golden rule days

by Bella Rum

H grew up in “small town” America. He found his work ethic on top of a tractor or tying burlap sacks of soybeans, wheat and rye while his stepfather drove the combine. That was the fun stuff. When he wasn’t doing that, he was hoeing and pulling weeds.

There were twenty-five people in his graduating class. They had a sit-down dinner for their first reunion. Some of the reunions have been held  at the home of one of the classmates, and they’re discussing holding it annually in the future. They enjoy getting together.

Many of them went to Sunday School together, and all of them traversed the years from first grade to graduation together. H’s Sunday school teacher was also his English teacher in high school. His coach flew from Florida to attend the twenty-year reunion. He told me he recognized H from the back. He knew his walk. I don’t think any of my teachers would have recognized me, and most certainly not from my walk. This was a very small and very connected community. They were extended family and all the good and bad that implies. For H, it was mostly good, very good.

Most of the twenty-five still live within fifty miles of home, and there have only been two divorces. Whenever I think of that, it amazes me – two unusual statistics.

With the exception of one guy who crashed his motorcycle after graduation, the entire class survived until this week. A girl H once dated lost her battle with cancer. H and a few classmates visited her on Tuesday. She recognized everyone but the visit was brief. She was very ill. She died Wednesday night.

H joked with her husband that he had dated her first. He recalled taking her to a FFA dance. His stepfather drove him to her house in his 57 Chevy. Then he drove them across the road to the dance and picked them up after. We are talking hot romance.

There were hundreds in my graduating class. I’ve lost track of all but a few. I live close enough to go to my reunions, but I have no interest. My feelings about reunions couldn’t be more different from H’s. He’s still connected to those people who shared his youth. They remember each others’ accomplishments – like the time H went to State in track, or the time he pitched a shut-out, or the time he knocked himself out by running into a goal post while going out for a pass. Uh, I guess that last one wasn’t exactly an accomplishment, but they remember it.

Many of their parents and teachers are gone, and now one of their own has died of natural causes. Twenty-three remain. They are kind of like cousins. In fact, some of them are cousins. They get together and brag about their kids and grandkids. They talk about old times and remind each other of “how good your mama’s biscuits were.” They secretly check each other out to see who’s holdin’ up, and openly tease each other about who’s going bald and who’s grown a gut. They share a wonderful combination of history and comfortable camaraderie.

Their reunions have changed over the years. The first was the sit-down dinner, held ten years after graduation. They were in their late twenties. The children and babies stayed home. The next was a huge picnic/barbecue at a local lodge. There was a pool and there were games. All the kids were there. Later it was just the classmates and spouses once again; the kids were in college or married. And now they’ve begun the tradition of saying their good-byes to one of their own. This year two will be missing.

I like the idea of them meeting once a year. It’s a good time of life to keep track and keep in touch.

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