September 3, 2019

Kenny and Patti’s glue helps hold Class of 1966 together

            The vehicles varied from a sleek black Mercedes to my dusty F-150 with muddy tires. When cars and trucks clog Bogey Drive’s cul-de-sac, that means Kenny and Patti Bryant are hosting the Class of 1966—usually. There’s no official committee connecting our band of Baby Boomers, but Kenny and Patti are the special glue that helps hold us together.

            As I walked toward their home—nestled next to the corner of Pine Forest’s fifth fairway—I could hear the merriment. Our hair may have turned white, or even turned loose, but the voices haven’t aged since Superintendent James E. Bacon and Principal Charles E. Bacon handed us our diplomas in Jaycee Stadium. All it takes for us to step back 53 years is for two or more of us to gather.
I would have been happy to just listen to the lively conversations on Aug. 20. But as Yellow Jacket teammates Larry Brannen, Marcus Waters and Kenny talked about Parker’s Paradise, I had to wedge my way in. The four of us agreed that no other experience had a more profound impact on our youth. We entered Long County’s backwoods as boys and came out as men, thanks to football coaches Clint Madray, Ben Park and Jack Touchstone.
In Jimmy Parker’s hay fields, we butted heads with blood-on-the-moon drills. We slept with gridiron gear, reeking of cow manure, hanging by our beds in steamy cabins. If you were in Coach Madray’s quarters, you had to race to sleep before he cranked up his infamous chainsaw snore. Larry, Kenny and I agreed Uncle Sam’s boot camps didn’t have anything tougher than Parker’s. And when Marcus buckled on his Buccaneer helmet at East Tennessee State, he was ready. Bring ’em on.
            I overheard someone say, “Mrs. Hires just turned 96.” Kathleen Hires now lives with her son, Pete, and his wife, Genie, in Rhode Island. If you were in Mrs. Hires’ homeroom, you were also in Mrs. Johnnie Hayes’ homeroom. Their home-economics labs connected. It was the 50-yard line of senior-year happy times. Mrs. Hayes recently blew out 86 candles.
In 1966, we were all young.

            The talk shifted to our Washington-New York class trip. The train almost didn’t make it past Ludowici. Mrs. Hires commanded, “If some of you boys don’t put those half-pints back in your suitcases, I’ll have the engineer back this train all the way to Jesup.” Over the click-clacking on the rails, you could hear suitcase latches clicking open and shut. Two of the imbibers are “resting in peace,” but their memories still bring smiles.
            Chuckles always erupt over what happened in New York’s harbor. Class president Jimmy Watson took a plunge and swam to the dock to greet us. You can’t make up stories like those. Laughter is always the centerpiece of the Class of 1966 gatherings.
            When Jan Bennett Oglesby brought out her camera, I was already driving down my favorite dirt road. But before I left, I reminded John Oglesby how important his parents were to me. Ted Oglesby was our Little League coach. I still have my Spaulding mitt that caught 12-year-old John’s heat. Ruth Oglesby introduced me to the University of Georgia, where I found the journalism school. And here I sit writing this.
            That’s why I’m thankful for the special Kenny-and-Patti glue that helps keep our class together—reminiscing and laughing.  
I will forever count my blessings for growing up in Jesup.