Saturday, July 18, 2009
Dancing to the Memory at Cranberry High
We had just about given up on Teresa Shadoin showing up with her boom box and her square dance exhibition when she stormed through the door of the old Cranberry High School gym with a big smile and a brisk "let's get to it!"
Teresa has been a square dance coach for years in Avery County and has won a national championship and a number of state titles. She's part of a legacy that started with the legendary Kay Wilkins (about whom I am putting together a magazine piece) and we were going to get to see her work her magic. Only she didn't have any dancers with her. All we had was a crowd of about 100 geezers at the All-Class Reunion of Cranberry High School, which closed in 1968--so you know there are no kids in the crowd.
Teresa faced the assembled and bellowed, "Who danced for Miss Kay? Stand up." Miss Kay, of course is Kay Wilkins. About 15 people stood up, some uneasily. "Come on down here," she said, "you're dancing." And they did, like cattle to the call.
When the music started and Avery County Fire Marshall David "Moose" Vance--dressed in his uniform--shuffled out (left foot starting on a bass note) and formed a circle, they were underway. The smooth-style square dance (there's also clog style practiced by Teresa's teams) looked like it had been practiced for weeks. The dancers were in marvelous harmony and responded quickly, almost reflexively to Moose's calls. It was a thing of beauty, especially if you were me and were working on both an article and a book about this very thing.
These dancers were almost all in their 60s and 70s. Teresa was the youngest and she's in her late 40s. But they were simply marvelous. There's a story awaiting the telling on these people, their times and their coach and I aim to tell it shortly. Can't wait.
The old gym, by the way, is part of a rehabilitation package put together by a group of old grads and nickels using dimes from the 44 classes the high school produced. Cranberry opened in 1924 and my grandfather helped build it. My mother and brother attended there and I have several cousins who graduated at Cranberry.
It was a tiny school (78 graduates in my class) and when I was there Avery County was one of the poorest localities in the country. I often tell people that we were so poor at Cranberry that we only had one school color (green). The school became a lumber yard for years, its ancient--and well built--halls filled with drying lumber and even, at one point, drying tobacco.
My pal Gaylard Andrews (see below entry) was among those who thought it worth saving. Thanks Gaylard. There were a lot of very good memories still alive for me yesterday and today as I walked its halls and watched these lovely people dance this morning.