Classmate Reflection

A Classmate’s Reflections by Gayle Williams - Spring Woods Class of '68

How did we get here? And why are we still interested in getting together every few years? Fast forward forty years and our faces now show the change and stress that this journey has wrought on each of us. The beauty of middle age is that we have come to accept more of the differences, failures, gray hairs, and bald heads (at least in my case) than we ever thought possible. We compete less and understand more. And we have lost the self absorption of youth and gained care and concern for others. We came together in 1964 from different backgrounds, but most of us came to Spring Woods from middle class American families imbued with solid middle class values. We were a typical representation of America’s hopes and fears, its dreams and disappointments. Our country was going through a moral and ideological crisis with the struggle in Viet Nam, assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and changing social and sexual mores.

This tempest was our historical backdrop, and it was in this setting that we sallied forth and went through the paces of high school in 1964-68. Oblivious and often unconcerned, we blithely pursued the joys of athletics, academics, and the wide variety of extracurricular activities that go with the territory. From drama to drill team, and student government to golf, the Tigerette talent show to Western day...every individual found their place and an outlet for self expression…sometimes in more supportive and silent roles. It seems that the silent ones often turned out to be the real stars in our class. We lived and loved and we reveled in the thrills of victory and suffered through both team and individual defeats. The freight train that is high school was rolling and we readily clambered on board, even when we were uncertain of the destination. We knew it was a voyage of discovery, and for most of us, that was enough. We were still wet behind the ears with the dew of possibility.

We began to learn who we were and what was truly significant in life. And perhaps the greatest lesson was this…People really matter. All of them. Even if you don’t share common interests, they matter. Friendships developed and became the focal points of our daily routines. The loyalty and absolute constancy of those friendships became an ironclad assurance that they would always be there for you. And they would care. They cared what happened to you, even when you would ultimately be separated by space and time.

Season followed season, dances followed games, and the years were punctuated with the usual antics common to all high school students. We lived in emotional isolation until the day when we were rocked with the sudden death of Danny Blagrave. This was something that really could not happen and was not written into the original script. Most of us dealt with that first experience of a classmate’s death in an awkward and almost clumsy manner. It was a stark moment too deep for tears. Some could share, some could relate, but we all felt the loss of someone close to us. Someone we laughed with, and played with, and struggled with. It was a grave reminder of both the sanctity and brevity of life, and for a brief time we cherished life all the more. We treated each other more kindly and shared more directly. We were confirmed in the certainty that today was all that we could be sure of.

Before we knew it, 1968 was upon us, and there we were…seniors, at the top of the food chain, at last. Beating Memorial and Spring Branch were moments to be relished again and again. All of the annual events were occurring for the last time, and suddenly we were engulfed in the hooplah of graduation. I remember so well KNOWING that the feelings I had for these guys and girls, my best friends on the earth, would last a lifetime.

We would never lose touch. Only youth can promise you this certainty. And then we went our separate ways. The calls or letters became fewer and in time ceased altogether. Space and time became serious obstacles. College, professional school, careers and developing families became priority # 1. And so where did they go, where did we go? And what happened to the inviolate closeness we shared?

So here’s the thing, and it may be life’s greatest lesson to me. They never left. This is a really beautiful thing. They cared about my well being, and God knows, I cared about theirs. Forty years has come and gone. There has been a lot of history and a lot of water under the bridge, but thank God, the bridge is still there. That bridge, my dear friends, is love. I have never felt it so poignantly and so unashamedly as I did last weekend. The world around us was awash with turmoil. Houston was digging out from the ravages of Ike and our economy was on the verge of collapse, but for one golden moment frozen in time, all was as it should be. We were transported back to a simpler and more carefree era. We were together again, with broader horizons and new perspectives, but the shared memories and the genuine concern of old friends for each other was real. It was then that I realized I could ask for nothing more. To be certain, there were many friends missing, with some gone forever; there were broken hearts and broken families, but we were there for each other…to have and to hold…if only for a few moments.

This love extends beyond reflection, beyond our values, and perhaps even beyond our dreams. Late that evening (shortly before breakfast), some ten or twelve of us were reflecting on our past (who says you can’t have profound moments in the parking lot of a tavern). Perhaps the best summary came from Norman Hubbard, who succinctly stated (and I am paraphrasing) that there were many people who would give all they owned and all they had achieved for what we had shared that night. No one said it better.

My mother is dealing with the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I am sure many of you have dealt with the dehumanizing and demoralizing effects of this process. We were recently given a book written by the famous Arkansas football coach, Frank Broyles, whose wife died from Alzheimer’s years ago. He was a genuine and sincere man. In it he stressed the need to touch them, to hold them, to hug them, to somehow show them that you share their humanity, that you share their struggle, in spite of their mental incapacity. He was right. Somehow they sense the love. The same can be said for all of us at any stage in life no matter the condition. Hug often. Share your humanity. It is all that God asked us to do. I thank you all for being a part of my life and allowing me to be a part of yours.

May God bless you all.

Gayle Williams