Saturday, July 18, 2009

Of Old Men and a Few Moments Remembered

That's Gaylard in the middle and Jerry on the right with me at our class reunion^

As my old friend Jerry Turbyfill trudged across the parking lot toward Gaylard Andrews and me, leaning up against a 1956 Dodge, I had to look again to find him beneath the old man I saw. Still tall. Still straight. Still painfully handsome. But gray. And that handlebar mustache made him look like a retiring gunfighter on the last roundup of outlaws.

I leaned over to Gaylard and said, "I'll bet it takes him five minutes to get my whole name--all eight letters--out of his mouth." Jerry's the guy who gave northerners the notion that those of us from these parts are slow talkers. I wasn't disappointed. "Hellooooooooo, Da-nnnnnnnnny," he said, one of the few people remaining alive who can get away with that god-awful reduction of my name.

I was seeing these two old football teammates and friends--Jerry taught me to smoke; Gaylard taught me to drink--for the first time since graduation from Cranberry High School in Avery County, N.C., in 1964. And this very moment at this very spot, outside the science building and just down the hill from the old barn-like gym I lovingly called the "coliseum," brought so much back that my head was swimming, drowning in recollection of faces, searing moments of nearly half a century ago.

The conversation seemed to pick up from yesterday, as if we'd not fought wars and marriages (Jerry's still married to Doris, whom he married in 1964), jobs and homes, disappointment, heartache, the birth of children and the death of sibblings and friends. Forty-five years is a long time to disappear in a minute.

I have to give a talk at the reunion this morning and I knew from the minute I was asked to speak that there was no sense in preparing anything. Gaylard drug out a couple of old annuals and the talk started forming at that very moment. "You know," I will begin, "when I was here, Cranberry High School was so poor that we only had one school color. But, hell, I always liked green."

My memoir, Burning the Furniture, has more than one full chapter dealing with this school, these guys, Ella Richardson showing up at school without a bra, Jackie Buchanan trying to crush my bad knee, Joyce Watson being the unreachable girl of my dreams, teachers named Hop, Rock and Miss Kay and on and on ... this single year of my 62 years. It seems disporportionate in a life that has been so completely filled with tales, but this was an important time, one where I found family and warmth at a time when I needed it desperately. And here it all stood in the form of two old men who still cared who I am.

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