Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

At 50th reunion, memories of a lifetime shared with other classes

What a weekend we just had here in the little town of Leland, where I went to school and grew up on the farm at Brownspur, riding School Bus No. 13.  

For the past 35 years or so, we’ve organized Mass Class Reunions every few years with a more-or-less permanent Reunion Committee under the leadership of Boss Dianne, who vows each time that she won’t do it again, but always does and blesses the rest of us by her efforts – though it’s really an everyone-living-here-pitches-in team, as The Boss is always quick to point out.

This Reunion was the 50th for my own LHS Class (the adjective “Old” will not be used in this column) but over 600 classmates and spouses from other years joined in to help honor us and LHS, beginning with a supper and re-acquaintance time Friday evening.  

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Saturday morning saw former cheerleaders practicing behind the school, then a parade formed with antique vehicles, farm trailers & trucks, fire engines – whatever would tote the classes downtown through the cheering throngs. Our destination was a Pep Rally downtown, and from there the individual classes split up for lunches organized by the Host Committee at various places, visiting until late afternoon.  

The weekend festivities ended up with a prime rib dinner and dance at the Convention Center on Saturday night.

The guy who inherited my old All-Conference football jersey number came up behind me at one point and enthused, “Bob, there’s sure a lot of good-lookin’ women here today!”

I had to agree with that, looking at several girls who had been judged as the Most Beautiful in college, state, and national contests.

As one of the permanent Reunion Committee members, I was out front greeting folks Friday evening, and a tall white-headed, white-goateed man came through the doors, sticking out his hand: “I’m Jim Crippen,” he grinned, but I shook my head as I shook his hand.  “No, you’re not: here, tonight, you’re Chicken Crippen!” I exclaimed, and introduced him to Betsy as such.  “Honey, you remember the picture in the Annual of the guy playing a guitar holding it behind his head on his shoulders?  This is him!”

We laughed as I tried to recall all the other members of the famous Bop-Kats band: Chicken, Squirrel, Chip, Pharoah, Joe Frank…”   The latter went on to fame in a band that had a national Number One Hit: “Don’t Pull Your Love Out On Me, Baby,” and lives in Hollywood now.

At the Pep Rally the next morning, I leaned against a pickup tailgate and marveled at the people who had returned: musicians, songwriters, college athletes, Pulitzer Prize nominees, world-class scientists, renowned doctors and lawyers, Hollywood stars, authors, millionaires, CEOs, inventors, heroes in battle, NASA engineers, statesmen, teachers – you name it!

Most were just good working folks, married, raising kids and grandkids, living their lives, enjoying see friends again.

But that weekend, we were all simply LHS classmates and teachers. A career Merchant Marine squatted in the middle of a huddle of cheerleaders at that Pep Rally as the girls around him chanted, “The Team was in the huddle, the Captain raised his head, they all got together and this is what they said: ‘Our Team is Reeeeed Hot!’” at which point the former redhead stood with both hands waving to the cheering crowd.

It was the first time Red Rowe had been back home since high school, and he was right back leading cheers again for the Cubs Team! Then our former math teacher stepped up and led the cheer, “Oh, Me!  Oh, My!  Won’t we black that Wildcat’s eye!” as the rest of the cheerleaders backed him up.

Coach Jones observed, “Best two years of my career were here, with y’all!”

Another coach, who married Gloria, our basketball star, shared that “You all have something special here – this feeling doesn’t exist everywhere. I hope you can appreciate what you had here, growing up.” I think most of us do.

Our Class President, Little Dave, couldn’t be there, but sent an order for champagne and this toast: “When I pray, I thank God that I grew up in Leland, Mississippi, when I did, with the classmates, family and friends that I had and have.  My life is better because of you.  May your life’s challenges and trials last no longer than my New Years resolutions! Wish I could be there.  Cheers, Dave.”    

We had a wonderful time growing up, and recalling those memories!