Thanks for coming back--I've already stopped off in Troy, visited Jennifer, run into a few old faces that I recognized and now its time to run into another, and re-visit the school that taught me how to... well, do whatever it is that high schools teach. Previous posts include...
Samson Blog Part I: "...Knee High to a Puddle Duck"
Samson Blog Part II: Tammy Ward & the Library Books
PART III... HIGH SCHOOL HIGHS.. and lows
The brick sign that wasn't there when I was there
Back when I was in school, there was a middle school and a high school, though the lines between the two were very blurred. The building on the south part of the school was primarily junior high (at what point did they stop being called junior high and start only going as “middle school”? Is “junior high” a bad thing? Really?) leaving the north part as the high school, but the ball field was shared by both, the small business building in the middle was shared by both, the recess yard was shared by both…. Really, it was all one big school, 6th grade through 12th. Maybe 600 students. Might be more, might be less.
Some number of years ago, though, they built a new Middle School and placed it next to Samson Elementary, which was building in 1984. I only know this because I moved there in 4th grade, and it was just opened the previous month. We couldn’t lean on the walls, it was so new. Imagine telling a bunch of 9 year olds you can’t lean on the walls. Right.
With the middle school gone, Samson High School truly is just a high school. As I walked onto Broad Street, I noticed that a couple of the buildings where there, and a few were now gone… I can only guess they were gutted and torn down, probably a good thing. I walked onto the sidewalk that runs in front of the entire school, walking slowly to observe. Another teacher had just come out of one of the buildings, and said, “Can I help you with something?” I smiled and said, “No, thanks. I’m an alumnus, and I’m just checking out the school.” I added with a grin, “I thought it best to wait until all the students were out, so as not to be that creepy guy wandering around the campus.” She smiled and said, “Good idea.”
I stopped in front of the Samson High sign to snap a few pictures, and noticed a familiar face up ahead. She was with a young boy, and she moved between a furniture delivery truck and another group of people. I slowly made my way past the group, snapping more photos of the surrounding school monuments and scenery, but kept glancing up at her. Is that…? I mean, could that be…?
She said something to the group, they all chuckled, and she led the boy inside the school doors. I followed her, but when I went inside, she had already disappeared into the next set of double doors. Another teacher was there, looked up and asked, “Can I help you, sir?” I stopped, not taking my eyes off of the door, pointed and said, “Was that Renee?” She smiled and said, “Yes! Go through these doors and take a right. Mrs. Adams is on the left, you’ll see her door.”
Mrs. Adams? I thanked the kind lady and went through the doors. The school, for all its differences, still had the same look in the hallway. The floor was different, the lockers were bigger, the paint was newer, but this… this was Samson High School. I walked toward the first door, and saw the placard that said “Mrs. R. ADAMS”. I stared at the door for a minute, and then thought, “Holy crap, she’s a teacher.”
“So, uh, you got your name on the door and everything, huh? Think your somebody?” I asked, as I stood in the doorway, pointing toward the sign. Renee Carroll looked up from her desk, glared at me for a few seconds, then her face brightened. “Oh my gosh… d$!” she stood up, ran over to me and gave me a big hug.
Renee Carroll and I go way back, to… 1991? She was an 8th grader, I was a senior, and her step-father, Steve, worked as an excellent cook at The Wright Place Restaurant. Her mom, Carlene, also worked there for a time, and Renee washed dishes and helped out too. She had a crush on me. I don’t say that in vain, or in an arrogant assumption, I say that because she told me so. And as gently as I could, I told her I wasn’t interested in her. She didn’t talk to me for a month. I also remember she was obsessed with country group Alabama.
She looked great, her son Ryan is now 7 (or was it 9?), and she’s a teacher now at Samson High School. She has been teaching there for a while now, teaching all subjects to all grades at this point. Renee told me that there were plans for a memorial garden to be built behind the main school building, right outside her window, in honor of the victims of March 10th. We chatted a while longer, what I’d been up to, teachers that had come and gone (Mrs. Hutchison is retiring, it seems!) and who was still there. Mrs. Danley was still there. A few others had gone. Some had died.
We discussed Samson, how it was different, how it was the same, and Renee said the most amazing thing was that when she came back to teach, she went into the lunchroom… and it was so small! “I remember it being so much bigger, and now, it’s like, tiny. It was bizarre.”
