A blast from our past

“Tommy’s selling used cars, Nancy’s fixing hair,
Harvey runs a grocery store and Margaret doesn’t care.
Jerry drives a truck for Sears and Charlotte’s on the make,
And Paul sells life insurance and part time real estate.”

The subject of high school graduations and class reunions always makes me think of a marvelous country song by The Statler Brothers called “The Class of ’57.” It’s a song about everyday lives and mostly about what happens to people after they leave high school.

“Helen is a hostess, Frank works at the mill
Janet teaches grade school and probably always will.
Bob works for the city and Jack’s in lab research,
And Peggy plays the organ at the Presbyterian Church.

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
Oh, we all thought we’d change the world with our great words and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of ’57 had its dreams.”

I graduated from high school a little later than that, in 1970, but I think my classmates and I can relate to this song. It had an unlikely fan in the late author Kurt Vonnegut, who once said it should be the National Anthem because of the quintessentially real American story it told of both success and struggles.

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy’s on an insane ward, Mary’s on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie’s wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire, and Freddie took his life.

I went back to my hometown of Clinton, S.C., this weekend for my class’ first reunion in, as far as anyone can figure, 20 years. And what a time we had!

The Clinton High School Class of ’70 got together for a weekend of events which started on Friday afternoon. There was something appropriate about kicking our celebration off with a tour of the brand new Clinton High School building, which opened in August to replace the 50-year old facility which was still pretty new when we entered high school.

The new school is impressive, built on 95 acres located about a half-mile down the highway from the old building. It’s spacious, the technology is state-of-the-art, as they say, and it should be a fine place to go to high school.

After that, we gathered at Wilder Stadium, on the old campus, to watch the Clinton Red Devils football team play Union County. We built the reunion around a football Friday night, because that’s a big part of Clinton life.

Though the football team wasn’t that great our last couple of years in high school, it’s been a perennial championship contender since. The Red Devils have won the AAA state title eight times since 1972, most recently last season when they beat Myrtle Beach for the championship. Clinton came into this game with a 6-2 record, but couldn’t shake off a slow start and lost the game, 37-14.

A few of us repaired to the Jacobs Highway Study Club, which I’ve written about before in this blog, to cap off the day. We were easily the oldest people in this fun little bar and restaurant and persevered in conversation despite the loud music until almost midnight.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody’s bet.
Linda married Sonny, Brenda married me,
And the class of all of us is just a part of history.

I stayed during the weekend with two classmates who have been married to each other for 35 years and who returned to Clinton in 2003 after spending most of their working careers and raising two children in the Clemson/Anderson area. They have a spacious house out in the country, and it was fun to spend more time with them than I probably have in the last 25 years put together.

That left the weekend’s big event, a dinner at a new sports bar/restaurant in nearby Laurens on Saturday night. Nearly 50 people, including more than 25 classmates, crowded into a private room in the restaurant but eventually spread out into an area which became a dance floor as the evening went on.

I tried to say hello to folks before they got their nametags to see how many I could remember. I did fairly well, only needing confirmation of the identities of one or two from other classmates after doing the usual, “Great to see YOU!”

But it really was great to see everyone again, including some folks that I’m sure I hadn’t been with since we received our diplomas on May 30, 1970 in Belk Auditorium on the Presbyterian College campus. And there were some folks that I probably spoke to more last night than I did in four years in high school, including one classmate who fascinated me with a recounting of all he had seen and done in 24 years in the U.S. Air Force.

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
But living life from day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of ’57 had its dreams.
Oh, the class of ’57 had its dreams.

The best thing about a reunion at this point in our lives is the realization that this is pretty much the way we turned out, take us as we are.

And things did get complicated. We went to college. We got jobs. We went into the military service. We got married. We bought homes. We had children. We got divorced. We got sick. We got well. We went a little crazy. We settled down. We had doubts. We believed. We moved away. We came back. Not all of those happened to everyone, of course, but we just lived those day-to-day lives.

And, as I wrote last month, some of us didn’t make it this far. Bennie Sprouse, the organizer of the reunion, prepared a video tribute to our classmates who have died. The music, “Reflections of My Life,” a song from the Seventies by a group called Marmalade, was the background for both sad and happy reminiscences.

I took home a memento of our get-together which I’ve been thinking about a little. Each class member got a name tag which had their senior yearbook picture with the notation under it that “I used to be…” with your name in bold. It was a bit of drollery that totally fit the occasion.

We all are and aren’t the person we were in 1970. Despite the changes in appearance — and we all looked fantastic, especially the women — some things that made us who we were are still the same. It was fun to see that in people and to find out what’s been going on in their lives.

I’m looking forward to the next time we meet already.

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About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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4 Responses to A blast from our past

  1. Jayne Cannon says:

    Like you, I love that song and think it fits any class. Things do get complicated when you get past 18 and we all have our dreams. And all those barriers that can be part of high school just seem so pointless 40 years out, don’t they? Glad you had fun!

    • Barbara Pitts Campbell says:

      Jayne, I’m sorry you weren’t able to be there with Keith…we missed you! I just still can’t believe 40 years have passed…WOW!

  2. Nancy Jones Bruyere says:

    Keith, this is a wonderful blog. You amaze me with your gift for writing. Miss Frances Shealy worked her magic in English class. She did keep us on the straight and narrow, didn’t she? I’m sorry that we didn’t get a chance to talk beyond our brief “hello” at the reunion. I hope we can all get together again soon. As the years go by now, it seems that we age exponentially. Take care. Nancy

  3. Honey, thanks for your insightful comment. We both are big fans of that song, which is a profound essay about life disguised as a country song. And Barb, it is hard to believe that 40 years have gone by. Jayne and I are going to try to get back down there before too long — I’d love for y’all to meet. And Nancy, thanks for your kind words. Yes, it all started with Miss Sheely. I also wish you and I had had more of an opportunity to talk. I hope you had as good a time as I did getting together with everyone. I think it was a big success!

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