FIFTY-FOUR YEARS LATER
Clista Hunter and G.R. Hardin grew up on adjacent farms in Bolivar County, Mississippi. They could see each other’s houses just across some of the best “ice cream “cotton land this side of the Nile. They have been best friends since toddlerhood. The first classmate that I saw on a sleety winter morning in January of 1951 was a very pretty girl of ten as she descended from the first of the big yellow school buses pulling into the elementary school area in Cleveland.
This vision of pre-teen loveliness was wearing a blue padded jacket, jeans, pink cowboy boots and a woolen pullover cap with floppy ear flaps. She looked around with a fierce fire in her eyes and set her jaw in a determined clinch and dared the world to mess with her. Clista was one of the toughest kids in the fifth grade and someone you did not trifle with. Nothing has changed in the intervening sixty years.
I met G.R. Hardin the same day in my first gym class. G.R. was one of the rarest of ten year olds, just a basically really nice guy. He made me feel welcome and I have always had a soft spot in my heart for that kindness. Clista and G.R. are natural leaders, Clista because she takes no prisoners and cannot tolerate fools and G.R. because he is a caring, generous and loyal friend. We have a class reunion whenever Clista and G.R. decide they want to have one. All of this is to explain why we were celebrating our fifty-fourth year since graduation.
Clista married soon after high school graduation and left the Delta to be a corporate wife following her husband across the continent as his career blossomed. G.R. attended Mississippi State to major in agriculture and soon decided to actually farm full time rather than hear people tell him how to do it. He took over his family farm and over the next fifty years became one of the most successful and respected farmers in the Mississippi Delta. Clista and G.R. kept in touch with each other over the years and were part of the glue that has held the Cleveland High School Class of ’57 together.
The CHS Class of ’57 has demonstrated a tenacious determination to remain in contact with each other as well as a fierce sense of mutual caring that expresses itself in small and large acts of kindness to those in crisis or need. There is a real sense of belonging and loyalty that permeates the entire class. Many have moved from the Delta, never to return, but all make an effort to stay in touch. I am honored and humbled to be included in their ranks.
G.R. and his lovely wife, Barbara, have retired from active farming and G.R. devotes his time to restoring John Deere farm equipment and enjoying bluegrass music. Barbara devotes her time to keeping G.R. up and going. They built a recreational hall adjacent to their home and equipped it for family, church and community events. This wonderful facility was the site of our recent reunion in late October.
There were over thirty attendees from a class of around one hundred which was a pretty good turnout considering there’s going to be a fifty-fifth reunion next year and most folks like to celebrate on the five year intervals. We ate out a couple of times but mostly we hung around G.R.’s party barn and just visited. On Saturday afternoon, G.R. was cooking beef tenders, chicken and pork shoulder on his homemade portable BBQ rig that looks a lot like an old steam locomotive and is about the same size. I took a look around me and all of the nine guys sitting and talking were boys I had played football with starting in the seventh grade. We could have gotten up a spirited game of touch if we could handle the oxygen bottles and canes. Mike McCain and I offered our services to G.R. as quality control agents to assure that the beef tenders were palatable. They were the best I have ever tasted and we sampled generous portions in the line of duty.
When you gather a couple of dozen Delta girls and charge them with a pot luck dinner you can be assured that the resulting feast will be outstanding. We partook of G.R.’s grilled meats and the ladies home cooking on Friday night and ate the leftovers at noon on Saturday. Everything was delicious and the array of home baked desserts approached sinful. Everyone hugged and promised to be back next year for the fifty-fifth and I hope we are all still here to attend.