Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New Horizons

The long-awaited day had finally arrived.

Every May as long as I could remember,  I had ridden with my parents to the school auditorium, located in the old red brick elementary building in my small community. I had watched as cap-and-gowned eighteen year olds had marched down the aisles to the sounds of a local pianist playing Pomp and Circumstance on the school’s black grand piano. I had dreamed of the day I would experience this enormous rite of passage myself ~ and that day was finally here.

Our entire senior year was filled with those once-in-a-lifetime moments.  For my class, preparations for graduation actually began the year before, as we purchased and began wearing our Senior rings. We had been doing fundraisers our entire high school career, working toward funding the Senior Trip, but as we ended our Junior year the momentum increased.

We met to make such important decisions as class motto, class flower, class colors ~ decisions so momentous that the only choice I remember is the class colors of Blue and White! We researched and voted on the location for our Senior Trip, a dude ranch near New Braunfels, Texas. (We also voted on three lucky teacher/sponsors to accompany us on said trip, which was undeniably the highlight of their lives!)

Each season during the year of a high school senior brings a heart-gripping wrench as they realize it is the very last time they will ever experience certain events: one’s last football season, basketball season, band competition, livestock show, awards banquet, UIL competition. All those experiences are coming to an end. And while most high school seniors are chomping at the bit to be free and get on with their lives, there is that sobering realization that everything is about to change. In our case, there were about a dozen of us in a class of forty-two seniors who had attended twelve years of school together. We each had plans following graduation—plans that would take us in many different directions, separated for the first time in our lives. Our small town was the only community most of us had known. The world outside Petersburg, Texas loomed large—simultaneously exciting and frightening.

Our last days together as a group culminated in the Senior Trip, taken shortly before graduation. We felt carefree and light as we boarded our chartered bus with our sponsors and headed to the Texas Hill Country. We laughed, reminisced, played, pulled pranks, and mostly thought of little except those few days of unencumbered, stress-free fun before life turned serious again.

A few days later, on our graduation day in May of 1966, the Mamas and the Papas were singing Monday, Monday while OUR Mamas and Papas were either singing the blues or singing Hallelujah, depending on the level of trouble we had caused them. Our Class of ’66, however, was perhaps remembering the lyrics to our class song from 8th Grade Graduation: “I see a new horizon; my life has only begun.” *

I remember driving myself to the school that warm May afternoon, since we had to arrive early to dress and rehearse one more time. I parked in the empty parking lot, glancing at the sky while potential thunderclouds gathered, and felt a surreal sense that I was actually about to step into a brand new phase of my life—a life that I sensed would not always be sunny and clear but might at times be clouded by dark, difficult days.

As I carried in my clothes, I thought of my mother and me, carefully choosing my graduation dress to be worn underneath the long traditional gown. My dress was white, fashionably hemmed to just above my knees. There was a lace overlay on the bodice, a gathered skirt, and a baby blue sash around the waist. I would wobble down the aisle in white high heels as well, my brown hair styled in a sixties “flip” underneath the mortarboard cap. Uppermost in my mind was not what my college major was going to be, or what career I would choose. I was mostly anxious that I make it across the stage to accept my diploma without tripping or otherwise embarrassing myself!

My parents, grandmother, and some aunts and uncles would be on hand to applaud for me and wish me well. I had already received many graduation gifts and cards from people who had known me all my life and wanted to acknowledge this momentous occasion.

I did, indeed, manage an uneventful stroll across the stage that night. Along with my fellow students, I listened dutifully to the speaker as he addressed our future decisions and potential accomplishments. While I don’t remember details, I vaguely recall hearing his challenge to make the most of our days, and soberly took his words to heart.

But here is what I wish I had heard . . . what I needed to hear and understand that night: every decision you make has consequences. 

The students who are graduating from high school and college this spring, fifty-one years later, are hearing similar words of wisdom spoken from podiums across our land. Most of those students will barely hear the words, so intent are they on rushing headlong into the next phase of their lives. Our class of ’66 was no different. But oh, how I wish this girl had thought more carefully about not just walking across the stage without tripping, but about taking deliberate, steady steps in life. 

