News From The Woods - October 23, 2009

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published October 23, 2009


"My 45th High School Reunion"


This year marks the 45th year since I graduated from high school. Actually, it was military school, which is so much different from public school, and for so many reasons. Going to public school means during the weekdays you attend classes and see your friends in the classroom (male and female), but at the end of a school day to return home by bus or you're picked up at school and driven home. Upper Classmen had the privilege of driving their own cars to school, if they had one. After school was out you could hang with your pals around town and probably get home at a decent hour to study, have dinner, and then sleep in your own room until the next morning's ritual starts all over again.

Military school is another world altogether. There were no girls. There were no cars. You spent day and night with your classmates; sleeping, eating, studying, playing….. Every aspect of daily teenage life was governed by rules and the regulations. Not only did you have to answer to your faculty (teachers and advisers), but you also had to deal with cadet officers who were about the same age as you, except they could wield oppressive power over your life and routine. If a cadet officer did not like you he could make you miserable. He could prevent you from getting liberty on weekends and you would be confined to the campus. He could ride you unmercifully, thus making your life a living hell. There was no way to win in this war, and your parents were unable to help you or intervene. You were left to your own devices and you very existence might depend on how cunning you were or who your friends were. Children can be cruel, and children with power often abused this privilege. Sometimes we banded together just for self preservation. This is the way cliques were formed, especially if the same students returned to the school year after year.

I was a "Five-year boy". I began attending Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1959 as an 8th grader, referred to as being in Junior School. My grandparents had retired to Florida and lived only a few miles from this prestigious naval military academy. They were concerned for my education as a youngster living in the hills of Arkansas, and made an offer to my parents. They would pay the expensive tuition fees if my parents paid for my uniforms, books, and necessities. I clearly did not want to go and neither did my mother, but Dad finally persuaded her to give it a try for a year. I had little say so in the matter.

The first year was as bad as I had figured. I was lonesome for home and missed my parents. The studies were hard and I was pretty naïve which meant I was "fresh meat" for the older boys. I pleaded with my folks not to send me back a second year but they somehow talked me into it. The second year was worse as I experienced what the term "hazing" meant (look it up). However, I did have a couple of pals that returned from Junior School in our Freshman year of high school and we banded together. Cadets came and went through the years, but this small core of former Junior School pals held together until we all graduated in the Class of 1964. By that time WE were the "big shots" and all the other cadets looked up to us. We had learned the harsh lessons of our youth and refused to continue following that tradition with our current crop of underclassmen, and in the process we earned the respect and admiration of many of them by the time we graduated. The mid-60's was a turbulent time in America. JFK was assassinated. The Vietnam War was rearing its ugly head, and the Beatles were changing music and the social consciousness of the nation. I think perhaps we were the last of a generation that believed anything was possible.

Through my college years and throughout the many careers I launched, I have made a lot of friends… Especially in the music business. But as close as my closest friends were (and still are), the guys from those early days of military school were…….. well…"special". The friendships we forged were to be as lasting as life itself. I don't think we realized it then. It was only years later, perhaps after several reunions, that we began to discover just how special our relationships were. All of the "Five year boys" stayed in touch by phone and mail during the turbulent 70's, the lazy 80's, and by the 90's our small core of friends grew exponentially. With the advent of email, things picked up speed rapidly.

In the early day's right after graduation, I attended several reunions. Back then I wasn't entirely on my own. My parents were both still alive and I had access to their credit cards and advice. I even made several trips to Florida just to hang out with some of my Junior School pals. During the early 70's - my DJ years - I was unable to take time off any time I wanted so my attendance at reunions was curbed. I attended my 20th and met up with several fellow alumni of 1964 that I had fallen out of touch with. For some reason I missed our 25th at which several fellows made the effort to attend and I sorely realized I was missing out. I attended the 30th and 35th. After that I started emailing some of the "men overboard" and encouraged them to make the 40th, which was a milestone for the Class of '64, as we had a large number of guys show up and we spent the entire weekend hanging out together. Things snowballed from there and at this latest reunion we had 17 men show up with their families (out of a class of 68), a number which is questionably the largest turnout of a single class year in the 75 year history of the Academy. You must remember that boys came from all around the globe and getting people to come to Florida for four days from places like California, Hong Kong, New Jersey, Alabama, Virginia, and Arkansas is a task all by itself. This is the story of the 45th reunion celebration of the Class of 1964:

In the beginning we were planning on making it a family vacation but plans changed just before the reunion. We have been tightening our belts - just like many of you - during this recession, and the money crunch and Robert's school schedule combined was making it difficult. Furthermore, we knew that I'd be preoccupied with reunion things during that period, so we opted to just wait and have a real family vacation at a later date, and so I planned to drive down via Nashville, where I could spend the night at my daughter Missy's place in Gatlin, Tennessee. I cancelled out our motel reservation to save even more money and stayed with one of my pals there in St. Petersburg. Cutting all those expenses made it possible for me to make the trip after all.

