Sometimes life is kind of funny. Sometimes, providence takes center stage. Without seeing it coming, my foundation was sured up and in some ways I was renewed by my past. The older I get the more I realize how it is all connected. From my past, to my future; from my pals long ago, to the places I have been, it all makes this beautiful tapestry that sometimes I think I have failed to see.
Over this past weekend, I celebrated my 15 year high school reunion. I returned with my daughter in tow, to that sleepy little town on the Ohio River. I returned to the place, that fifteen years ago seemed like a prison, that I could not wait to escape from. Now many years later, I find myself wishing I could return. The impatience and angst of youth seems to be getting replaced, by an appreciation for what that town made me into today. I have come to realize that the good in the long run will always be remembered, while the bad just kind of fades away like fallen leaves.
As I walked into the room of the restaurant, I had no ill feeling of the past, just an anxiousness to see what the present held for my fellow classmates. We were all a little bit heavier, well some more than others. Some of us were a few hairs less. Some were married. Some were divorced. Some had children. Some had child support. We all, though, it seemed, had come together for the same reasons. We came together, because no matter, where we end up in this deal, we all started from the same point. We were forever connected.
I was not prepared for the emotion of the next day. In one of the great small town traditions, the town gave back what it could and reminded me of what my values really were. As tradition held, Memorial Day Weekend in St. Marys, WV has been known as Alumni Weekend. We all knew that our reunion would be this weekend. It was also the weekend that the current graduating class would be walking the aisles and receiving their diplomas as well. The past was touching the present and the future.
After the night of socializing the night before, we all met down at the marina to board our float and be paraded through the town. We weren't the only ones there. There was the classes of 2003, 98,93,88, 83, 78 and so on. All the classes celebrating their reunions, were there as far back as 1938. All of them were donned in the purple and gold. My sister came in too, for it was her class as well celebrating their ten year reunion. There was the float for the past belles or in another vernacular, the home coming queens. There were the honored alumni riding in convertibles. The alumni band came as well. I was impressed that they still remembered how to play. We loaded up and headed back towards the main part of town. I was not fully prepared for what came next.
As we made our way onto the corner into downtown St. Marys, I first saw my daughter with my family standing there to greet us. Standing behind them, lining the street almost three persons deep, was the rest of the town. It seemed like everyone had come out. There were the old teachers and administrators, the local politicos, the volunteer fireman and even the town weirdos had come back to honor the past graduates. They were reminding us all what community meant and giving back in such a way that no amount of money could ever replace. I was moved in a way that I was not expecting. I had never been more proud of where I came from than at that very moment. That to me is what home is all about.
As the float made the turn to head back to the marina, I hopped off and decided to walk through the crowd and make my way back to my family. As I began walking, I bumped into one friend and then another and then another and so on. There were no strangers, just friends from long ago. I made it back to the center of town as the alumni band stopped the procession and played the alma mater. We all broke into chorus singing along just like we did for every function while we were in school. No matter what walk of life, we were one in the same for a brief moment in time.
Afterwards the class met one more time with our families for a picnic. We shared a lot of memories and laughter and never once was there a feeling of angst between the members of the class of 1993. The reunion came to an end, but my journey was not over yet.
The next day, with my daughter and my sister's new boyfriend along for the ride, we headed back to Ritchie County. This was the site of our farm from my early childhood. It had been more than twenty years since I had been back. I decided to take back roads all the way back. I am glad that I did. Maybe I'm just a bit biased, but I will always think that West Virginia is one of the most beautiful places on this earth. The hills and hollers were in full bloom.
As we made the trek up to the farm, everything seemed so much smaller, but I guess I was half the size I am today, the last time I was here. The barn and the chicken coop were about all that was left of the original buildings, but the natural beauty of Dog Comfort, never left. We then drove down to Everitt's Green and White store that has since been abandoned. I used to ride my bike down to Everitt's to buy a soda and play some pinball. Memories were rushing over me. I felt like that kid again riding his huffy over the trails through the woods. This time I was sharing it with my daughter and the rest of my family.
We made the trek to Mam Mam's grave. Mam Mam or Mae Satterfield, as she was known to everyone else, was the epitome of what most West Virginians are about. She lived at the end of our road. She took care of me and my sister. Hell, she practically raised us. Mae treated us as one of her family as we treated her the same. The rest of my blood relatives lived very far away and I was probably closer her than most of the rest of my family. She made our family a part of hers. The kindness she showed was just the way they all are back home. I encountered it everywhere we went. My sister's boyfriend couldn't believe it. Living in New York, it was in stark contrast to what he was used to. By the end of the trip, he had me play Country Roads one more time as we went to the train station.
I took this trip, not looking for anything really. I ended up finding hidden treasures that were always there in front of me. I guess I had to open my eyes and look back, because they were always there helping me through this crazy life that I live. Thanks West Virginia....