Sunday, July 24, 2016

Children of ‘51

Medicare Arrives
Children of ‘51
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
            It surely doesn’t seem very long ago since the smell of grass under the Friday night lights at James Stadium filled our senses. That place was our connection to every football field across America. Few of us had manicured lawns growing up in or around Silver City, but we had the best of grass on which to play. It was the same field the WNMU Mustangs played on Saturday afternoons and we were the beneficiaries. At half time, we clattered up the stairwell into the same athletic facility that Mustang heroes such as Nick Chintis, Paul Hunter, Moose White, Bob Agnew, Mack Pace and Tim Brancheau discussed halftime strategies. Those were hallowed halls.
            The field was always immaculate.
            The boys of ’51 made their first appearance there in 1964 when we paraded as 7th graders to the middle of the field and were introduced over the loud speaker system as future Fighting Colts. All of the originals were there. Phudley, Carl, Mark, Casey, Eloy, Mike, Jerry, and the rest poking each other and trying to behave as best we could under strict orders not to act like a bunch of hoodlums.
            We were all there, too, late in the fall of 1968 when we played our last official high school football game together on that field. John, Frank, Pete, Tim, Dale, Louie, George, and others had joined our ranks and had become our brothers and comrades. By that time, we no longer dressed nearby having moved into the new high school across town. We dressed there and rode the bus across town and then back after games.
             The last minutes of that last game were highly emotional. Everybody wanted the ball. We were ahead, but we pushed for short snap counts to get more plays. We didn’t want it to be over. I remember so distinctly being in our three point stance looking from the backfield up and down the line, smelling the grass, and thinking this will never be again. I reminded myself to take it all in.
 “Look at this and remember it,” I told myself.
            By that time, we were, indeed, football players. We had been together so many days and hours since we started the journey as 7th graders. As the gun sounded, we slowly gathered at midfield waiting for everybody to come in. The crowd was mobbing us, but we were looking and waiting for each other. Our cheerleaders (especially the special one) and the pep squad were welcomed into our huddle. It was their huddle, too. They had been with us every defeat and every victory.
First, we stood and looked at each other and then the greetings began. We didn’t want to leave. We didn’t want it to be over. We finally couldn’t think of any other reason to linger so we started walking off the field, across the track, and onto the infield where the bus was parked. Several walked alone carrying helmets. Others walked in pairs or small groups. It was symbolic of what lay ahead. That final walk, however, was too rapid. As I held her hand, I know I glanced one more time at the score board at the southeast exit of the field. It wasn’t the score for which I sought. Rather, it was the final look at the clock when it was ours to matter.
It showed … no time left.
            Ten Years and after
            We gathered for a ten year reunion.
            Phil, Dusty, Frank, John, Tim and a few others were there, but, for the most part, we were scattered. Casey wasn’t there nor were others who knew what it all meant. Awkwardly, we talked about how successful we were becoming, but that became a relative thing as time passed.
            My special cheerleader was with me, and that remained the central focus of life as we passed the absent 20th, 25th, and 40th reunions. As president of our senior class, Tim didn’t perform, but even that became an irrelevant matter.
            We saw Tim and most of his sisters at his dad’s funeral in Albuquerque too many years later. It was especially great to see Janet and Edie. They were beautiful women who didn’t mind that their hair was graying. It matched mine.
            We saw John and Diana at John’s mother funeral around the same time. Tom was there and he and John gave a wonderful tribute to their mother and for all who gathered. I saw people who I had not seen in too many years. They looked older than the memories.
            We have seen Phil and Donna several times the last of which was Phil’s father’s funeral. I was on my way back to California that day. I wasn’t looking forward to that trip.
            We saw Casey one morning in South Bend prior to attending Annie and Dennis’ wedding at the chapel at Notre Dame. We were on a busy one way street and my cheerleader looked up and proclaimed “Casey!” at the same moment he was swept away from us in a right turn lane. We never saw him again, but all parties saw the big wide eyes of recognition in that split second before departure.
            We see Dusty and Pat regularly. Dusty and I started to kindergarten together and we graduated from college together. I have said many times we never had a cross word. I want that to remain our bond of friendship. I am very proud of his success. He is another of the very few who put himself into the cattle business without a bit of help. He is not only a conscientious leader he has become a great cowman.
              We also see our special friend, Donna, along with Randy. My cheerleader speaks to her several times a week and they text constantly. She is her sister that never was.
            I saw Bobby only one time even though I understand he lives in Silver City.
            We have seen Irma at a wedding and a fund raiser. It was great to see her. Her tragedy became ours when we heard the details.
            We have lost Louie, Web, Mark, Carl, and Danny. Most of the rest are scattered into unknown worlds that long ago departed from ours. We wish them all the best.
            Yes, we are the class of ‘69, but, more poignantly, we are the children of 1951.
            As I write this, my cheerleader was just welcomed into the ranks of Medicare. Starting with John, we have witnessed the stepwise inductions taken by our friends into those ranks. It was Pat and then me. This morning I signed Dusty’s birthday card and made light of the same thing. Mostly, we have agonized over the inevitable.
            “Where in hell did the time go?”
            We are not supposed to be this old, and yet morning glances into the mirror suggest another reality of this fait accompli. Pictures have become torturous. We have dreaded the inevitable, but there are offsets. Our beautiful children and grandchildren make the pictures bearable. Our oldest granddaughter is a freshman in college and her sister has become her Noni, the cheerleader’s, chauffeur when she is at the ranch. The rest, all five of them, have their Noni’s blue eyes.
            So, yea, we are the children of 1951. All those mentioned, and the others, like Edwin and Charlene, are in this club together. We are thankful to have the things that matter most. We will take our Medicare lumps. We will gather at midfield and welcome ourselves into the huddle. It is our huddle. We will wait until we are all there because, together, we have all witnessed our wins as well as our defeats. We will try to linger because we don’t want this game to be over, but, when it is, we will walk from the field together.
            A glimpse at the scoreboard will suggest time has expired, but that is okay … our time has been good.

                Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Silver City in the ‘60s was a good place.”

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