Not Your Mother’s High School


My sons attend the school from which I graduated, so on the one hand there’s this unique connection between my past  as a student, my present  as a parent and their presence there as students now.

For example, a few of the teachers that taught me in middle school 20 something years ago are now teaching them. And I’ve talked before about how some of the students when I was there are now their friends’ parents and the youth league basketball coaches. My past touches their present.

But on the other hand, the school they are experiencing is nothing at all like the school I experienced.

Today, WCA is bigger and has fancy new facilities, but more than that the growth in the student body has facilitated the addition of new programs, namely football. I wasn’t around when football was added but I have a feeling that it was football that changed everything.

There were always the rumors of us getting football way back then, but the size of the student body wasn’t large enough to support a team. It was kind’ve a cart before the horse problem in that you had to have a certain number of students to sustain a football team, but without a football team the school was less attractive an option for some families. I mean, we are in the south; people here love their football.

At some point after I left the school the school started a team and the first thing built on the new campus wasn’t classrooms but — you guessed it — a football stadium. One could say the priorities were skewed, but I don’t think so. I think the success of competitive sports, especially football, was an important factor in growing the school to the size where the leaders wanted it, where it could sustain all of the beneficial things the school wanted.

With football came a marching band, a flag corps, a dance team, pep rallies, bonfires, and the annual homecoming celebration  moved from basketball, which was previously the largest sports program, to the more traditional football.

This means that when I go back to my alma mater for “homecoming” it doesn’t feel like going back. It feels new, at the same it feels familiar.

I was there for homecoming events last week and as the marching band played and the bonfire raged, I commented to several of the other alums who are now also parents of students that this isn’t anything like the school we went to. Oh, no, of course not, they agreed.

The school we went to was good. But this is better. I’m a little jealous for what I didn’t have, but glad my sons get to experience the best of both worlds and that I can be along for the ride.

The Girl With Two Pearl Earrings



He didn’t know what he was doing, but for just a fleeting moment, the 8-year-old made my day.

I was herding him into the shower after a typical Easter Sunday of church, family, lunch, egg hunts, and playing with the neighbors.

I didn’t wear a new dress this year, so there was nothing special to notice there. Immediately after church I changed into capris and a t-shirt; again, nothing special. I’d worn my hair down to church, but to settle into the comfort of the afternoon I’d whipped it back into my typical low-ponytail/bun. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But in my quick wardrobe change from church-dressy to afternoon-casual I’d not taken the time to change my earrings.

And with hair swept back into a bun, the dangly diamond and pearls and I’d worn to church that morning were more easily seen, I guess.

Because as I was there in his bathroom getting the water temperature just right and the fresh towel hung on the towel bar for him, he looked at what I was doing, hopped in the shower and then took a double take.

He saw something he hadn’t seen all day apparently.

My earrings.

He said, “Your earrings look pretty, mom.”

And then — this was the kicker — he said, “Has anyone told you that today?”

Thank you, I said. And no, no one has told me that today. How sweet of you to notice.

He kept right on going with this shower, didn’t miss a beat, but I had stopped my flurry of activity with the water and towel and just took in this moment of sweet surprise at his noticing. I was wearing earrings he’d never seen before. That’s probably why he noticed them. Yet isn’t it interesting that he asked me if anyone else had noticed? It’s like he knew that most likely no one had seen them, but also that he valued being the one who noticed. He does, by the way, love being the one to notice details that others overlook.

He had no idea that those were earrings were special and that my choice to wear them this day was special too. See, I wore those earrings on my wedding day to his father nearly 15 years ago. I don’t think I’ve worn them in the 15 years since. But I’d chosen to wear them especially on Easter Sunday because Easter this year felt like a celebration in a way it hasn’t felt before and I wanted to dress up to celebrate. I wanted to wear a dressy pair of earrings, and this pair is one of the dressiest I have.

He didn’t know what he was doing — and he doesn’t even now understand what he did — but for just a fleeting moment, the 8-year-old made my day.

The Next Generation of Basketball


I kinda knew when I moved the boys to my alma mater that they’d have some classmates whose parents I knew from my own years at the school.

I couldn’t really anticipate what that would really be like though.

I’ve had a few awkward moments where so-and-so was popular in high school and I wasn’t in their “circle of influence” so I let myself feel inferior. For a minute. And then I’m like, um, hello, this ain’t high school anymore, why am I letting myself feel this way?

So there’s that.

But it never occurred to me that the high school basketball stars would be my sons’ coaches.

Those two guys above were several years ahead of me in school, so they weren’t people I actually “knew” but more people I “knew of.”

Today, they’re Coach Aaron and Coach Daniel, but more than that — when I showed these pictures to the boys — they’re Carter’s dad and Grant’s dad, and while I had the yearbook out I showed them a few others pictures and it was the same — that’s Lawson’s dad and there’s Henry’s dad.

