Sunday, September 13, 2009

Old School

The Hula-gen's are all over class reunions these days. Last weekend we attended my elementary school reunion. Yesterday, we took Papa T. and Mama J. to Papa T.'s 57th high school reunion. We drove an hour and a half to a city in Tennessee where the class gathered, passing through the tiny town where they attended school so many years ago. There were twenty one students in Papa T.'s graduating class, and his was a big class. There were six seniors in the group that graduated before them. Ten members of his class gathered yesterday, as they've done for the last several years. It was great fun to listen to them swap stories and tell lies on each other. Hubby and I were the youngest people in the room, and we didn't mind at all. We listened to a lot of wisdom and soaked up some character. The grilled shrimp wasn't bad either.

Papa T. grew up in a farm town. It's the kind of town that still has grain bins on the main drag, a little BBQ joint and a handful of homes on the "other side of the tracks". The old storefronts with big glass windows are still there and tell you exactly where the bank, the post office and the hardware store used to be. Not much has changed there in the seventy years since Papa T. trudged to school down dusty dirt roads in sturdy brown brogans. In his time, everybody farmed, nobody had any money and you ate what you raised. School was important, but it was a level playing field, since no one had fancy clothes or expensive backpacks. People made do with what they had.

The school he graduated from still stands. It's closed now and sits abandoned at the edge of town. It housed elementary grades AND high school students. It was actually built when Papa T. was in third grade. The original school burned one day while the students were in class. Papa T. remembers being ushered out of the building and a frantic search for a missing first grader who was later found at home two miles away. He remembers spending the next two years scattered around town where the grades were divided among the local Baptist, Methodist and Church of Christ churches. Classes were held in Sunday school rooms and sanctuaries with dividers placed in the main aisle, separating grades. By the fourth grade, he was in the brand new building where he would spend the next nine years with the same small group of kids. This is their senior picture.

Papa T. is the third from the left on the back row. Apparently, he and his classmates were close. A symptom of being a small group, I suppose. They still seem to enjoy each other's company.
This lady looks like a Hollywood glamour queen in her yearbook photo.
This fellow helped Papa T. to get into a fair amount of trouble way back when.And this guy used to keep a $2 bottle of Four Roses bootleg liquor bought out of the the back door of the local funeral home hidden in the corn crib. The boys slipped out there for a snort every now and then.
There were tales about old cars and watermelon stealin' and stolen kisses. And most interesting of all, they each stood up individually to give everyone an update on what had happened to them in the last year. Most of them told of their RV trips and their grandchildren's achievements. One lady remarried after being single for 26 years. Papa T. was last, and I held my breath a little when he stood to speak. I looked at Hubby and made eye contact with Mama J. They were nervous, too. It's been a terrible year for Papa T.. Losing your eyesight and a grown child to suicide are not things you want to share with the whole world, but everyone in the room was somewhat aware of his situation. His blindness had been an elephant in the room up to that point. He rose slowly, his bad knee causing him to grimace a little. He smiled and as he always does when he has to deal with something difficult, he met it head on. He talked about his eye problems as a young man and explained that his last surgery was the last operation possible for him and that it didn't really do anything to stop the blindness. I caught the tear that started to squeeze out of my right eye before it slid down my cheek. He explained how life sometimes hands us obstacles and we just "have to deal with them". And then he said something that took me by surprise. He told his fellow classmates how much he cared about them and that the one good thing about blindness was that in his eyes, they would never grow any older. That they were standing still in time to a certain degree and that he liked that. They liked it, too. They all smiled and then rolled with laughter when he broke into a story about him and James on the court square with a loud muffler and a police officer.

I breathed a sigh of relief and marveled over the way he had handled the situation. And I smiled at the warmth those folks still feel for each other after 57 years. How remarkable. I found it especially comforting on the heels of a national day of remembrance for the folks lost in the worst terrorist acts on American soil. While there is still turmoil and hate around the world, in its small corners there are folks who love each other and nurture each other through the years. They toil the soil, walk down Main street and keeps things rolling in small town America, generation after generation. Hubby and I enjoyed our visit with the Class of '52. Those Puryear Hornets gave us quite the education yesterday.


janjanmom said...

I'm glad mine could just slide down without being caught.

Your writing always puts me right there beside you.

Thena said...

That was awesome. Memories you will cherish forever.

Cruise Mom said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!

Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

Awesome post.