Happy Talk Blog Header_JanLast weekend I traveled back to my hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, for my 40th high school reunion.  That’s right, my fortieth!  That’s the new thirty, right?  Not only was it reunion weekend, it was Barbeque on the River!  I don’t know how anyone from our class wouldn’t have wanted to be there.  And there’s no such thing as too much barbeque!

Paducah is a smallish river town – about 25,000 people – that is located about halfway between Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri.  At the foot of Broadway, the Tennessee River meets the Ohio, and there’s a floodwall covered with beautiful murals depicting the history of our city.  The town was laid out by William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) in 1827, and it’s named for the Chickasaw Indian chief, Paduke.  It’s the home of a gaseous diffusion/uranium enrichment plant (aka ‘the Bomb Factory’) that was built in 1950 and operated then by Union Carbide.  It’s no accident that my class, born at the height of the baby boom, was the largest ever.  Although numbers vary, about 423 other people graduated when I did from Paducah Tilghman High School.  Other than being a big class, our claim to fame was that we were BAD.  Oh, yeah, back then, there was none of the molly-coddling self-esteem stuff going on.  At my junior high graduation, they told us we were the worst class ever.  Same for the other junior high school in town. When we all started at Tilghman, we were double trouble!  So, not to prove our elders wrong, we did our best to live up to that billing!  Funny, forty years later, that is one of the most prevalent collective memories of our class.  Moral: pay attention to the words you use when dealing with young adults.

Amazingly enough, most of us managed to live to adulthood and stay out of jail, and many of us are even gainfully employed!  As you might expect, many pounds have been gained and much hair has been lost.  Wrinkles are more prevalent than grandchildren, although not by much.  We’ve had divorces and deaths, but several high school sweethearts are still happily married.  What’s really amazing to me is that even though the years seem to melt away when we are all in the same place together, we don’t go back to our high school cliques and immaturity.  Even though we look past our current looks and see each other as we were then, we also see each other for the people we have become.  Gone are the lines that used to divide us into the jocks, the nerds, the hoods, the popular kids, the mean girls – you know the groups.  We’re just ‘kids’ who were lucky enough to grow up in Paducah and share a lifetime of memories.  Or at least 18 years’ worth!

Even the rest of this song’s lyrics don’t really apply, over and over last weekend I thought of this song by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – “You Can’t Make Old Friends”.  How true is that?  The people you grew up with are unlike any other friends you will make or have for the rest of your life.  They knew you when, and they love you now.  How cool is that?  I’m grateful for the childhood I had – it really was a “Leave It to Beaver”/Donna Reed/Father Knows Best” kind of life from a simpler time.  Part of me wishes my kids could have grown up in a place where they could ride their bikes all over town, or catch the city bus on Saturday morning, ride downtown, spend their allowance, have lunch at Kresge’s or Walgreen’s, see a movie, and ride the bus back home, hours later.  Or where they could have walked to school from kindergarten through ninth grade, knowing that if they’d gotten in trouble at school, there would be more trouble at home and the news would have beat them there.  I wish they could have known what it was like to get up at 6 AM on summer mornings, ride their bikes to swim team and back, and then spend the day at the Country Club pool until the street lights came on – the universal signal for “time to be home!”.  At the age my kids had cell phones, I was still ‘talking’ to my neighbors on our tin can phone stretched from our tree house to their carport.  My kids never had the good fortune to learn the lessons of patience and courtesy that those of us who grew up in one-bathroom homes came by naturally.  Heck, they never even shared a bedroom until they went to college!  You can tell that my friends and I did a lot of reminiscing from my nostalgic musings here.  We did, and it was awesome!  The best thing is that we know exactly how lucky we were to have been born when and where we were.

I hope your childhood and high school memories are as fond as mine are, and I hope you NEVER miss a high school reunion!  And for those of you who live in the towns you grew up in – NO EXCUSES – go to your reunions!  People you haven’t seen in years came a long way to see you.  You won’t be sorry you went.

Here are some photos of my hometown, my high school, and my friends:

p2P Blueprint Zebras

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32 Responses to Blog: You Can’t Make Old Friends

  1. Kaye Rhodes says:

    AH! Those gorgeous, flattering blue gym suits! We wore them in MD, too. In my quilting world, Paducah is famous for the annual Quilt show and the museum. Hope to get there someday.

  2. Tina Bruderer says:

    I traveled all the way to Nashville for my 20 yr reunion -I was so looking forward to it that night right before i was leaving to go my baby smashed his tiny fingers ion a huge door so i spent the evening at the emergency room but hopefully the next one will work out

  3. Janey says:

    Looking forward……any ideas of where next trainings might be not including California and New York? Ready to plan a some training and a trip. Thanks.

  4. Katrina says:

    Wow Jan what a true statement: “The people you grew up with are unlike any other friends you will make or have for the rest of your life”.
    Thanks for the memories of back-in-the-day! Whenever I’m around my old friends it’s so much fun to have so many memories in common, even the old slang.

    I was on cloud nine, pot liquor, why is she trippin’, see my new Kicks, Crazy as a Betsy Bug, Give me some sugar(Kiss), Don’t get to big for your britches, Barkin’ up the wrong tree, hold your horses, Sunday go-to-meetin’ clothes. Jan all my old friends remember that we had 3 sets of clothes.
    1. School Clothes
    2. Play Clothes
    3. Church Clothes
    Play clothes were not allowing in school.

