Such a joyous occasion. Families and friends crowded onto football fields and into auditorium lobbies. The hard work has paid off with a treasured piece of paper (or parchment as you move beyond high school), the smiles, tears, and congratulations of adoring parents, extended family and friends.
That’s the way it was. And, who knows, maybe it will be that way again.
Now our graduates are treated to celebrations like this.
We line them up in the church parking lot and friends drive by and hand them cards and gifts of congratulations. They honk their horns. They smile, they cheer. They do everything but touch.
And if you made it out of A&M, you may even get a treat like this one.
If you have ever been in a group that needed to give someone a group hug, you know that there is nothing else that will do. And if you have ever been that person who needed a group hug, you also know there can be no substitute.
Here you see a group of Methodist teenagers in December, 2017, after they received news that their youth director was moving from Chapelwood 1 to Chapelwood 2 up the road in Houston. The hug was their spontaneous, genuine, and deeply felt gift. The photographer barely had time to point the camera.
This is not something that can ever happen in a Zoom meeting.
Hover over the table with your friends. Everyone is commenting about how pretty the layout is. Stab an olive with a twice-used toothpick. It’s about saving the forests after all. Or glance furtively around the table. No one is looking. Grab one between thumb and index finger. Double dip the cheese melt with a cold green bean. No one noticed that first bite. Dip the other end. Hands are clean and dry. Now reach across the table and shake hands with a friend you haven’t seen in at least a week or two. On the return from that greeting, swoop down and land a chunk of sweet pineapple.
Moving on to the new year.
The crowd is still forming. Scotch eggs, maple-iced doughnuts, French roast coffee, artichoke dip, veggies, nuts, wassail. Before the morning passes, sixty or so friends will crowd in around the table, serve a plate, exchange greetings, and tell tales of the year gone by, hopes for the year ahead and mostly true stories from all the walks of community life.
Our love is manifest in food and words.
How will we greet 2021? There is virtually no safe and healthy way to do it the way we have been doing it. But January is so far in the future. We can hope.
Dads gave their sons lessons on the proper handshake. The lesson included the rule of never offering your hand to a lady unless she offered hers first. It emphasized the importance of a firm grip, but never a bone crusher. And that one should never, ever linger too long hand in hand.
By the time I was out of college, ladies (actually, they preferred to be called women by that time) offered their hands in greeting without forethought or remorse. It was so commonplace in our social life that we never thought much about its disease transmitting potential.
But then there was coronavirus and COVID-19. The gentleman’s warmest greeting was suddenly a life-threatening gesture. By the time we went into lockdown on March 13, I had already mastered the elbow bump but found only a couple of folks who knew exactly how to respond to my apparent act of aggression. Since then, I have not been around enough people to even think about elbow bumps, handshakes, cheek kisses, or anything else. At most, I offer a weak quasi-military salute. It works for most people.
Perhaps it will be the death of the handshake. Will anyone even remember the custom by the time (or, perhaps, if) we ever come out of lockdown? Will anyone miss it?
Our summer opens to the thrilling possibility that the Trump Show may be cancelled after a four-year run. The Tulsa MAGA-palooza fizzled, and the embarrassed president could only wave his arms and blame everything “democrat” for the half-filled arena and the yawning media response.
As Trump’s poll numbers plummet, I wonder if our senators will begin to behave like independent agents with the responsibility for bearing the needs and wishes of Texans into the legislative arena. As “the base” falters, Republicans slowly, ever so slowly, seem to be growing spines of their very own. It was a sad thing to see educated men like Cornyn and Cruz dragging themselves past capitol reporters, unable to stand erect, able only to shout out a quick, “I haven’t seen his tweet.”
Meanwhile, people of my age who may not be science-educated but who nevertheless have developed an appreciation for the medical profession – including the public health specialty – are staying home and stepping out only when necessary. Grandchildren have been available in Zoom and Facetime meetings. Church has lost some of its power without the warm hugs and handshakes of real Methodists. Even my pharmacy has succeeded in persuading me to have prescriptions mailed. And the HEB Curbside Pickup service has become my regular contribution to our shopping. So even grocery store and drug store outings are becoming things of the past.
But life goes on in Lake Jackson. I still get out for evening walks if it cools enough by seven. There are a good many people walking. I have run into former colleagues from Brazosport College, other volunteers from the Center for the Arts and Sciences, and just pleasant people whom I have not met but share happy greetings with, nonetheless.
Coronavirus entered my consciousness somewhere around March 6. I had heard the term and read a few stories about it, but it didn’t seem like much of a threat at the time. Some people were dying in China and Americans were becoming trapped on pleasure cruises. But people in China have been seen wearing masks during outbreaks of various viruses for years. And pleasure cruises? Why do people even spend their money on them? Major diarrhea outbreaks on Carnival cruises are so common they barely make the six o’clock news any more.
The evening of March 6, I attended a retirement party for a friend at The Wursthaus in LJ. There was, at that time, beginning to be some nervousness about being in crowds, but no one really thought much about picking up a life threatening ailment as a result of hanging out with our friends that night. We were there to toast one of them who had served our Center for the Arts and Sciences for some 35 to 40 years.
You could still have that kind of a party on March 6 without tempting death and we all made it into the month of May without anyone testing positive for COVID-19. (Have any of us been tested? Sorry. That was a needless distraction.)
The next day I got a haircut. Life went on pretty much as usual. Then LJ and the rest of the country started locking down. We learned about curbside grocery shopping from HEB. We learned how to order and pick up at The Local’s curb. Some were even learning how to cook at home. We learned how to wash our hands properly and how excruciatingly difficult it is to keep from touching our faces. And we got constant news of the horror coming out of Washington (the state with a snake for a governor), New York City, California, Spain and Italy. For us Lake Jackson folks, those were faraway places and, while we had concerns about loved ones in those places, we felt fairly safe here.