And Our Alumni Website Helped
This is a remarkable story. I knew from the very first day I published DoraHighSchool.com that it was different from most other websites. It's more of a community a place where we can connect with our friends and classmates or reconnect with those with whom we have lost touch. This is a story told by Debra Baird who reconnected with an old friend and as it turns out....Love did find a way.
By Debra Baird
After 32 Years
It is hard to believe it has now been 34 years since we were there, in high school, wandering the halls, going to football games and band contests, trying to understand why so many of our friends Debra Baird and Alton Wilsonwould graduate and in a few months come home in a box or without some limbs, or worse yet, on drugs for life. We were serious children in a serious age, trying to pretend to be grown up, and responsible, ethical adults.
Alton was my best friend and always had been. In first grade at Sumiton, he gave me three of his Easter eggs at our hunt in the wooded area at the far side of the school playground. He saw me begin to cry because I had been running around in a frenzy and did not find any eggs before someone else snatched them up. I had never hunted eggs with children of my own age; these children did not let me win as my older brother and sisters did. Alton made it okay.
Trombone was very difficult for me as a girl, but there was no money at home to buy a new band instrument, and my brother Carroll had worked after school for Mr. Perry to pay for the one that Mr. Perry must have played in elementary school. It had been in his office window for years, but Carroll went in and asked, and Mr. Perry let him have it for a whole semester of after school work. Carroll had played it until it was his turn to go to war, and he was in basic training when I finally came into fifth grade and old enough to begin band, so I played his horn.
Alton played the trombone because the doctor thought it would help his problems with asthma. We both turned out to be pretty good and would always score within a quarter of a point of each other at contests. Alton was always a little better than me, but he let me win, because it meant more to me than it did to him, or at least, that was what he said.
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.
Debra Baird and Alton Wilson