Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reunion Reflections

Last week, I mentioned here that I was planning to attend the Lexington High School Class of 1972 Reunion, marking 35 years since graduation.

Well, last weekend, I DID attend that Class Reunion.

You could tell we were in the heart of the Palmetto State, the center of the Sandhills, and slap-dab in the middle of Lexington County from the vintage LexCo surnames represented -- Kyzer, Keisler, Taylor, Shull, Sharpe, Dooley, Drafts, Fulmer, Harmon, Mathias, Roland, and Wessinger – as well as the names of classmates who were missing, and thus became the topic of conversations for night -- Caughman, Corley, Amick, Addy, Wingard, Koon, Rawl, Hendrix, Price, Jeffcoat, Cromer, and Steele, to name a few.

For the record, there were three Shealys in attendance: Yours Truly; The Wife; and The BBQ Sauce.

That’s right… we had BBQ at our class reunion. What else would you expect from the LHS Class of ’72? And if we could have arranged it, we would’ve had sawdust on the floor. Frankly, we weren’t trying to impress anybody… we were just catching up with our old friends. It was wonderful.

Here are a few random observations I thought I would share from my five hour journey back to another time and place:

1. Who-ever dreamed up the name Baby Boomers should dream up a new name. The LHS Class of ’72 was born in the early to mid-1950’s – right in the middle of the baby boom – but there’s nothing “baby” about us anymore. We’re old. All of us.
Time for a new nickname.

2. Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader. It’s in their blood… probably their DNA. They entertained us then, and they entertain us now. I wonder if anyone ever did a study to find out how cheerleaders fare in their adult life.

3. I have no idea who the next president will be. I’m now sure I have no idea, because approximately 25 of my classmates in a row chose this as a topic of conversation with me at the reunion. They seem to have some vague knowledge that I am involved in politics, so it seemed natural for them to bring it up. I mostly just said, “Who knows? Maybe a Democrat – Hillary, Obama, Edwards or Richardson – or maybe a Republican – Rudy, Thompson, Romney, or McCain,” and then let them talk while I listened. I learned a lot…. although, frankly, I would rather have been talking about our grandkids.

4. I have begun to forget a lot about high school. I can no longer remember exactly which teachers taught me which subjects, or whether I was even in their classes! None of us could remember exactly. But, ironically, when a few members of the 1971 Fighting Wildcat football team were talking, we were able to remember every play of every game…even the names of the players from opposing schools – just like it was yesterday.

5. The 35th year reunion is apparently not really a biggie. A lot of classmates skipped it. No matter. I’m pretty sure the rest of us are going to keep having them every five years regardless. The Class of ’72 always did enjoy a party.

6. I probably should start planning for my retirement. I know this, because a good many of my high school classmates have already retired. Yikes!

7. We had at least three career military guys in our class, who now appear on average to be ten years younger than the rest of us.

8. The music was better back then. We listened to the sounds of the late 60’s and early 70’s all night long, and it was better than the stuff they make now… even when you count KC and Sunshine Band in with the oldies.

9. One of our classmates, Eric Parris, traveled the farthest to attend the reunion -- from Maryland, where he is now a very successful businessman. He probably also had the greatest impact on our collective memories of our high school years, because he was the photographer for our high school year book.

10. It’s really all about the kids and grandkids now.

11. I guess it’s time for me to lose weight again: time for me to organize another weight-loss contest. I know, because I danced a few times during the reunion, and several of my classmates asked me how I did “the jiggle move”.

So, the sum total of my class reunion, when you boil it all down, is this:

It’s time to lose weight again.

If you want to join me in the next weight loss contest, starting in a couple of weeks, email me at: RodShealy@aol.com.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Class of ’72 Reunion

This weekend, I’ll be attending the Lexington High School Class of 1972 Reunion, marking 35 years since graduation.

Let me do the math on that for you: We’re all in our early-to-mid 50’s, and we were born in the early-to-mid 50’s. We were right in the middle of the Baby Boom.

We entered the first grade in 1960 – still in the era of Leave It To Beaver – and within a few months, heard the news that Alan Sheppard had become the America’s first astronaut to travel into space.

During the last few months, as I’ve been helping to plan this reunion with a few of my classmates, we’ve done a lot of traveling down memory lane.

(Actually, we spent longer than a few months planning… we spent a few YEARS!!! After the last reunion, we decided that the planning meetings a few times a year had been just as much fun as the event… so we kept having them! Deborah Anne, Raynell, Julian, Bryan, Kathy, Wanda, and I just meet for lunch occasionally and call it a “reunion planning meeting”. The seven of us, incidentally, represent approximately 5% of the total membership of the Lexington High School Class of ’72.)