    • Jan says:

      Oh, Katrina – play clothes and church clothes! Yes, I had to wear dresses to school (but not Sunday dresses!) until 9th grade! And I love all of your sayings – used them all (or my parents did!)

  5. Linda DeLaughter says:

    I am lucky enough to have two 45th reunions next year – the high school where I “grew up” but did not get to graduate from, because my parents moved right before my senior year – and the high school in Slidell where I graduated and met my dear hubby! Yes, we had “green” PE uniforms just like yours. Weren’t they simply ugly? But everyone had to wear them! Thanks for sharing your special memories with all of us. We love you and your stories!

    • Jan says:

      Have a great time at your reunions, Linda – you are lucky to have two to go to! Ugly doesn’t even come close to how to describe those uniforms… And the boys got to wear gym shorts and t-shirts! So unfair!

  6. Michelelynne says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I’m close to my 35th reunion so I grew up in the same era and also in a town about the size of your home town. At our last reunion we all commented on how nice it has been that those lines that divided us are gone. We have all become much better friends than we were back then. Reading this brought back so many memories of my childhood. Over the years I’ve thought the same things about how our kids are missing out on a simpler time. We would come home, do our homework, have dinner and then head out the door. The whole neighborhood would play all evening long – kick-the-can, hide and seek, etc. My mom would say “come home when you can’t see your hand in front of your face.” It’s so sad that now we can’t even let our own children play in our front yards without worrying about what could happen.

    • Jan says:

      I hear you, Michelelynne! My dad was a handyman and carpenter, and he filled our backyard with the coolest stuff – we had a treehouse with a fireman’s pole, a bag swing with a three step platform, and a roller coaster (wooden, made by dad!). The whole neighborhood played in our yard – so fun. And in my neighborhood, everyone had their own ‘signal’ to call everyone home. Next door, it was a bell, across the street, a whistle; our house – it was mom, long after everyone else had gone home to dinner, yelling for us out the back door. Even though we were starving and the rest of the kids had gone home, we were still playing outside. Our kids have no idea of the fun they missed. Video games have nothing on flashlight tag!

  7. Carolyn says:

    Yes, the blue gym suit. Wish they had grown up versions. Well… I guess they do…t-shirt and sweatpants. I know everyone hated those gym suits but I loved mine. I was such a jock that being in my gym suit meant some fun activity. The only time we didn’t have to wear it in P.E. was the co-ed square dancing unit. :-). Fun memories.

    • Jan says:

      I loved PE, too, Carolyn, but boy, did I look AWFUL in that gym suit! I was ALL LEGS! And really skinny….good times!

    • Beverly Goodrich says:

      I remember that blue gym suit too, but it was in Jr High. By high school, we had a nice stretchy cotton one. I still remember some of PE in that suit – Dodge Ball with the boys (ouch), Steal the Bacon, and running the stairs in the gym.

      Five more years until my 40th. Thanks for the inspiration to go.

      • Jan says:

        I LOVED dodge ball – and I was really good at it! Makes me mad that it’s ‘too dangerous’ for today’s kids. Seriously! But I hated the gym suit! You will have a great time at your reunion!

  8. Fun to read blog, Jan! I have had such a great time catching up with long lost classmates from high school on facebook. Although I’ve missed a number of reunions, I feel like the facebook connection has been a fantastic way to stay in touch now.

    • Jan says:

      Facebook is a wonderful way to connect with those old friends, isn’t it? We’ve used it to help plan our last two reunions, and we’re even thinking about meeting yearly now! Good times.

  9. Felisha says:

    I missed my 20 year…but I won’t miss the next one… Thanks for sharing!! BTW… I’m from STL and live in Nashville… so I’ve ‘sped’ through Paducah many, many times! 🙂

    • Jan says:

      Good for you, Felisha! And if you have never stopped in Paducah, you are missing a real jewel! Great restaurants, cool downtown, and the National Quilt Museum are all worth stopping for. And the barbeque!! And a neat River Museum. Should I keep going?

  10. Anne says:

    It really is something special to reconnect with our childhood friends. They did know us before the after effects of too many cookies and sun! It was an idyllic time being able to leave home at the bust of dawn and be out with friends all day on our skates or bikes till dark. I hate it that our grandchildren will never know that freedom.
    So fun to read about another ‘bad’ class! It’s a fine looking group of folks with whom you shared your 40th!

  11. Caroline says:

    Love it! I went to my— let’s just say I’m a bit older than you!— reunion in New Orleans last November. I had a blast and yes, all those “category” lines have disappeared for the most part. Sadly two of my closest friends I had to visit in the cemetery. Life is not always fair. But the blue gym bloomers! We had those, too!

    • Jan says:

      Those gym suits were the bomb, weren’t they? That is my sister’s lovely outfit that my mom saved (along with most everything else)…. Sorry about your friends – we had lost about 10% of our class fairly early, but thankfully that number has not risen too much in the past 25 years. I guess that’s about to change, though – we’re not getting any younger, are we? Glad you made it to your reunion and hope you make it to several more!

  12. Fay Wilde says:

    AWWWW ! Wonderful memories. Love your Happy Talks!

  13. Liz Propst says:

    Oh my gosh …the blue gym suit!!! Brings back memories!

  14. Anita Albritton says:

    Love it, Jan! Great photos of your school, the reunion and your hometown. I LOVE the photo of the gym “romper”! 🙂 You are a great storyteller, and I certainly enjoyed reading this one!

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