Today, I did something strange. I was tired and was resting for a little while after working in the heat of early September in Texas. I leaned my head back against the chair in an air conditioned room and started mentally listing all the people I knew growing up. I’m from a little Texas town of 7,000 and there were 125 people in my graduating class. Most of those people started with me in first grade and went all the way through 12th. A few moved away, a few moved in, and I counted them too. Not that I was saying one, two, three, but rather, I was thinking of them by name: Sherry, Mary, Sue, Jami, Lee, Charles, Diane, Rodney, Jerry, Derrell, Andy, Kenneth, Rhonda, Marianne, Philip, Teresa, etc. I literally went on and on and on, filling in with kids from the grades below me and above and somewhere in there, I fell asleep. Not counting sheep, but counting friends.
When I was growing up, people didn’t talk so much about Democrats and Republicans, left versus right, us versus them. People talked about being proud Americans mostly and helping out their neighbors and whether the weather was too wet or too dry for a good wheat crop that year. Life was made up mostly of school during the week, football on Friday nights and church on Sunday mornings. My family went to the Episcopal Church in a town mainly filled with Baptists and Methodists, but that was okay. My friends invited me to their churches as well and I made the rounds since that was part of entertainment back then. And, no, there wasn’t a Jewish temple in my town, though I’m sure I’d have gone there too had there been one.
One main difference between then and now is that we were all thrown into everything together. After segregation was over when I was in junior high, every kid in town went to the same schools: Bailey Inglish for elementary, L.H. Rather for junior high and Bonham High School for those final four years. Well-off and not-so-well-off, conservative and liberal, black, white and brown, we all poured in those doors every day by 8:30 and poured out again at 3:30. And in-between, we worked with each other in our classes and mostly emerged as friends.
Nowadays through Facebook, I’m still in touch with many of my childhood friends. I know where they live, how many kids and grandkids they have, and where they’re going on vacations. Even though many are more conservative than I am and no doubt think of themselves as Republicans, they still respond with kindness to my many posts about my kids and grandkids and various trips. Though we are politically in different camps, we share a common hometown and countless childhood memories. We are more than labels to one another, we are people. We give each other the benefit of the doubt because, after all, we know each other. We’ve studied together, played together, and suffered together through the political and societal turmoil of the 1960s. Despite any differences we have, we know we’re good people just trying to do our best in this world.
So, why was I going through all those names and faces today while I was resting? I suppose I was reminding myself of all the people I count as friends from my early life. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religious preferences, sexual orientations and political leanings, but they are all my hometown folks who occupy a special spot in my heart. I always want to remember that they are not left or right or this or that. They are real living, breathing people who have happy and sad days, troubles I’ll never know, joys that will hopefully counterbalance those tough times, and the universal human desire to live the best life they can.
Surely, that’s what we all want. Just to do our best and make a good life for ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids.
Let’s forget all those labels, my friends. Let’s remember that we are people first, nothing more or less, and that we need each other. We do better united than divided. Remember this day right after 9/11? We all put American flags on our cars and showed the world our national unity.
We’re those same proud people.