Mary Ready: A continuing pilgrimage down memory lane

Mary Ready

Suddenly, it occurs to me that Lucedale is the county seat of George County.

Strange, how little flashes of memory return after 50 years. On the road to Greenville, Miss., to my third high school reunion of the summer, I remembered my social studies teacher making us memorize all 82 counties along with their principal cities.

My sentimental journey recently took me to the Magnolia State to re-connect with classmates I left in my sophomore year when Greenville Air Force Base closed. Previously, I’ve shared my reunion experiences with Choctawhatchee where I graduated in 1963 and Harlingen, Texas, where I attended my junior year. The fourth, and last destination, will be Del Rio, Texas.

Why am I doing such an insane thing?

Memories. They just won’t leave me alone.

It’s those misty, water-colored memories that Barbra Streisand evoked in that sappy song.

Greenville memories summoned up the heady scent of summer magnolias, the class trip to Vicksburg’s Civil War battlefield, scandalizing my shy friend Beth with my knock-knock jokes, riding the school bus with that nasty kid who tormented my friend Annette, being terrified of my P.E. teacher, idolizing my English and Latin teachers, attending sock hops in the gym, getting thrown out of class because Shirlene convinced me to sew jingle bells on the crinoline slips under my poodle skirt, and being madly in love with Terry who gave me my first kiss.

When I attended the traditional Friday night event at Greenville History Museum, memories hung on every wall, and old stories spoke from every display case.

But, outside, on Washington Avenue, I saw an apparition of myself in a long-ago homecoming parade. I was about to march with my pep club, and for some reason, had my purse with several dollars in it, my football ticket, and my favorite bracelet in spite of being told we couldn’t carry anything except our black and gold Pom Poms.

The sponsor gave me a choice: step out of the parade line or get rid of the purse. Frantically looking around, I spotted a black lady standing on the curb and asked her to hold my purse containing my teenage treasures until the parade was over. Taking a lot of grief from classmates for being so stupid, I had to agree that was a dumb thing to do.

But what do you know? After the parade was over, the crowd had thinned, and it looked like I was going home empty-handed, that decent lady found me and returned my purse. I’ve never forgotten that moment because it evidenced trust and kindness, even when we least expect it.

Saturday’s picnic at Laurie’s beautiful home on Lake Ferguson reawakened more memories as classmates shared reminiscences of E.E. Bass Junior High and Greenville High.

Yes, I know. We don’t say “junior high” anymore. It’s “middle school” now, just like it’s “yearbook” and not “annual.” No one says, “pizza pie” these days. And only my generation would have a clue what a sock hop, a duck tail, or a poodle skirt is.

But, at a 50th reunion, it’s as pleasant to speak in that ancient vocabulary as it is to listen to Elvis and the Everly Brothers, while wearing the attractive name tags Brenda made for us . (So we could remember who we were.)

Saturday night’s event was at Greenville’s country club with a group photograph, good food, good music, and good company. And more sharing of quirky, gossamer memories.

That night I found a classmate living in Pensacola and another in Destin. I learned the class flower is a rose, and the class motto: “If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness and ask for truth, and he will find both.” (Horace Mann)

Late Saturday night, I went out to the school and walked around campus in the moonlight, before venturing down Bayou Road where a gorgeous mansion sits on the property where once stood Hazel Carlton’s trailer park where I lived.

Even though I wasn’t with them senior year, I remembered along with them that we memorized a lot of British poetry, reciting in unison the opening lines of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in Middle English, laughing our way through the passage, amazed we still remembered the words.

Now, here’s the theme for my series of reunion stories:

A line in Chaucer’s classic work says “So priketh hem Nature in hir corages, thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.”

As I taught my own seniors when I made them memorize Chaucer’s Prologue, that line translates into “Sometimes, Nature stirs up a longing in us to go on a pilgrimage.” 

My pilgrimage down memory lane is almost complete. Each waypoint has reunited dear friends, recalled good times, and reminded those gathered that we share 50 years of tragedies and triumphs.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.