A few months ago, my friend Jody suggested that 4 of us who grew up together in Hendersonville, TN and all went to undergrad together at University of Alabama bring our families down to Tuscaloosa for the spring football game, affectionately abbreviated as “A-day.” I’ve known Jody since 1983, which means we’ve gone to elementary school, junior high, high school, and college together. We even worked at IBM in Atlanta together for a while, and now he lives about 15 minutes from us, just northeast of Atlanta. One of the guys (who’s in Nashville) never responded to the invite, but 3 of the 4 of us committed to go.
My family of 5 left Friday afternoon in the pouring rain, met Jim Bob and his family at their church just outside Birmingham, and then went out to dinner before retiring to a nearby hotel for the night. Jim Bob and I met in the 9th grade; he rode the same school bus I did, even though he lived on the other side of town. I realized he too was an Alabama football fan (a rarity in middle Tennessee in the late 1980s), and we became friends. A few years later, he would be my roommate at Alabama, a fraternity brother, and a roommate once again when we worked at our first post-college jobs together at IBM. He has two daughters and a little boy now, and they live in Birmingham.
The next morning, we met Jody, his father, and Jody’s 2 daughters at the stadium at 8am to tour the locker room and meet our mascot, “Big Al” (the part of the day my 5-year-old son was most eagerly anticipating).
After a long line for some McAlister’s sandwiches, we found some empty bleachers and watched the 1st team offense play the 1st team defense, and the 2nd team offense play the 2nd team defense–crimson vs. the white–while 8 children played with each other, occasionally paying attention to the field.
After the scrimmage, fans were allowed about 45 minutes to go onto the field: a privilege a 3rd generation Alabama grad like me considered a walk upon hallowed ground.
Above are the 3 of us on the field, and below are 6 of the 8 of our children. Clearly, my friends are more adept at growing facial hair than I am.
Shortly after our time on the field ended, the 12 of us drove to Cottondale for BBQ at Pottery Grill (not to be confused with Pottery Barn, where the BBQ undoubtedly sucks). We pushed 3 tables together and concluded a great day like all great days should be concluded–with piles of pulled pork and ribs coated in spicy tomato-based Alabama BBQ sauce. Then we boarded our minivans and station wagon to head back to I-59.
During the 3 hour drive back to Atlanta, I couldn’t help but remember being in a condo in Destin, FL with these guys (and several others) in May 1993, a few days after high school graduation, and seeing the closing lines from “Stand By Me” on the television:
The Writer: [voiceover] It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant.
The Writer: [typing on computer] I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
I remember wondering if that was normal–after all, my parents certainly didn’t seem to spend time with friends from their childhoods when I was growing up. Would we be like this in 10 to 20 years?
No. I decided that day that we wouldn’t. Unlike Gordon Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio, I wouldn’t lose touch with my best friends from childhood. And maybe…just maybe, our spouses would get along, and our children would play together one day when we were grown, and we’d share special experiences together in which we’d watch them all play together in a place that had been special to us when we were young.
And so, just a few months after our 20 year high school reunion, we did just that. And we made plans to keep doing it.