Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Successful Students Everyday


I grew up in a magical place, a magical time with a bunch of magical kids…
In a small town called Summer Shade there was a school where about 30 of us navigated the rough seas of adolescence and survived; mainly because we had a solid foundation of family, faith and friendship.

I was lucky enough to see most of these people again this past weekend at an 8th grade reunion. Most people attend high school reunions, and grade school reunions I have come to find out are rare. But we were not your average group of kids it turns out.

I don’t know exactly what set us apart and made us bond so closely that after 35 years we would all gather together after a long work week, some of us driving from Indiana, Tennessee, traveling hours and hours to get together for a potluck in the old school cafeteria, but we did. And it was one of the best nights of my life.

There was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears. Hugs abounded. Smiles. Seriously you could feel the love in the room. What wasn’t there was anyone being mean, trying to outdo, out boast, or one up each other. We all knew where we came from. We had all been in each other’s homes growing up & spent countless hours together. There was nothing to hide, because we knew each other from a time before we had formed masks or artifices or tried to hide from ourselves. We dropped all pretenses. There was no need to pretend with one another, we had grown up together and there was no need to judge each other. We were home again. We were a tribe.

Some of us had left long ago. Some had died. Those who could came back that night. Those who couldn’t were remembered. Mitchell and Darrell who had died were fondly recalled and lovingly talked about. Tema, Keeta, Don, Lela and others who couldn’t make it were missed and remembered. No one was left out. If they were not there physically they were there in our hearts.

We remembered our teachers, Mr. Hunley and Mr. Long; our principal Mr. Branstetter. Great men who inspired us, led us, believed in us, but maybe more importantly loved us.
Mr. Long had just died a few months ago, but his wife and son, David, who was in our class attended. It was healing for all of us to be able to say all the things we never got to say to Mr. Long personally. He was one of the most influential people in our lives. Had it not been for Mr. Long and Mr. Hunley I might never have attended college. They opened doors for me. Mr. Long was a goofball; a whacked out loon who loved teaching and made kids love to learn. His life touched so many of us and we carry him still in our hearts to this day. He taught us more than geography, social studies and history, he taught us how to be the best human beings we could be. He taught us that laughter is essential. He taught us that love is as necessary as air to living. He was a role model on what a decent loving citizen of the community should be. He was a great man. I have never forgotten him and neither has anyone who was in the class of 1974. He was as present in that room as if he were sitting in a chair at the table. Time and distance had not diminished his impact one iota.

Studies show that people who experience trauma form bonds, but I wonder about people who share joy? I moved after 8th grade and attended high school in a nearby town. I made new friends but none were ever as meaningful as these people. There is something about a shared experience, about growing up in a place where someone else’s parents can discipline you, where the community cares about you, where all of you know that you are safe and cared for that connects you for a lifetime. Because I think that is what we shared; JOY. I think we all basically had happy childhoods. We pretty much lived on a level playing field. There were no real divisions, no one was super rich, no one was homeless, we all had families, we all pretty much did the same things, ate the same things, shared a common life. It was a small town in the 1960’s and 1970’s and we remained untouched by a lot of the strife that was going on in the outside world. I don’t remember there being a lot of racial prejudice, or drugs, or antiwar demonstrations. I feel like I grew up sheltered from a lot of the harsh realities. There was life and death, illness and strife but it was a farming community so that was to be expected, it was part of the circle of life. But the bitterness, hatred, envy, all that came later. Lessons learned after 8th grade.

I remarked to someone I still occasionally have dreams about the school. Good dreams. I can close my eyes and see the playground, the old oak that grew beside the gym. I remember the taste of the lemon cookies and Charms suckers we would buy at Punch Mosby’s. I remember the pranks we played, the 4-H skits that won time after time. I remember all those beautiful bright kids. I remember a better time, a better place. No matter how far I traveled, how long I stayed gone, I never forgot. I took every single one of those kids with me. I am a better person because of all of them. I am now a social worker and I see kids who do not have what I had. It breaks my heart. I realize how blessed I was, how truly graced by God I was to have grown up in Summer Shade. I can close my eyes and I am back in an instant. Memory is an incredible thing, but it can’t replace the hugs, tears and laughter that I got to experience last Friday night. I thank everyone who showed up and I encourage everyone who didn’t, to make it to the next reunion. Only this time we will not wait 35 years. We need to do it more often. We all need to remember there was a time, a place, where we were safe and loved. A place that we called home. A place called Summer Shade.

1 comment:

Victoria Cummings said...

What wonderful memories! You are so lucky to have grown up there. I wish I could find a place like that today where I could raise my daughter. We're somewhere that's reasonably safe and happy, but it doesn't compare to what you describe.