I was a little “star struck” at first, at some of these former players now being every day, normal people  in my life. They had a certain untouchable, popular and cool aura left over from high school.

But they’re just regular folks — just coach or just so-and-so’s dad, and I’m just Finn and Caden’s mom.

Really does show just how stupid the whole caste system in high school is, and how the things we spend all of our time worrying about in high school (popularity, looks, etc.) amount to nothing later in life, when playing fields get leveled.


The Summer of ’96 and McDonald’s Monopoly


According to wikipedia, McDonald’s has been doing it’s Monopoly game since 1987, which is way longer than I thought.

Oh well. The first year I gave it any attention was the summer of ’96.

I was working my first full time job that summer, the summer before my senior year of high school. I was an office assistant for the same eye doctor that my sister had worked at a decade before and who my parents went to for eye exams. I pulled files, put files back, called patients to tell them their contacts were ready to be picked up, and watched Days of Our Lives during my lunch break in the upstairs breakroom. I felt so grown up.

I got suckered into religiously playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game.

Back then, my favorite McDonald’s combo — the #2, no onions, no pickles — was only $2.99. You had to super size your fries and drink to get the Monopoly pieces so maybe I paid a tad more than that, but it was still an el cheapo lunch.

Some days I didn’t even want the burgers so I’d just get the large fries and large drink, peel of the pieces and stick them to the playing board I kept in my car.

I never won anything of substance. No car, no million dollars. I probably won a free order of fries or free apple pie every now and then, but I wasn’t one of the BIG winners.

I suppose I played it again other summers, but never like I did the summer of ’96. Something about that summer had a special magical innocence to it. Maybe it was the first full time job and feeling so grown-up, or my first summer driving,  or the last summer before the end of high school —  that made be believe I might actually win that silly little contest.

After that summer, all those things that were so magical weren’t anymore. Driving became blase and just something you did, as did working; high school was the end of life as I knew it. Everything changed after that, so that summer was really kind of the last of it’s kind.

One Sentence for Each Year of My Life

Country Roads

1979: It was a short year; I was born two days before the end of the decade.

1980: Best guess, I ate and drank and needed my diapers changed.

1981: I could make a great mean face on demand.

1982: I insisted on calling my sister Leslie “Nanny” despite her repeated attempts to try to teach me to say “L’s.”

1983: I was bit by a cat … after I pulled the cat’s tail.

1984: My birthday cake was Strawberry Shortcake and was homemade by my mom.

1985: I slept in pink sponge rollers every night so I could have curly, ringlet hair.

1986: My bicycle was white and purple, with a white wicker basket on the front and training wheels.

1987: I played Barbies on the front porch of our new house while the moving company with the big red truck moved all of our stuff.

1988: I voted for Dukakis (in the mock election at school).

1989: I met my best friend after we wore the same dress in the spring choir concert.

1990: Pomp & Circumstance played for my sister, and I became an only child.

1991: My hair was permed and I had braces on my teeth.

1992: I cried the first two weeks at my new school, but mom didn’t back down and sent me anyway.

1993: Vests were “in.”

1994: My notebooks were covered with “I <3 Tommy," the cutest guy in the senior class.

1995: I lied about my weight on my driver's permit.

1996: I can date and I can drive; I did both.

1997: Pomp & Circumstance finally played for me.

1998: Kinda sorta on my own at college, and then I met John.

1999: Wedding in May, and we moved to Indiana.

2000: Qualified for and accepted a special loan for first-time home buyers.

2001: Pomp & Circumstance yet again; finally done with school!

2002: In the grownup world, there are no summer breaks.

2003: After an epidural-free,14-hour labor, a 9-lb., 21-inch Hoosier baby boy is born, and I became a mom.

2004: I fall in love with Target (yes, that Target, the store with the red bullseye).

2005: A 8-lb. 13-oz. boy — this time born in Alabama — makes my only child a big brother and me a mother of two.

2006: Target breaks my heart, but I learn the four parts of the space shuttle (external tank, SRBs, main engines, orbiter).

2007: At my 10-year high school reunion I'm not the heaviest one there.

2008: My oldest son starts kindergarten.

2009: I go to D.C. and Maui, two of the best vacations ever.

2010: At age 31, I became a widow and survivor of suicide.

2011: I took a sabbatical to find myself and to make a fresh start.

2012: Yet to come …

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A new “day in infamy”

Today is one of those days where everyone remembers where they were — where they were when the first plane hit, where they were when the second plane hit, where they were when the towers fell.

I was at work, still in the newspaper industry back then. We had just broke from our morning meeting, going over the details of what would be in that day’s paper, other things we were working on, etc. Our education reporter, who sat caddy-corner behind me, was doing an interview for a “where are they now” valedictorian story. The woman she was interviewing lived in New York City. Reporters across the room were working on the overnight police news. I believe I was writing about the night before’s city council meeting.

