August 22, 2009 10:48:00 PM
This past weekend mine and Beth''s high school class -- S.D. Lee High''s "Mighty Class of ''69" -- held its 40th reunion. We observed the usual roster of events: a Friday night gathering at Grahams'' Camphouse and Local History Museum (Jimmy and Jo Ann Graham are due much gratitude for sharing with the community this remarkable setting they''ve created.), a memorial service for classmates who have died and a Saturday night dance featuring Big Ben Atkins at the Country Club.
Mostly, we followed Tony Burkes'' advice. On a questionnaire circulated to class members Tony wrote, "Savor the oldest friends you have. You will never share those memories with anyone else."
We savored friends and shared memories, nonstop.
By the time you hit your mid-50s, priorities have shifted. You''ve climbed most of the mountains you''re going to climb and weathered a storm or two. (Polly King Speed: "All those petty things we worried about back then are so insignificant now. Things get better.") The quest for serenity is the new ambition. Family, friends and memories are the treasures we now cling to.
We''re passed feeling the need to impress each other. Jimmy Lollar, who has been a Texas judge, wrote in his questionnaire under "occupation": "small-time lawyer."
Others like Martha Lynn Jobe Denton have found second careers that sound more like play than work; once a chemist for Eastman Chemical, Martha Lynn owns Joyful Catering in Kingsport, Tenn.
Classmates have answered phones in Graceland and waited tables in Chinese restaurants (Martha Collins Martin), taught voice at college level (Kenny Bozeman), flown spy missions in a U-2 (Richard Perkins), practiced as a medical oncologist (Pam Honeycutt), started churches in France (Bill Boggess) and recorded blues CDs (Joe Shelton).
For hobbies classmates in addition to the usual hunting, fishing and golf, manage their own wildlife farm (Andy Brislin. Who else?), watch their wife do yard work (Bo Andrews. Again, who else?) and "annoy liberals" (Bobby Perry).
Bobby Shull could have spoken for the class with his list of favorite Lee High memories: "''Calamity Jane'' and ''Carousel,'' Friday nights at Magnolia Bowl, Mr. Loftis'' chorus class, basketball, pep rallies, Bob''s Place, the Varsity Theater (''M.A.S.H.''; ''Dr. Zhivago''; ''Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice''; ''Woodstock''); Mrs. Brewer''s speech class, the cafe across the street (Military Road Dairy Bar) -- chilidogs and ''96 Tears'' on the jukebox."
Don''t forget cruising Main Street. Cars and crusin'' was an essential part of growing up in the 60s. Gas was 35 cents a gallon in 1969.
Our class didn''t have a Vernon Studdard (not many did); if we had a star athlete, it was Jackie Ball, an African American running back who had moves that confounded the white boys we played. Danny Shepherd went to Georgia Tech on a football scholarship. Most of our senior class were recruited by East Mississippi''s legendary Bull Sullivan. Those who went to Scooba were disappointed that Sullivan was fired in the interim.
Speaking of Jackie Ball, Becky Sloan Ainsworth, an attorney in Ocean Springs, recalled an incident on the way to a track meet our junior year. It was the first year of integration, and Jackie was among the trickle of black kids attending the white high school. The owner of a drive-in where we stopped said Jackie would have to eat outside. To his credit, Coach Billy Brewer told the owner we would all eat together inside or not at all. We ate elsewhere.
"Thank you for being who you were, who you are -- in your own ways you were my teachers -- if not close friends." --Berkley Hudson
We taught each other life lessons. Lee High School with its cross section of humanity offered one of the most important learning experiences of my life. We virtually lived together, educating one another about our fellow human beings. Part of that education came from the cliques and cruelties common in any large group of teens. Those particular memories, one hopes, time has softened.
"May be an odd comment," wrote Connie Butts Cooper, "but I think it was coming to our 20th high school reunion and finding that the separation between base kids and city kids had disappeared -- we were all cool and beautiful."
Cool and beautiful. Yea, that was us, definitely.
Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.
TG commented at 8/23/2009 9:22:00 AM:
Big Ben and The Nomads really packed them in at Alfred Wrights place across the river in the 60s.
