A few columns ago, I shared my bucket list. It’s a short one, but it’s ambitious. After attending last weekend’s 50th reunion for Choctawhatchee High School alumni, I’m even more motivated to make the sentimental journey to see old friends from the other three schools I attended.
Friday night’s fish fry was hosted by Destin’s Lloyd and Tommy Taylor at the park named in honor of their grandfather, Clement E. Taylor. The food was fantastic, especially the cheese grits, and the re-connection with classmates was wonderful, touching, nostalgic, emotional, and all the superlatives I can think of.
On Saturday night, the class members met for a banquet at Angler’s. Then a farewell brunch on Sunday morning, also at Angler’s. Celebrating together so close to our beautiful beaches stirred up many tales of happy times spent surfing, dancing at the Tower Beach pavilion, limbo contests around a bonfire, and falling in love. Very Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.
Being an Air Force brat, I moved with my family like gypsies from 1952 to 1962. And every time we moved, I informed my parents that they were ruining my life, and that I’d never get over leaving my school and my friends behind. I came to envy those kids who had been together since kindergarten. To me, they had “roots,” and I considered our constant re-locations as “rootless.”
In October of 1962, Dad finally came to be stationed at Hurlburt, and I entered Choctawhatchee as a senior. Just as I had in other places, I made friends and discovered my life wasn’t really ruined after all.
It’s all about perspective.
Presided over by class president Don Lucas, several speeches were made Saturday night.
Since I was on Choctawhatchee’s faculty from 1967 to 1997 with many of the same teachers who taught the class of 1963, I talked about what had become of them over the years.
Joel Helms paid tribute to classmates who had died. Lloyd Taylor talked about the outstanding educational advancements made by the school. Jerry Miller spoke of how provincial and isolated our area was in the '50s and '60s and how the influx of students from Air Force families had enriched the world of long-time, local kids. Example: a kimono shared at show and tell along with stories about Japan. (As he spoke, I remembered sharing with local classmates what a desert horned toad was and how to get one to smoke a cigarette.) Jerry said he and the others were jealous of the places we had been and the experiences we had.
Another speaker, who had also come to Choctaw with her military family, spoke of always feeling like the new kid, of having to start all over in a new environment, and of envying fellow classmates who had always known each other. My sentiments exactly.
But she also said that she felt accepted and valued as a new classmate. I felt the same.
So, 50 years later we learn insights unknown to us as teenagers.
I’ve sent in my money and reservations for the other three reunions. In July, the plan is to take our RV along with a yet-to-be designated driver and go to Harlingen, Texas. I won’t drive that thing, and Frank no longer can. Since the Saturday night get together is in an RV resort, that should work out well. If I actually get to make this trip, I’ll send you a postcard column from the road. With my penchant for misadventure, I’ll probably have some Stupid Mary story to tell.
Greenville, Miss., which is 426 miles away, will probably be a car trip in August. But, again, I’m going to have to get someone to be “Driving Miss Daisy,” as I have no sense of direction, even with a GPS, and I hate driving long distances anyway. I wonder if Morgan Freeman is available.
In October, I’m going to have a real challenge getting to Del Rio, Texas. It’s more than 900 miles from here. No airline flies into their international airport (weird, huh?), and there is no train or bus connection from here to there either. The closest is San Antonio airport, 150 miles away, so I’d have to rent a car or ride a burro the rest of the way.
Being stubborn, I think the obstacles have made me more determined to check these three boxes on my reunion to-do list.
Then, like Doolittle’s Raiders, I’ll be content to call it done. I like what Richard Cole said when asked why the Raiders were observing their final reunion, “If you didn't decide to wind it down, you might end up ... with no people."
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.