Most of the remaining memories seem to be of high school. The earlier ones have faded into the sunset for the most part. But there are a few scattered memories from those twelve glorious years when we just didn’t realize how good things were for us. Here are just a few from the early years:

Football games. It didn’t get any better than high school football games on a Friday night… especially when I was still too young to be in high school. An excited sea of humanity descended on the old football stadium, behind what used to be Hite’s Restaurant, next to what used to be the water tower. The cheerleaders. The band. The fans. The colors. The cool autumn air. The Wildcats were the bomb. (But we didn’t use phrases like “the bomb” back then.)

The school bus. A whole new educational experience. This was the chance to mingle with students of all grades. When you were young, you got picked on; when you got older, you tried not to ride the bus.

The visual aid room. At Lexington Elementary, it was sort of a basement dungeon. But it was dark, and movies worked there. We loved to go to the visual aid room. What could be better than watching a movie at school.

Piano lessons. Five years of lessons down the drain. I can’t even play a scale. I didn’t have the patience to practice.

Homework. Ditto the piano lessons. Never really had the patience.

Town children. They lived close to the school, so they didn’t ride the bus. They were always excused a good while before the rest of the class. I thought they were cool.

The first grade. I was in Mrs. Hook’s class, along with about 25 others who would become my best friends for the next twelve years, and maybe forever. We used flash cards to learn our letters… plus there were big charts all around the room. A typical homework assignment was to bring back a picture of anything that started with the letter “J”. Life was good.

The loud speaker. It was in front of the room on the wall. Several times a day, important announcements would crackle over it.

School lunch. I was a picky eater. I always gave my little carton of milk away to someone else.

The principal’s office. I heard stories about it… but you certainly didn’t want to go there. Occasionally, some student would be summoned to it over the loudspeaker. It always made me worry for that student.

Changing classes. We started in the sixth grade. That’s when we knew we were really moving on up the educational ladder.

The fifth grade. I had to miss a few weeks of school with an appendectomy. I was hospitalized, and Mrs. George made every student in the class write me a letter. Fifth grade letters are a hoot, it turns out.

I saved those letters in a pouch for over 20 years, and then accidentally lost them during a move. But for 20 years, they were among my most treasured possessions.

I don’t have the letters any longer, but this weekend, I’ll get to visit with their authors. I’ll probably have new stories to report next week.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dog Days

It occurred to me a few days ago that we are now officially slap-dab in the middle of Dog Days, 2007.

Dog Days, you may know, is that ill-defined period in the middle of summertime when things seem to get… well… a little sluggish. The dictionaries actually use words like hot, muggy, lethargic, sultry, indolence, and stagnation. The dictionaries also say the period earned its name through some connection to Sirius, the Dog Star. I always thought Dog Days just meant it was so hot outside, that folk just laid around all day like dogs.

In modern-America, Dog Days is marked by the lack of news in the news media.
We live in the ultra-information age, when news stories change hourly and are flashed around the globe instantaneously. There are now five entire cable TV networks devoted to bringing us hourly news updates… and its BAD news for them if nothing’s really happening.

But, fact of the matter is, nothing much DOES happen during mid summer. Schools and colleges are out for summer. The state legislatures are not in session. Congress is winding down to their annual summer break. The new fiscal year has started, so all state and local government budgets have been decided, and taxes assessed accordingly. And most of the people who run the public agencies and quasi-public organizations which manufacture what we call news are taking many weeks of vacation time.

In short, nothing’s happening.

I was reminded of this last week when I got a call from a reporter with one of the state’s largest daily newspapers who asked me about the future plans of one of the elected officials I advise. I told the reporter, in effect, “sorry, there are no future plans at this time”. A day later, another reporter from another large daily paper. Again, I told him “no plans”. Interestingly, both newspaper carried my “no future plans” comments as news.

I guess it’s tough being in the “real news” business when there isn’t any news.

Fortunately, I’m not in the “real news” business: I just write this column about whatever happens to be on my mind each week.

Unfortunately, since we’re in the middle of the most sluggish, muggy, lethargic, stagnant time of the year, nothing new came to my mind this week; however, there is something I read on the internet a few months ago I though was good enough to pass along, so I’ll pass it along now. It’s called:
36 Things You Probably Didn’t Know--
"Stewardesses" is the longest word typed with only the left hand and "lollipop" with your right.

Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.

No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple.

"Dreamt" is the only English word that ends in the letters "mt".
Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing.

The sentence: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" uses every letter of the alphabet.

The words 'racecar,' 'kayak' and 'level' are the same whether they are read left to right or right to left (palindromes).

Only four words in the English language end in "dous": tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous.

Two words in the English language have all five vowels in order: "abstemious" and "facetious."

TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.

All 50 states are listed across the top of the Lincoln Memorial on the back of the $5 bill.

A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.

A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.

