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)

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