Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Midsummer 2011

I particularly prefer the summer season, even though the solstice brings shorter days afterward.

Softball season is enjoyable, even in the heat. We practice during the day once or twice before playing games to acclimatize ourselves to the 95 degrees we can expect at game time after work, and the season seems to end just when I've gotten used to playing again after a nine month hiatus. It's our nineteenth season and most on the team only began playing with us this year. Learning to all play together with many new people has been both a challenge and a pleasure. Amber was three years old when she started coming to our games, and began playing with us ten seasons ago -- now our most experienced team member except for the coach. In two weeks, the season will end too quickly when we've all had so much fun.

High school reunion season is over and it was a good one. It was nice to see so many people I hadn't seen in at least ten years, and a few attended who hadn't previously been to one of our reunions. My original camping buddy Rodney came to the reunion and we caught up more on old times than we had in years.

In late Summer 1979, Rodney and I undertook a series of camping adventures centered around bonfire parties at Moore Lake and Silver Lake in southwest Tallahassee. College kids and even Leon County's then-Sheriff Ken Katsaris would gather and party around a huge fire on weekend nights and it was good clean fun. Rodney and I had been to a couple of parties and decided to camp out after the next one. We didn't even bring a tent. We brought a couple of sleeping bags and his white station wagon known for its breakdowns, but not when we were camping, and two quail his mom Joanna had given us to roast, and we started early. We cooked the birds over a fire, ate dinner and then went to the party, which lasted well into the night, and then we just spread out our sleeping bags on the ground and crashed for the night.

It was such fun, we told our friends, and soon several of us were going camping every weekend unless it rained. We would pick up interesting things along the way to add to the campfire, from friends or in trash piles by the side of the road. A giant rocking horse and a plastic pinball machine are the most memorable combustibles, besides the bicycle, which we found ablaze when we arrived. Perhaps smoldering would be the better word, which I might be using to stretch the story a bit, as we were asked quite clearly about it by officials and the bike's owner the next morning. They seemed dubious when we told them, "We found it burning when we got here." At the very least, the bike was in poor shape when we found it at our campsite, but by morning, there wasn't much of it left.

Rodney said, "Mitch, we shouldn't call it 'camping' -- we should say we are 'going burning.'" Rodney grew up to be a firefighter. 

During our last primitive family camping trip, our old second tent began letting in rain, so I bought one of those new Coleman instant tents last week. I am hoping to go camping one more time this year and see whether it really sets up in ninety seconds. We don't bring bicycles.

The kids and I drove to the coast for sun, salt water and sand twice this summer and I am hoping for one more visit with them before "winter" -- those three or four non-consecutive weeks between January and March during which frost threatens at the Tallahassee Municipal Airport, but not at our house.

After softball, the Halloween season begins more in earnest for me, though I am more prepared at this point in time for October than in many years previously. If I heard of a costume contest this weekend, I could be ready.

I am planning to spend a few days with friends in Orlando before Fall, and Donna and I have a cruise trip to the Bahamas planned with Godby High School alumni in January, but I know that all too soon, I will be reminiscing about the crazy busy and fun days of this summer, and looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

High School Reunion XXX Part 2

(Continued from High School Reunion XXX)

It began 8:00 pm Friday evening at Harry's Seafood Bar & Grille, and the weather was foreboding.

Marty and Roger had been talking about meeting at Barnaby's Pizza on Apalachee Parkway for dinner before Harry's for a few days and I joined them about 6:15 pm. I was driving 45 miles per hour heading east on the Parkway towards Barnaby's and wondering how best to return the pictures Debbie had given me to scan months earlier, when I saw Debbie driving a truck in the lane next to me. We both arrived at Barnaby's at the same time and I returned her photos.

Barnaby's Pizza on North Monroe Street, Highway 27, was a popular hang-out after high school football games when we were younger and before it closed years ago, so the one on the Parkway was a good place to meet. I had not been to Barnaby's in over twenty years. I caught up with Marty, Roger, Tina, Mary, Debbie and several others for about an hour and ate one slice of pepperoni pizza, which tasted exactly as I remembered it.

I drove back west to Harry's on South Bronough Street downtown. We were expecting eighty guests and we weren't disappointed. It was rainy and occasionally drizzling at times, so Harry's moved our outdoor party indoors and we caroused in the main lounge area for the next few hours drinking and consuming creole shrimp, fondue, chicken wings and fried green tomatoes. Several people from our class didn't show that night, but several from other class years we didn't expect to see came to our reunion at Harry's Friday night. Joey at Harry's did an excellent job keeping our comestibles supplied and they dedicated servers Brittney and Sarah to our group. Everyone had a great time and Harry's closed for the evening shortly after we all left.

