Thirteen is a tough age. You’re not a child anymore. And you can’t act like one. You’re “too old” for self doubts and silly qualms. Of course, that’s mostly in your mind. In reality, you’re the only one on earth that thinks you are grown!

Down toward the end of May of my thirteenth year Mom announced we were going to Leon’s graduation. I understood high school graduations. Remember, I’m all grown up here. I know everybody puts on church clothes, the valedictorian gets up and talks, an important person in town reads a commencement speech and the seniors, dressed in black robes and flat hats, walk across the stage to pick up their diplomas.

I informed Mother that since I already knew all about this ceremony there was no actual need for me to attend. Of course, I’d never been to one. This was 1960. We didn’t graduate from kindergarten, elementary school or junior high back in those days. You just moved into the next class.

Mom explained patiently about the hard work Leon had put in; how this was such a milestone in his life; it was truly a big deal; and it was important that we all support him; he was graduating to an awaiting world….. That didn’t mean diddly-squat to me. It reeked of boredom. Not something a grown up little boy had to put up with anymore—

Dad walked by and said, “Get dressed, we are all going.”

I didn’t say thirteen year olds ruled the roost. I just meant they THOUGHT they should.

The lady directly in front of me wore a big hat with feathers or plumes sticking up in the air. I shifted to the right. And half peered over her shoulder with one eye. This was like purgatory… ten! I was here but nobody could make me listen.

I tore a tiny corner off the program and pondered the odds of shooting a spitball towards the stage without being seen by Daddy. I tapped my foot on the chair in front of me like I was sending a distress signal to the tall lady.

Morris Beadles walked across the stage. He had the swept back haircut that I thought was so cool. You couldn’t really see it under that flat hat. I hope he’s not moving off to meet his future. I had rarely ever spoken to him. But I liked him.

Barbara Booth was next. She was Bo’s older sister. She was actually pretty nice. They lived next door to Bobby Brewer and we were always hanging around their house. Who would fix us sandwiches if she “went off to college?”

Kenny Bouldin held Golden Glove boxing matches in his attic. Boy howdy, the hours I had spent over there watching Leon box! It was an official ring and they had brackets, separate weight divisions and scheduled fights. It was Rocky way before Rocky! He looked a bit different tonight in his black robe.

All of a sudden, I was paying attention in spite of myself. I knew these people!

Karen Webb lived just a few doors down from us. She was the prettiest girl in our neighborhood. And she was not stuck up like some of the older girls. She would talk to you like she knew what it was like to be thirteen.

They called out Jackie Burns. He was practically a brother. He’d come through the back door and head to the refrigerator, looking for the chocolate pie, like he was at home! He would intervene on my behalf if Leon got to beating on me. And Jackie was always the one, when the older boys were choosing up sides, who’d say, “We’ll take Kes on our team.” I was way too young to actually be “chosen” and I couldn’t really keep up with the bigger guys……but Jack got me into the game! What was I going to do without him?

Marilyn Lewis was super funny. Jerry Poston could run like the wind. The first television show I ever saw was at Richard Gregg’s house. Barbara Enoch was always nice to me. Larry Black was the best farmer of this class. Dennis Coleman threw a pitch by me in Little League that I never saw! Butch Dickson wore that cool leather jacket and he had the best ducktail in the world! Judy Abernathy had the greatest smile. Bobby C. Melton once told me I was a “good little athlete.”

I was straight up in my seat now! I knew them all! And each one of them had had some impact on my life. This graduation thing might affect more people than just those wearing flat hats. It’s amazing how the ripples were washing over me!

Mr. W. O. Warren called out, “LEON COLBERT.” Time stood still. Something strange took a’hold of my heart. My eyes got blurry……must’a been the fumes off those plumes in front of me.

And I realized this graduation walk is forever!