I left around noon on Tuesday the 13th of October, bound for Nashville. It was raining lightly as I pulled away from the house. By the time I got to Memphis it was raining heavily. It was dark before I got halfway from Memphis to Nashville, so I had to drive at night in a driving rain on an interstate filled with semi's. It was a grueling and harrowing trip and I arrived at Missy's house totally exhausted around 10 PM. I got up at 6 the next morning and headed for Florida. It was still raining, and the only improvement was that I could at least look ahead in the line of traffic.

Halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga, in the middle of the foggy Tennessee Mountains the line of traffic came to a complete halt. After fifteen minutes people started getting out of their cars, and the rain had simmered down to just a drizzle. Through conversation from a trucker, a semi had overturned, blocking both Southbound lanes. Emergency vehicles had a lot of trouble getting to the scene for the blocked traffic. We were stuck there on the mountain for almost two hours. By that time my morning coffee was making me look nervously up into the Tennessee woods for a large tree. I wasn't the only one dancing around on tippy toes by the time the road began to move again. The very next exit was a rest stop and the parking lot was overflowed with cars and trucks. The line into the men's restroom reminded me of a waiting line at a Disney attraction. My clothing and spirits were dampened but I pressed on.

Soon I began noticing caravans of semi's moving north, each containing an armored vehicle partially covered with a tarp, probably a tank. Each semi had a lead car with warning signs and a follow car with flashing lights. As much as each tank costs, I think the Government wanted to take no chances in transporting their new tanks to their respective military bases. Each of the three southbound lanes had different types of surfaces. The outside lane (farthest to the right) was the worst, with joints in each slab producing a "popping" sound as the wheels passed over it. This was the "truck lane". The middle lane was a little better but still somewhat bumpy, and the farthest lane to the left was as smooth as silk. Now I know what "life in the fast lane" really means. After a couple of hours driving in the constant rain I began to lose my bearings. I had to check what state I was in with my road map. At one point as I was trying to pass three semi's grouped up, I barely got around the lead truck when I spotted at the last minute a huge section of truck tire laying off the left but still in my lane. The line of passing cars was lined up behind me and the lead semi was only a foot or so away from my passenger door, so I did the best I could but still clipped the piece of blown tire with my left front bumper. Fortunately, when I had time to stop I checked and saw no noticeable damage to my car, but from that time on I began a new technique for passing semi's in the rain. Instead of slowly passing them - with the resulting feeling of driving inside a car wash - I decided to wait until the car in front of me got past then I floored it and roared around the semi until I could see ten feet in front of me again. Even in the rain, when I saw my first palm tree in Valdosta, Georgia, my heart leapt for joy.

I crossed the Florida State Line around 6PM. The rain has slowed to only a slight drizzle and I could see blue skies ahead. I pulled into the next exit, which was the Florida Welcome Station. It had completely stopped raining. Elated, I casually walked into the building and stretched my legs. After a brief visit to the bathroom I walked back outside and decided it was time to put the top down. No sooner had the top receded into the back of the car that it started sprinkling. I could not believe my luck! The rain had chased me all the way to Florida and now it threatened to follow me, so I put the top back up and made a dash for the Interstate. Driving at 73 MPH, it only took me ten minutes to get ahead of the rain. From Georgia down to Florida the Interstate had rest stops about every 20 or 30 miles, so I decided to stop at every other rest stop in order to give my aching legs and back some relief. By the next pit stop it was mostly clear skies to the south and an ominous cloud to the north. After a five minute stretch it was still clear so I again put the top down and started for the entrance ramp back onto the superslab. Just as I entered traffic the rain started again. After driving for five minutes with everyone staring at the idiot driving in the rain I pulled over and put the top back up and resumed my drive. In Fifteen minutes it stopped raining again so I drove on for about 35 miles and again pulled into a rest stop. After stretching and taking a bathroom break I nervously looked up at the darkening sky. No rain. I got in the car and sat and waited. No rain. I put the top down and headed for the 4-lane. After a full five minutes of driving with no raindrops I finally settled down for the home stretch, set my cruise control, and reached for my Farragut Alumni baseball cap. As I raised it up to put in on the wind caught the cap and tore it out of my hands and into the dark night. With a sigh (and yes… a silent curse) I pulled over and waited for some heavy traffic to pass. Slowly I inched my car in reverse along the shoulder, tires humming in the grooves placed there to wake up anyone dumb enough to fall asleep. I kept backing up and peering into the night for any sign of my beloved baseball cap. Nothing. I continued to back up until I was sure I had driven in reverse (against 70 MPH traffic) for almost half a mile and then I gave up. I sat there for a moment, taking stock - semi's and cars whizzing by at a dizzying pace - and on an almost impossible hunch I got out and looked in the back of my car. There was the cap sitting on the floorboards! With a yelp I grabbed it up and plopped down in the driver's seat, fixed my seat belt, and snugly put on my favorite driving cap.