I am currently enamored of a book written by Lysa Terkeurst entitled The Best Yes. In describing how to make the best decisions for our lives, she states in chapter six that "Today's choices become tomorrow's circumstances." I like that. She continues by quoting a passage from Andy Stanley's The Principle of the Path

     "The direction you are currently traveling--relationally, financially, spiritually, and the list goes on and on--will determine where you end up in each of those respective arenas. This is true regardless of your goals, your dreams, your wishes, or your wants. The principle of the path trumps all those things.
     Your current direction will determine your destination. And like every principle, you can leverage this one to your advantage or ignore it to your disadvantage. Just as there are paths that have led us to places we never intended to be, there are paths that lead us away from those places as well."

For those of us in the class of ’66, there is no way to undo all our historic bad decisions. Most of us made mistakes and poor decisions that didn’t seem very significant at the time. However, in different ways, some of us are still living with the repercussions of many of those choices today. But it’s not too late for us to make better choices in this final stretch of our lives. And just maybe, we can influence our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to make more prudent choices ~ choices that honor their own moral values, that weigh the consequences of their decisions, and that align with the path that takes them where they want to go. It’s not impossible to choose well, but it does take discipline and the strength for delayed gratification.

Do the young people in your life a favor and let them know that yes, they CAN wait for the right things, be people of integrity, and make honorable decisions. They have within themselves the ability to be grownups and make tough, responsible decisions. Let them know you love them and have confidence in their ability to choose well. And though the tune may sound ancient to them, maybe they will hum a little of Beyond the Blue Horizon on their own.

* "Beyond the Blue Horizon" is a 1930 song composed by Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting, and W. Franke Harling. Jeanette MacDonald introduced the song in the film Monte Carlo.

Judy Martin Bowyer, Copyright 2017

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hats Off to the Museum

Last Friday, I was privileged to speak at the Texas Tech Museum Association luncheon as they celebrated a current exhibit at the museum appropriately named "Hats and Purses and Shoes...Oh My!" Approximately ninety women gathered, many dressed in hats and attire from eras long past, to view the exhibit and hear my memories of shopping in Lubbock, Texas in the 1950s.

In an attempt to describe the event, the first phrase that ran through my mind this morning was this old description, once seen in newspaper accounts of ladies' gatherings in the 40s and 50s: "a good time was had by all." Poor grammatical structure to be sure, but I think it adequately describes the level of excitement in the Helen DeVitt Jones Sculpture Court at the Tech Museum that day.

While I recalled incidents from my own shopping excursions as a youngster, and shared pictures of former stores and merchandise from that era, the ladies themselves reminisced and shared tales. Some told of working at Hemphill-Wells department store during its golden days, others recalled owning Mouton coats, riding the bus to downtown Lubbock to shop, eating at the tea room in Hemphill's, and of the city's power brokers who dined there. The excitement of shared memories warmed the room, and most left with smiles on their faces. Jouana Stravlo (Tech Association Executive Administrator) and Gretchen Scott (Volunteer Chair of the Association Resource Committee) joined forces with the museum’s curator of Clothing and Textiles, Dr. Marian Ann Montgomery, and the museum’s Executive Director, Dr. Gary Morgan, to create a memorable luncheon.

The excellent meal catered by Top Tier, lovely table decorations designed by Jouana Stravio and her assistant Natalie, along with the special display of old hat boxes from the museum’s collection, set the tone for the day.

The exhibit itself is enlightening: there was an elegance attached to many of the ladies' accessories that hinted of a West Texas mindset I have observed my entire life.

We women who grew up on the Texas South Plains came from hardy pioneer stock, to be sure. My own ancestors homesteaded here in the late 1800s when life was very tough, and it took hard work and perseverance to survive. Yet there was a lively spirit, a sense of joy, and a love of things beautiful that was evident even then. Those pioneer women designed colorful quilts, crafted lovely household furnishings, and stitched dress-up attire for themselves and their families. My own experience testifies to the fact that in the 1950s, we were not just the daughters of farmers, or cotton gin managers, or school teachers. We had a sense of style and wanted beautiful things despite the rugged landscape and plain views surrounding us everyday.

The museum exhibit displayed some of the most elaborate shoes, handbags, and hats you can imagine--items that would seem to be most out of place here. Imagine holding onto a wide-brimmed hat in our gusty West Texas wind, or walking across muddy dirt farm roads in high heels to get to the car on a rainy Sunday morning. A common memory of school days in the 50s for me includes wearing dresses to school no matter how cold or windy it might be. We recently laughed during my high school reunion at the days of marching band practice as we tried to remember our half-time routine while playing our instrument, trying to read our music that flapped in the wind from the flimsy music holder, while at the same time attempting to keep our full skirts from blowing up to reveal unmentionables. That experience in itself typifies the West Texas can-do spirit!

