Talk about your deja vu moments.
I was eating the banquet meal at the recent Cotton Plant High School Get-Together that combines classes from way back when till they just don’t want to come anymore. That’s a weird way to describe the event, but that’s the way it is. It’s open to anyone who attended Cotton Plant High School from the beginning days and is open-ended. No one ever shows up from classes after the early 1970s, but they’re welcome all the same.
I digress. Back to the meal and the incident that mentally jarred me back to an earlier day.
Will Ellis May — who’s known in Memphis-Germantown circles as just plain “Will,” but will continue to be Will Ellis to those of us who grew up with him in Cotton Plant — was seated to my left. (Almost everyone from Cotton Plant had a double name in our childhood and youth; it’s why I always know before looking that “Hello, Lynda Lou” is from somone from Cotton Plant.) At the banquet, as is normal for me, I wasn’t eating everything on the plate.
I wasn’t raised with the “you have to clean your plate” philosophy that was the rule in my husband’s family, and most of the time I don’t do it. I certainly don’t if I don’t like what’s there and I try not to get overly full, which would have been the case in this situation had I indeed cleaned the plate. The meal catered by King Kat of Carlisle was delicious, but there was just more there than I could eat and still be able to move.
Anyway, I was chatting with folks gathered around the table when Will Ellis said, “Uh, Lynda, if you’re not going to eat that piece of fish, could I please have it?”
What memories that question evoked.
Growing up, during school events and particularly on church youth trips, Will Ellis and George Proctor made a habit of sitting on either side of me so they could eat off my plate. Will Ellis was a big eater, but it seemed that George had a bottomless pit for a stomach. No matter where we went, those two did their best to be my dinner companions.
“All we need is George,” I said to Will Ellis as I pushed my plate in his direction.
George was at his present home in San Francisco and couldn’t join those of us who gathered at the Brinkley Convention Center this year. Hopefully, he’ll be there when the event rolls around again in two years. My plate will be ready.
There’s not much left to the area where we gleaned much more than could be provided through books. In that once-thriving Southern town of caring, compassionate folks, we made lifelong friendships and learned about taking care of and respecting other people regardless of their station in life.
Most of our teachers walk with angels now, but “Miss” Mary Elizabeth King, our public school music teacher and my piano teacher for 12 years, is still around and participated in the reunion’s afternoon events.
When it was time for the cheerleaders to lead the singing of the fight songs and the alma mater, she was in her usual place on the piano bench alongside all of us. She’s an institution that never can be replaced and is one of many who helped shape my life and the lives of so many others.
In our school — and town — a kid knew for certain that there was no getting away with anything. If you were wise, you’d openly confess your transgressions to your parents because they probably already had been informed of your misdeeds before you got home.
Here’s a typical example of how everybody looked out for everybody else in those days.
There were three kids who played together all the time. I don’t remember all the details of this incident, but I do recall the main point. One of the three observed Nancy Whiteside turning a corner, and seemingly daring her to do something, rode his bicycle in front of her car and waved. Nancy swerved and managed to avert a tragedy, but stopped her car, got out, rushed over to the kid, jerked him up and spanked him on the spot.
“Don’t you ever do that again!” she said.
And don’t think it’d didn’t make an impression on the child. He later claimed he never considered repeating the action.
Probably in today’s litigious society, Nancy would have been sued. But it wasn’t that kind of day then, nor was it that kind of place. People took care of their own children as well as those of others they knew, and it was a great place to grow up.
The things I received from my childhood and youth in that charming community can’t be measured.
Oh, and by the way, Will Ellis didn’t stop with the fish filet on my plate. He also ate a piece of chicken and the few remaining hushpuppies.
The years may pass, but some things never change.
Lynda Hollenbeck is associate editor of the Courier.