About 20 years ago, a small group of 1969 graduates of West Monroe High School came together to search for their classmates for a reunion. While small in numbers, they became a crack team of sleuths, not to mention a real pain to those who, for really good reasons, did not want to be found. At the time it was rumored the group, using only the internet and public records, while rummaging through the garbage of friends and relatives of classmates, found fellow students in underground Kyrgyztan, the witness protection program, and accidentally found Jimmy Hoffa and the weapons of mass destruction.
Once again, The Super Sleuths of ’69 (SS’69) came together in January to stalk their classmates for a 2019 WMHS Reunion. Their numbers had increased, and their methods of pursuit were multifarious: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Robert Mueller’s witness list. Their stalking paid off. Amazingly, out of approximately 380 classmates, the SS’69 found all but nine and discovered 64 classmates had passed away.
High school reunions create a true dichotomy of emotions for many of us. I remember our 10-year reunion. I had been a flight attendant, and my husband, who graduated from Neville, was a Navy Pilot. We were leaving our duty station in Maine, on our way to our new one in Arkansas, with a stop-off for my reunion. He told me he had read that many 10-year graduates went to their reunion simply to attempt to impress their classmates. He wanted me to refrain from self-aggrandizing. In the 10 years before, I had not brought religion to pygmies, cured cancer, achieved world peace or bought myself some cleavage. So, having nothing to flaunt, I acquiesced.
I was talking to a group of classmates, as my husband was behind me talking to another group, when I heard someone ask him where we were living. “Well, right now, we’re living in my old bedroom at my parents’ house.” he answered. Loudly.
I immediately turned around and attempted to offer a stammered explanation, in my squeaky little voice, that we were not homeless. I didn’t sound convincing, even to me. He thought it was funny. I did not. So, we reached a compromise. I would go to my reunions; he would stay home and clean out his sock drawer.
I missed the 20-year reunion. At the 25-year, classmates talked about their children. At 30 years, they talked about their grandchildren and my fellow students were some of the nicest and most interesting people in my life. I missed the 40th, so I was eager for the 50th reunion. And it did not disappoint.
The SS’69 had not only been intensely scrutinizing our classmates but had obviously spent long hours in endless efforts to organize a fun-filled weekend. On Friday night, May 31st, they arranged a get-reacquainted party at the renovated old Strand Theater. The venue was perfect since, as kids and teenagers, we spent many Friday nights and Saturday afternoons or nights at the Strand. The seats had been taken out and nobody threw popcorn at us, but it was still fun. The old theater was enchanting, and the food was fabulous.
On Saturday morning, the group arranged a tour of WMHS. I had family obligations, so thinking the tour was finished, I went there for a walk-around. The tour was still in progress and the doors were open, therefore I decided to take myself down memory lane.
I always loved WMHS, but it was kind of a bare-boned county school that the school board avoided like a toaster in a bathtub. Now, it was pristine, modern, and the size of a small country with a credit union. The first thing I searched for was my senior-year locker. (I lost my car at the mall last week, but I still remember my locker number.) I didn’t find my locker, but I did find my Senior Math classroom. Senior Math was taught by hunky Coach Armand, many of us girls’ secret crush. Senior Math was where all the kids were placed whose eyes glazed over or fell asleep when Mr. Bauer printed algebraic equations on the board. I recalled the day when Coach Armand sat on my desk and I could see his polka-dotted underwear rise just above his belt in the back. My heart was beating so fast that I almost had to go to the nurse and lie down.
I also found, what I thought to be, my favorite room in the school, Mrs. McCoy’s English class. I was a Harlequin Romance kind of gal until she introduced me to my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird. She taught me to love English literature and grammar. Although years of writing about politicians have left me with a more caustic informal style of writing, I attempt not to end a sentence with a preposition and I do not, ever, use a double negative. I strive to never dangle my participles, at least not in public, although I know some elected officials who do.