The Tech museum exhibit typifies all of those elements of society from a by-gone era: the eternal need of women to look lovely and fashionable, paired with a practicality borne out of the necessity of living in a place hundreds of miles from the nearest well-known fashion and culture centers.

We were too remote from the Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, or Oklahoma City standard bearers of culture, so we had to create our own. Stores like Hemphill-Wells gave us our own little slice of culture and dignity, and how we ladies grasped at anything of beauty and grace to which we might cling!

If you live in the Lubbock area, take a few minutes to visit the museum to view the exhibit. The museum is located at 3301 4th Street and this particular exhibit will be on view until January 15 in Gallery 7 just off the Helen DeVitt Jones Auditorium. The Tech Museum is doing an outstanding job keeping our local culture alive, and preserving the memories of what it has always meant to be a West Texan.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

50th Class Reunion

“Remember the time on the band trip to Oklahoma and we girls ended up hiding some of the freshmen boys in our room so the band director didn’t catch them wandering on the girls’ side of the hotel?”

“I recall one of the times I got in trouble was a summer night when a couple of us were walking the streets of Petersburg and lost track of time; our parents were on the verge of calling the sheriff when we finally arrived home.”

“Can you remember how silly we were, buying a pack of Winstons  ‘for my uncle’ and driving out to a country road where we could smoke and not be found out?”

“Remember the time I took the car without asking while my parents were out of town for the day ~ I took a corner too fast and slid into a muddy ditch at the edge of town. Had to walk to somebody’s house and call my dad—things were kinda frosty at home that night!”

“There was that time we all drove up and down Main Street the last day of school, having water balloon fights to celebrate the beginning of summer.”

Anecdotes like these will abound when we have our 50th Class Reunion one month from now. While we were a small class from a small high school in a small town (small wonder we have managed to stay in touch with each other!), we made up for our smallness with a lot of heart. Many of us grew up together and sat through twelve years of public education side by side. We went to Sunday school together, suited up to play high school sports in the same locker room, marched in band together through snow and West Texas sandstorms, and dragged Main in our second-hand cars throughout high school, racking up countless miles but going nowhere. We joined forces through 4-H projects, FFA livestock judging competitions, FHA meetings, three act plays, band practice, and countless athletic events.
Go, Buffs!

Most of our parents were able to spare the time to be room mothers, PTA volunteers, and band boosters. They supported us with hours of their time, waiting in the car for us to finish band practice or following the football bus to yet another out-of-town game. They bought Girl Scout cookies, FHA bake sale items, and Christmas trees to fund our Senior Trip.

Our teachers were a hardy lot, working long hours for low pay to put up with our cocky attitudes and rebellious streaks as we made our way through adolescence. By and large, they were willing to see past the childish pranks and hormone-driven drama to the potential buried in each of us. Determined to save us from ourselves, they persevered until we had safely walked across that stage and grasped the diploma that certified we were ready for adulthood (whether we really were or not).

Few of our parents are still around to see us pass this milestone, but a handful of our teachers are, and some of them will be at the reunion to reminisce with us. We have all gone our separate ways these last fifty years. Marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, careers, successes, failures, joys and grief have all been parts of our collective journey. We may be very amazed to reconnect next month and hear what diverse paths we have traveled after having had such a commonality in our childhood.

As teenagers, we judged our value by the following:

·      we were popular in high school (whatever that meant)
·      we made the honor roll
·      we got more detentions than anyone in the class
·      we put the most points on the scoreboard, or warmed the benches instead
·      we made a career as an attorney standing in the courtroom or we spent our years working for the Sanitation department . . .

None of those benchmarks define who we are today. They may indicate how we responded to the pressures we faced, or what decisions we made based on what was expected of us. We may have made life decisions because of our own faulty view of our capabilities or who we thought we were. Who we are where it counts ~ the way we treat others, how much kindness and generosity we extend to our family and friends, and whether we are fulfilling what God created us to do ~ that is what defines us.

Put aside any uncertainty, timidity, or insecurity to which you might cling, and make your plans to attend the PHS Class of ’66 Reunion.  Come remember the youngsters we were fifty years ago. Plan to laugh a lot. Celebrate the remarkable upbringing and education that our families, our school, and our community provided for us to make our start in life.

We want to see your face on the weekend of August 19-20! 

This replica of the little car I drove in high school sure brings back memories!