It’s time to Break It Down!
Life is an adventure. No matter the circumstances of one’s birth, men, and women the world over circumnavigate myriad circumstances after leaving the birth canal and entering the world and this thing we call life. Some are born into great wealth and prominence, while others are visited upon by abject poverty and insufficiency. However, it is fair to say being born poor does not make one destined to a life sentence squalor and destitution. Similarly, being born with a silver spoon in tow doesn’t carry a guarantee of permanence either. Hence, life is an adventure.
Given events in Buffalo this past weekend, I would normally write about the pervasiveness of gun violence, and our collective lack of will to insist upon and/or promulgate effective policy initiatives to eliminate mass shootings. After thinking about it a great deal, I decided not to make that the object of this week’s post. Instead, I am going to follow-up last week’s healthcare note with another personal essay.
A couple of weekends ago, Gwen and I traveled to eastern North Carolina, which is the part of the state where I was born. My wife and I spent the weekend darting between Kinston, New Bern, Greenville, and Belhaven. I have roots in or near all those places. Sometimes, contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s assertion, you can go home again. In fact, not only can you, but doing so is actually a good thing. Broadly speaking, we took advantage of the opportunity to hang out with my friends and family. The specific purpose of the trip though, was to attend my 50th High School Reunion.
As I have grown older, I have attended fewer class reunions. I made several of the early ones; 10, 20, and 25. Then I went AWOL until 40. I had not thought about it much since then. But as the date approached (Mothers Day Weekend every year), it dawned on me that 50 years is a pretty big number, a long time ago, and to paraphrase Deon Cole (Cole Hearted on Netflix), there’s not a lot of summers left. It seemed like a good idea to make the trip.
Covid has robbed most of us of so much. Some of us, life itself. I know over the past two and a half years, we have traveled less, entertained less, and attended fewer functions. Moreover, too many of the functions we did attend were funerals. We missed a Final Four, lost a trip to Egypt, missed college and church homecomings, and just said no altogether to concerts. My 50th Reunion would not be added to the list.
In the fall of 1968, my 9th Grade class became the first desegregated freshman class at John A. Wilkinson High School in Belhaven. My fellow Black students and I had previously attended Belhaven Elementary & High School. Beaufort County Schools, where Belhaven is located, like most schools in North Carolina, adhered to a desegregation order that became effective at the start of school in August 1968. Belhaven, being in North Carolina in the 60’s, many parents of students, 9th Grade and earlier, moved their kids to private schools. As a result, while 10th-12 Grades retained a predominately White student population, Black students composed a majority of students in classes from 9th Grade on down. That of course led to its own set of dynamics. But that’s not focus of this post.
The Reunion was cool. Understand that the event, for all practical purposes was a dual event; a 60-year Homecoming Celebration of the former Belhaven Elementary and High School (the high school ended after the Class of 1968), and a fete for the current Senior Class along with featured Reunion Classes. I’m not sure what the Covid/Fire Code capacity was, but the event was sold out, and well attended. Many of my fellow classmates, Black and White, were there; some still live in the area. There were folks I had not seen in decades, and probably a few of whom I hadn’t seen in 50 years.
That was the highlight of the trip, but it didn’t end there. We stayed at a waterfront hotel in New Bern, which was its own story. I would typically have stayed in Greenville, or more likely Washington for an event in Belhaven, both of which are closer to Belhaven than New Bern. But it just so happened to be East Carolina’s Spring Commencement weekend. Hence no room in the inn. New Bern is a little further than Greenville, and more than twice as far as Washington. But it’s a quaint town, on the water, and a former colonial and state capital of North Carolina. We had plenty of time, so it made for a more than adequate back-up plan for lodging, and provided an almost vacation-like ambience.
On Saturday morning, one of my cousins who lives between Kinston and New Bern came over and joined us for breakfast. Afterward, Gwen and I cruised over to Kinston, visited with my family, and then headed downtown where we met more family at the BBQ Fest on the Neuse, the town’s annual barbecue festival. While there, we went to see a mural featuring a number Kinston’s sports legends. A lot of people know of Kinston’s impressive basketball legacy (Cedric Maxwell, Brandon Ingram, Charles Shackleford, Jerry Stackhouse, Reggie Bullock, Mitchell Wiggins, Tony Dawson, Dontrez Styles, et. al., but there are also baseball and football stars who hail from Kinston (Quinton Coples, Derek Rivers, Dwight Clark, Ron Wooten, Lin Dawson played in the NFL, while George Suggs, Chris Hatcher, and Carter Cupps all pitched in MLB. Tyrone Willingham played football at Michigan State, and held Head Coaching positions at Stanford and Notre Dame. Ty holds a special place on my list because he and I were born the same day in Kinston, NC.
We left K-town and went to Greenville where we checked out a couple of my childhood friends. After that we completed a loop back to New Bern where we enjoyed a quiet dinner at our hotel. On Sunday, we headed back to Charlotte, stopping briefly in Durham where we checked in on another of my cousins, and his extended family. After a short visit, we returned home after a fulfilling weekend getaway. I will remember it all, but none more fondly than reconnecting with my high school graduating class at our 50th Reunion.
Perhaps the best part…it’s been a week and a half, so I think I can safely say we did not contract Covid during the trip. “Golden: My How Time Flies!”
I’m done; holla back!
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