At the Golden Corral on Wednesday, past the butter beans and cornbread, laughs and giggles pushed out from a packed banquet room tucked away in a corner.
These were no regular lunch customers.
A lady in ruby-red lipstick held onto another lady and said, “Oh, it is so wonderful to see you!”
Into this room – walking under leg power or cane power or walker power – marched schoolmates. The Rock Hill High School class of 1942. The first names alone showed this was no regular class of the modern era.
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There was a Pansy and a Carrie and a Martha, who all looked like movie stars. Then an Alice and a Dorothy and a Wilma, who beamed. A Doris and an Alma and a stunning beauty named Geraldine and a majorette and dancer named Mary Evelyn, who was described as the class “strutter.”
The guys had names like Forrest and Ed, Arthur and Miles and Herman and another Ed.
“Welcome to our 70th year class reunion,” called out a pistol of a lady named Wilma Massey Peebles, the mistress of ceremonies. Nobody ever did it better in any big ballroom.
“We are still all aglow with Bearcat pride,” she roared, “so let me hear it, loud and clear!”
The roomful of people called back: “Go Bearcats!”
There was giggling at grand old dame Pansy Adams Kirkpatrick’s joke that had the word “sex” in it. There was laughing out loud when Herman Lesslie announced that he had brought a lady with him.
“We’ve been living together 62 years,” said Lesslie.
The lady is his wife, Jean, and she laughed, too.
They all laughed and hugged and clung to each other at age 87 or 88. They were happy to still be laughing and hugging and clinging.
Of 163 graduates in the class, 16 were able to make it Wednesday. At least 108 from the class have died.
That dancing girl from 1942 named Mary Evelyn Shehan Stutts, still a looker at 87, survived a brain aneurysm, yet now is “great.”
“Not a thing wrong with me anymore – except for old age,” laughed this great lady, and everybody nodded because they were there to share in the joy of being alive and together.
Some in the class could not be found, but this group that made it to a 70th reunion showed up – and each one of them was a character, to say the least. They grew up at the end of the Depression, when almost all families were what a politician would call working class but what most people would call poor, and it mattered not a bit.
When Carrie Boulware Green said a prayer, it was so profound in its thanks for life and family and the chance to live and laugh.
At least nine male members of the class of 1942 missed graduation because they were on a trip. The trip was to fight in World War II. Dozens more left soon after to fight for America without having even bus fare to get to basic training. All were gone years.
Just in this room Wednesday, there were at least two examples.
Arthur Thompson served in two wars, World War II and Korea, in places so cold. A strapping guy named Miles Lineberger served in so much combat in Italy and other places, and he did it because that is what tough young guys did in those days.
Wednesday, Lineberger sat at a table and was just happy to be around his old chums. This reunion had love and laughs, faith and family. Sometimes all in the same story.
A lady named Alma Steele Steele was asked how her maiden name could be the same as her married name.
“There was this little boy lived at the other end of the block,” Alma Steele Steele explained. “His name was Steele just like mine, but we weren’t any kin. We were sweethearts right there from the time we were little, in about the first grade.
“I married him and we stayed together 64 years and I never had to change my name.”
Then Alma Steele Steele told a story about how at work one time, a supervisor who was an earnest and severe fellow required her to initial documents. She wrote her initials, and that was the last time that supervisor asked for Alma Steele Steele’s initials.
These great people celebrated and gave tributes and said prayers for those who are gone. Yet what they really did was celebrate being alive and in the company of each other, and some spouses and even children and grandchildren who came, too.
Class reunions are common, and people around the country have such gatherings all the time.
But certainly a 70th class reunion, with people pushing 90 years old, must be rare.
These people are rare. Like gems.
A firecracker named Doris Matthews Allen sat next to stunning Geraldine Purdee Taylor.
These ladies were asked if all high school girls in 1942 were perfect. If 17-year-old girls never snuck around or kissed boys or tried to go to the drive-in restaurant to stare moon-eyed over a chocolate milkshake that cost 5 cents at a young guy whose hair was slicked back and whose muscles were snaking out from his T-shirt, which had a pack of Lucky Strikes tucked under a sleeve.
“My parents wouldn’t let me go to those places,” said Geraldine.
“Mine wouldn’t either,” said Doris.
Then Doris smiled a smile that took away 70 years, and winked.
“But I went once or twice,” she admitted.
“Me, too,” said Geraldine.