It was great talking to her for a little while, and finally, we said our goodbyes. Who knows if and when I’ll see Renee Carroll Adams again? Hopefully soon.
I left the classroom, and as I rounded the corner, I locked eyes with Mrs. Danley. On her face was the now-familiar “Is that…?” expression, but I didn’t stop. I smiled and kept walking, right on out the back door of the main building, finding myself in front of the lunchroom. And as I peered into the window (it was locked), I could see a few new additions, notably a big cooler that said “DASANI” on it. But the big tiger painted on the wall was still there. And Renee was right… it was tiny. Did I really sit and have milk carton drink-offs with Chad Ward and Greg Avant right there? Unbelievably so. And there, on the opposite outside door of the lunchroom is the area that the freshman girls congregated—Chris McCall’s obsession Andrea Foreman, my first slow dance ever Angiejay (in this very lunchroom, by the way, but more on her in a minute), Manda Donaldson, Jennifer Herndon (yes, that one) and Stephanie Sheffield.
That slow dance was weird. It was, in fact, with Angiejay, who agreed to be my homecoming dance date, then bowed out because word spread all over school that we were going out. We danced to “Wanted” by Alan Jackson, and looking back, I think she did so because she felt obliged to do so, not because she wanted to. We were dancing close to Ryan Frary and Stephanie Sheffield, who were going out at the time, and Ryan leaned over and yanked my hand down to Angiejay’s bum. Luckily, I yanked it back in time to save the embarrassment, and though Stephanie smacked him, Ryan thought it was hilarious. Looking back, I do too.
Laughing to myself as I remember this monumental moment, I went down the sidewalk through the campus, passing the gymnasium, home of the 2 time defending girl’s basketball team, the Lady Tigers. The further I walk, though, the more I realize that yes, there is a new high school building… but most everything else on the grounds is exactly the same. I walk between the science building, where Mr. Holmes tried in vain to teach me Physics and Chemistry, and the Ag/Home Ec building, where I won top grade prizes for like, four straight terms…. In Home Ec, not Ag.
I stopped at the bandroom, and boy those memories came back as well. Renee told me that the last time the band was really, really strong was when we were in school. When I was a sophomore, we were 70+ strong, 6th through 12th grade, but over the years, the band has dwindled. It’s had it shares of highs and lows, but right now it was at a low point. Sad, really. The Blue and Gold rocked back in the day.
It was on those railings on the sidewalk leading to the door on the right that, in October of 1992, I waited outside for Angiejay, after the Homecoming Ballgame. She said already said yes a few nights ago. Then she sent someone (Tracy Lassiter?) out to tell me that "she would just meet me there". I was crushed. Am I still bitter? Not at all, it was 17 years ago, but its still fun to talk about. And the fact she rejected me on Facebook last year makes it all the more fun. Hence, the decision to make Angie Jay a villian in the book. Ha!
The tennis courts sat across the street. Samson was always too small to have a tennis team, but we did have courts. During my sophomore year, I became infatuated with Jennifer Capriati, a young tennis star, so I bought myself a 18 dollar racket (a huge sum when you are 15) and taught myself how to play tennis. Over the course of that year, I lost about 30 pounds, gained much leg strength and went through two pairs of tennis shoes—wore a hole slap into the soles of them. See, our court wasn’t grass, or clay or even a regular hard court, our court was asphalt and gravel. And there was a big sand pit right in the middle that you would slide through if you weren’t careful. The back fence was about four feet from the back baseline, so there was lots of slamming into the chain links, and the net was such that you had to hook it back onto the posts when you played. Sometimes the ball would go through the gap between the netting and the white border, so you had to argue over whether it was actually a Let or not. (you can read more of this, and some of the same, in a post from June 2006 called "Game Set Match", if you feel so inclined)
By my junior year, there were lots of people playing. I’d like to think I was at least partly responsible for the tennis resurgence from 1991 to 1993. Names like Ryan Hutchison, Juice Williams, Jason Lambert, Wade Rials, Bren Finch, and of course, Ryan Frary and myself—the Federer and Nadal of our day. For two years, we were gods of the court. Every single day, until the light was gone, and even then sometimes into the night, using the one single yellow light that shone on half the court. The summer between my junior and senior year, I collected $5 from 16 court regulars, bought some paint, went out in the hot July sun and painted lines on the court. Then we had ourselves a tennis tournament. And it was a beautiful thing.
