For the Springdale High School Class of 1989

Dear classmate:

I remember you.

You sat in the back of Algebra 2, doodling on the inside of your Trapper Keeper before the bell rang, laughing with your friends and talking about the next football game. You’d make bets on who’d be starting. You knew it would be you.

I’d see you outside the band hall studying or reading. You’d look up when I went by, too shy to say hi. I noticed you, though, when you’d play that French horn. That was how you expressed yourself back then. Nobody could ignore you when you made music.

I’d hear you practicing your solo for Harmony. When you sang, everyone stopped to listen.

I’d see you in the hallway with the other cheerleaders. You seemed happy, but I noticed how you held back just a bit. You smiled, but it didn’t always meet your eyes. Though you looked perfect, your life wasn’t, but that wasn’t your fault.

I’d see you waiting for the school bus, in clothes that didn’t quite fit and looked a bit too old. You never had a lunch, but were too embarrassed to take advantage of the free lunch provided, so you would just sit under the tree behind the cafeteria and read. You were a bit of a loner, but you were tough as nails.

I’d see you studying at the library. You always turned in every assignment on time. Your dreams were a bit larger than many, and you knew it would take work. You missed out on a lot of the fun, but knew it would be worth it.

I’d see you flirting with the girls between classes. You were hard to ignore in your letterman jacket, all 6’2 and pretty. You had the world in the palm of your hands. I’d see you making jokes with the other smart kids, jokes not everyone understood. We all knew you were destined to be on SNL one day. Or running the world.

I’d see you behind the gym smoking with your buddies. You didn’t care if you got caught or not. Bad girls never care. I admired how you weren’t afraid of anything.

I’d see you sneaking out with the seniors to go to lunch, even though you were just a sophomore. You prayed Coach wouldn’t catch you.

I’d see you listening to your Walkman in your own world. Was that Tears for Fears, or Sting? Was it Genesis or Bon Jovi? Whatever it was, you knew all the facts about the music, the bands. You were so cool without even trying.

I’d see you with your boyfriend, holding hands, stealing a kiss before Spanish. We all wondered if you would be together forever. I’d see you looking afraid to get in the car after school. I wondered if your parents were mean to you.

I’d see you crying at the dance. He dumped you for your best friend.

I’d see you asking her out for the first time, making it seem effortless, even though you practiced at home in front of your mirror for an hour before, while you put on a drop of your brother’s Polo.

I’d see you wanting to tell your parents you were gay, but being too afraid.

I’d see you in your Bible study group, praying at the flagpole, your hands clasping theirs. You were so sincere, and really had a heart for others.

I’d see you playing video games at the arcade at the mall. You always won. You’d make those quarters last for hours. You’d always know all the tricks.

I’d see you with your little brother, and how you took care of him without making a big deal of it.

I’d see you in your cowboy hat and torn up jeans that you didn’t buy that way. You were a real cowboy–not one for show. You were hoping to be in the Rodeo, and you needed to spend time roping to get there. The Skoal in your back pocket left a ring…and your mama didn’t like that.

Class of 1989: I see you now.

We’ve been through some things, haven’t we? Since 1989, we’ve seen 6 presidents, including a father and son, the first Black president, and the first woman of color vice president.

We watched the first Batman, and Indiana Jones, and Dead Poets Society. Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, all the Karate Kids.

We listened to George Michael, Guns and Roses, Cyndi Lauper. Journey, Van Halen, The Bangles. Randy Travis and George Strait, with all his Exes down in Texas.

We witnessed the horror of Columbine.

We cried when the Twin Towers fell. Many of us enlisted. Those who already were in the service of our country paid (and still pay) our debt.

We saw the Gulf War and Afghanistan.

We watched the Space Shuttle crash.

We wondered at the birth of the Internet and listened for that all-to-familiar AOL login sound.

We created our MySpace accounts and felt so cutting edge.

We cried at the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

We lost a bit of our childhood when Michael Jackson died.

Some of us have married, and are still married. Some of us didn’t quite find the love of our lives the first time, and tried again.

Some of us had children. Some of us have lost children.

We’ve all lost beloved classmates.

