May 27, 2014

Strike up the band, as the Class of 1966 turns 66

A half-century ago, many people considered high-tech to be electric typewriters and color TV.  And for many in the Class of 1966, a panoramic camera was high-tech, too.  As the Jesup High School graduates posed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, class president Jimmy Watson appeared on both ends of the group.  How did he do that?  When the photographer gave the sign, Jimmy ducked and raced behind his classmates to reach the other end before the sweeping lens got there.  Traveling as chaperones were Barry Weinstein, Ashley and Anita Madray, Kathleen Hires and Jim Collins. (Photo courtesy of Joe and Judy Bennett Phelps)  
     When you are 17, you believe you are going to live to be 100.  But on a 1965 summer morning, the Class of 1966 awoke, realizing that belief was a cruel myth.  Cary Bennett’s death in a car crash wasn’t just a bad dream.  It was a nightmare that shook us awake.
     I remember walking into the locker room and staring at the steel cage where Number 45’s jersey “Cary’s gone!”      
Dink NeSmith, circa 1966
was hanging.  Cary was supposed to be there, peeling off his street clothes and putting on his sweaty gridiron gear.  That’s when reality hit: 
     The popular rising-senior’s funeral was the first, but many have followed since Principal Charles E. Bacon and Superintendent James E. Bacon handed us our diplomas on May 31, 1966.
     Fast-forward almost a half-century.  Someone had an idea. Maybe it was Kenny Bryant or his wife, Patti Park Bryant.  Maybe it was Angela Walker Story, Beverly Westberry Leaphart, Tricia Bennett Neace or Ann Bailey Lane.  Many people—but not me—deserve credit.  Still, somebody did the math.  Most of the class members were born in 1948, and we’ve been out of Jesup High for 48 years.  Then consider the Class of  ’66 is turning 66.  So what does that mean? 
     It’s party time!
     After months of planning, the shindig is this weekend.  Angie, whose dad owned Walker Chevy-Olds back in our youth, is reopening the former dealership showroom for the celebration.  We danced on that terrazzo floor about 50 years ago, when she hosted a Christmas party.  
     As Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
     The older I get, the more I poke around in my cobwebs, searching for memories that I don’t want to misplace.  Mark Twain joked, “When I was young, I could remember anything whether it happened or not.”  Thinking about 1966, I am convinced these things really did happen:

•   C. E. Bacon ruled JHS.  I can hear his intercom voice: “I know who you are.  You might as well turn yourself in.  You will be dealt with accordingly.”
•   Coach Clint Madray was riled over the report that some of his football players were “mooning” or “shooting red-eyes” at the Dairy Queen.  “If I find out who’s doing it,” he growled over his ever-present chaw of Beechnut, “I’ll be giving some red-eyes with this.”  And the thwack of his paddle echoed inside the gym.
•   The senior class was taking a train to Washington, D.C., and a bus ride to New York City.  The train hadn’t gone far when one of our sponsors, Mrs. Kathleen Hires, barked an ultimatum:  “Boys, if you don’t put those half-pints back in your suitcases, I’ll have the engineer back this train all the way from Ludowici to Jesup.”  Like C.E. Bacon, she knew who they were.  Hinges snapped on suitcases, and the train chugged on.
•   A few of my classmates think I’m having a Mark Twain-like memory about our class president making a splash.  But I believe it was déjà vu for the Watson family.  We were on a boat when Jimmy Watson did what Hank Williams Jr. sings:  “Just keeping the family tradition.”  Legend was that his older brother, Doyle, had taken a class-trip plunge, too.
     When the silver hairs of ’66 gather on Saturday night, I predict:
•   Cary Bennett will be with us—in spirit—along with others who have died.
•   Mike Henry will crank up the music and comic chatter.
•   Patti Bryant will be cackling the loudest.
•   Kenny Bryant will dance every dance.
•   Randall Bramblett would thrill his classmates if he would perform.
•   Jimmy Watson won’t be jumping overboard into Cherry Street.

     And First Street motorists can relax.  There’ll be no “moons” shining through the showroom window, as the Tams blare “Be young, be foolish, but be happy.”  Oh, we’ll be plenty happy and feeling young, but we ain’t that foolish—anymore.