“It is perhaps the memories of our lives
that make us who we are.”
—Unidentified writer of devotional for Wednesday,
November 25, 2009, in Episcopal Forward Day by Day
This article about our McGehee (Arkansas) High School Class of 1956 senior trip was updated several times since the 1980s when I submitted it to the Arkansas newspapers as part of a failed proposal for a column on Arkansiana.
It also appeared in the McGehee Times at the time of our thirty-year class reunion there in 1986 and again in the McGehee Centennial Edition in June 2006 at the time of our fiftieth-year class reunion. It is this latter version that I present here, closing with some links to videos of 1950’s music and nostalgic scenes that were sent to me by Patsy McDermott from our Maggie Class of ’56.
At the end of this post be sure to read the update on the restoration of the historic Selma Methodist Church and view the four photos of it on this first anniversary of my blog!
Moments to Remember
Tho’ summer turns to winter
And the present disappears,
The laughter we were glad to share
Will echo through the years.
When other nights and other days
May find us gone our separate ways,
We will have these moments to remember . . .
Class Song, Class of 1956
McGehee High School
(To view a video of the original version sung by the Four Lads with nostalgic Happy Days-type scenes from the past, click here)
Just this past week I happened to notice in the local paper an article attesting to the fact that the senior class of one of the neighboring small towns had raised enough money by doing odd jobs throughout the year to finance a seven-day, all-expense-paid trip to (of all places) Hawaii!
I was both pleasantly surprised and strangely moved. Surprised because I had supposed that such nostalgic period pieces as senior trips had long since gone the way of crew cuts, penny loafers, and sock hops. Moved because my mind was suddenly drawn back fifty years (could it possibly be that long ago!) to the year 1956 and our own senior class trip.
As it turned out, we had a great time, although there was for a while some small problem concerning our planned destination.
You see, according to what we “mighty seniors” considered a time-honored tradition, the graduating class was privileged (nay, entitled) to a weeklong celebrational bash in New Orleans.
After having “looked forward for twelve years” to such a fabulous fling in the Crescent City, you can imagine our chagrin (to put it mildly) upon being informed by “the powers that be” that henceforth such exultation excursions would be limited by administrative decree to no more than three days’ length and to a distance not to exceed 150 miles!
Our righteous indignation knew no bounds! “Unfair, unfair,” we roared with all the youthful fervor and unbridled passion that only eighteen-year-olds can muster when confronted with what they consider outright and irrefutable PERSECUTION!
“Why us?” we agonized. “Why is it always our class?”
Yet, within the depths of our young souls, we knew why. It was, quite obviously, a simple case of flagrant discrimination. To anyone with an ounce of perception there could not be the slightest doubt that we were again being singled out by a biased and callous administration from whom we had suffered cruelly and unjustly for years. Once again we were being victimized by an arrogant, corrupt, and power-hungry dictatorship of which we were the helpless pawns. (When you’re eighteen you have an uncanny knack for recognizing such fiendish power ploys.)
But, I ask you, why shouldn’t we realize what was being perpetrated against us? Hadn’t we suffered such prejudicial treatment throughout our entire scholastic experience? Wasn’t it always our class that “got the raw end of the deal”?
So, true to form, once again it was to be upon our tender necks that the despot’s cruel heel was to be ground. After decades, we were the ones to have to suffer the agony and the indignity (dare I say, the shame?) of forfeiting a glorious, fun-filled, never-to-be-forgotten parting extravaganza in Paradise for a cheap, all-too-fleeting, tawdry thrill at Petit Jean State Park!
Oh, not that we had anything against Petit Jean, you understand. But for a senior trip? Are you kidding?
I mean, man, this was something that we would treasure for the rest of our lives. This was our last fling together as a class. Who knows where we would all be after graduation? Who could foretell what fate had in store for each of us?
And we were close, you know? I mean, we were really close. Let me tell you, mister, you don’t go through twelve years of hell together without getting to know one other PRIT-tee well. (Like I remember Patsy McDermott getting up one day near the end of our senior year and with tears brimming in her eyes—hey, man, hers weren’t the only ones either, and not just the girls’—and quivering lips, and saying: “Oh, y’all, let’s promise never to forget each other, never, never, OK?” Now that’s how close we were!)
Like battle-scarred veterans we had been drawn together in a bond of unity and affection that . . . well . . . that only those who have been there can understand. You might say that in the crucible of adversity our young lives and minds and souls had been molded together into one beautiful being. And we all felt it. Sixty, you say? Yes, sixty bodies, perhaps. But only one heart! And that heart was set on NEW ORLEANS!
And we would not be denied!
We were angry! We were steamed! No, we were enraged! This time they had gone too far. After all, as one of our own number put it so forcefully: “Enough is enough already!” This we wouldn’t take lying down! We’d show them that they weren’t dealing with a bunch of kids! I mean, man, it’s like Chuck Berry said: “Anyway, we almos’ grone!” (For a video of Chuck Berry singing “Almost Grown” with scenes from the movie American Graffiti and lots of 1950s cars, click here.)
Nosir, this time we weren’t knuckling under. This time we would fight. We’d show them that our class motto wasn’t “Hard as nails, tough as bricks, Maggie Class of `56!” for nuthin’!
