EHS graduate returns for reunion, looks back at the past, changes

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017

To the editor:
I’m back in East Tennessee for my 60th high school class reunion. Elizabethton High School.
The world has changed since we graduated in 1957. And so have we, and our home town. In 1957 Dwight Eisenhower was president, Elvis Presley was hot, American Bandstand with Dick Clark was cool and Gunsmoke was the number one TV show.
I live in Minnesota so only visit with my classmates at occasional reunions. It is difficult at times to remember who everyone is because sixty years of life has changed us — we are grayer (or balder), heavier, and even shorter. But our personalities have pretty much stayed the same — the serious or quite are still serious and quite, the jokesters are still telling jokes (sometime the same ones from 1957), and the leaders are still leading. The voices are unchanged, including that beautiful East Tennessee accent.
At our pizza party last night there was lots of “tell me what you ……” conversations. There was laughter because we are all old enough to find humor in our chaotic world. And some sadnesses as we heard about the bad hands that were dealt to some of our group — deaths, illnesses, and other disappointments.
History is not very popular today as we seem to be either trying to rewrite it, ignore it or destroy it. The beauty of a reunion is that it brings together people who enjoy their shared history: In this case growing up and twelve years of taking classes together. My classmates are real people who know who they are and are generally satisfied with the lives they have constructed for themselves and their families. They are not the people I see on the 6 o’clock news each night, who are in states of perpetually being offended by something. I think part of the reason is the culture we grew up in — hill country culture. Faith in something greater than ourselves, being responsible and honest, and being independent but inclusive. East Tennessee is a good place to be a child and become an adult.
In visiting our town of Elizabethton, I noted that just like my classmates it had changed. The personality was still there but it too looked different. All the corner drugstores and hardware stores were gone. The “big” stores had moved out to a mall where the rayon plants used to be. Main Street was mostly small stores, which if they are lucky could become big stores and move out to the mall. But the town still appears prosperous. And, they still name the streets after the letters of the alphabet: D, E, F and G.
The churches are still there in abundance and unchanged since we were kids. Faith was very important in our community in 1957 and appears to still be important. Considering this, it was perplexing to see that one of the largest buildings in town is the Detention Center!
There are very few bars! When I grew up Carter County was a dry county, so this is a change.
The house I grew up in has long ago been replaced and the mill race that ran along our yard has been filled in. Countless hours were spent in the race catching crawfish, building dams and sailing homemade boats. I feel for the kids in the neighborhood who will never experience that. A video game cannot replace those experiences.
On the way I drove through Happy Valley. There had to be a lot of joy there to warrant such a name. I stopped at Milligan College where I used to take piano lessons and where I participated in my only recital. It was not a good experience and never to be repeated!
Tonight is the final event of this reunion. We will remember those who have died, celebrate our nearly 80 years of living, and look forward to the 61st reunion.
I am lucky to have grown up in Elizabethton.

Lowell J. Anderson, D.Sc., FAPhA, FFIP
Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems
Senior Fellow, Center for Leading Health-care Change
College of Pharmacy
University of Minnesota

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