NO. That calendar is wrong. Dead wrong. Ain’t no way it’s now been six decades since the Theodore high school graduating class of 1961 picked up their diplomas and scattered to the wind.
I mean six decades is a long, long time. Something like 60 years. But then, I never was good at math and when you subtract 1961 from 2021 there is the possibly that the answer is 60.
But that doesn’t mean we have to believe it.
If true, then we started the 9th grade in 1957. Dwight Eisenhower was president and John Patterson was governor of Alabama. Few people had ever heard of George Wallace back then. That was the year the space race began when Russia sent Sputnik in orbit of the earth in October.. The Number One song of that year was “All shook up” by someone named Elvis Presley. Number Two was “Love letters in the sand” by the ageless Pat Boone.
The average price of a new home was $12,220 and a gallon of gas was 24 cents. Toyota started selling cars in this country that year. For most of us, anything made in Japan was considered “cheap.” And it was the first year American Bandstand came on our black and white TV sets. (For those who had one.)
And here we came, a gaggle of 14 and 15 year old kids. The age when some of the girls are still taller than the boys and we wondered what caused pimples. We were mostly clueless about all the important things in life–like cars and girls.
For certain, we were a homogenized crew. We were all white, most of our mothers were at home and our dads worked at Brookley Field, or International Paper or the shipyards.. If any of us had a parent who was a doctor or lawyer, I didn’t know about it.
At age 78, which most of are now, if you think of our lives as 4-year blocks, we’ve made it through 19.5 of them. But while most of those segments simply come and go, there is no doubt the four years we spent at Theodore were the most formative ones of our lives. We were trying to grow up. We did finally learn a little bit about girls (do you ever really understand them completely?), we got our first driver’s license. (I failed my first test because I ran a stop sign. When the guy told me that, I asked, What is a stop sign? You see back then, the dirt roads in Irvington, where our farm was, did not have stop signs.)
We were also supposed to learn about algebra and geometry and trigonometry. But if I did, I couldn’t prove it when I got to Auburn. But in a stroke of sheer genius, I took typing. A skill I have used nearly every day of my life. Why did I take typing when few boys did? My guess was that the room was full of those girls I was trying to figure out.
But what we did most of all–and best–was form a bond. One that remains until today. One that we have celebrated every five years since 1971 with class reunions. We made dear and fast friends who remain so. Unfortunately, Father Time had not spared the class of 1961 and many of our classmates have now passed away. The first being a member of the senior class in 1961. It was a jolt to come face-to-face with mortality at such a young age.
Since we walked the stage that night we have buried spouses and children, taken care of aged parents and agonized through divorce. We have lost jobs and lost sleep over bills coming due. We have been excited about grand kids, played with them and sent them back home while we tried to recover.
We have also learned that our bodies are as old as we are. I once thought we just got older, I did not realize that along the way some of our parts stopped working so well, while some even quit. We’ve lost our hair and the spring in our step. We no longer have flat tops and hair wax.
But I still remember the night some of us were coming back from a track meet at Semmes when we came across a dead polecat and left it in a school hallway. Bright and early the next morning, our janitor, Mr. Ott, had every door in the building wide open and was dousing chemicals up and down the halls. The smell was awful.
Our 50th reunion in 2011 was our last “official” one. We all got old and frankly, I think we just wore out the ladies who did such a wonderful job of organizing these over the years.
But we can still eat–and drive in the daylight. Which is what we’re doing on June 14 when we gather at Felix’s Fish Camp on the Mobile causeway. It will not be a big crowd. But some are coming from faraway like Michigan and California. We will hug and laugh and tell tales from long ago.
And even though such occasions are always bittersweet, for a couple of hours we will still be trying to figure what causes pimples and dancing to Elvis, Pat Boone, the Everly Brothers and Del Shannon..