“Be Young! Be Foolish! Be Happy!” When the hit song by The Tams (they are still playing!) was played by The Chill, the band at my 40th high school reunion this weekend, a huge group of 58-year-olds hit the dance floor with abandon. Including me. It was such a rush, dancing to all those great old songs with friends from high school, some I’ve known since elementary school, actually. But the words weren’t lost on me. I reflected, even as I danced, on how much I wanted to “be happy” when I was a teenager. I always looked around at others who seemed to be happy, and wondered why it was so elusive for me. During the weekend I had several good chats with folks who remembered me as being “popular and happy” …. and they were shocked to find out I was so insecure.
Two of my best “supporters” during the weekend were Claire Hines Phillips and Pat Pray. Claire, Pat and I (and Phyllis Ainsworth Toler, who didn’t make it to the reunion) pledged Tri-Delt together at Ole Miss in 1969. But they were close friends and I was a bit on the outside. They reached out to me during the reunion weekend as we talked about those years. I’m learning how much my childhood wounds (family) set me up for unhappiness in high school. It wasn’t my classmates’ fault. Like the friend I mentioned in my last post said, we were just trying to survive.
Friday night’s informal party was hosted by Bob Biggs at his lovely home near Millsaps College, just a few blocks from my first apartment back in 1970. Bob has a huge covered patio that feels like an extension of the house, with ceiling fans and comfy furniture. A great place for summer nights, even in Mississippi! Thanks for the hospitality, Bob! (Somehow I don’t have a picture of Bob… I’m trying to grab a few pics from other classmates’ Facebook pages but can’t figure out how yet.)
One of my closest friends from junior high and high school was Leslie Wilkinson. She married Tom Sherrill, and they have a veterinary practice in Texas. If there was one friend I identified with the most during high school, it was Leslie. I wanted to be like her in so many ways. She was smart and independent and didn’t seem to care what people thought about her. But Friday night we didn’t talk about high school. We shared stories about our adopted children–my three and her two. Who knew, 40 years ago, that one day we would share this bond? What a joy to see Leslie again! Here are Leslie, Nancy Price, and me.)
Sandra Kerr Jarrett was another close friend, in the same “circle” with Leslie, and also Kit Whitsett Fields. Also in some of these pictures. Kit used to visit my mother at Ridgeland Pointe Assisted Living Home before we had to move her to a nursing home. She went regularly to see Kay Wilkinson’s mom (Kay lives in Huntsville, Alabama) but later let me know she also visited with Mom. What a gift. Louise Wise and Sharon Scott were other friends from that “group” and it was really wonderful to visit, although briefly at the end of the evening on Saturday, with Sharon and Sandra, both of whom married ministers. Sharon reminded me of a late night sitting in the car after a Bible study talking about whether or not we could really know if we were “saved.” She said that I helped her believe when her faith was weak. I had no idea. Her words washed over my soul like oil on a wound. I had been jealous of Sharon for years because she got cheerleader at Murrah and I didn’t, and at the time I was deluded into believing that being a cheerleader would make me happy. It didn’t seem like a big deal to her. I had been a cheerleader for two years in junior high and then didn’t make it in high school. Probably my biggest disappointment in life to that point. God knew I didn’t need one more false god to replace real love. But, ouch!
It’s hard to write about the weekend and try to tie the photos into the text, because it was such an emotional time for me, and the pics are all about smiles and hugs and being happy. Like these, with another dear friend, Brenda Logan Eddy, who was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and who also has an adopted daughter now, from China. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet her daughter this weekend… we missed each other at lunch at “The Auditorium” on Saturday by a few minutes.
Other bridesmaids from my wedding in June of 1970 didn’t make the reunion: Sally Sherman Brown, Kathy Moore Kerr, and Penny Shelton Knight. I really missed seeing all of them. Here they are, along with my Maid of Honor, Jan Connors, from the class of 70, and my sister-in-law, Cathy Cushman. Left to right: Sandra Kerr, Kay Wilkinson, Sally Sherman, Jan Connors, me, Kathy Moore Kerr (she was married one week before me!), Penny Shelton, Brenda Logan, and Cathy Cushman. Bride and maids ranged in age from 15 to 18!