We’ve traveled and earned degrees or worked with our hands, creating.

We loved and were hurt and had our hearts broken by those near and far. Maybe we’ve broken a few ourselves.

We have endured through Covid-19: a virus so vile it is still with us over a year after we first learned of it. A virus that’s sole purpose was to kill us.

But oh, how we have lived.

Many of us will turn 50 this year, celebrating half a century on this earth. What a milestone! What we’ve seen together this 50 years!

What a privilege to have known you. What a place you have in my heart.

Class of 1989: I see you. I see you, because you are a part of my heart.

A Bicentennial Swing Set Birthday

I want to tell you something.

I want to tell you about how I’m turning 50 in a few weeks, and how I can’t stop thinking about my 5th birthday.

My parents bought me the most extravagant gift: a swing set. Here’s a picture of it, but I’m older here. That’s me on the left.

My mother was a waitress at Borden’s Cafeteria and dad was a factory worker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and money was so tight.

But I was turning five, and I’ll tell you I know without a doubt it was my dad who wanted to get it for me.

It was my birthday, but it was also our nation’s birthday: its bicentennial, so almost everything was set to theme. This swing set was GLORIOUS.

It had everything.

Red, white, and blue paint from top to bottom. It was all flags and eagles and I was HERE FOR IT.

There was seesaw swing (that would definitely be banned in 2021 because it’s NOT SAFE) to ride on with a friend. I had a few, including Erin who also was named Coleman, so we thought it made sense that one of us was adopted. I also had a friend named Jeremy, who held my hand when we walked to school in first grade, and thought that OF COURSE we would one day be married, because we both loved Scooby Doo and this is the bedrock of any successful marriage.

It has two regular swings with blue plastic seats and shiny silver chains connecting them to the top. I would swing as hard as I could, my stringy legs pumping furiously, and then at the highest point JUMP to my death, pretending to be Wonder Woman. I did not die, but I did knock the heels of my boots once I the fourth grade and they had to call my dad. Another story.

There was a basket swing that would set four kindergarteners like myself, and two older kids. Many picnics and serious discussions occurred on this swing. Also life plans, like being an extra on I Dream of Jeannie.

I can’t forget the most glorious slide that would suck in the heat of the Oklahoma sun and channel it into the fires of hell on my little tanned legs. That slide: how many times would I perilously perch at the top, pretending to be the Queen of all I surveyed? How many times would I barrel down its center? How many times would I try it head first to scare myself? I would even drag my wading pool over and submerge the bottom of the slide inside, trying to recreate a KOA pool experience, even going to the extreme of turning on the water hose and placing it on the top of the slide, so that it would feed a steady stream down the aluminum center. Also not safe, but this is why Gen-X’rs are fearless: because we faced certain death every day of our childhoods.

I think my dad thought I was too small to tip it but he was wrong. I was practicing my trapeze act when it happened. It flipped clean over and the top of it landed on my neck. I was still somehow fine and just needed a few extra cookies.

Even now, I picture the sun-washed yard that seemed to span acres but was probably just a postage stamp size in sepia tones. I remember the outside of the house itself only vaguely, but I do recall the yellow kitchen, maybe because it is in a few pictures in the dusty album. I remember the wallpaper with yellow daisies, and my birthday cake with Snoopy in his doghouse. My tiny grandma, only 4′ 11″, came to my house that day and I know she loved me, but now all these years later, I also know her secrets.

I was the only child then, and sometimes lonely, but happy. I remember my mom making gallons of sweet tea, putting cold water and tea bags into a rinsed out milk jug, setting it up on the top of the slide to slowly brew in the steamy summer sun. In the evenings, she’d take the tea bags out and add a cup of sugar, stirring until the little granules would mostly (but not completely) dissolve. That tea tasted like summer.

I was thinking about the swing set yesterday as I made sun tea and set it out on my son-in-law’s grill to brew in the steamy San Antonio sun. I was thinking about that birthday and this one. I was thinking about how that day was perfect, maybe because of everything I didn’t know then. It was before, way before, anything bad ever happened.

But that’s another memory and not one to associate with this one.

This is the swing set memory.