MARLBORO MUSINGS:  Forty Years?! No way!

Times flies.

Seems like it was just a couple years ago we were all worried about Y2K and computers crashing, leading to airplanes falling out of the sky, power grids shutting down, no access to food, fuel or cash, and a near-collapse of society. That was almost twenty years ago now.

Time is steady.

Days become weeks, then months. Months fade into years which slide into decades and, before you know it, there’s more time behind you than lies ahead.

Time is precious.

No matter how much you save or spend, how much comes or goes, how much you lose or find, invest or waste, we’re all limited to just a relatively few orbits around the sun, and that’s it. And the clock never stops; there are no time-outs.

And Time is us.

Our time on Earth is basically what defines who we are, the mark we make on the world or lives we touch, and what we leave behind. We all eventually become known by what we did “in our time”. Time is the paper upon which we write the history of our lives; the parchment that preserves and provides the context to all the memories that we collect and treasure so dearly throughout the course of our days.

And many of those old memories have come flooding back lately as I’ve been fortunate to be part of a small group planning for a 40th (or so) reunion of the 1975, ’76, and ’77 Green Gremlin classes of the old Bennettsville High School later this year.

Four decades. Wow. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I walked that stage at Carroll Field that Friday evening, grabbed that diploma, and headed to Myrtle Beach, per tradition.

Where did all the time go? And how did I get so old, so quickly? I realize fifty-seven’s not ancient; it’s not even retirement age. But it used to be that, as far as I was concerned, someone in their late 50’s was a dinosaur.

What I’ve learned though is that it’s the age when you wake up to find out what either fell off or out, started hurting, or quit working during the night. It’s also when you hit AARP’s sweet spot and they start pounding your mailbox with offers of enrollment. You also begin to develop strange new habits, such as beginning to wonder what’s for dinner at 4:00 instead of 10:00, and you catch yourself regularly complaining about “these kids today”.

Of course, me and my life wasn’t the only thing that changed. Back in my senior year, 1977, a gallon of gas was 65 cents and the average annual salary was $15,000. I saw Jimmy Buffett in concert that summer sing his big hit “Margaritaville” for six Coke bottle caps and the price of admission to Carowinds. Today Buffett is one of the richest musicians on the planet with a Margaritaville empire worth half a billion – with a “B” – including restaurants, CDs, DVDs, every imaginable form of merchandise available, and is currently building his first retirement community, “Latitude Margaritaville,” a $1 billion development near Daytona. Tickets for his upcoming show in Charleston in May are being scalped for over $1,000. Each.

Yeah, things have changed a bit. Guess Jimmy altered course from that “growing older but not up” approach he used to sing about, eh? It appears he did indeed make out like a pirate in the end. Me, on the other hand, kinda liked that calypso poet concept and, never having gotten married – plus having lived at last count in over twenty different places, including the Caribbean for a while — went all in on adventure. And some contend it’s possible I’m still enjoying my senior year of high school, for that matter. Hard to argue, I suppose – and I sure didn’t miss much.

But I have missed some things, like old friends, and I know I’ll be glad to see all of those old faces from my youth this fall. And I can’t wait to catch up with all that they have done since high school, to learn about kids and grand-kids and jobs and promotions and such. But I most eagerly anticipate reliving some of the olden days, telling tales of days from our youth, reliving those memories with the ones who helped me make them.

Like celebrating the blemish-free perfect season my senior year Gremlin football team put together back in the fall of 1976. Of course, it wasn’t the good kind of perfect because the “0” was on the wrong side of the dash. You see, we didn’t go undefeated; nope, we went winless…0 – 10. Our season was perfectly pristine, completely untarnished by victory. And most of our games weren’t even close.

Truth is, by the time we got three or four games into the season, we pretty well knew that we weren’t a very good team and weren’t going to do very well. But man did we know how to have fun. More than anything I recall the laughs we had much more than the down times, like when one of my teammates got up from a tackle and his helmet had turned and one eye was looking out the earhole. Or someone taking a good lick and not really knowing which huddle to go back to.

But we did have one flash of fire in our bellies, our homecoming game against Andrew Jackson, when we won the toss, elected to receive, and Patrick Bingham, aka “PJ”, ran the opening kickoff back for a score. Thirty seconds in and we’re up 7-0 and the fans were going nuts. Maybe we shouldn’t have ticked them off, though because that fire was quickly extinguished and two hours later the scoreboard showed a score of 63 – 7, and Andrew Jackson’s running back was later named the Charlotte Observer SC Player of the Week for running for like 315 yards against us, half of them with me riding on his back from my safety position.

Looking back now, I think you can pretty easily tell by the comments from the football team in the yearbook when asked about playing for the Gremlins – “it was something to do in the afternoon”, “it was fun to go to the Dairy Dream after games” – that we weren’t exactly the most motivated gridiron group.

All I know is that I got my glory as a wide receiver late against St. Johns when I put a stutter-step double juke move worthy of Hunter Renfrow on an overweight and probably JV third-string defensive back, then outran him on a post pattern and had a pass bounce off my shoulder pads and fall into my hands as I stumbled into the end zone. Touchdown! I’m in the books, boys.

I think we most likely could have played a lot better had we not been so so concerned about the Jimmy Carter/Gerald Ford presidential race, which was also taking place that fall, and which, in hindsight, I feel was probably a real distraction to us. By the way, want to buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

Circumstances surrounding that presidential contest could have also been the reason behind whatever got Martha Miller and myself held for detention one warm fall day, leading us to have to make that long walk along Cheraw Street back to our respective homes – something my mother still teases me about every once in a while.

But the truth is it was probably something Martha did that I was just innocently caught up in. She was bad about that kind of thing.

All told, though, we had a great class, and it’s been fun planning for the reunion and revisiting those old days and enjoying recollections of folks, some of whom we’ve lost over the passage of time. And that makes my memories of them and the times we shared all the more special. Because they gave me a piece of themselves; they gave me their time.

The best gifts we can ever receive are not bought from a store, but instead are the memories we make with the people we love and care about. And they’re the one thing in our lives that will never change. What a blessing.

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