Several months ago, Jeff Shook, a good friend from my Yucca Valley High School days back in California, stopped by for a visit. Seeing him brought back a flood of memories—mostly good. The good times had to do with the countless hours Jeff and I spent playing football, basketball, and baseball for our school. Jeff was one of those natural athletes you just knew had the talent to go on to bigger and better things after graduation. As it turned out, he did.
The not-so-good memories which came to mind had nothing to do with Jeff. Rather they had everything to do with what was going on with me personally during that season of my life. As you may know, my mother died when I was very young and my father died when I was twelve—although he had been missing from my life for years. Without parents, having no place to call home, I bounced between a variety of living situations throughout my middle and high school years.
By the time I turned 17, my “home” was a humble trailer parked underneath an oak tree in a friends backyard. While thrilled to have my “own” place, the trailer wasn’t like one of those snazzy hotel-on-wheels you see rolling down the road these days. My trailer measured 6’ x 12’ and had no phone, no shower, no running water or toilet, and no way to refrigerate food. I did have a pint-sized window with a threadbare drape over it, a bed, a small dresser, a modest space heater and orange shag carpet which, no doubt, helped provide some level of added insulation on cold nights.
Very simple digs and yet it was home.
Meanwhile, back at school, there were days when I went through the day without lunch simply because I couldn’t afford one. On other occasions I’d buy a five-cent cookie, which was all the money I might have had in my pocket, and that would have to suffice. No one knew the depth of what was going on for me at the time—not even my closest friends, as Jeff confirmed in my office during our little impromptu high school reunion.
While reading my book, FINDING HOME, Jeff was stunned by what he had discovered about me. He said, “Jim, I simply had no idea all that was going on in your life.” I wasn’t intentionally hiding my private pain from him or from those around me back then. I think surviving without parents or a stable home environment took so much emotional energy to live, I really didn’t want to spend time talking about it, too. My modus operandi was to move through my high school years acting as if things were normal on the home front.
Interestingly, shortly after my trip down memory lane with Jeff, I received an invitation from the Class of 1979 to attend our 30th class reunion. Thirty years! Where did the time go? Just yesterday it seems as if I were a student roaming the halls trying to rally enough nerve to ask a girl—I’ll call her Diana—out for a date. In spite of having such an incredible crush on her, I never did manage to muster up the courage.
Now, for what it’s worth . . . on the last day of school while everyone was signing yearbooks, I bumped into Diana by the lockers. I said, “You know what? I have to confess something to you.” She said, “What’s that?” I felt my throat start to constrict, but managed to say, “I’ve always wanted to ask you out but never did.”
That’s when Diana gave me one of her million dollar smiles. “Jim,” she said, “you should have asked me—I would have said YES!” I just about died. At least when I met Jean years later I didn’t make the same mistake by letting her get away!
While I couldn’t attend the 30th reunion due to a conflict of schedules, several random thoughts came to mind. For instance, I wondered how many of my classmates went through difficult home situations which they kept from me? How many of them were hiding the truth of what was really going on behind a self-imposed curtain of embarassment? Furthermore, I wondered had I been too preoccupied with my own hurt to have missed the silent suffering of even my closest friends?
Coming into the present, I’m curious to know how many of my high school friends were able to overcome the disappointments of their childhood verses the number of those who have been defined by those difficulties. Were they able to get beyond the wounds or the typecasting which took place during those years? If so, how? If not, why not?
You might say I’m in a reflective mood partly because October is traditionally a big month for homecoming events and class reunions. While I wasn’t able to make the trek to my Alma Mater, perhaps you’ll have that chance. If so, maybe a ministry opportunity awaits if you have the courage to pull back the curtain a bit and engage old friends at a deeper level.