Crestview, Florida—the class of 1966. The tiny group held their fiftieth reunion next door to the police station, at Warrior Hall.
On the front steps, men took swigs from red SOLO cups while smoking cigarettes. Deputies next door, watched and grinned.
I met a woman with white hair. “Know why my hair turned white?” she asked.
Because you love the Lord?
“During senior year,” she explained. “We painted, ‘seniors of sixty-six’ on every surface of this town. By accident, a can of paint spilled on my hair. My friends soaked me in gasoline to get it out. Been gas-blonde ever since.”
That night, I met military vets, lumber salesmen, turkey hunters, tobacco spitters, and lots of other men who like boots better than sneakers. I met a funeral director, a New-York singer, a few drunks, a minister, and a used car salesman.
One man said, “I shouldn’t have graduated in sixty-six.”
I asked why.
“When I’s in third grade, I got held back, ’cause of a yankee teacher. Couldn’t understand nary a word she said. Otherwise, I’d’a graduated in sixty-five.”
The catering company rolled out food fit for royalty. Cocktail weenies, tuna salad sandwiches, and congealed salad. People seated themselves at tables and filled the auditorium with laughing.
One man spiked his drink with something from a jelly jar.
“Is that moonshine?” I asked.
“You damn right,” he said. “Want some?”
Just two fingers, please.
After supper, they passed around a microphone. Folks told stories. There was the story about when the cheerleaders snuck into the boy’s hideout—replacing scandalous magazines with Bibles.
Or: how the seniors used old outhouses as kindling for class bonfires.
There was the time when Sister So-And-So whacked Brother What’s-His-Name with a hammer as children—they’ll be married fifty years in July.
One fella remembers sneaking out, stealing kisses from his sweetheart before shipping off for Vietnam.
A woman recalls how school buses used to stop for cattle crossings.
Folks talked of how much they miss small-town life. About how things are faster now.
About their kids.
A few already have Parkinson’s, one even uses a walker. Some look bad, others look like bombshells. They’re still babies, they just don’t look like it on the outside anymore.
Their small community has changed. It’s grown. They have an Arby’s, a Lowe’s, a Cracker Barrel. The old haints are gone. Young men don’t sip moonshine anymore. But after half a century, everyone here still agrees, the good old days weren’t just good.
They were breathtaking.
And once upon a time, so was Crestview.