By Lynda Hollenbeck
While folks with ties to Bauxite were renewing old friendships last weekend at the Bauxite Reunion, I was over in Eastern Arkansas picking up pieces of the past at the biannual Cotton Plant Get-together.
As far as I can tell, both events appear to be going strong.
The half-century event in my old stomping grounds hasn't died out in spite of the passing of many who once were a vital part of the experience. When I looked at the two pages of names on the memorial list of the program, it was even more surprising to see the number of those still carrying it forward. And toward the end of the 2013 event, it was announced that plans already are under way for the 2015 gathering.
That was good news for those of us who return every time to nurture the friendships that are still strong in spite of the time and distance that have separated us.
One of the neat events of the reunion is an old-fashioned assembly like the ones we used to have in school. This includes the pledge of allegiance, announcements, a prayer and patriotic and school songs.
Those of us who once cheered for the football team led the singing of fight songs and the alma mater, which was fun as well as nostalgic.
Our school music teacher for years and years â€” and who gave me and many others private piano instruction â€” has always accompanied our singing. Life isn't always kind, though, and "Miss" Mary Elizabeth wasn't physically able to do so this year, for the first time ever. She had made a recording of the school songs, so we still had her there electronically and, of course, in spirit.
The assembly traditionally closes with the singing of "Memories" by Jack Caperton. Like Joe Lee Richards in Saline County, Jack â€” more accurately known as "Little Jack," a nickname he acquired as the son of "Big Jack" and, after all, this is the South â€” earned the title of "The Singing Sheriff" after singing for hundreds of funerals and weddings throughout the county during his long reign as sheriff.
Since Miss Mary Elizabeth wasn't present and hadn't made a recording of that one, I had to move over onto the piano bench and take care of the accompaniment. It was an honor to sub for my old teacher, but I had to do so on a piano that had a non-working pedal â€” not the best way to shine when you're replacing an icon. Eventually, I figured out that I could use the piano's middle pedal â€” the one that sustains notes â€” to offset the problem. I think you call that improvising.
A Saturday night dance, as always, featured the music of Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers (including Cotton Plant's own Bobby Crafford on drums).
This is when my dancing feet get their every-other-year revitalization as I reconnect with my old dance buddies, particularly Freddy Gingerich, now of Dallas. Among our shared memories is the time we won the Coke dance on Little Rock's KTHV dance party, Steve's Show.
Freddy and I dance the way we always did â€” which is a rock 'n' roll push-style with lots of turns enhanced with a whole lot of enthusiasm. We do enjoy it.
Years ago my late spouse willingly withdrew from his valiant attempts at dancing to hand me over to Freddy and other old friends who grew up honing their dance styles on the patio at our homeplace in Cotton Plant.
Ed was as close to a perfect husband as anyone could be, but he had two left feet when they approached the dance floor and he, more than anyone, knew it.
A twist contest was included in the band's program. I chose not to participate in that â€” though I have been known to try the twist in previous times. As it turned out, I wouldn't have been any threat to anyone because 96-year-old Jimmy White was the runaway contestant.
This wasn't a be-kind-to-your-elderly-friends honor. He more than deserved it.
Toward the end of the activities, Polly Welch Swan, who was a few years ahead of me in school, gave this evaluation on the overall event: "People sometimes say that there's nothing left to Cotton Plant anymore, that it's nearly a ghost town. They just don't understand, though, that all of us who grew up here still love this place, and when we get back together, we sure do know how to throw a party."
And don't forget our "two movie stars," I reminded her.
"Remember, in Cotton Plant we had Joan Crawford and Roy Rogers."
How many places could boast of that?
Can't wait for 2015.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.