It started raining.

I finally arrived at my friends Greg's house in St. Pete around 11:30 PM Wednesday night. It took me sixteen hours to make that drive in the continuous rain. I must have looked a wreck because Greg's wife Karen came up and gave me the kind of hug you give a wet kitten called in from the rain. I collapsed immediately and it only seemed like an hour when Greg was gently tapping on the door saying it was 8 O'Clock and time to get up and get ready to make our way to the Academy for the 9 AM registration for Homecoming. Greg lives across town from the campus, which is only about twenty minutes, so we arrived on time and went straight to the Alumni House, which now occupies the former sick bay. The Alumni House is the repository of all Farragut memorabilia from both campuses. The Farragut North campus was formerly in Pine Beach, New Jersey, but that school was torn down several years ago and the AFA Southern campus has become the new home for AFA North alumni as well as AFA South. After meeting up with several old friends we made our way to the Quarterdeck where we ran into the current headmaster, Captain Robert Fine, who was brought on board in 1989. Captain Fine graciously offered to give us a personal tour of the facilities, including the new Naval Aviation Classroom which now occupies the former library on the second deck. He also proudly showed us the moon rock display, which was donated to the school by Astronaut Charles Duke, another AFA graduate.

Another high point in our tour of the grounds was finding the brick we commissioned to commemorate the life and career of our Commandant of Cadets, Commander Frank T. Steele, who had passed away recently. The Class of 64 put up the money to commission the brick, which is inset in the stonework just in front of the side door to the main building. It reads: "Dedicated to Cdr. Frank T. Steele, Commandant of Cadets, 1957 - 1967, By the Class of 1964." He was a crusty old guy worth his weight in sea salt and could put us on the straight and narrow with just fifteen minutes at attention in front of his office desk. He is one of the main reasons I graduated from Farragut. He gave me encouragement to better myself and when that failed he chewed on my tail until I did it out of fear. We had some great times with him at past reunions and we will all miss him.

We had lunch in the mess hall and then met up with some more '64 grads and made plans for a dinner on the beach at Treasure Isle later that evening. We commandeered a favorite seafood restaurant and rooftop bar that we visited previously at the 40th reunion and set about to have a nice pleasant evening with friends. The wind was brisk as we had "happy hour" on the rooftop. The view of the approaching sunset was spectacular. As the sun set we went downstairs to feast on fresh seafood. After dinner we moved the party to the Sea Castle Suites on Treasure Isle, where the majority of my classmates were staying, and sat by the pool and talked until we were all worn out. We got back to Greg's house around 12:30 and again I collapsed. This time I was able to sleep as long as I wanted because we had nothing on our schedule until 2PM that afternoon. There were lots of official things going on at the academy (golf tournament, museum tours, etc.) but we opted to just veg for a while. I settled back into Greg's computer chair and hooked up some camera gear and a DVD recorder on his computer. Just for grins I put all the new Beatles mixes on MP3's in his My Music folder as a partial repayment for his hospitality. While doing that his son came in and when he spied what I was up to returned in a scant thirty seconds with his iPod and USB cable in hand, expectant grin on his face. How could I say "no" ?

