Sporting Life

A Sentimental Mood

Riding the wave of memories

By Tom Bryant

“Things,” the Old Man said, “certainly ain’t like they used to be. It’s the penalty we pay for getting wise. About the time a man decides what he likes or don’t like, either he can’t find it, can’t afford it , or can’t handle it.”

—Robert Ruark from The Old Man and The Boy

I was feeling a bit nostalgic the other day, sitting around the house, not doing much of anything. Linda, my bride, was visiting a couple of her longtime friends in Burlington, so I was sort of at loose ends. To have something to do and to get my mind off yard work, which I really needed to do, I decided to ride down to the little farm I lease for hunting to see if the doves were flying.

The weather was unsettled, threatening thunderstorms later in the day, so I was in no hurry to get to the farm. As I drove by the location of our old high school, I made an impromptu turn into the drive that led to the little rise where the ancient halls of learning once stood.

The night before, realizing  that our high school class reunion was coming up, I pulled out my aged annual from 1959, The Timekeeper, and flipped through the well-worn pages. So I was in just the right sentimental mood to look around the location that had shaped so many young lives, mine included.

Of course the high school was long gone, having been demolished in the ’60s when consolidation of schools became the touchstone of the new education system; but the elementary school, gymnasium and auditorium were still there, although vacant and desolate.

There were a couple of Aberdeen police officers standing around a K-9 pickup truck, and I remembered reading in The Pilot that they were using the school for training purposes. The other buildings were locked and battened down tight. I eased by the officers, waved and continued out the far drive. On the way, I noticed that the shop building, where Mr. Farrior tried to teach us how to use an electric saw without losing several important digits, was still hanging on the side of the hill. It seemed to be in remarkably good shape.

Where have all the years gone, I wondered, as I drove down the little road that led to the old football and baseball fields. We had a good year in football in 1958, our first year playing 11-man football. Up till then we had competed in six-man ball, almost another sport entirely. In ’58, out of 10 games, we won five. Our losses were close with the exception of our game with archrival Southern Pines, 26 points for them, zip for us.

When I pulled up beside the embankment of the vacant sports fields, I paused, got out of the Cruiser, leaned against it and looked out over the green acres that meant so much to so many budding young athletes. The football field and the baseball diamond were adjacent, efficiently utilizing the space as only our head coach, Hugh Bowman, could do. Now the fields were smaller. The tree line had crept in over the expanse where we used to play, and I couldn’t recognize where the two fields used to be. I understand that the small grassland expanse remaining is used for soccer.

Later, Robbie Farrell, the longtime mayor of Aberdeen, told me by phone that Aberdeen has big plans for the gym and the auditorium that the city purchased from the school system, but the old elementary school and the fields behind it would be sold to developers who would probably use the space for housing, closely supervised by the zoning and planning folks of the city.

Robbie also graduated from Aberdeen High School and has been a prodigious supporter of anything Aberdeen, probably the reason he has been the unopposed mayor for so long. It was a pleasure talking to him and reminiscing about the old days.

There have been several reunions of the class of ’59 since that momentous day when we walked confidently out of those small halls of learning into the real world. At one of those get-togethers, a good friend and I wondered why high school remembrances mean so much when other events, probably much more influential in our lives, didn’t seem to be as important.

“Tommy, I think it’s because in those days, especially at our small Aberdeen school, we were almost like family,” he said. “We knew each other, we knew all of the faults and qualities of each and every one, real or perceived, and it was a pivotal time in our lives. Those days, like them or not, meant something.”

So here we go. Another, perhaps the last, reunion for the class of ’59 because so many of our group have already crossed the river, a trip we will all make. But I keep remembering the closing to a column I wrote about one of our reunions over 20 years ago:

“In the late ’50s, the country seemed to pause and take a break from the horrors of the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s. The Depression was over, World War II and the Korean War had just ended. It was as if we were riding the crest of a huge wave, not knowing when or where it would break. Around the bend were the ’60s and flower children, drugs you couldn’t buy in a drugstore, the Cold War, and a heated one by the name of Vietnam. But in the summer of 1959, I was cruising in a 1957 Chevy with all the windows rolled down and the radio turned up to The Tams and beach music. I had just graduated from Aberdeen High and was ready to take on the world.”

It has been a while since that day in 1959, cruising in the Chevy, nothing any more important on my mind than college and playing baseball. A lot of water has flowed under that proverbial bridge, and there have been some bumps in life’s road along the way; but all in all, as we get closer to the end of the trip, it has been a good ride.  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.

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