A Downhome Perspective on All Things Southern
Intended to be Humorous but Became Much too Serious
by Sharman Burson Ramsey
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
It was a crisp fall Friday night at Rip Hughes Stadium. The lights shone brightly on the emerald gridiron. I stood behind my megaphone at attention while a local minister prayed over the PA system. Rodney and Bradley Dennis, band leaders, directed the band to stand. The band began to play the “Star Spangled Banner” and Miss Essie Mae Smitherman’s voice rang out over the sound system into the cool clear night. While we all stood, the band continued playing and we sang the Alma Mater. I remember thinking, “Remember this. This is one perfect moment.” My heart filled. I looked up at the crowds and then up at the sky and whispered, “Thank you, God.”
At the same time, half a world away, a young American
evaded the Viet Cong and the glaring sun in a rice paddy in
On the CBS evening news, violent images blazed into our living rooms nightly on our color television sets. Walter Cronkite cited body counts.
The guys in our class turned 18 and signed up for the draft. Fifty-eight thousand American lives were lost out in a war most Americans did not understand why we were fighting.
Forty years later, Katie Couric on the CBS nightly news
shows a young American half a world away evading Alkaida operatives in the
blazing sun in a desert in
And the beat goes on.
We were sheltered in a class that remained white and the only drugs we knew about were nicotine and alcohol. They were used mainly by guys that wore black leather jackets. Girls that “did it” with guys did not brag about it but feared the consequences…pregnancy and early marriage…ostracism. Contraceptives were not handed out…or discussed…in school. And abortions were illegal, back street, and dangerous.
Essie Mae Smitherman told us in our Biology class that the developing embryo mimics the evolutionary process in its development. “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” in the developing fetus, she said. Using that reasoning, it’s just tissue, not a real human…yet… Four years later abortion was legalized with Roe v. Wade.
Technology is fast changing our perspective on abortion. When one can see into the womb and see an embryo avoid a probe or get a 3 D ultrasound of the fetus sucking its thumb, we can relate to this as another human being. As Schweitzer put it…”Life that wants to live.”
And the beat goes on.
Our high school years were a time of awakening.
That first day of my sophomore year, I walked down the hall of Dothan High School behind two pair of the broadest shoulders I had ever seen. I surmised Young Junior must grow bigger guys than Girard. I mentioned this to my mother and she said they must be corn fed. Hmm. Those shoulders belonged to Woody Garner and Dennis Ray Clark. They took up the entire width of the corridor. Indeed, until that point I don’t think I ever noticed guys shoulders. But these were truly memorable, even today forty years later.
And then there was Milton Carter with his bone-melting blue eyes who surveyed the world in a Cool Hand Luke sort of way and strode with a James Dean swagger. Yet, his twin brother, Myron with eyes very nearly as blue drew you in with a Mel Gibson William Wallace type of confidence and a megawatt smile. Here was a leader of men. One to lead an army of Scots.
My best friend Karen Jackson and I watched basketball with intensity. We decided we preferred basketball over football because of the tight shorts the guys wore. Mike Brown and Sammy Smith wore those shorts the best, we decided. Karen married Sammy right out of college. Mike we merely appreciated from afar. Twenty years and one male midlife crisis later her marriage became a statistic in the 50% of marriages that end in divorce.
Elsie Allen typecast me as a vestal virgin in the Latin Club fashion show. Fortunately, I met a guy with compelling dimples and an evil sense of humor who believed it was easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. I married him. We’re still married.
Perhaps there is a deeper message here. Dimples and a sense of humor remain when the tight buns are gone.
The Pill brought with it something called sexual liberation. Unbound by potential unwanted pregnancies sex became recreational and people began having “relationships” unburdened by commitment. Sex roles blurred. Sexual diseases became an epidemic. What started out as a quest for the real meaning of life, “Make love, not War,” got lost in experimentation and wound up in a loneliness and alienation that has led to a lost “War on Drugs.” All because liberty became license during our generation.
Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain.
September 1965, the first day of my high school career, my vigorous, tall, handsome, well-respected father drove my across-the-street neighbor Skip Miskell and me to the front door of the high school. He smiled encouragingly at me as I stepped out of the car, knowing my anxiety. His brown eyes warmed as he said to me, “Daddy loves you, baby.” And then he drove off to see an office full of patients.
Today he sits in the home he built nearly sixty years ago thinking it is a motor court and the house across the street is a honkey tonk with a stable behind it. Women in red bathing suits parade across Mark Andrews’ roof (once Excel Watson’s roof) next door. At least it is entertaining to a man with macular degeneration who has lost his ability to take those medical tests he continued for years after retiring or drive the Cadillac that sits outside the window where he can see it. He begs to “go home.” Yet he knows me and misses me when I am not there to visit him. His eyes warm when he sees me and he smiles a gap tooth smile because his bridges no longer fit and he is too weak to go to a dentist. And no one makes house calls to the doctor who delivered three babies the night he married…in their homes.
He and my mother continue to live for each other. Whenever I leave, he says, “Daddy loves you, baby,” and I feel guilty. He gave me so much and I give so little and yet he still loves me.
This is a sandwich time of life. The joys of children and grandchildren compete with the guilt over not spending more time with aging parents. And much of the time you spend is mainly spent listening to them complain about how you never come to see them. I catch myself listening to myself wondering if I do the same thing to my own children.
I have decided to “get a life”…outside of my children so that I will not be SO dependent upon them when I am the age of my parents. Yet I get such joy out of just hearing their voice on the telephone I know the dependency will be there regardless of how determined I am. We are so vulnerable to those we love.
And the beat goes on.
When remembering that crisp night and the football game, I also remember wishing I was Miss Essie Mae Smitherman getting to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” over the microphone at Rip Hughes Stadium for a Friday night football game.
Those years were the best of times. Yet they were the also the worst of times. I enjoy remembering them. I do not want to repeat them.
This is the best time of life.
I may yet get to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at a DHS football game.
The beat goes on.
La, di, da, di, di. La, di, da, di, dah