I rose at 6:30 am Saturday and first went to work before returning home and picking up my grandsons Dylan and Gabriel to go to the 11 am - 2 pm picnic in the Godby High School courtyard. We brought Fruit Punch Gatorade and went to Publix on Ocala Road for chicken and potatoes for lunch, and after we arrived to Godby, I was able to convince the boys to hold off on other activities until after lunch.

Chris from Godby's custodial services opened up the school gates, guidance office and the Jeff Bradford auditorium for us. As rain was expected all Saturday, he also graciously opened the cafeteria building for us. Fifteen minutes after we arrived it really began to rain, and we had a decent though diminished turnout for lunch. David, Cindy, Karen, Marian, Carol, Danny, Maureen and others brought their spouses and children. My grandsons and several other children delighted in hunting lizards on the school's grounds, and Gabriel later declared it to have been the "best picnic ever."

Photo of Dylan by Geralyn

I brought Dylan and Gabriel home and went back to work in the afternoon, and then went to the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center an hour before the banquet started at 7:00 pm.

As we held our reunion, the final flight of the United States' Space Shuttle program was in progress. Atlantis landed safely this morning, heralding an end to US-led manned space flight, forty-two years to the day after Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walked on the moon. Rest in peace, Gramps.

I watched the first space shuttle, Enterprise (named by President Gerald Ford after the starship, thanks to a letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans), land in Tulsa Oklahoma live on television in 1977, and vividly recall being amazed that its landing gear didn't even open until the Orbiter was almost at ground level. I thought they would have at least tested the landing gear early on its first landing. I remembered this during the final moments of preparation before the banquet began Saturday, because 1) it had been at least three weeks since the reunion planning committee last met, and 2) some of the evening's planned events were sight unseen and unrehearsed. Just like the shuttle's landing, all came together as expected right near show time and went superbly well.

Alvin registered for the reunion on Friday and agreed to do Saturday night's invocation.

Marty and Roger prepared several slide shows over many months which incorporated highlights from our senior yearbook and events of the time with then and now photos of classmates, set to music provided by and with input from Paul, John and Troy, and Gary brought his sound system and played their music.

Our banquet's program keepsake had only been finalized in draft form as many details came together a week before the reunion. Maureen worked tirelessly on it into more than a few early mornings and the final product was very highly regarded. Glenn and Maureen checked in our guests on Saturday night, handing out name tags, collecting money from late registrants, giving out drink and door prize tickets, and soliciting signatures for Bill Montford's card from the Class of 1981.

Danny and Susan transcribed the stack of our classmates' submitted biographical information for publication. Gary's wife Michelle taped together the photos that Roger had produced from input from everyone to make table centerpieces. Karen brought balloons for decoration and did the evening's opening welcome and introduction. Renita was with us since the beginning and attended the first committee meeting, and supplied all the contact information we had from our reunion ten years ago, and brought the Godby banner we've been displaying at previous reunions. Phyllis handled the service encounter and planning for Friday night at Harry's, and on Saturday night followed a solemn recitation of the names of all our deceased classmates with a moment of silence and a candle lighting ceremony in their honor. The candle remained lit throughout the entire evening on a table with a list of our departed friends' names.

I gave an update from the Association of Godby Graduates and recognized how well the AGG was represented at the reunion, with both Class of 1981 AGG Hall of Fame inductees present, and two-thirds of the executive committee including both Roger and myself were in attendance. Roger had only recently been elected vice president of the AGG for 2012, and will procedurally become president of the AGG in 2013.

We feasted on chicken and roast beast, garden salad including cheese and fresh strawberries, scalloped potatoes, fried rice and vegetables, and assorted desserts and ice cream. We had a dance floor and cash bar, and every guest received a ticket for a domestic beer or house wine upon arrival. We all signed a card that we produced for our principal while we were there, now Florida Senator Bill Montford, but he wasn't able to come. We invited numerous teachers, but only Michele was able to attend, and we presented her with the gift of a "juicy apple" candle set.

Dave came to the reunion, who I hadn't seen in thirty-one years.
Photo by Roger

My original camping buddy Rodney, now a firefighter in Atlanta, came to the reunion and reminded me that I don't see him often enough.
Photo by Roger

When the banquet at the Civic Center ended, we announced that the party was moving to the Level 8 lounge at Hotel Duval downtown, and most of us went there after the banquet, where Rodney and I stayed until 2 am before leaving, ending my twenty-hour day. After an 11 am Sunday church service at the Family Worship and Praise Center at 1609 Branch Street, our 1981 classmates dispersed again out into the world until a later date, after a weekend to be much remembered by all.

