Pam and me and Bobby and Ruth Ann didn’t graduate from Miss Katie’s kindergarten class. We just ate some ice cream and cake on the last day and it was over. Three months later we lined up for our shots and entered the first grade with little to no fanfare.
It was the same when we finished the sixth grade…..except we didn’t even get any ice cream. Mrs. Jackson wished us good luck in junior high and that was the end of our elementary education. If we were crossing over some kind of learning milestone, there was no ceremony to celebrate it.
I didn’t know you could graduate from anything till a couple of years later. To my utter amazement, people started bringing gifts over to the house and handing them to Leon. Mom took to hugging her eldest son every few seconds. And Daddy drove him downtown to Freeman’s Menswear and bought him a brand new suit!
We all dressed up (a white shirt and tie had to do for me—my trip to Freeman’s was a few years away) for the big graduation ceremony at the high school auditorium. They started the show with a prayer and a welcoming speech. And then Mr. Warren, the principal, got up and spoke. I could hear everything OK but one of the Gallimore sisters was sitting right in front of me and her big hat was blocking off half the stage.
Kathy Williams, the valedictorian, was next to give a speech. And I spied two more important looking men sitting up there that hadn’t spoken yet! Graduation wasn’t nothing but talking! I’d put on a tie for nothing! And this folding chair was harder than double reinforced case hardened Pittsburg steel! The first important looking man approached the dais with a serious look…….and a notebook that had to be three inches thick!
I tore off a small corner of the program and slipped it into my mouth. I rolled up a spitball and silently launched it toward the plants and feathers perched precariously on Mrs. Gallimore’s head. I tore off a second piece….. We were going to be here all night!
The talking ended, but before I could give a sigh of relief, they called out Judy Abernathy’s name. She marched across the stage, Mr. Warren handed her something and Linda Akers’s name was called. She stood up……ye gads, there were 66 seniors on that platform!
Barbara Booth started her walk and I peeped around the foliage. I knew her well. She was Bo’s older sister and she would make us sandwiches when I was playing over at their house. As Kenny Bouldin stood up I thought of all the Golden Glove boxing matches I’d been to in his upstairs ring. Leon was actually a pretty good boxer in that league.
Jackie Burns practically lived with us. What a nice guy! He’d talk Leon into letting me tag along with them. He made sure I got in the “kick the can” and baseball games they played. Shoot, most days I liked Jack a lot better than I did my brother!
I was now bolt upright in the chair. These people had impacted my life! The first television I ever saw was at Richard Greggs’ house. Paul David Campbell had a concrete driveway where I learned to dribble a basketball. Bobby C. Melton and Dennis Coleman were the best high school football players I’d ever seen. I wanted to be just like them.
Karen Webb lived a few houses towards town from us. She was absolutely gorgeous, had all those older boys always around…..but she never failed to holler “hello” or ask how I was doing and we’d sometimes walk to the swimming pool together. I will never forget her!
Butch Dickson was “Fonzie” way before “Happy Days” came along. Marilyn Lewis was so funny and full of life. Jerry Poston could outrun the wind. Judy Seratte, Patti Houston, Doug Hickman, Tommy Fields, Mike Vaughn….. I don’t remember life without these people! They’d always been there!
Did this graduation thing mean they were leaving for good? Was life changing in someway that I wasn’t old enough to understand. Was this going to be better or worse….for me….for them?
I was carefully picking the spitballs out of Mrs. Gallimore’s beautiful headdress when they called out “LEON COLBERT, JR.”
A dozen years flashed by in a heartbeat. All of a sudden I was proud to be his little bother! Before I could think any further my eyes started to blur. It must have been the wild flowers in the hat or maybe the old roof started leaking. Water from somewhere began to drip on what was left of my program.
Graduation encompasses way more than a few speeches and some name calling.