Before the trip began I had arranged through the alumni department of the academy to get access to the school library and a DVD player and projection screen. I brought with me the video I produced to commemorate the 40th reunion, but there were lots of guys there that didn't make the 40th so for many it was a "first screening" of the DVD. I had a program I made about what it's like to go to a military school: One Cadet's Account. I also had footage of our Graduation ceremonies in 1964, taken from 8mm home movie films that came from some of my fellow classmates archives. I edited it like a three- camera shoot and it looked great. For background music I chose the record album that the combo band for 1964 recorded. The match up was perfect and the guys (and their wives) were mesmerized at the long ago images of our youth. Also included was a trivia game and several segments of photographs from my scrapbook of the times. We were done by 4PM, just in time for the tailgate party for the Homecoming game against Santa Fe Catholic. The tailgate party was staged at the Alumni House and after packing up all my gear and stowing it in Greg's vehicle we advanced towards the party. Before we even got there a fierce storm blew up in mere minutes and drenches us thoroughly. We only spent perhaps fifteen minutes until we decided we had to go back to Greg's and change clothes. Half an hour later, as we were about to return to the campus for the game, my cell phone rang. It was one of the guys who said they had decided to blow off the game (wet bleaches and all y'know) and were going to meet us at the Sea Castle. After checking in with several other guys we discovered an overall lack of enthusiasm to attend the game. Even the ones there already had just planned on staying for the kick off. So we went on to Sea Castle and set up shop again there. 85% of our gang was already there telling stories when we arrived. And by the way, the Farragut Bluejackets defeated the Santa Fe team 51 to 20 in the Homecoming game. I took credit for the win by stating that the only reason they won was because the majority of the "Frankenstein Class of 1964" chose not to attend.

We remained until the few alumni that actually stayed for the entire game showed up and then hung out until perhaps 11PM. We chose to call it a night because we all had plans to attend the Dress Parade to be held on the football field Saturday morning at 9AM. It was a bright and coo; morning. I wore shorts and a Hawaiian shirt but all the Florida residents had jeans and parkas on. They looked at me and said "Well, you don't have orange juice running through your veins". The parade was nice but to us "old timers" they all looked like they were taking a stroll in the park. I realize times have changed and the military drilling and mindset is no longer on the front burner in this new "kinder, gentler" nation, but it IS still a military school, after all, and we collectively groused that at least they should learn to stay in step at the very least. They even had a Marine drill sergeant for Pete's sake! He was all crisp and looking the part but the kids weren't geared for it. Each company looked like a thousand-legged caterpillar. Still, whenever we encountered a cadet they looked straight into our eye and gave a crisp "Yes, Sir" answer to our questions, so they must be learning some kind of discipline. I had to laugh at the story Dave Moreton told one night. Dave was our Battalion Commander in 1964……….. The Head Honcho………. #1 Dude……..The Big Cheese. He said that he walked up to the Quarterdeck Friday morning and quietly asked the kid behind the desk, "Pardon me, but could you direct me to the head?" He got a blank stare for a response. After a second the kid says weakly "You mean the Headmaster's Office??" Dave replied "No, the HEAD!". The kid looks over for help from his second in command at the desk. They both come up with nothing. Dave finally says, "You know…the bathroom?"…… Kid goes "Oh, yes sir! It's right over there!" Maybe you had to have been there but I can just see it in my mind's eye.

Immediately following the parade the drill competition was held. The bleachers were full of people as one by one, my fellow classmates made their way down to the field. Someone on the field called out my name and soon everyone was pointing and shouting so I had no choice but to go down there and subject myself to public humiliation. Actually, I thought I might be able to hold my own, so I sauntered down between Larry Schneider and Jon Digranes, both fellow Class of 64 alumni, and someone handed me a rifle. Now, I have to say here that I was in the band and I never carried a rifle (except for extra duty), but drill is drill and I should "know the drill". So while they were getting all set up we handled the rifle and tried to remember the basics. Up steps the Marine drill sergeant that I mentioned before. The first thing he said was that there would be no trick commands, and then, two moves later he has us at right shoulder arms and orders an about face. At first I didn't move because I seemed to remember you could not execute an about face while at shoulder arms. But I looked around and everyone around me did an about face, so I quickly followed suit. Wrong! It WAS a trick command and five of the ten of us were out like that. Someone said something (I think the crowd was upset with the trick command) and so we were all allowed to continue. He put us through a few more standing commands and then said "order, arms!" We dutifully lowered our rifles beside our leg. Next came a "rifle salute" command. Now, the truth here is that in our term at Farragut we were never ordered to offer a salute unless we had our weapons at shoulder arms. I instinctively and briskly moved my left hand across my waist and held it there at the tip of the rifle barrel (guess I've seen too many army movies), but I noticed no one near me was doing anything so, once again, I removed my hand and stood at attention. WRONG! I DID do the correct action but since I changed mid stream I was disqualified along with everyone else from 64. Lesson learned: ALWAYS trust your first instincts. If I had I might have made it to a higher level but the entire class was out at that point so it didn't matter. To me, that constituted a trick command but so it went, and a couple of graduates from the 80's took the prize. Oh well, there's always next time. I emailed the academy and asked them if they would have any objections to our group being drilled by our former Battalion Commander. HE would not sell us out!