Photo by Roger

Thursday, July 14, 2011

High School Reunion XXX

It has been thirty years since I graduated from Godby High School in Tallahassee, and our class reunion begins tomorrow.

Twenty years ago, we met at the now closed Silver Slipper Restaurant, and ten years ago, we met where we are meeting Saturday night, at the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center. We are having a social at Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille downtown Friday night, and a picnic at the Godby courtyard on Saturday before the banquet at the Civic Center.

In 2001, Marty and I made an alumni slide show which was well-received by our classmates and their guests.

Technological and multimedia improvements in the last ten years will be sure to enrich this reunion.

I am saddened that we have lost so many classmates already. We have prepared a special tribute for them.

We would have liked to see more classmates come to the reunion, but feel we did our best to facilitate attendance by as many as possible, including attendees from other class years.
The reunion planning committee has been meeting and working for more than a year. Our very first initiative to contact everyone was a good one, and even after thirty years, we located 75% of our living classmates. Many helped us find others, and popular social networking sites were key in both finding classmates, and in greatly reducing the amount of times that the committee needed to meet in person. A few of our committee members never met with us and did a great job.

I have served on the reunion planning committee since we began, and met or re-met a lot of classmates and teachers -- those who could not attend, and all we are expecting to see this weekend. Many, many thanks to all we worked with: Danny, Debra, Gary, Glenn, John, Karen, Marty, Maureen, Paul, Phyllis, Renita, Roger, Susan and Troy. We have spent a lot of time together, especially long hours and late evenings these past few weeks, and I am looking forward to a party weekend!

(Continued in High School Reunion XXX Part 2)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Independence Day 2011

I took the day off Friday to have my 1998 Toyota Corolla serviced, as it will soon reach 90,000 miles.

For the Fourth of July weekend, the kids and I went camping at Flo and Mark's Tallahassee East KOA Campground at Exit 225 on Interstate 10. Unlike some of our previous primitive camping expeditions, we stayed in an air-conditioned cabin while temperatures neared 100, and swam in the campground pool and fished in the pond.

Flo and Mark do not sell beer or bait, but advise that their fish will eat almost anything that campers will, especially bread and hot dogs. Campground staff are friendly and eager to help and they serve complimentary breakfast. Firewood is $10 a load for the fire rings in front of each cabin. KOA Campground postcards are free, and a table and display stand just inside the main building's front door proclaim all local area attractions. Inside and in back of the building is a large living room area with a caged canary, pool table, jukebox, television, and books and board games. A spacious laundromat is attached, and long term storage units are located next door. The restrooms are as nice as any I've ever seen, including a superlative men's room with cushioned bench, green plants and framed art.

Dylan and Gabriel caught several fish and a baby water moccasin snake, which was the talk of the campground by evening. With the exception of a few families staying in the permanent cabins, there seemed to be only long-term campground residents still around for the heat of early summer, but there were plenty of children to amuse ours. Caleb spent hours in the pool and was very happy.

The most excitement I had was while at the pool watching an enterprising young toddler push her little sister in a Little Tikes Police car out of the playground and into the camp driveway with a parent running behind to catch up. Although the Interstate is visible from the campsites, there is a tall fence that protected us from the highway and they were in no real danger. The campground is a two-mile drive from the Interstate exit along a paved road that roughly parallels the highway, and at the corner of the immediate turn to the campground is the Sardis United Methodist Church and cemetery, and I idly wondered how many campground residents are interred there.

The pool was open until 10 pm, but no one asked us to leave, and we swam until 10:30 before walking around and visiting with the kids. We met Herman and his son from nearby Monticello, and Herman has been out of work for two years. We met a couple with several children who had just picked up their children from Florida Diabetes Camp and were staying at the KOA Campground on their way to Yogi Bear's Jellystone Campground in Madison, just over 30 miles away. We met a woman and her children from Hawaii, en route from visiting the children's grandfather to their great-grandfather, and she was attempting to re-hang the left eye of the campground's "face" on a tree. We located another camper with a pliers who was able to do the job.

We were home by July 4th and enjoyed a nice neighborhood fireworks show.

On Tuesday, July 5th, we all went out into the back yard at 9:15 pm to watch the International Space Station swiftly fly by.