates.  Since she has an incredible memory, she remembered them. Once she started asking my classmates about them, she found herself caught up in regular conversation and never did get to her reading until we were back at our hotel.

I was having a great time, too.  I wasn’t so much interested in nostalgic memories, since I spent the two years I’d been in school there working when I wasn’t in class, and had zero interest in sports of any kind, so I had rarely been to any of the games.  I had not socialized much due to my work hours and mostly remembered my classmates from our time in classes.

I was fascinated by how they had spent the years between, and how their lives had turned out.  I had never been able to use the scholarship I had been awarded for an out of state college, but had wound up accomplishing more in my career than I had ever dreamed I would and had done the things I had always wanted to, like writing nationally read published works (training material and procedural manuals, but hey, they made life easier for a lot of people).

I was delighted to find several of my classmates had become teachers.  I figured that had made our class sponsor, our English teacher, laugh really hard after the hard time we gave her.  (Sorry, Mrs. Burns, if I ever made you gnash your teeth!)  Some of us had gone into the medical field.  Some, like Johnny, had become businessmen and women.  Some had become civil servants like myself.  One had become a pastor (yeah, still shaking my head over that one, too, Clark).

Most of us had gone through health problems, several of us with breast cancer.  We lost some classmates to accidents, and even one to an unsolved murder.  One we had even more sadly lost to suicide.  Like many small towns, some of those had been family members and the mourning was doubled.

It was, in the end, the kind of family reunion you wished you could always go to, where the conversation flowed freely as well as the laughter, many hugs were exchanged, experiences were gasped and laughed over, and good food was shared.  Old pictures and news clippings were pored over.  There were no snide remarks made, no sniping at each other, or ugly memories recalled (at least not in my hearing).  I was, again, in awe of people like Tami and Denise and Brenda and Marilyn (okay, I need to quit), who could remember everything that happened to EVERYBODY. I can’t remember what happened to me half the time.

We joined together enthusiastically just as we had those decades ago for the pep rally, the football game, and for decorating our cars and riding them in the very short parade, waving madly at the townspeople who lined the single street we went down. (Note to self: anytime a parade is even mentioned in passing, get a big bag of small candies to throw to the kids, just in case you get to be in it.  It’s important!)

After the parade, we joined one last time in cleaning up what we could before we had to rush back to south Texas.  (Sorry, Brenda, I know we probably should have done more!)  It was hard saying goodbye, but my sister took many photographs, and that will help.  As we all agreed, social media is great for staying in touch, and hopefully we will see each other before we’re too old to enjoy it again.

So, here’s hoping life will get even better for you guys, as I hope it will for me.  I was so glad to see you again, Bonnie, Brenda, Robert, Tami, Denise, Marilyn, Marion, Johnny, Teco, Susan, Nancy, Kim, and others whose names I cannot remember (sorry, I totally blame the chemo!) but thoroughly enjoyed meeting.  I asked my sister to check my list of names since her memory is better, but this was the best I could do.  And for any of you who weren’t there, yeah, of course we talked about you, but at least we didn’t nominate you for a committee!

Time marches on, the saying goes, and sometimes it marches in a great direction, leading folks back to each other.  I’m looking forward to having it circle around again. Thanks for the memories, as Bob Hope liked to say.  Love you all.

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