Old Friends’ Shared Childhood
Old friends’ unshared memories, I have found, take on a special meaning and life of their own as we approach our twilight years. If one is lucky enough to share their old age with friends from their youth they are extremely blessed. This is especially true if those friends shared a deprived youth without realizing how deprived they were. Many neighborhoods in the South, prior to World War II, gave birth to children who, because of a shared economic reality of surrounding poverty, were cast into an environment of great uncertainty about their future. They were born to families where the majority of parents had strong moral codes and work ethic – they frowned on premarital sex, attended church, were married, stayed together, and worked hard in cotton mills, cotton fields, and wherever else they could eke out a living for their families. The welfare support system did not exist, and most adults would have been highly offended at an offer of assistance without work or other effort in return. Many did share what they had with those who had less. They shared because of the need, not because the Government forced them to provide for others.
Primary activities of those friends revolved around church, school activities (ball games, band, choir, school clubs, field trips, picnics), neighborhood movies, and after-school (or before school) and weekend work. Many times these part-time employments helped support the families and provided for payment for senior year trips to Washington, D.C. and New York. Other than those activities, travel outside their small towns was not often or was non-existent.
The World beyond Childhood
Graduation from High School was a big event. Many did not make it to graduation, for many reasons. During the Second World War the male student population was decimated due to military service and other war efforts. A large percentage of the female population also contributed to support of the war effort. All experienced rationing of goods and services and often complied with air raid warnings and night-time blackout conditions. Food was grown in home gardens and scrap metal and cans were collected to meet war time needs.
Graduation culminated with the Senior Prom, with the girls wearing beautiful flowing gowns and the boys in their Sunday best. The boys also had the thrill of providing and pinning on of corsages. As I remember it, the favorite choice seemed to be Camellias.
After graduation festivities were over, the cold, wide world awaited the bewildered students – many with no idea of what to do next. Some went directly to college, while some had to pursue further education part-time or wait several years for the opportunities (usually working their way through). Some went directly into the workforce where ever they could without further education. Some were able to get on-the-job training adequate for a career. Military service, police departments, and local city employment seemed to be early favorites. Some left their communities for employment elsewhere.
The Journey to Maturity
Over the years between High School and Retirement many paths were taken by the players. However, most seem to have retained an affinity for their roots. Periodic High School reunions were attended at fairly conservative time periods – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, etc., years. The attendance for some was somewhat sporadic and the reasons for attendance or non-attendance not readily apparent. It was, and still is, a time for remembering shared experiences and updating on current events. Some attendees appeared somewhat exhibitionist in their demeanor in wanting all to know how well they seemed to be doing, while others were more conservative. The truth may have been somewhat different from appearances. Personality changes, in some cases, were very obvious in contrast to those of childhood. However, as years advanced additional, softening, attitudes seem to come to the forefront. The realization that some have never attended a reunion and that some have never been heard from since graduation, or cannot be located, causes quiet, thoughtful, reflection. Some have died and, when possible, childhood friends begin to start attending funerals for those who have died relatively young. Some have died in accidents, some by suicide, and some by various illnesses. As the ages climb toward the 60s and 70s there seems to be an increased interest in returning to childhood roots. Many of those who have lived in other states or cities begin to move back to their old or nearby neighborhoods. They begin to search out opportunities for socializing with those with whom they have shared childhood experiences and adventures. During this time more sharing of disappointments, failures, and reflections of “what might have been” takes places. You learn of divorces and multiple divorces, problems with children, and career issues. Much of this is expressed by the Statler Brothers’ music “Class of ‘57” and Marty Robbins in “The City.”
Retirement and Beyond
Before, and as, many of the life players enter their retirement years, many are dealing with taking care of aging parents and their health issues and with health problems of their own. Much of the socializing efforts include making the problems known and discussions about how to manage the issues.
Socializing efforts primarily revolve around “back in the day” experiences of childhood and school as well as day-to-day neighborhood experiences or adventures. Many friendships were developed through shared sports, neighborhood games of various types, and work experiences. Specific games and players and their characteristics are recounted over and over in exacting detail. Work experiences and interactions with co-workers are described to much the same detail. These experiences details are expanded to encompass those which have occurred during the years between High School graduation and retirement. It is obvious that all are proud of their accomplishments and the fact that they have navigated the pitfalls of life and have persevered. During these discussions you become aware of many aspects of your old friends’ lives that you were not aware of while on your journeys – they even had brothers and sisters of which you were not aware. They are now also discussing their extended families – their children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren (you learn that some were even secretly married while in school). Religious activities have become more pronounced in the lives of many.
It is also during this time that another very sad aspect of living longer lives begins to show itself – fading memories. You wonder, is it Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or just the normal decline of memory due to aging. You hear friends recount events of which you are supposedly a party to, but you don’t remember it. Whose memory is faulty? In some cases you are able to compare with aspects which you know to be true, and you realize that it is not your memory that is at fault. Someone asks you a question and you answer it. A couple of minutes later they ask the same question – they don’t remember asking it before. You make allowances and ignore the misinformation or need to repeat yourself. They are lifelong friends! Twilight years are giving way to fantasy. A lifelong journey is nearing the end. No one knows how it will end, but you do know that you could not have been in better company. Who will be there when the last one passes? We do know that in the end God is in control and that He will be there!