Cleburne Times-Review Column for 30 July, 2006
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”
--1 Corinthians 13:11
By the time you read these words I will (hopefully) have survived my twentieth high school reunion. It’s a cliché to wonder how the time flies, but it literally hadn’t occurred to me until I started getting emails about the reunion that more time has passed from the time I graduated until now than from the day I was born until graduation. Maybe I should have gotten a clue when I went with my wife to a Teacher Appreciation Banquet and realized that (besides her) the only teachers I recognized were the ones getting their 30 year service pins. Or maybe when VH1 started running “I Love the 80’s”. Or maybe when I found myself actually watching VH1. Somehow, at some point, we all went from mullets, parachute pants, beer and trucks jacked up so high your girlfriend needed a stepladder to get in, to gray hair (or receding hair, or no hair), “relaxed fit” jeans, high blood-pressure medicine and SUVs that make us look WAY cooler than our parents in their minivans which made them look WAY cooler than our grandparents in their station wagons. Younger readers (i.e., those under 26) may have a hard time relating to such a long ago and fabled era as the 1980’s. What was life like in Cleburne in that distant and primitive time? Well, gather ‘round, dear children, and you shall hear. Most people did not have cable TV, which meant a grand total of 4-5 channels (fewer than that in bad weather). Satellite TV was even rarer and involved dishes large enough to track a manned spaceflight to Mars. MTV was brand-new and actually played music videos (there were only three of them; “Video Killed the Radio Star” and two by Rod Stewart). Michael Jackson looked like a young black man, not an unwrapped mummy. Real men wore make-up, wigs and skin-tight spandex. Loud equaled good. Ozzy Osbourne was—well, he was pretty much incoherent then, too. Prince had a name instead of a symbol, but he was still creepy. The Rolling Stones were merely old, not as ancient as dinosaur footprints. Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the internets. Computers were something in labs and college campuses, were the size of refrigerators and almost always involved switches and reel-to-reel tape. “Home computers” were expensive toys you got at Radio Shack, they used 8 track tapes and had the memory capacity of an average gas pump today. Pong was state-of-the-art. Mobile phones were the approximate size and weight of a brick and no one had one. Only doctors and drug dealers had pagers. “Text messages” were written on notebook paper, folded into airplanes and flung across the classroom when we thought the teacher wasn’t looking. There was no Tivo; if you wanted to watch something on TV later than when it was broadcast, you bought a VHS (or, God help you, a BetaMax), then left it on top of the television to gather dust because no one knew how to program them. There were no CDs; cassette tapes were the new means of pirating music by recording songs off your records (like big black CDs, only flimsier and scratchier). No ipods, either. You could wear giant plastic earmuffs if you wanted to listen to the radio fade in and out and liked having sweaty ears. Either that, or you could carry a “boom box” roughly the same size and weight as a Volkswagen. The drinking age was 18, not that it mattered since there was no place anywhere in Johnson County where you could buy booze until the Beer Barn opened in Rio Vista. There was, I kid you not, a smoking area FOR STUDENTS at the high school. Seriously. More people dipped, though. We all had guns. Every single one of us. Shotguns, deer rifles, sometimes pistols. Sometimes they got left in the back of your truck in the high school parking lot on Mondays during deer season. And no one EVER shot anyone. Ever. If someone stole your girlfriend, the worst that happened would be them (or you) getting their teeth knocked down their throat. It was a drive in the country from Cleburne to Burleson and a long drive in the country from Burleson to Fort Worth. There were two movie screens in the whole county and they were both located in the same theatre in downtown Cleburne. Five dollars was enough to get you in and buy popcorn and a coke. Girls had big hair. Really big hair. Big scary hair, shellacked into place with two or three entire cans of hair spray. Per day. Coaches (and band directors) sometimes yelled at you or made you run laps or do sit-ups. And you took it, if you wanted to stay on the squad. You did not picket the school board or threaten to sue the school. Neither did your parents. Everyone did not get a trophy or a ribbon. We kept score. Everyone was not a winner. No one gave a crap about your “self esteem.” If you got in trouble at school, you got in worse trouble at home. If you got a bad grade, it was because you weren’t working hard enough and your parents yelled at you or grounded you. “Attention Deficit Disorder” was cured with a flyswatter or a wooden spoon. During the summer, you were out of the house from the time the sun came up until the streetlights came on. Most of the time, your parents only had a vague idea where you were and they weren’t worried. You could ride your bike across Henderson. We rode our bikes without helmets. Most people didn’t lock their cars or their houses. We knew everybody who lived in our neighborhood. We cruised the park. We tipped cows. Nearly everything was closed on Sunday. The teachers we thought were so old then were younger than we are now. Members Only jackets were cool. So was anything with an alligator stitched on it. So were ratty deck shoes, the rattier the better. You stayed at prom just long enough to obtain photographic proof you had been there. We were all going to live forever and after graduation, we were all blowing this Podunk town and never ever coming back.