KEN STICKNEY — 50 years: A flood of memories

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, July 31, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — As memory lanes go, my bride’s 50th high school reunion last week provided enough satisfaction to last her a lifetime.

That’s not to say it wasn’t anything but enjoyable. It was completely, utterly, so.

She’d transferred in halfway through high school in the late ’60s, and the established kids who had less time for a newcomer in her junior and senior years were cordial and kind enough last weekend to make this a worthwhile trip. She especially enjoyed the company of a longtime friend who promised to attend but only if Carey would go. That was the chief incentive for the seven-hour car ride — which was well worth it. No regrets.

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I’d vowed to lose some weight for the event — I related that sad tale in this space last week — but six months after starting that mission, I fell woefully short of my personal goals. Not to worry; no one knew who I was anyway. So things worked out just right for me, too. I sat in the back of the room at dinner and went back for seconds. Got dessert, too.

The committee did a splendid job of planning: Nice event hotel, with proximity to the event site. Close enough to the new high school, with on-site tours and celebration of the Mass. Golf on Saturday. Kudos to the committee members.

I’m not a reunion type of guy. I attended one — 35 years — after college, and never for high school. I’m still licking my wounds from high school.

But there was something pleasant presented by a gathering of senior citizens who were recollecting their senior years — which occurred a half-century back. For many of those who attended, the reunion held less at stake. One couple told us they’ve attended every reunion for both spouses — who graduated a year apart. For the most part, they’ve always lived in or around their hometowns. If the 50th disappointed, well, there’s always next year to make up for it. The school is right down the highway.

For an itinerant newspaper scribbler, though, my roots are too shallow anywhere to attend reunions. I just keep moving on.

But Birmingham holds this tug at me: My wife and I married here almost 38 years ago. We stopped by the church and were surprised to see an entirely new structure. The church in which we were married — the priest was her uncle — had burned some years back and been replaced. But it meant something to us to stand on the same grounds.

Birmingham holds this tug, too: Carey’s six younger siblings grew up in a house there that overlooked the city. Their ties run deeper, but we still sought out the home and stopped to linger before it, photograph it and text images back to family members.

As a city, Birmingham today is far removed from what it was the first time I drove through more than 40 years ago. Then, it was a dismal mill town, still bearing the national shame of Bull Connor’s fire hoses and the stain of the deaths of four young, black girls who were killed in an explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. I’d never seen such poverty as the first time I drove through town.

Last weekend, parts of Birmingham gleamed, a city remade by the explosive growth of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a health-care phenom. But time doesn’t heal every wound. I’d toured the Sixteenth Street church years later, and once interviewed the father of one of the deceased girls. She was 11 when she died. To me, Birmingham will also be a little sad.

This was sad, too: I’d attended the 20th reunion there with my wife and revelers danced the night away. Last weekend, they remembered the souls of 27 classmates who’d passed away over the years — even one of the committee members. No one danced, but they enjoyed.

That, I suppose, is what 50th reunions are about, at least a little. They give you another chance to say hello before you say goodbye. They give you another chance to be grateful for what was, before it slips away.

They gave me another chance at the buffet line. Dessert, too.

Ken Stickney is editor of The Port Arthur News.