September 7, 2013 11:05:59 PM
Reunion under the old bridge
Fifty years ago when they were young and beautiful and gas was 35 cents a gallon, they drove their cars across the river bridge to a battered little drive-in with a gravel parking lot. The place was a staging ground for the rituals of their youth: dating, hanging out, racing their parents' car down Old Macon Road.
Friday evening members of Lee High's Class of '68 gathered in the shadow of that bridge -- the bridge is no longer open for traffic and Bob's is long gone -- to swim in the warm river of shared memories. They came with coolers, folding chairs, a DJ (one of their own) and even an Elvis impersonator.
But, the music was secondary, maybe unnecessary on this night. A reunion is a time for storytelling, about then and the life that has happened in those 45 intervening years. For those there -- now in their early 60s -- being alive is reason to celebrate. At one point in the evening two classmates read the names of the two dozen or so who have passed on. As each name was called, a candle was placed on the stairs under the bridge. By the end of the ceremony, their classmates had created a flickering cross.
All of the stories weren't conceived at Bob's Place, of course. Sports, romance and memorable teachers (many of whom seemed like relics at the time, but who in reality were 50 or 60, now young by comparison) were sources of rich memories.
A touchdown pass, a vivid memory for the one who caught it is a void for the quarterback who threw it. A former junior-high cornerback, now twice his 95-pound playing weight, has told the story "a thousand times" of his collision in a cross-town contest with a tight end named "Tiny." He was revived by his coach, "Tuffy," who picked him up by his belt.
A class member with a flowing beard, plaid shirt and NRA baseball cap won the prize for the most life changes. Once an interior designer in Sedona who dated a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, he now drives a truck and lives in an Alabama backwater with his fourth wife, who shares his enthusiasm for the Civil War.
"Five bypasses," he says tapping his chest and smiling.
Four wives and five bypasses. It's the stuff of country music, of life.
Those who live elsewhere comment favorably on the visible changes evident in their former hometown: the riverfront development, the sports park across the street, the flowers along Main. Many of them, those who have little reason to come back, try to stay connected. They read the paper online, subscribe to "Catfish Alley"; login to a Facebook site titled "You might be from Columbus, Ms, if you recognize this."
The following night they will gather in less causal circumstances at what was the Country Club (even that has changed) to hear the reconstituted "Blades of Grass," the band comprised of their classmates who played their dances in a modest concrete block building known as "The A.L. (American Legion) Hut" on the banks of the Luxapalila in Propst Park. "Ten dollars to rent the building; $1 stag, $1.50 drag to get in," recalls Carl Edwards, the band's keyboard player and now a real estate lawyer in Birmingham. Mickey Guyton, Dean Swartz, Steve O'Callahan and Reed Smith round out the group, who by the way, take requests.
At the 60th birthday celebration of the class a few years ago, Andrea Kudlacz demanded the "Blades" play "Stand by Me," which they did.
It's a good chance they'll be asked to play it again Saturday night. Probably, more than once.
Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.