Birney Imes: We were all cool and beautiful

August 22, 2009 10:48:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


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 immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.