Fifty years ago, I just wanted to get out of high school, get through college, and get on with my real life. Odd how simple minded we can be at 17. My “real life” as it turned out included 13 dogs, one original husband, a lovely daughter-in-law, two sons, two Romanian daughters, 11 foster children, and thousands of other peoples’ offspring over 30 years of teaching. Now my favorite student is my 2-year-old granddaughter.
This month I will attend Choctawhatchee’s Class of 1963 Reunion. Jeannie Crussell Ward has done a meticulous job organizing a gathering of classmates who have grown older and — one assumes — wiser together. Although I only had my senior year at CHS, I felt completely accepted among kids who had grown up with each other since kindergarten. It was a good year. My English teacher, Miss Prim, encouraged me to teach and to write. I thought she hung the moon and stars. Today, I’m blessed to remain in contact with many Choctaw alumni. And since I spent 30 years as a teacher there, I felt I had “graduated” for the second time when I retired in 1997.
Currently, I have a bucket list. But the odds are very much against the reality.
I have three other reunions I could attend since my father was in the Air Force, and we moved from base to base until he retired at Hurlburt.
In July comes the Harlingen High School reunion in Harlingen, Texas, where I had my sophomore and junior years. As in every place we lived, I made dear friends and have thought of them often. It was in Harlingen I learned to drive in driver’s education class, went to my first prom, and worshipped my English teacher, who told me it would be a shame if I didn’t go on to be a teacher of English or even more, a published author. Sorry, Mrs. Wyant, I never got around to writing that novel. My favorite memory was a class field trip to McAllen, Texas, to see a rehearsal of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.” I fell in love with opera that day, and have been an aficionado ever since. I’m especially touched that this reunion includes a memorial church service to remember classmates who have passed away.
The first week of August is the reunion for Greenville High School in Mississippi. I lived in Greenville the longest, from the sixth grade almost through my freshman year. It was here I would fly with my dad in his old Porterfield airplane over the magnificent Mississippi River and the levee. Here I witnessed deep South ceremonial charm, such as the high school beauty pageant draped in magnolias and beautiful girls in long white gloves and elegant ball gowns. We were all fans of Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” In my best friend’s backyard, I experienced my first kiss. And, as always, my English teacher, Mrs. Bonner, was my idol. I have been in contact with several old friends from Greenville, thanks to the internet, something unthought of in 1963.
Sometime in October, Del Rio High School in Texas holds its reunion. Although the school no longer exists, the alumni have remained a cohesive group and are planning events befitting the passage of 50 years. It was in Del Rio I learned not to mess with horned toads and to beware of scorpions under rocks. My fondest memory was going from the last one in line at the class spelling bee to first one after spelling a word that had stumped all the other kids. Of course, I became the Nerd d’Jour, but my English teacher loved me. I have recently re-connected with several Del Rio classmates and long to see them again.
Is it going to happen? Not likely. But, I’m going to send in my money and registration to all the reunions, just in case. Besides, knowing how personally expensive it gets for the organizers such as Jeannie (Choctawhatchee); Dana (Harlingen); Jane/Cookie/JJ (Del Rio); and Laurie/Brenda (Greenville), I’m not going to miss the registration fee.
There are obstacles. My husband is an invalid, dependent upon my care. And I’ll have to go alone and hope someone actually talks to me at the reunion events so I don’t stand there by myself with a club soda in my hand, looking like I wandered into the wrong party. Worse, I hate driving long distances, am bewildered by airports and bus stations, have no idea where to find the festivities being held, and a host of other petty fears that make it easier to stay home (wrinkles, gray hair, and weight included).
I’ll let you know what comes of my reunion bucket list.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.