The small west Texas town of Monahans is known mostly for it’s sand hills, tumbleweeds and oil fields. And, that is where I traveled to for my 40th high school reunion last weekend. The town itself was never pretty, although some of my classmates found beauty in the sunflowers growing on those sand hills as they were leaving to return to their homes near and far. Just as most young people from small towns sprouting their wings, I was more than ready to leave that ugly little place as a new high school grad. I wanted to move on to college and live my life in some idealistic setting other than Monahans.
Going back is not so uncommon for those of us who still have relatives there, but on this trip I experienced a connection to my home town that had never existed before. As much as I tried to escape Monahans at the sage old age of 18, my roots were firmly planted there. My big brother and his sweet wife live in the house where we grew up. My father and one of my grandmothers are buried in the city cemetery. Years ago when I would return home I would visit the cemetery and every single time, I would be struck by grief and sadness for days. My sweet daddy died in April of my senior year in Monahans. At some point along the way, it occurred to me that my father would not have wanted me to be sad when I thought of him, so I stopped going to the cemetery. Last Saturday afternoon Mark and I went to the cemetery for the first time in about 30 years. A peaceful calm prevailed.
Coincidently, as we walked through that cemetery, I noticed a couple of other cars had driven in, but I was deep in thought and holding tight to the fond memories of my father and beautiful grandmother. By the time my father passed into his Savior’s arms, I had fallen madly in love with the man of my dreams, the man that was standing beside me the day my father was buried in ‘72 and was walking beside me in the cemetery on this pleasant Saturday afternoon forty years later. Familiar family names appeared on grave after grave as we walked and talked and enjoyed the beautiful tributes that families had placed there in honor of the ones they had lost. Walking and talking has been our style for 43 years together. We, as with any couple, have had our own struggles over the years, but a strong and steady friendship has carried us to where we are today. We began our abiding camaraderie in Monahans. We were married there about a year after I graduated from high school. Mark had finished college and taught high school biology for a year before we tied the knot.
I don’t know how many attended the reunion, but it was a smashing success--a project spearheaded by a wonderful friend that had only recently returned to live in the community where we grew up and where her father still lives. Gina’s college majors were photography and journalism, skills put to good use for well over a year in planning and preparing for our grand event. During the weekend she took well over 1500 photographs and is now putting together a commemorative DVD for us. She made an incredible effort to contact every person that had ever attended school with us from our elementary days all the way through high school. She followed lead after lead to locate those who had moved away for they, too, had become links in the chain that connected us to one another. Yes, she had help from other class members and my frail thank you cannot express how deeply I appreciate their efforts to create this amazing event. However, Gina is the individual who envisioned what this reunion could mean to those of us who would attend. I will be always grateful for her big heart, her quick wit, her tenacious spirit and her remarkable commitment to bringing us all together once again to enjoy the enduring friendships that had developed when we were little kids. Gina, you gave each of us from the class of ‘72 a priceless gift of wonderful unforgettable memories.
We were a diverse group of rednecks, with common threads tying us together, taught by teachers who challenged us with exceptional intellectual rigor and hard working parents who set before us the example of good work ethic and family values. Our teachers and parents expected the best out of us. Many of our class have been astonishingly successful in their careers and happy in their lives. The class of ‘72 produced the owner of one of the largest oil consulting firms in the United States. From this group of small town kids several terrific ministers emerged. For the most part their ministries began while we were still in school. They lived their daily lives by the strength of their faith, not by preaching to us, but leading us by example. We have published authors, bankers, insurance agents, architects, designers, realtors and numerous other honorable professions. Some of us became teachers, principals and other specialists in the field of education. Members of the class who chose to remain anonymous generously donated the funding for our entire reunion, including a fun pizza party after the football game Friday night and a wonderful prime rib dinner on Saturday evening catered by a landmark restaurant known as the best steakhouse throughout the vast area of west Texas. Most of us had eaten there on special occasions when we were in high school, and the meal served on Saturday evening most certainly lived up to the stellar reputation by which they are known. We received terrific goodie bags filled with tons of cool items to commemorate this special gathering of old friends. All, provided by the generosity of gracious members of our class who I hope will accept my sincere thank you and appreciation from all who attended this exceptional reunion. Not only career successes did we recognize, we were happy to see that many of us are still happily married to our high school sweethearts, including two couples who celebrated their 39th anniversary Saturday night at our reunion. It seems as though what our teachers and parents expected from us turned into exactly what happened!
We have lost a significant number of our classmates. Significant, in that each person lost was valued and sorely missed as we gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our graduation. I suspect all of our classmates have suffered the loss of loved ones, whether they be children, parents, spouses, siblings or other members of our families. Mark and I were remembering many of those folks that Saturday afternoon as we walked through the cemetery. As we got closer to the others who had arrived at the cemetery, one of my very best friends in school and his wife, also a member of our class and his high school sweetheart, came into view. Mike and I always had fun together and were reprimanded by a number of teachers who did not appreciate our warped senses of humor. Turns out, I married his cousin, the best decision that I ever made. I quickly recognized the other couple as one of Mike’s best buds in school and and his wife. John suffered the unbearable tragedy of losing a son and was there to visit his grave. I suppose other classmates found themselves at the cemetery sometime during the weekend.
As the reunion continued later into the evening, I heard time and again from classmates that in their most desperate hours of need one or more of the Monahans class of ‘72 had been there to support them during the most horrendous tragedies of life. I am certain that had we all known of the losses, more would have been there for those individuals during their time of need. But as life goes, we had scattered like seeds in the wind so we were not all aware of the particular times each person was hurting. Last Saturday night in Monahans we reverently honored those that we have lost. We comforted one another privately and publicly. We cried, we laughed, we reconnected with values that we learned as children in this small west Texas town.
Looking back at that ugly little town in west Texas, I am proud to have come from Monahans with it’s sand hills, tumbleweeds and oil fields!
Photographs courtesy of Regina Ray McGinnis