So, in anxious consultation we came to the unanimous decision that the best defense was a good offense. We would “hit `em where they live”! In other words, we would demonstrate! (Now you must remember that this was in 1956—nearly a decade before that type of student activity came into vogue, especially in small-town Arkansas.)
Pooling our awesome talents and resources, we hastily but deftly drew up our plan of attack and our signs (which amounted to about the same thing). I’ll never forget the punchy placard I myself carried—a scintillating bit of sarcasm from the reservoir of my limitless rapier-like wit: SOME TRIP, TILLAR ROADSIDE PARK! And they were all just that devastating. Staggers the imagination.
At noon, armed with our hand-printed “slings,” some dozen or so of us young Davids sallied forth to do battle with the Establishment Goliath. Like Joshua and the Children of Israel, seven times we marched around the bureaucratic “walls of Jericho.” We were followed by an ardent throng of well-wishers who voiced their approval and support with typically juvenile abandon. In short, although the enemy was too cowardly to make an appearance, we were labeled heroes, one and all, and enjoyed the accolades and adulation of the delighted crowd.
It was some time later that afternoon that we came to fully comprehend the strangely prophetic words earlier spoken by one adolescent sage by the name of Ben Thomas, to wit: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; go to the office, and you go alone.”
We went alone.
“Bring your signs and come to the office,” the directive stated simply.
Simply we complied.
In order to shield your sensibilities, I will not divulge what transpired at that moment of confrontation. Suffice it to say that “it was not a pretty picture.” But, thanks to our ingrained sense of fair play, we students manifested our warm spirit of magnanimity and forbearance in granting the administration’s impassioned plea that we seem to acquiesce to their request (so that they not suffer too great a loss of face before the younger pupils).
So, in order to protect the badly shaken authoritative image, and to preserve some semblance of law and order, we sacrificed our own desires in the interest of peace and harmony. We agreed to go to Petit Jean and not to New Orleans. The administration was so relieved and so appreciative!
I’ll never forget that trip. And I’m sure none of the others will either.
So, Patsy Mc, wherever you are, don’t worry. We haven’t forgotten. There are some things you never forget—no matter how hard you try.
Note: For another McGehee High School memory involving Patsy Mc and me from my earlier post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music,” click here. In the past few years Patsy Mc has provided several great links to 1950s memorabilia, especially music, movies, radio and TV shows, cars, etc. Here are a few you might enjoy:
1. To view a video of the Million Dollar Quartet, modern tribute artists who portray Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins in a now famous jam session together at Sun Records in Memphis, click here.
2. To view a video of memories from the past set to the music of “In the Still of the Night,” click here.
3. To view more scenes from the past set to 1950’s music and titled “It Was the 1950s,” click on this link.
4. To listen to oldies music from the 1950s to the 1980s, click on this link.
5. To listen to more 1950’s music, click on this link.
7. To listen to Christmas music from the 1950s, click here.
8. To view a video about old-time radio station KVSA in McGehee, Arkansas, click here.
To view a video of one of my favorite sentimental 1950’s songs that was played over and over at the dime store in McGehee where I worked in high school, still bringing back many memories, click here.
Many more old photos of McGehee can be viewed on Facebook at “McGehee AR I Grew Up There.” Click on the link and then on each photo to view the next one.
To read more about McGehee, Arkansas, in the 1950s and 60s from the blog site of the late Bill Stroud, a McGehee native and a veteran newspaperman, go to his blog entries titled “McGehee, AR in the 1950s,” “Where I Grew Up” and “Bringing Elvis Home to McGehee.”
First Anniversary Update on the Selma Methodist Church
This post marks the anniversary of the publication of my first regular weekly post on my blog (May 25, 2011), which was about the restoration and fundraiser for the historic Selma Methodist Church. (To read that first post titled “My Bucket-List Trip I: The Selma Methodist Church,” click here. To view photos from Joe Dempsey’s post about the church after it had been damaged by storms and just before its restoration process began, click here.)
On this occasion I am happy to report that according to Dorris Groom Watson, chair of the Selma Methodist Church restoration committee, the restoration process is now 95 percent complete! A dedication-fundraiser will be held sometime this fall at a date to be announced later on this blog and elsewhere.
In honor of this achievement I am posting here four photographs of the Selma Methodist Church, the first church I ever attended as a child, that have not been previously published on this blog. I believe they will provide a slightly different perspective on the church from the 1980s before the restoration process began about a year ago.
Incidentally, in this first year of my blog I have published fifty-two regular weekly posts with hundreds of photos, many comments, and more than ten thousand hits on it from more than thirty-five countries.
My thanks to everyone who has visited my blog and especially to those who encouraged me and helped me to launch it, like Mari, Patsy Mc, Joe Dempsey (who designed the blog and its art work), and so many others who have commented on it and complimented me about it.
I have already made up twenty-two new posts that I hope to be able to publish in the coming months, with enough material left over to carry it on a while longer.
May God’s richest blessing rub off on you and anyone else who ever clicks on to this blog which has helped me to get through a very difficult year thus far.