Saturday, June 20, 2015

still the same, at heart

For the life of me, I can't recall what the story was about, but it involved Pinocchio, Geppeto, a mailman, a bunny, girls with hearts and Jiminy Cricket, and me — the girl on the second row, right end, scared to death of the cowboy next to me who claimed kin to Earl Scruggs. I remember I wore an itchy petticoat and white gloves (if you look closely, you can see them.) I am listed in the program only as 'girl'.

We were the Class of 1962 in Miss Lottie Welch's kindergarten — a tiny house in her back yard where she tried to teach our town's smallest to sit still, get along with others, sing songs and finish the puzzles we took off the shelf. We'd miss recess of we didn't, this I know because I'm guilty of it. 

And this afternoon, a baker's dozen of these kids will gather for the first time in 20 years.

Some of those little ones moved away and we lost track of them. Two of the girls died of cancer a few years ago. In the last couple of years through Facebook, I found out that the cowboy really is a distant kin to Earl Scruggs. 

I look at these small faces and see each one as a gift. One of us is really good at poker. Another at growing tomatoes. The pretty girl on the back row holding the big heart is a fashion designer. The boy in the middle of the first row in the striped jacket is a history teacher who is trying to preserve our town's history on Facebook, though few of us live there anymore. Pinocchio is a musician and will bring his tunes to us tonight. Jiminy Cricket is a successful businessman. I'm not sure what the mailman grew up to be, but I can't wait to ask him. There is a coach in there, and a hospital administrator. And the girl on the back row sitting with a heart in her lap is an artist, and she created my daughter's bridal bouquet.

I have known this group since I was that chubby freckled girl, some of them since birth. Six weeks ago, 'the girl next door' and Jiminy Cricket and I  chatted on a sunny Sunday morning and said, you know, it's our 40th year out of high school, so we ought to get something together. It is amazing to me in that short span of time we've pulled together a reunion of some of those pictured here, and some who joined our school from neighboring towns. There will be a few who didn't graduate with us and a surprise or two, and the chatter that this event has created over these past weeks has been heartening.  

Our historian will remind us that our education began in some ways, when an Air Force jet flew over our playground that year so close to the ground we thought it would crash on us. (It did crash just north of town, killing the pilot.) Our years continued with the Kennedy assassination our first grade year, took us through the walk on the moon, the Vietnam War, race riots and marches in our streets and the end of segregated schools, our soundtrack the Beatles, Three Dog Night, The Spinners and The Temptations. Some of us lost parents to tragedy, others to old age, and a few of the lucky still have them both.

Browsing through old scrapbooks and yearbooks in the past few days, I have been reminded of what a rare gift it is to travel from kindergarten through high school graduation with some of the same people. These folks knew me before I knew myself, and I, them, and sometimes, sometimes, you just need to go back to that place before the world happened to you, and see if they — and you — are still the same 5 year-olds who graced the stage that day, some of them holding hearts in their hands.

(look for me in the News & Observer on Sunday, June 20, as I begin and new stint as an  Our Lives columnist)

writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Has a nice ring to it

On a spring day in 1981, I sat at my future husband's family kitchen table wondering just when he would tell his parents that we were getting married. He had asked me in theory a few months before, and since we'd asked my parents for their permission a couple of weeks before, my mother's wedding machine was already in motion.

I think we even had a date.

We had been in Atlanta all weekend, sharing meals and conversation with his parents, and through each one I waited for him to share our news. 

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Sunday came, and i sat the kitchen table, wondering if I would have to call my parents and tell them that the wedding was off. he was just not saying anything 

We were minutes from leaving, when the man I had fallen in love with just five months before finally took a seat beside his mother and spoke.

'We've got some news,' he said. 'We're getting married.'

'Why didn't you tell me?' She countered and with those words, she took the diamond off her finger and handed it to me.

A few months before, understanding, surely, that I was the one, she had told me about the ring. It had belonged to my husband's grandmother and became hers when she and her handsome army pilot decided to marry. Family tradition required she hand it down to her son's choice. her only son. I hoped at the time she would be pleased for me to wear it.

I loved the ring, more for what it stood for than for its actual beauty. We reset the small diamond into a setting that suited me, married a few months later and set about making our life together, the heirloom reminder of the legacy of long marriage that came with it circling my hand.

Some years later, I lost the diamond (a whole 'nother story as they say). When I finally told my mother-in-law, she said only: it's a diamond, not your marriage.


I will tell you that certain moments every mother cements to memory. That first giggle and step, the random day when your boy plays with his sister in the attic in the rain, or when he drives out of the dmv parking lot with you riding shotgun. that day when he says he wants to make his own decisions — which amounts to what time he wants to go to bed — when he leaves the house, heading to the first job that means something to him.

And there is that day when your son sits with you at the supper table where he asks to make those first decisions about his life and tells you he wants to continue the family tradition. with the ring.

The days following that day have filled my life with joy. Meeting him at the jewelry store to figure out just how we would keep it secret. The fact that my current ring is not the one that belonged to his grandmother and great-grandmother didn't matter. We were helping him create a new legacy out of an old one, and we were certain that legacy would matter to the young woman who will be his bride. 

When I joined him the day he picked up the newly reset ring, he apologized for not bringing a handkerchief to wipe my tears. I cried anyway, knowing this particular day, like so many other in my memory, would not repeat.

A week ago tonight, we gathered with the people who will welcome my son into their family, and the four of us waited for our children to arrive. Two hours before, my son had taken his girlfriend on an ordinary walk with the dog to the park, and she had come back wearing the diamond that I had worn on my own hand for the last 12 years.  

And then they joined us, mothers and daughter crying, fathers and son smiling, restaurant patrons offering to take pictures, stopping by the table with best wishes and congrats.

At our center we sparkled, this moment of clarity, cut to memory for us all.

stay tuned. i begin a new journey writing once a month for the News and Observer on Father's Day 2015 as an Our Lives columnist. I did this 12 years ago, and they have asked me back.

writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.