News of the first plane crash came over the wire and word spread around the newsroom. There was talk — oh my, what happened, how could that happen, where do we put it in the paper, etc. — and one of the sports guys turned on the TV in the sports department to get the latest. Hearing the commotion and curious, I stood around the TV, with several others, watching the news coverage when wham! the second plane hit. I, like so many who watched that second plane hit on live TV, was shocked at what I saw. What?!? I couldn’t make sense of it. What was actually happening — terrorists attacking America — never entered my mind.

I was naive.

“Terrorism” was not a word I encountered all that much back then. That was something that happened somewhere else, in other countries, not at home.

The seasoned writer who sat on the desk next to me said very matter-of-fact that this was obviously a terrorist attack.

A “terrorist attack”? What is that even? I remember looking at him all confused like and asking, “terrorists? really? how do you know?”

I feel so ignorant having been so naive then, but I had never been exposed to anything like that. I had heard, of course, about the Oklahoma City bombings and recalled an earlier attack on the World Trade Center and a bomb at the USS Cole. But those were car bombs (or boat bombs), not airlines full of people being used as bombs. Who would fathom such a thing possible?

The rest of the morning and day gets a bit blurry. After the second plane hit and everyone realized this was no longer a random accident but now the story of the day, the editor called us all together to come up with a new plan for that day’s paper. Assignments were made — call the mayor, call the local military base, go to the corner coffee shop and get local reaction. And remember that education reporter on the phone with the valedictorian in New York? That became our lead story because now our “where are they now” hometown hero was on the front lines of a major terrorist attack on America. All of this unfolded between 8 and 9 a.m. at a paper that was to be printed and on racks by lunchtime. Our staff bustled to get as much local reaction as we could round up, and by lunch our readers had the latest from New York but also the initial reactions from our city. We came out with a second edition a few hours later and worked the rest of the day on 9/11 related stories. It would be several days and weeks before we would return to any of the stories we had been working on that morning.

There was a run on gas that day and that was one of the stories passed along to me — go to the gas station and talk to people about their reactions to the day and about the run on gas and the apparent price gouging.

Even as young and naive as I was, I quickly figured out that Sept. 11 was my generation’s Dec. 7, another “day in infamy,” the kind of day that when it comes around every year you remember where you were “when.”

Newspaper front pages from Sept. 12, 2001

Originally published Sept. 11, 2010.

Home Sweet Home

Photo credit: TripAdvisor

Most folks I’ve encountered in life have a certain fondness for the place they grew up. Some don’t, if they had a negative experience I guess. But the reason I love this place isn’t necessarily because of its spectacular traits — although it has many — but because it’s home.

Huntsville is full of so many people who have moved here with their jobs, usually with the military or NASA or with one of their many contractors. To be a native, I think, is a rarity. It’s something I’m proud of.

Many people who move here like it and stay here. If you ask them why, they speak to the weather or the scenery or the culture. I like those things too, but I love it here because it’s my heritage.

I was born in Huntsville Hospital. I love downtown and the Big Spring, Maple Hill Cemetery and Monte Sano Mountain.

I remember

— when Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children was Humana, and when there were banks and dry cleaners in the blocks between. Huntsville Hospital now takes up all of that space and is expanding even more, in all directions, so it seems.

— when Parkway Place Mall was Parkway City Mall (a name I sometime still use). It was just one story with a Montgomery Ward on one end and Dillards and Parisian on the other.

— when Madison Square Mall was being built way on the far side of town, in the middle of nowhere. The urban sprawl has now, of course, spread way past there.

— when the Saturn I at the Space & Rocket Center was “the big rocket.” Now the Saturn V towers above it, so much so that the Saturn I is hardly noticeable from a distance.

— when the Von Braun Center was the Von Braun Civic Center, aka VBCC. That’s another one that I still often call by it’s old name.

— when Huntsville didn’t have a pro hockey team and UAH hockey ruled. The city held a contest to name the pro hockey team, and I submitted the idea “Huntsville Huskies.” The winning name was Huntsville Channel Cats, a name I didn’t understand at the time but grew fond of, especially over later names. A Huntsville Channel Cats t-shirt still hangs in my closet.

— when Holmes Avenue between Sparkman and Wynn was called Christmas Card Lane because of the large Christmas cards the residents placed in their yards each year. They stopped after the construction of Madison Square Mall, in protest of all the traffic using the quiet, two-lane road to get to the mall.

— when Huntsville’s only ice skating rink was the Ice Palace, a small, dark rink on Governor’s Drive (now Southerland Station). I had my first boy/girl party there when I turned 13, even if only one boy came.

and so and so on.

If you’re not a native Huntsvillian, the things above probably mean nothing to you. But if you are, you may find yourself nodding that you remember that too or perhaps the list brings to mind other bits of Huntsville nostalgia.

What I like best about Huntsville is feeling like I know the place and having a long-standing relationship.

Second to that, I like how it has a big city feel without the big city traffic, and a country road is never too far away when you need one.