A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.

A "jiffy" is an actual unit of time for 1/100th of a second.

A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes.

A snail can sleep for three years.

Al Capone's business card said he was a used furniture dealer.

Almonds are a member of the peach family.

An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.

Babies are born without kneecaps. They don't appear until the child reaches 2 to 6 years of age.

February 1865 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.

In the last 4,000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.

If the population of China walked past you, 8 abreast, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction.

If you are an average American, in your whole life, you will spend an average of 6 months waiting at red lights.

Leonardo Da Vinci invented the scissors.

On a Canadian two dollar bill, the flag flying over the Parliament building is an American flag.

Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite!

Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.

The average person's left hand does 56% of the typing.

The cruise liner, QE2, moves only six inches for each gallon of diesel that it burns.

The microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.

The winter of 1932 was so cold that Niagara Falls froze completely solid.

More chickens than people are in the world.

Winston Churchill was born in a ladies' room during a dance.

Women blink nearly twice as much as men.

Actually, I have no idea whether these things are true or not. I just found them on the internet. But they sound true to me. Maybe you can check into them for me. It’ll give you something to do during the rest of Dog Days.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Rolling Down the River

Earlier this year, the business of politics took me to one of my favorite places in the Palmetto State, the coastal town of Beaufort.

Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of leisure time in that fair city, usually during their annual Water Festival. The Water Festival, it turns out, brings together two of my favorite things: water and festing.

During my most recent journey to Beaufort, I noticed that preparations were already underway for this year’s H2O Fest, and it brought to mind my most memorable trip to that event – eleven years ago this month – when we made the trip on water skis.

“We” were my younger brother, Shawn, a well-known computer guru now living in Northeast Columbia; my close friend Joe Agnew, the Lake Murray dock-building legend who first brought The Southern Patriot tour boat to the Midlands of SC; and myself – yours truly – an aging, out-of-shape, overweight geezer who could have made a lot of money taking bets on whether or not I could actually water-ski 162 miles in a day.

Actually, this tale began back in 1959, when my dad, Ryan Shealy, was a member of the S.C. House of Representatives from Lexington County. At that time, some of the 1950’s economic development types were discussing whether or not the Congaree River could be made navigable for commercial purposes, allowing Columbia to become an inland port. Dad was a member of the legislative study committee considering the proposal, and he took it upon himself to help demonstrate for certain that the riverways from Charleston to Columbia were in fact navigable: In August, 1959, he made the162-mile river trip from Columbia to Charleston on a pair of skis. Understandably, the wire services picked up the story: Legislator Waterskis 162 Miles.

Fast-forward to the mid-90’s, when his oldest son was on a leisurely, weekend boat trip down the river with friends, when the subject of the decades-old ski-trip came up.

Maybe it was the sun and the heat. Maybe it was the distraction of the river scenery. Possibly someone had even spiked my lemonade. To this day, I don’t know what caused it… but, almost as in an out-of-body, dream-like state, I heard the words “I could do that” come out of my mouth!

And just like that, plans were being made for a water-ski adventure the following year. Never mind the fact that I had not actually water-skiied a single time since a high-school football knee injury 25 years earlier.

In late-March, 1996, I entered the frigid waters of Lake Murray to waterski for the first time in a quarter of a century. Remarkably, I stayed up for almost 5 minutes… and thought I was going to die! I couldn’t breathe at the end, and could hardly move the next day. “Never again,” I said to myself, marveling that I had entertained such a ludicrous idea over the winter months.

But the following week, I tried again, and made it 10 minutes… and then 18 minutes a week later. Before long, summertime had arrived, and I was skiing an hour or two every Saturday morning.

By this time, brother Shawn and Joe Agnew had joined me, and the planned trip had actually become a charity fundraiser for our local Chapin Optimist Club. Shawn and I would take the first leg, from Granby Landing in Cayce to Charleston Harbor, and Joe would ski the following day from Charleston to Beaufort via the Intercoastal Waterway.

At 7:00 am on a Thursday morning in July, we put two boats in the water and headed for the Beaufort Water Festival. Seven-and-a-half hours, 162-miles, five no-wake zones, one gas stop, and a few mishaps later, we made it to Charleston. The next day, Joe skied the rest of the way to Beaufort, while I took it easy in the boat.

Friday afternoon, we pulled into the marina in the middle of the Beaufort Water Festival. They sent a photographer from the local paper to snap a picture. (The Thursday trip – Columbia to Charleston – had actually been documented by Columbia TV station WOLO, which sent two camera crews with us on the trip. Later, the trip would be written up in WaterSki Magazine, a national publication which apparently covers all aspects of the sport, regardless of the blatant lack of athleticism which might be displayed by a participant.)

