Dallas, TX –
Each passing decade brings more anxiety for most people about high school reunions. We had our 50th on May 19th. We had name tags, which most of us had to refer to on occasion in order to identify classmates we once considered equal in importance to our families. Some of us, not all, have changed so much in appearance, I for one, that we seem to have almost become someone else. This is not something bad, just nature doing its job. Others are surprisingly unchanged in appearance but virtually different people otherwise. In this way I have not changed. I'm still a misfit, still get in trouble with authority figures, and still a graduate of Santa Fe Elementary in Cleburne first and Cleburne High School second. Santa Fe was a school for working class kids. Our parents were laborers, tradesmen, small business owners, but mainly Santa Fe Railroad employees.
I'm sentimental about all my classmates and still keep in close touch with some of them. But I'm borderline sappy about the Santa Fe gang. I tried to talk to as many of them as I could. Patsy White Ferenz, a classmate from first grade, now lives in Wimberly. She reminded me that I was her boyfriend at Santa Fe, as if I had forgotten. Patricia Lott Spencer, whose father was our family preacher, I instantly recognized because she still has the same beneficent aspect in her face that assures you that you're all right as far as she's concerned.
L.C. Henslee told me he really doesn't qualify for the East Cleburne gang as he went to Liberty Chapel school three miles further east of town. I include him though as I used to see him when we went fishing on Buffalo Creek. He still likes to fish he said but has lost all of his fishing buddies. I told him that Tommy Nickell has moved back and lives near Sand Flat and is looking for somebody to go fishing with.
Tommy and I were pals in high school and in the Army as well. He reminded me of one of our Fort Polk escapades. He worked in the motor pool and was a tank driver. We had little boys the same age and so would go without a pass if necessary to meet our wives and babies in Palestine. He had a 1946 Ford that would run on army gas, which somehow managed to siphon itself into his gas tank. That motor pool gas clattered but it kept our families together.
In sixth grade Bobby Burge sat in front of me and was the smartest kid in class, I thought. I told him this and he said, "I have to ask you. How come you were always poking me in the butt with your ruler?" I had no answer for that but we both have antique cars and after 50 years are getting back together on a project to get my '51 Ford rolling again. He runs Old World Lithographic Services, Inc. He's still smart.
Gary Whites, who coaches at Burleson, was an outstanding runner on the 1956 Cleburne Yellow Jackets championship team. Something he told me, simple and even child-like as it was, made all the anxiety of the reunion worthwhile. "Remember when we had that big flood in third or fourth grade?" he said. "Well, I knew you lived on the other side of Buffalo Creek and remember thinking that night, 'How is Tommy going to get to school?'"
Well, maybe you had to be there. But it occurred to me, how nice it would be if we knew instantly when someone had a caring thought about us. It took nearly 60 years, and a high school reunion, for that caring thought to get to me.
Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.
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