I am in the auditorium of my old school. The community-college band is playing Christmas music.
This is where I became the me I am today.
It's your typical community college. The brick campus used to be only a couple of buildings, a few trailers, and a tennis court. It’s bigger now, but not much.
Students hail from Crestview, Freeport, DeFuniak Springs, Red Bay, Mossy Head. Some even live in Fort Walton—God help them.
When I was a student, it was Okaloosa-Walton Community College—and people were still listening to cassette tapes. Today it’s Northwest Florida State College.
Everything is different now. Tonight, I am seated among college-age kids, and I feel like an old man. A few of the students called me “sir.”
The band played “Mister Grinch,” “A Child is Born,” and even sang “Jingle Bells.” They wore Santa hats and made the season bright.
I couldn’t concentrate on the music because I was swatting memories like gnats.
This place is my alma mater—sort of.
About me: I didn’t go to high school. It’s a long story. But after my father died, my mother and I worked menial jobs.
While friends attended pep rallies and football games, I didn’t.
Anyway. Big deal. The point is, I DID eventually attend school—as an adult. Right here.
And this place—humble as it may be—was the biggest thing I’d ever done in my little life. The microscopic junior college became part of me. In fact, for many years this was my second home.
Here’s how my days went:
Leave the construction site at 2 P.M. Get lunch.
2:15 P.M.—eat sandwich while steering with my knees toward class
2:30 P.M.—social studies.
4:00 P.M.—music class.
5:15 P.M.—college algebra; somebody please stab me in the throat with a slide-protractor.
8:00 P.M.—supper from the gas station. A cold, plastic-wrapped burrito, pork rinds, and a tall, ice-cold, infinitely thirst-quenching, Budweiser.
Saturday-mornings—creative writing classes. The…