I guess, once again, it has now been six or eight years since I’ve even had a pair of water skis on. (I DID try snow-skiing for the first time back in 2002, figuring that if I can water-ski 162 miles, certainly I can make it down a hill in the snow. WRONG! On a record-setting cold day in West Virginia, I DEFINITELY made my first and last trip down a hill on snow skis!)

And, though I doubt I’ll be waterskiing down to Beaufort ever again, I do hope to make it to the Water Festival again. And you should, too. For information on the Beaufort Water Festival, visit: bftwaterfestival.com. (You won’t find it on their official schedule, but I recommend just hanging out on the sandbar on Sunday afternoon.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

My Friend Jakie

Let me start by mentioning up front that Jake Knotts is a friend of mine. I’ve occasionally assisted him with his political battles over the years, and, I can tell you, in the entire spectrum of South Carolina politics, there is nobody that I would rather have in my foxhole than the Senator from Lexington County.

Still, I recognize that he is a polarizing figure to many. Some love him, some hate him. It goes with the territory.

In politics, we learn that many of our greatest leaders were simultaneously beloved and hated: Those who set out to accomplish great things make “enemies” along the way. Reagan and Kennedy both come to mind. Our system of government allows for opposing views to be a part of the same process. Anytime someone of a particular view succeeds in advancing his cause, you can be sure there are opponents who are unhappy with that success.

So, like every other outspoken elected official, Jake Knotts has his critics. But, love him or hate him, you have to admire his straight-talking, get-it-done attitude when it comes to taking care of “the people”.

Last week, Jake (or “Jakie” as friends still prefer to call him) put that attitude into action. “The people” had a problem, and Jake set out to solve it.

“The people”, in this instance, were the families of our soldiers from the 132nd MP Company, based out of the National Guard Armory on Platt Springs Road in West Columbia. Platt Springs Road happens to run through the heart of Jakie’s Senate District.

That unit had recently been deployed for active duty, and had spent the last few weeks in Mississippi training before being shipped to Iraq. Prior to heading overseas, the fighting men and women were being given a four-day pass… a final chance for R&R before heading into battle. But there was a catch: the four-day pass had a stipulation that allowed the soldiers to travel no farther than 150 miles from the Mississippi base. It was far enough to get them to Atlanta, but not far enough to get them home to their families.

It didn’t seem fair. Their final days before heading into a battle-zone from which some might not return should be an opportunity to be with family, many believed. But it’s the military, and in the military, you follow your orders without asking questions.

Family members, however, can ask all the questions they wish… and in this instance, many of them turned to Senator Jake Knotts. Never mind the obvious dilemma that a State Senator has ZERO impact on the United States Armed Forces.
The people needed an advocate: They called Jakie.

And when Jakie gets a call from a constituent that needs help, he doesn’t rest until he’s done everything possible to get them that help.

In this instance, he started with the office of the South Carolina’s Adjutant General, who leads the Guard in our state, finally reaching General Stan Spears… only to be informed that these Guardsmen were on active duty and now under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army, not the Guard. Spears was helpless to assist in this instance.

Undeterred, Jakie turned his attention to the Army. Working up the chain of command, he finally determined that these forces were under the command of Lt. General Russell L. Honore, apparently the only person who could remedy the situation. Using his unique powers of persuasion, Knotts located the General Honore in the War Zone. Eventually, after exhausting the power supply of multiple cell-phones, and going through a chain of multiple military phone operators and dispatchers, Knotts found the General.

Understandably impressed with Knotts’ perseverance, the General listened to his plea for help. Fortunately, he agreed that the soldiers’ final days in America should give them a chance to be with family. From the middle of a war-zone, he certainly understood that some of them might never return.

Equally fortunate, Honore shared Knotts’ straight-talking, get-it-done attitude. Known as “The Ragin’ Cajun”, Lousiana-born Honore was once described by CNN as a “John Wayne dude” who “gets some stuff done.”

“Consider it done,” he told Knotts. Within hours, Knotts got a call from another of the U.S. Army’s top generals, Major General Jay Hood, informing him that the orders had been changed, the 4-day pass would now be a 6-day pass, and the soldiers would be allowed to return to South Carolina during that time.

Knotts thanked General Hood, and went to work arranging needed transportation to bring our soldiers home and back.

For Knotts, its all in a days work. Part of his job, he believes, is taking care of the people he was elected to serve. And he’s quick to tell you that the 166 fighting men and women who are risking their lives to protect us are the heroes.

If you’re one of the people who “hate” Jake Knotts, you’re free to go on hating him. For that matter, if you want to “hate” me because I count him as an ally, that’s okay, too.

But, agree or disagree on the other issues of the day, never let it be said that Jakie doesn’t give his best to serve the people who need his help. And on this day, he made a real difference for 166 families who are making a difference for America.