There was an induction brunch at the academy after that but since the recipients were all from a later year we had little interest and so we all left to prepare for our "Class Cookout". Bill Siebel and I (former room mates) treated the rest of the class with a picnic at the Sea Castle. They have open grills thee. Bill and his wonderful wife Barb constructed a huge bowl of green salad with some side dishes of shrimp and other goodies, while Greg and I went to Wal Mart and bought five pounds of hamburger and two bags of chicken breasts. Some of the guys chipped in and several others brought along other items and cool refreshing beverages (mostly beer and wine). A sumptuous feast was prepared and even though I had some trouble with the first batch due to high winds off the beach, there seemed to be enough food to go around. Saturday night was the official Academy Banquet and Homecoming Dinner but when I asked for a show of hands on Thursday night of those NOT planning to attend I was shocked to see all but a couple of hands shoot up. So the "private cookout" was on the front burner. A coupe of our guys "drew the short straw" and elected to attend the official dinner as representatives of the Class of 1964. They never know what to do with us at the official functions anyway, so we sent a couple of our more "squeaky clean" members to represent us. I hadn't planned to go in the first place as I didn't have the money and don't own a suit.

After the cookout we settled down to a small group and spent the rest of the evening taking turns in front of my camcorder for some comments and interviews of the Class of '64. Some of those comments are posted on the academy Facebook page. I edited out all the comments about the cadets of today needing more drill instruction. After all, if AFA actually kept the same strict disciplinary regimen, I doubt if they would have many students these days. At least they do stress higher education and self discipline, so maybe we're just a little jealous that they have a co-ed campus, air conditioning, cell phones, microwaves, DVD players, and easy drill instruction. To us, that sounds like a luxury resort. Toward the end of the evening, our class representatives returned with an account of the official dinner. It was then that I learned that I had been voted "Class Agent". I'm not quite sure what that entails but I am sure my big mouth had something to do with it. After much hand-shaking and hugging we all left in different directions.

VIEW A CLIP OF THE INTERVIEWS HERE

As we made our way back to Greg's house I took notice of all the homeless people standing on the street corners in the downtown area near the Interstate. Many had signs ("work for food", etc.) and others just sat with their backs propped up against a street marker with all their belongings in a bag or backpack. Some had a basket you'd use in a supermarket, filled up with blankets and clothing or liter soda bottles filled with water. I didn't know if they were waiting for a ride somewhere or what. As we sat at a stop light one fellow I had seen previously stood up, reached into his ragged pocket and answered his cell phone. I was stunned! He had no place to live…. No visible means of supporting himself… and yet he had a cell phone. We truly live in a new era. It made me wonder what we, as Americans, can really do to make a difference. Sure, recycling helps, and supporting green legislation helps, but I was wondering what we can do as individuals. It occurred to me that if we would only try a simple thing like being nice to our neighbors would be a good start. Call me the eternal optimist, but the next day, when I passed a car with "Save The Children" on it I slowly drove by and waved with a big smile. The look I got was something. They didn't seem to know what I was smiling and waving about. I had to point to the logo on the car door before they realized that I was just showing my support. Are we losing our sentimentality and compassion?

6AM Sunday morning came entirely too early but I had to hit the road for the journey back to Nashville. As I stood in the kitchen downing a cup of coffee and an English muffin I suddenly realized that in my entire stay I never got to swim in Greg's pool or the ocean and I never even got to take a walk on the beach. I think subconsciously I might have felt guilty about coming alone. Robert loves swimming pools and our family likes to take walks on the beach on Florida vacations, and I suppose I neglected to do those things out of guilt. I missed them both so much. It really wasn't the same as in recent vacations to Florida, but I had made my commitment to the Class and needed to be there as I was instrumental in setting the whole reunion up. It was unfortunate what had happened and I was eager to return home and try to make amends. It is hard to describe the camaraderie that we "boys" had for each other. I am sure military Vets encounter the same feeling of closeness in sharing so many memories together. Our memories weren't as drastic as real war stories, but then we were young and impressionable boys and we shared a common experience that cannot be related to others by mere words. Fortunately our wives understand and support our periodic efforts to regain our youth for just a few days. Maybe they detect the gleam in our eyes as we recount stories and experiences from those days back in the 60's. They are a great bunch of guys and they deserve good women beside them. I am proud of each one of them for all they have accomplished in their lives and careers.