You can barely see the yellow of the lines that were painted all those years ago. Some of the weeds might be the exact same, though. But this is the court we played on.
Now? The lines are faded away. The dirt is piled high in various parts of the court, the fence has bigger holes in it than before, the weeds grow tall through the asphalt, the post has an old plastic cup on top of it, and the net is nowhere to be found. Doesn’t matter, though, because where the net would go is taken up by a big greenhouse nursery sitting smack in the middle of the court. A messily handwritten note on the door of the greenhouse said, “If you need plants, call…”
The abomination that sits on our courts. Ryan (can't remember if it was Frary or Hutchison) and I actually scheduled a meeting and went to the mayor, asking for the council to look at devoting some money to renovate the tennis courts. There were only three courts and a few thousand tax dollars would be all that was needed to put up new nets, fix the light(s) and give it a light touch-up. They rejected us out of hand.
Sighing, and a piece of my soul now dead on that court with the knowledge that there would probably never be another Snuff City Invitational Tennis Classic, I walked back to the campus, and entered the football stadium. It was here on this very field that I graduated high school, coming now upon 16 years ago. They put in metal bleachers sometime around my junior year, maybe a year earlier, but that’s just for the home side. The visitors still have the old concrete bleachers, and they still look exactly the same.
I walk around the football field, past the concession stand that sits boarded up for the offseason, and just take it all in. Lots of memories here too. Marching saxophone in the band, chomping on stadium burgers and $1 M&M bags, sitting with Jason Howell and ALL of the guys admired Claudia Sorrells was in her majorette uniform, enjoying those late October/ early November Friday nights when the temperature is around 45 degrees… is there anything better than high school football in cold temperatures? Sipping on watered down hot chocolate that burns your tongue?
The grass is about six inches too high now, this being the offseason and daily care not necessary. Its Alva Hawke Stadium, though I have yet to figure out who Alva Hawke is. And I still don’t know the alma mater song, though I can reel off that fight song. Or could, at one time. There is a ton of junk piled under the bleachers—stadium lights, wood, trash, a small hauling trailer—and it just looks messy. I smile as I stand next to the chain link fence, a fence that 16 years ago I stood next to, wearing a hot blue uniform with a poofy feather thing jutting out of my hat, holding an alto saxophone, joking with Jason Howell and Kelli White, close to Chris McCall who kept stealing glances at Andrea Foreman, all while I was stealing glances at majorettes, while Jason stole glances--who am I kidding, he just plain stared--at Kelli White, all of us awaiting marching orders from drum major Tonya Windham, and wondering if I would actually keep in step this time around, and knowing the answer would be, probably not. But that’s okay. We marched on.
I haven’t picked up an alto saxophone in at least five years, and then it was only once. Before that, it was high school band. I've thought about picking it up again, memories of Kenny G songs still flowing through me head... I could actually play "Songbird" at one time. But, alas, I've also thought about learning how to play the mandolin I've owned for 8 years, and that hasn't happened either...
I stared out into the football field a while longer, making verbal notes into my voice recorder, discussing my own characters that are dancing around in my head and how a football field might come into play when Peter and Barrow are discussing what to do for homecoming. But that’s later, I think. I decided it was time to go, enough nostalgia for one day had been accomplished.
I walk back down the same sidewalk, pausing for a moment from talking into my voice recorder as an older gentlemen walked by. No sense in sounding stupid. Er. I make another walk around the school, out onto the front lawn and back down Broad, then Farmer Street. A few blocks later, I was back in my own home, sitting and talking with my dear mother again.
She’s addicted to judge shows…. She doesn’t care for Judge Judy, but Judge Judy comes on between Judge Joe Brown and some other judge, so she doesn’t bother to change the channel, she just sits and complains about how much she doesn’t like Judge Judy. Love my mom.
It's around 4pm, and I'm getting hungry. I've got an hour before dinner, though, one that should be fun. I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friends, and shake their hands. I hope the Pea River is as blueish green as it has been in my dreams.
And finally, the last part of The Samson Blog... Memories in a BBQ Dive