Our Time

1953 to 1957

by Vann Roberts

 

It was only yesterday.

   We were insignificant freshman: lonely, scrawny, & scared, walking up the front steps that first day, maybe with a leftover Blue Horse Tablet & a Coca-Cola pencil, trying to look confident. Ahead of us were upper-classmen, beautiful & handsome, and more than that, knew exactly what was going on.

   “Fresh meat,” Bull Murphy giggled & roared at the same time. “They're getting smaller every year,” echoed from somewhere, but we pulled in a little closer & tried to smile like we weren't afraid, & went on. Inside was the longest hall we had ever seen & there was Coach Hunnicutt. We weren't sure which way he was looking, but we had heard of his special vision that could see around corners. We had also heard that chewing gum got something called five hours. How in the world could we remember all we had been told about this place?

   But the first days passed----the first football game played, the first tests graded & most of us actually passed, & someone gathered the courage to play that perennial joke on Miss Swain of moving his lips silently & watching her shake her hearing aid.

   The time was beginning to become ours.

   And if there was school, then there was "after school,” too. If you didn't have practice or didn't have to tighten up some corners on that mechanical drawing, or didn't need some extra help in sentence diagramming, then it was the Collegiate Grill, where, if you could bum a quarter you could play six songs; & the Big Orange, large as a 55 gallon drum, was only a dime. After school was maybe lugging a trombone home – – – & you were going to practice an hour, yes you were, yes you were, but there was a different brand of music on WTRP in the afternoon, & you had to listen – – – just for a reference point, mind you, Mr. Deal.

   We were feeling safer & safer & then suddenly there was summer: swimming, maybe reading Gone With the Wind, the Peach Meet, & in a blink, we were sophomores.

   The time was moving by rapidly.

   The tenth grade – – – & with that year: Mrs. Smith's English, & driver’s license – – – another dimension, another fence down. If we could face Sergeant Crawford & win, then whatever we were was multiplied by wheels, & there would be mythical “eight minute trips to West Point,” & gas was a quarter a gallon, & there was a new domain called… Orchard Hill Road. It was only yesterday…

   Then juniors – – – “it’s" all going to fast now – – – Miss Legg’s English, Thanksgiving turkey 49 cents a pound, the Junior-Senior (“Love is a Many Splendored Thing”); but as fast as it might be, there was stability. God was in His heaven, Mr. Keller was in his office, the Shufords were in the Y, Coach Mariotti was strong & immobile as a safe, Charlie Joseph had the world's best hotdogs, & Mansour's, bless their hearts, was having a sale.

   And outside, we guessed there might have been another world. Atlanta & Columbus were big & far away places; New York might as well of been on the moon; London & Paris – – – well, they were in our fathers' stories of World War II; Sputnik was still on the Russian drawing boards; Vietnam was an obscure country somewhere, remembered from the six grade Weekly Reader; and, if we had older brothers or sisters off in the service or college, & they told us of distant wonders, we took it with a grain of salt – – – ‘cause this time was ours, now!

   Well, it was only yesterday…

   And then, far too soon, we were in the last year, Citizen Seniors. Miss Owen celebrated (ritualized, rather) our 18th birthdays by being sure we were registered to vote. We now were those “looked-up-to” upperclassman; & if we secretly were still a little unsure, we sho’ weren't going to show it now. Those pleated skirts were to be pressed just right & L jackets were to be worn with just the correct amount of slouch. We were holding on and being thrown out at the same time… Couldn't we have another year?

   It was the best of times: Miss Clark, Winter games, Hanson’s, the beach, homecoming, Callaway Beacon. A ’57 Mercury was $2600; pair of jeans, $2.79. There were crew cuts & summer jobs & Mickey Mantle & Marilyn Monroe & painted-up A-models. The chorus was always superior & so was Little Richard!

   Azaleas & dogwood, Stevenson & Kefauver, & regular savings accounts paid 2 1/2%.

   We were privileged to live in a slower time after Korea & before changing diapers & situation ethics, before deadbolts were necessary & when government seemed a friend. The bad guys all wore black hats & America was happy. It was a superb moment in history.

   Well, we want to say thanks, folks!

   Thanks to the Fonz & Mr. C for recalling some of it. And thanks, teachers, for being there in the first place – – – if it wasn't right at home, then you tried quietly to fill in; & you didn't let us con you but just the right amount, & you knew all the time.

   Thanks for 45 words per minute typing; for clarinets & kettle drums; for similar triangles and irregular verbs; for four cups make a quart; for zone defense and fullback draw. But more for standards and ethics and decency and patients and fair play – – – all those you knew all the time, too.

And thanks, classmate. We struggled, grew and cheered together, fought and cried a little, but mostly laughed. And you were there, 100% – – – thanks, friend.

It was only yesterday…