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Watching the River Run

Leaving them one by one

By Bill Fields

A work commitment kept me from attending a reunion last fall for Pinecrest High School’s 1970s classes. I regretted missing the weekend, which, from the reports I got, was well organized and drew a big crowd. Having helped coordinate the 25th reunion for those of us who graduated in 1977, I can only imagine the effort required to hunt and gather 10 classes of folks and successfully pull off such a gathering.

From afar, though, spurred by the big reunion, I’ve been remembering those high school days and my classmates, recollections jogged by my copies of the Spectrum, Pinecrest’s annual, from my sophomore through senior years.

Without even opening them, the yearbooks tell a story. The covers and page edges are smoke-damaged from a November 1984 late night electrical fire in the bedroom loft of an Aberdeen cottage I was renting, a blaze as swift as it was startling.

My companion and I were grateful to get out safely after smelling smoke. It wasn’t the recommended way to get into the pages of The Sandhill Citizen, which ran a captioned photograph of firefighters on the scene in its next edition. That girlfriend and I didn’t go out long. We did see each other a few more times after the fire, which was a Christmas miracle, but she never returned to the apartment after it was repaired.

High school, as the annuals remind me, was much less dramatic than that unusual evening, although it hardly seemed so then. Looking through those yearbooks is to remember the angst about a class in which you struggled or the answer from someone you had finally summoned the courage to ask out.

But I was fortunate to not carry the burdens that weighed down some of my classmates. I came from a stable family, applied myself well — except when the going got tough in math — and had at least a vague sense of what I wanted to do after Pinecrest. When I read the messages written to me in those yearbooks from students and teachers, penned in both Bic and Flair, there are mentions of “level-headedness,” “determination,” “hard working” and “perseverance.” I still don’t really know what Andrew Edwards said, because he wrote his backward. 

At the time, being named “Most Dependable” along with Louise Thompson didn’t seem the flashiest of senior superlatives. I know I haven’t always lived up to that billing, although it is a good one to shoot for. (This column is being filed a day late, unless I’m receiving grace for New Year’s Day, but I’ve met many more deadlines than I’ve missed over decades of typing for a living — and since handwriting scripts on carbon paper for our closed-circuit TV news show senior year at Pinecrest.)

Mostly, those mid-1970s yearbooks make me think of the people who are with me in those yellowing pages, classmates who have prospered or struggled, others who lost their lives in accidents or to illness, some a long time ago, some in late middle-age. Just last year, two of my Pinecrest golf teammates, two good men, Jim Mathews and Charles Reid, passed away.

The theme of the 1977 Spectrum, I was reminded when rereading it recently, came from “Watching the River Run,” a beautiful 1973 song written by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina. We teenagers probably didn’t appreciate the poignancy of “watching the river run/further and further from the things we’ve done/Leaving them one by one.”

Opposite the lyrics in my yearbook was a message from my late childhood friend Alvin Davis, who took the spread photograph that accompanied them, a wintertime waterscape in black and white, the sun bursting through trees and shining on the river’s surface. Alvin’s words dance through bare branches, memorable not so much for what they are but who said them as we were starting out, paddles in the water.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.