I went on to Dora a year early because Mr. Perkins thought that with
one more year of experience in the high school band I might be able
to get a scholarship to college. He knew that would be the only way
I would ever be able to go. He wanted Alton to go too, but he could
not. Mr. Abbott kept pulling me off the bus when we would get to Sumiton,
because he said I was not supposed to pass one school to go to another,
but it was the only means of transportation I had, so I would just
wait for him to turn the other way, and I would jump back on another
bus. Once we got to Sumiton, all buses went to Dora.
During my year at Dora, I met another boy who was a senior. I
thought it was cool to be an eighth grader, dating a senior. My
mother thought it was awful. My sister Jayne thought it was awful
too, but she always tried to do everything she could to help me
have what I wanted. She talked mother into letting me date early
and we were engaged by the next year, when Alton arrived at Dora
and the other boy was on his way to the war.
Alton never said anything, we were still trying to be those ethical
and responsible, serious adults, even if we were fifteen. I never
said anything, I had already made a promise, and although I knew
it was not a good promise, I had made it just the same. It is a
hard thing to explain now, but it was the code then. Those of you
who lived then understand.
I married the other boy, just before he went off to war. Alton
and I remained friends for the next year of school, I marched in
the band just like before and wrote letters to the war. Yes, there
was a lot of negotiation with Mr. Gant, he did not think a married
woman should be in the band, but I finally won the argument and
stayed in all the normal activities I already had.
I hurried to finish high school a year early and by the next October
was on my way to Germany to meet a husband I did not know, he had
been away for eighteen months and I was barely seventeen. When I
look at my diploma still, I laugh at the remembrance of standing
in Mr. Gant’s office, waiting for him to sign it on September
14th, 1971. He shook my hand and told me never to have any regrets,
to do what was right. I think he knew how much I wanted to back
out of the whole thing. Alton remained at Dora for our senior year.
On the last night before I left, I went down to band practice to
see what the band was doing. Alton gave me a dime and told me to
call him when I needed him.
Since I could not call from Germany then; I did not know how, nor
did I have the money to do such a thing; I sent him a letter in
November, explaining how miserable I was and how much I missed him
and all the activities I was not a part of any longer. He did not
respond. I accepted that I had lost my best friend.
Thirty-two years later, I went to my first reunion. Alton was
not there. I had been divorced for many years, reared four children
by myself, and had somehow become a college professor. The children
and I just kept struggling to the next level, trying to make sure
they were able to go to college. Someone told me that professor’s
children could attend college for free, where their parent taught,
so we went for it. They did go to college.
I now know that Alton was rearing his children alone all those
years in Birmingham. I was in Tuscaloosa. It is so hard to believe
that we remained alone, without knowing where the other was, without
trying to find the other, simply because we thought the other one
did not want to have contact. I now know he never got the letter
that last year in high school, and I never sent another one because
he did not answer. We never did lose those unrealistic expectations
of childhood concerning how a real adult acted.
After he was not at the reunion, I swallowed my pride and began
to look for him. I had to know whether he had forgiven me for what
I had done. I looked on the internet, called everyone I could think
of, and put a message on the Dora High Alum website. Finally, Bobbye
Wilson Wade sent me an email with Paula Phillips’ email address.
She was his first cousin. Paula sent me his phone number and email.
I sat on both for a few weeks.
Then, I took the plunge and sent him an email. The phone number
did not work. He did not answer the email, and after a couple of
weeks I had given up. Then, he sent a very short answer. In my email,
I had told him that I had a dime I needed to return to him (which
I do, I have carried it in my purse all these years) and that it
was no longer enough to make a phone call. After the two week wait,
his answer was that he now had a quarter and he would pay if I called
the new phone number he gave in his email. I called and he answered.
We have been married now for almost three years. We live in a
house we built on land we bought after we married. Yes, we physically
built the house and we still play at clearing land, but we mostly
have trees. We like them. Alton is finally going to college to be
a teacher, something he wanted to do all his life, but never could,
because he had to take care of his children alone and did not have
the advantage of having a degree before his divorce, as I did. I
am working as Dean of Education at Athens State.
We have never been happier in our lives. It is as if we did not
lose those thirty-two years. October is our favorite month. It was
then and continues to be, and I wanted to write this little story
down now that it is October and we are together, at last, forever.