David Ferraez commented at 8/23/2009 12:54:00 PM:
Great article Birney........I am amazed at the beauty of our classmates.......so many givers to all phases of society.......I think that is what makes people beautiful.........friendliness oozes from the class of 69.....I am honored to have been a part of this class and thankful to be friends with many. df
Bill Boggess commented at 8/23/2009 4:19:00 PM:
Here is my advice to the classes of 70 and 71 and on down: do not, under any circumstances, miss your 40th class reunion. I missed mine, and after reading the reports and seeing the pictures, I am sure I missed a real highlight of my life. Do yourself a favor, do not schedule anything for the summer of your reunion. If you don't participate in your reunion, you will regret it.
Birney, well said. I like the comment about our class being givers. Yes, i believe we took JFK's motto to heart, "Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Bill Boggess, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France
marcia Bryan commented at 8/23/2009 6:35:00 PM:
What a tribute to your class, Lee High School, and
particularly the truth that is so evident to all of us now---
that the quest we are all on now is the one for serenity!!
So well said and lots of food for thought!!
Martha Lynn Denton commented at 8/24/2009 11:35:00 AM:
Birney, Great article! Thanks for mentioning my new Career! I had so much fun at the reunion! Any chance I can get a hard copy of the paper so I can frame it? Please, please let me know when you and Beth come up for the storytelling festival. We would love to have you stay with us whenever you come to East Tennessee.
sibling commented at 8/24/2009 2:02:00 PM:
Birney, thank you so much for your article! My sister was a member of your class and although she is gone I recognize names of friends she spoke of and enjoyed imagineing her being there. Because of her I too saw and remember Calamity Jane and especialy Carousel. I saw every dress rehersal and then the "live" production, and cried every time. I couldn't imagine Broadway being any better! Thank you for helping me remember happy times almost forgotten and for letting me feel like a part of the Class of '69 again. Even at 13 I knew it was special!
Sharon (Lindell) Bryan commented at 8/24/2009 4:40:00 PM:
Loved your article, Birney! It really captured the spirit of our reunion. For me, it was like going back in time to being 18 years old again, with the benefit of having learned a few life lessons over the past 40 years...such as, "Don't sweat the small stuff"!
I look forward to our 50th...they just get better and better!
Dewanda Flora Martin commented at 8/25/2009 12:31:00 AM:
Birney, for those of us who missed the reunion, your article gave a glimpse of fun week-end and resurfaced some good forgotten memories. I look forward to the 50th!
Justin Smith commented at 8/25/2009 11:25:00 AM:
Sure do wish I could see my friends in 40 years.
Belvia Graham Rodgers commented at 8/25/2009 4:07:00 PM:
Birney, I loved your article. You spoke of the history well and captured the comradery of our classmates. Belvia Graham Rodgers
CW commented at 8/27/2009 11:51:00 AM:
Sounds like this was a great time for everyone involved. Memories are a great thing to be able to cherish. My brother, David Hickey, loved being a part of this class. He said many times that this was a special group of people. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but I know that he was there in spirit!
Jim Lux commented at 8/29/2009 8:59:00 AM:
It was unfortunate scheduling for me; we had booked a cruise about 6 months before for the exact weekend of the reunion. Alaska was nice, but would have loved to have been there, too. Nice article, see you at the 50th.
Warren Richardson commented at 9/8/2009 10:05:00 PM:
Sorry my response was penned so late, but I just wanted to let everyone know that Cathie and I had a really great time. Sharing this experience with all of you has certainly been meaningful to me. Birney, thank you for writing such a great column about our class. I received my picture the other day. I look forward to looking at it every now and then. God bless all of you! My prayers are with all of you, and I hope we all make it to our 50th!
joann peacock commented at 9/27/2009 12:00:00 PM:
your fellow friend, classmate and my uncle Tony Burkes passed away thursday sept. 25 2009. he was found on a business trip slumped over his lap top in his motel room. please keep us all in your prayers. service will be in north carolina wend or thurs of this week.
1. Our View: Pre-K programs make a difference DISPATCH EDITORIALS
2. Slimantics: Proposed tax cut a cynical ploy LOCAL COLUMNS
4. Lynn Spruill: Social responsibility LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Leonard Pitts: Rudy Giuliani, once heroic, now simply foolish NATIONAL COLUMNS