Next, I went in search of the band room. It was locked, so I couldn’t see much from the outside. But, I could almost visualize Mr. Spears with his conducting baton in one hand and his other hand raised for a crescendo. He was always professional and a little reserved, but his words were powerful and touched our hearts. He taught us to honor others’ choices and to honor ourselves and our accomplishments. He also taught me that Faith was the cure for insecurities and that I should hold my head high, both during a half-time show and in life. Once, I forgot this and JR Smith ran over me with his base drum, and I cracked my lower tooth on my flute. For some reason, I have chosen not to get that tooth fixed.
My classmate, Cheryl, said the tour of the school was amazing and inspired pride in our Alma Mater. New school board members must have been elected, because Cheryl said WMHS is now one of the premier schools in the state with numerous opportunities for students. The school offers different fields of study to introduce students to varied professions for college and vocational opportunities.
WMHS has a functioning courtroom where students argue cases and judges in the community come to the school to oversee the process.
They have a large ROTC program, a nursing program, welding and carpentry shops, and a cooking group that prepares meals and serves them in the lobby of the school. Alumni have established a foundation to contribute to the needs of the school and a tremendous amount for scholarships.
WMHS’s Rebel Football Team is a saga all to itself. In 1969, we had great football players, although they usually avoided a win. We did, however, have outstanding pep-rallies. We would build huge bonfires, possibly in hopes that the Lord would notice us and send us a win. Our opponents must have built bigger fires because our losing streaks continued over 20 years. Chris, my classmate’s husband and resident expert of all things football at WMHS and throughout the state, said our prayers were answered when Coach Don Shows was hired in 1989. Coach Shows said the team was “a sleeping giant.” It took him four years to wake them, but in 1993 the team won the State Championship. Coach Shows told the boys “the best is yet to come.” It was. The team won again the next two years. Chris said only one other school in the state had won three championships in a row, and that was in 1950’s. USA Today named WMHS one of the top schools in the US to see a high school football game and ESPN did a reality show about the Rebels. The school has a massive new stadium and a weight room that is the envy of professional teams.
Most of this was accomplished by private donations. The team continues to win championships and those who want to buy season tickets must bring a chair and wait in line all night to do so, as they sell out immediately.
Saturday night was another outstanding event at the Hilton Garden Inn. We had more great food and a DJ who played all our favorites from the 60’s and 70’s, plus Brick House. The door was opened to the dance floor, and one of our classmates said he heard a guest at a wedding party say, “Gawd, look at all those old people dancing.” And dance we did. Those who weren’t able to dance, or were confirmed Baptist, tapped their feet and encouraged those who were dancing. A large number of people from the wedding party obviously thought the old folks were having more fun than they were, so they came down and joined us.
The SS’69 had enlarged and copied all the senior class pictures from our yearbook, along with some activity shots. They put together a rotary film of all those who had died, and many classmates stood solemnly to watch the reel through several times, recollecting and mourning their friends.
I heard many stories of my classmates’ lives. We had heroes amongst us: Veterans who gave their best with friends who gave it all; a Dermatologist who left a lucrative practice to move to another town and work in a facility that served veterans; a father who lost his child to a horrible disease and honored him by adopting children from different races and ethnicities; a successful businessman and his wife who continuously brought mothers and children and intact families who were down on their luck into their home for anywhere from six weeks to two years; a law enforcement officer who had served in federal law enforcement and had witnessed too much sorrow and was now the top cop in the state of MS; and teachers who gave their entire adult life to shaping the minds and character of our precious children.
Then there were the every-day heroes, the ones who worked hard in their homes and at jobs to care for their families, and for those in need, and were now retired so they could finally enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned labors.
Midnight came, and sadly, it was over. I felt like Cinderella, minus the slippers and Prince Charming, who was at home folding his socks. I wanted the party to go on and my classmates to linger because I had not heard all their stories. I miss those faces. Not the ones in the yearbook, but the ones with the laugh lines, worry wrinkles, gray hair, and big butts and bellies.
I would like to close with something deep and memorable, maybe a quote from Proverbs, Gandhi, or Mother Teresa, which will inspire others to attend their high school reunions.
However, the words to one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous ditties keep popping into my mind. It’s not the one about the ponies eating rainbows and pooping butterflies, but this one. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I am smiling.