Miss Polly Rucker looked us over with a cautious eye. She had that uncanny ability to seem to be staring right directly at each one of us. As the senior class sponsor she had prodded and pushed us along all year. With graduation just days away, she was teary eyed as she proclaimed, “This is a great milestone in your life.”
We nodded a collective agreement kind of like we did when she told us “Macbeth” was the best Shakespeare had to offer. We didn’t know for sure she was right but we respected her enough that nobody was going to openly disagree with her. She had fussed, shaken her head in disbelief, laughed and caressed about as much literature into us as a body could in one year. She had earned our trust and our love. I can still remember the look on her face when Buddy Wiggleton asked her if Shakespeare had written any baseball books……
A couple of nights later, as we were sitting in the front rows looking very scholarly in our caps and gowns, W. O. Warren in his commencement address congratulated us on reaching this tremendous “Milestone”. I kinda drifted back to yesteryear as he went into that part about us being the future leaders of tomorrow.
It didn’t seem so much to me like a milestone. I hadn’t done anything yet. I hadn’t gone anywhere. I was still living at the house. My friends were still close by. I really didn’t feel any change. We’d been talking about “getting out of high school” ever since the ninth grade. It just seemed more like a natural progression than any “high water mark”.
As Mr. Warren moved into the variety of jobs and amazing opportunities that awaited us I got to thinking back to Leon’s beat up old Schwinn bicycle. I wanted desperately to “wheel it” up to the grammar school on my first day of the first grade. My feet just barely touched the petals. And the handle bars were really high……but I was determined to learn how to ride that thing. It looked simple. Until you got about two cranks into it and the front wheel turned wildly to the right and you lost your balance! I crashed into the shrubbery by the side porch. I nosedived into the ditch behind the swimming pool. I fell on the gravel road in front of Archie Moore’s house. Whew! Was life just going to be one big wreck?
But one magic late summer day I got it balanced just right and rode all the way out to Roy Manley’s house. Not one living soul was there to validate, commemorate or even celebrate the moment with me. And listen, I couldn’t even spell milestone back then but you can’t imagine the feeling of accomplishment busting forth from my little heart!
As Mr. Warren started in on the “we didn’t get here by ourselves” section, my mind raced back to that first at bat in Little League. I was eight years old and scared to death. Ray Cunningham was a twelve year old giant pitching for the Rotary. He hit me with the first pitch high up on my left arm. It didn’t kill me! And I managed not to cry as I wobbled down to first base. Now, folks, that’s a milestone!
Charlotte Melton was sitting a couple of seats down from me on this ostentatious occasion. I glanced over at that beautiful face and thought back to a cold after school day in the eighth grade. I don’t remember how or why we were walking through the elementary school parking lot. I do remember it was right beside the monkey bars and I’m not sure who kissed whom. But it was the first time for both of us……and that would have to go down as some kind of milestone. At least it was for me! I can’t say for dead certain positive exactly how Charlotte took it.
Milestones, I figured, are mostly in the eye of the beholder!
You take the time me and Ricky Hale camped out in the swampy area known locally as the Jarrell Switch Bottom. It seemed like a good idea in the broad daylight. We ate our Hormel Vienna sausages and Premium saltine crackers in silence. The darker it got the closer the swamp drifted toward us. Creatures, never seen up at the town square, began to wail and moan. The moon quit on us. Unseen visitors began to gnaw on our arms, neck and legs. A blood curdling yell that sounded a lot like my older brother shook the ground we were not sleeping on.
Pride, stubbornness and a healthy dose of stupidity kept us out there all night. It was as about as big a milestone that I ever celebrated. Of course, once was enough!
I intercepted a pass against Milan and ran it back for a touchdown. I did a backwards somersault with a half twist off the high diving board. I won a junior tobacco spitting contest at the Carroll County Fair…….all milestones that seemed to eclipse this graduation exercise on a hot, late spring night in 1965.
Of course, they didn’t. Time and maturity have proven me wrong. Riding a bike and kissing Charlotte are important mind you, but they are not essential.
Mr. Warren was right. Graduation is a pretty big deal. Those reaching that milestone should be congratulated. And, as Miss Polly would remind them all if she was still with us today, “It’s what you do afterwards that counts!”
God Bless You,