READY: Guilt, selfishness and sweet memories in my luggage

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

The circle is completed. Or, maybe I should say “square” as I’ve finally finished a four-sided journey back into my past lives. No, I’m not talking about reincarnation. I was a military kid who moved frequently with my family.

My odyssey began in April when I attended the 1963 reunion for Choctawhatchee High School, where I graduated and where I taught for 30 years. That one was easy, just a few miles from my house near Clement Taylor Park and Angler’s on the island.

Harlingen, Texas, (10th-11th grade) was 898 miles by car, but more than well worth the trip. Greenville, Miss., (7th-9th grade) was also a wonderful experience, especially since I reunited with a special friend I had searched for over many years.

Just days before the final trip to Del Rio, Texas, (2nd-6th grade), Frank was in the hospital again, this time in ICU. With him so sick and weak, only a horrible wife would have left her husband gravely ill. After an emotional battle of “What if’s?”

I decided not to go and sent the reunion organizers my regrets and my explanations for not coming. The day before my plane was to leave, my husband, with tears streaming down his face, whispered, “If you want to do anything for me, go to Texas.”

Even his doctor encouraged me to go, but I think both of them had unspoken reasons.

So, I went. My luggage included a lot of guilt and selfishness. The guilt that enveloped me argued with the selfishness. I wanted so badly to go, to complete all four waypoints on my sentimental journey. But I knew I would worry constantly about Frank. And I did.  

While I was away, my son and daughter (an RN) watched over Dad and kept in touch with me. So, I relaxed a little, even enjoying the Friday night re-meet and greet around Ramada’s pool. I reconnected with schoolmates I hadn’t seen since 1957. I was asked to make a speech that night and took the opportunity to tell them how I’d never forgotten what their friendships meant to me back in those childhood days. What a joy to embrace Jane, Virginia, J.J., Wayne, Mary, Ellen, Cookie, and Johnny.

How good it felt to ask a classmate’s forgiveness for something I did 55 years ago!

Never shy, I went to as many as I could, introducing and re-introducing myself, knowing that each little conversation was precious in “Remember when’s?” And those memories flowed like the San Felipe Springs running through Val Verde County.

We remembered Garfield and Central Elementary schools. Those of us in Mrs. Love’s 6th grade class recalled a field trip to San Antonio Zoo. I was the one who lost her shoes, her purse, and her camera over board from a river paddle boat. Typical of Texas generosity, even in children, the class took up a collection for me. My mom bought a white shirt to have all my classmates sign, then she embroidered their signatures. I still have that shirt.

On Saturday, I drove around Del Rio trying to locate where I’d lived, but didn’t recognize anything until I saw a giant tree spilling its big green horse apples onto the street in what I thought was my old neighborhood. It must have been somewhere around this area that Carol Ann and I threw those things at each other on our walk to school, a place that has long since been torn down.

Gone are the quaint bodegas selling sugar cane (5 cents a segment), Firesticks, and ice cream on a stick pushed up through a paper cylinder. As everywhere, the predictable sameness of progress is evident, but that’s life.

Saturday night, at J.J. Foster’s, was an authentic Texas barbeque. The food and nostalgic music were excellent, but the company of old classmates was convivial and sweet. And when you’re over 65, it’s good to hear a blessing over a meal and speak the name of Jesus without anyone getting offended.

The evening was cut short, however, by a text from my son letting me know Frank’s condition had worsened. I said my goodbyes and found an earlier flight home.

I’m sorry, dear ones in Del Rio, that I missed the farewell breakfast on Sunday, but I’ll carry the time I had with you in my heart. Cookie texted me that several of you prayed together for me and Frank.

I’m done now. It’s back to present day reality as my summer of dwelling in the past is over.

Thank you to the readers who followed my journey and understood why I was so compelled to do it.

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