Growing up in my small oil-stained community, during a time before social media, was a gift though not always easy. Church events and football games were how we connected. When fall arrived each year the home games played over the unceasing rhythmic sound of a nearby pumping unit. It was the rhythm of our lives.
Beginning school in 1970, I was part of the first integrated kindergarten class in my hometown. With fearful blue eyes and light skin speckled with freckles, I attended my first day of school with new friends who had fearful brown eyes and dark skin. We seemed to be more alike than different, but even at this young age, I was aware of the tension. I heard the name calling and the hurtful words. The good teachers made us see what we had in common and how to enjoy learning together.
In first grade my teacher was Louise Gray. She wore pearls and had a way of making everyone feel special. As Christmas approached she asked each of us in her class if we could have one small gift, what would it be. She surprised us with these gifts. In the spring of that school year we took a field trip to her home in the country where she taught us about life demonstrating items from times that had passed. No one was stupid in her class while she taught us more than Dick and Jane ever could on a page.
Mr. Hyde always had a dime to buy a bottle of Coke or 7Up at the Haynesville United Methodist Church. The glass bottles stacked vertically came out of the large red Coke machine. Your fingers would get cuts from the sharp metal edges of the bottle tops you kept trying to pull, and finally the opening would release giving you the award of a sweet ice-cold drink that was so worth the pain! I think the price had gone up to a quarter everywhere else, but the church machine was still only ten cents for a bottle, and Mr. Hyde always had a dime.
It was around fourth or fifth grade when Mr. Ragland came into our classrooms and tested our musical aptitudes. Having a music program in school was more than an extra-curricular activity, it was our foundation for better critical thinking. Mr. Ragland helped build our life skills and gave us a sense of achievement in addition to showing us how to use a larger portion of our young brains. That music program enriched our lives beyond what we knew at the time.
This was a time of economic struggles and cultural changes with bright-colored polyester and bell-bottom pants, leisure suits and sideburns, and shiny satin and ponchos. Across our country different groups were fighting for equality, and many Americans were protesting. Whether holding up signs or spelling out Y – M – C – A over our heads, we all danced to disco, funk, soul, R&B, hard rock, and soft rock. Our faith in the federal government was tested, and we were divided and disappointed, but we always jumped in line together for the Electric Slide. It was the rhythm of our lives.
It was learning to dance with the changing tunes of the time. Praying for families who lost loved ones in war or to an overdose of drugs. It was the pulsating strains of “Sweet Caroline” through the air on a chilly fall night. The steady beat building us up and reminding us that we can do this! It was the rhythm of our lives.
Big cities or small towns throughout America were still connected on our front porches and front stoops. We did not have tiny hand-held screens with bright lights drawing us away from others. We did not just post a note about our support, we were actively engaged in the lives of our friends in need. In good times we celebrated side by side, and in challenging times we showed up for each other to help pick up the pieces. It was the rhythm of our lives.
No Facebook, no Twitter…just our land lines and evening visits. When things got messy, we got dirty. We picked up the pieces for each other. It was a gift. It was the rhythm of our lives.