These were the “tea girls” at my wedding, all but 2 from the class of 69. Left to right; Kathy Fitts, Margaret Irby, Phyllis Ainsworth, Sharon Scott, Pat Pray, Jan Worthen, Nancy Johnson, Elizabeth Cochran, Claire Hines, Louise Wise and Karen Himes. (Nancy and Jan were a year older… Jan was my “Big Sister” in Tri Delt.)
Okay, back to the reunion. Other great re-connections were with Anne York, who was editor of our school newspaper, “The Hoofbeat,” and Johnny Bise, a close friend from “Bible study days.” I worked on the paper with Anne, and had dreams of being a reporter at one point, or an editor.
Back to early childhood, Sally McClintock Thompson and I lived on the same street in first grade and went to Boyd Elementary together that one year. Then my family built a house in a new subdivision and I went to Spann Elementary for grades 2-6. There were quite a few friends from Spann there… including Anne Evans, Alice Holder, Jan Mullins, Guy Robinson, Roy Trask and Brenda Barrett. But I guess the friend I had known the longest was Sally, from first grade.
Okay, if there’s a thread here I’ve lost it, so I’ll just keep rambling. Another “best friend” from high school was John Studdard, who showed up late with his wife, Nancy, who had to go to a wedding party first. (Hence the dressy duds.) John and I were co-business managers of the school newspaper our senior year, which was kind of funny since I couldn’t do math. At all. I’m a writer for Pete’s sake! I’ve got this silly little “ribbon” in a scrapbook from that year that John made for me one day. It says: “To Susan Johnson, for doing her math homework one day in a row.” (I think he helped me pass math, actually.)
The black and white photo is from the Hall of Fame pics in our annual. Anyway, it was great to see John, and also Nancy, who taught aerobics with me at Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports for a few years! (I was blown away to find out that Nancy and Kit are both still teaching aerobics!) Oh, and I had a great time with Bonnie Stevenson McClellan, too. Bonnie also taught with me at Phildippides for a while.
Also fun to catch up with another childhood friend, Gail Jones Pittman. Gail has a successful dinnerware design business and also works for Southern Living Magazine. I told her a little about my writing, and she shared a great story. Her personal trainer a few years back was Jill Connor Browne. She used to share funny stories with Jill when they were working out, and Jill used some of Gail’s anecdotes in her first book! Gail asked me why I didn’t write short stories and novels like Jill’s, and I tried to explain that I can’t write fiction and I don’t have a sense of humor.
I mentioned earlier going to lunch at “The Auditorium.” It’s a great new restaurant inside what used to be Duling Elementary School. Lots of cute shops down the halls. I sat with Cissy Jackson Carter, who later showed me what had been her 4th grade classroom and is now a florist. Also enjoyed seeing Buster and Lacey Corley, Jennifer and Steve Sampson (Jen lived down the street from me from 2nd through 12th grade and Steve was the first boy I ever kissed, in 4th grade, I think:-), Lina Yates, Sally VanDevender, Claire and Logan Phillips, Bonnie and Walter McClellan, A.B. Clark, Robert Bass and others at lunch. (The Corleys, Sampsons, McClellans and Phillips are among a group of couples who are both classmates.)
Okay, too much rambling… I will say that I didn’t realize ’til we got home that my husband is not in ANY of these photos because he took most all of them. He was such a great sport all weekend. Fortunately he knew a lot of folks because we dated during my senior year, and he also connected with a few folks in the medical world, which was fun for him. Throughout the weekend I think I had chats with about 40 people, and at least said hello briefly to another 60 or so, of the over 200 folks who turned out. (Our class had over 400.) Robert Bass put together a great video which I enjoyed, and someone else (sorry I can’t remember who!) did a nice memorial to the 26 classmates we lost since 1969. As we say in the Orthodox Church, “May their memories be eternal.”
Thanks so much to A.B. Clark and her committee for all their hard work making our 40th reunion so great! Go ‘stangs!