On my drive back home I had a lot of time to reflect on this year's reunion. Even though it was four days and we crammed in as much "togetherness" as we possibly could, I still felt the time was too short. There were a few of the fellows that I didn't get a chance to sit down and talk to for any length of time. It is so interesting to learn how someone has spent the majority of their lives…….. And such diverse group! We have real estate agents, insurance salesmen, airline pilots, business entrepreneurs, architects, financial speculators, exotic automobile salesmen, school teachers and university professors, lawyers, judges, ship captains, CEO's, show biz people, musician/videographers, and even a retired CIA agent! Many of the guys are now retired and trying to live the good life in these troubled times. All agreed it isn't easy even when you DO have money. All these thoughts and more ran through my mind as I set my course North. The trip back home was everything that the trip down wasn't. Both days of driving were during daylight hours, and the weather on both days was clear and sunny. I got lucky following some folks heading North in a hurry and made it from St. Pete to Nashville in 11 hours, compared to the 16 hours it took on the way down. I arrived early enough on Sunday night to have dinner with my daughter and her family. The grandkids sat in Grandpa's lap while we watched a movie (except for Michael, who is too old for such nonsense, being a Junior in HS).

I was up and out by 7:30 AM the next morning and making my way west to Memphis. I pulled off just outside of Nashville for a fill up and as I drove the exit by I spotted a man and a woman dressed shabbily, the man carrying an acoustic guitar, and they were both weighted down with back packs. As I filled up my car my thoughts went back to those poor souls on the street corners of Florida. I knew it was risky but I told myself if they were still standing there at the exit when I was on my way out I would stop and pick them up. I knew that two people together would have a difficult time catching a ride, and I moved my .25 automatic to the side pocket of my door, out of sight, just in case. Before paying for my gas I grabbed up some bags of chips, snacks and a six-pack of water. Sure enough, as I rounded the corner to the on ramp they were still standing there. The look on the woman's face was enough to melt my heart as I slowly passed by. I stopped and they eagerly grabbed up all their belongings and ran toward the car. It was a tight fit but we managed to get it all crammed into my convertible. The man sat in the back seat so the lady would have more leg room. He placed the guitar behind the rear seat in the compartment used to store the top when it was down. The woman had to hold one knapsack in her lap for lack of room. They said they were bound for Jackson, Mississippi, and I told them I was headed through Memphis, which pleased them greatly. One single ride would take them 200 miles.

It was obvious right away these two hadn't seen a shower in a while. Still, they were very cordial and appreciative that I picked them up. The guy in the back was missing a couple of front teeth and both of them had an unkempt look of people who had been on the road for a long while. He said they were caught in the rain last week and were thoroughly soaked to the bone for several days. They were both grateful for the good weather. She said they had met hitch hiking about 2 months ago and decided to travel together, particularly for the sake of the girls' safety. They told some wild road stories and had a reply for any comment I might make on just about any subject. I summed them up pretty quickly that they were not ignorant people, just folks whose luck had run out. After twenty miles or so I asked if they were hungry. All I got was silence, so I took the initiative and held up the plastic bag of goodies I purchased back at the gas station and offered it to them. They did not hesitate. I also offered them bottles of water and they eagerly washed down the snacks and chips. Both of them continued to thank me until I felt a little embarrassed. The time passed swiftly and I let them off near the Jackson exit just outside Memphis. Again they thanked me several times and I wished them good luck on their journey. I spent the next hour between Memphis and Jonesboro contemplating my experience and thanking God for reminding me how truly fortunate I was.

I arrived home about an hour before Jane and Robert got home. I had just enough time to unpack and stow away my things and realize that I had left my shaving kit in Tennessee, containing all my meds for high blood pressure and my diabetes. A call to the pharmacy was all it took to arrange for a couple of "loaners" until my daughter sent my kit to me. So, after four days and putting 2,396 miles on my car, I finally came to grips with the entire affair as I soaked my aching muscles in my hot tub. It was indeed a whirlwind trip but it was certainly worth it for me. My only wish would have been for my family to have accompanied me. However, as I sat there it dawned on me that if they had accompanied me it might not have been so much fun for Jane and Robert because I was on the go from dawn to dusk and it was all for the reunion. I made a firm mental commitment that when the time for our family vacation DID come around it would be a more enjoyable vacation for them if it were JUST for our family. In the meantime I shall start saving my spare change for the 50th reunion in 2014.

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