Updated: Nov 30, 2022
November 2022 - This past weekend, Marcee and I had the opportunity to go to the reunion of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, TN. Over fifty years ago, I had fallen off the turnip truck in Cookeville from another small town in Tennessee. I was scared and feeling very much out of my element. I pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity in 1971 and was a member until I graduated in 1974. Marcee had been a Kappa Sigma "Little Sister” for several of those years. Neither of us had seen many of these folks since 1974. We were both excited (and a little nervous) to see everyone.
I don't mind admitting that I was a little reluctant to make the trip. It had been a long time and people and things do change. I was concerned that I might be setting myself up for a disappointment. I had wonderful memories of those years in the fraternity, and I did not want anything to detract from them. Sometimes old memories are best left as just that–memories. After spending five hours traveling from North Carolina, we arrived at our 'ole Alma Mater–"Yah Rah". We slowly walked into a room of older men at the local Holiday Inn; most of whom I did not recognize. Without the help of name tags boasting our college photos, the process of identifying these old friends would have been nearly impossible. But the sounds . . . the sounds were unmistakable. I closed my eyes and heard the familiar voices of young men. Voices that had been lost to my memory for many, many years. Voices full of excitement as stories were swapped, exaggerated, and embellished. Whatever hesitation I had experienced in coming to the reunion melted away.
Shortly after arriving, one of my pledge brothers from 1971 (Andy) found me and said that he had something for me. He ran out to his car and brought back an album that he had borrowed many years ago. He had carried it with him for the last fifty years (through five moves), so he could return it to me one day.
I looked at the very early bootlegged recording of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. I was floored. "You kept this for fifty years?" I asked. "Are you sure you borrowed it from me?"
"Oh, I’m sure. I told you I would get it back to you. I just did not think it would take this long!” he smiled.
More than being thrilled to get back my copy of this rare album, I was struck by Andy's commitment. He said he would return it and he did. How many times would I have said, "Oh well. It's been too long now, " and thrown it back in a corner somewhere?
And that was the beauty of this weekend. Having an opportunity to spend time with many of the people that helped to shape my life. Brothers that you could count on. Brothers that you would go "to bat for" and those that would "go to bat" for you. Brothers that always had your back regardless of whatever the current situation was. Some of them became lifelong friends. Some were friends that I might occasionally reach out to, but all of them were the characters of stories that I had passed along to my kids for over thirty years. They were not only "larger than life" in my stories, but they were truly larger than life in life in my life.
My sense of humor and the way I phrase things are directly related to three brothers John, Jim, and Clare. My love of caving, fear of caving, and the ultimate swearing off caving forever came from David, Tom, Dan, Mike, and others. I learned so much about leadership within a peer group from Lane, Fred, and Paul. I learned a lot about cars, music, girls, bad food, and communal living at its best and worst. While I am sure that I learned something from my limited time in class, most, if not all the important life lessons were learned at 525 North Walnut Street. I learned what it was like to be at the bottom of the social totem pole and to have to find my place within an organization. Pledges were expected to put up with a lot of grief from the brothers. However, it was important to remember your own feelings from those days and treat the younger brothers with respect as they found their places in the fraternity. And . . . if you didn't, there were always plenty of older brothers to help you to remember. I learned a lot of those lessons of respect from Bob, Barry, Ben, and so many others. I also had to learn that there were consequences to all your actions (I will not mention the names of any mentors in this area). Plus, I can still recite the Greek alphabet in less than 10 seconds while being dropped into a vat of ice water. That talent is not all that useful these days–but I can still do it!
Some of my happiest moments in life were watching black and white horror movies (affectionately referred to as “spider gump” movies) on Saturday nights. After returning our dates to their dorms, we would usually gather in the TV room surrounded by empty pizza boxes, Scottie hamburger bags, and an occasional beer can. With no money left from the weekend, there was nothing left to do but tell stories, laugh, and watch TV.
There are too many lost memories and too many years past to remember all the names and brothers that played such a large role in shaping my future and the future of so many others.
So, for those of us still living . . . and those of us who were healthy enough/close enough to make the trip, we met this past Saturday in a small town in Tennessee that became our home for four years (longer in some cases!). Sometime after entering the meeting room that morning at the Holiday Inn, many of us transitioned, for a while, to the 18 year old version of ourselves. We reminisced by telling story after story as if the events had taken place yesterday.
The next morning, we ate breakfast with two of our lifelong friends (Fred and Judy - President and Sweetheart). It was time to head home. I pulled onto I-40 East with a lot of renewed memories (and a new/old album). The return of the album was incredible, but my return to the the early 1970's was priceless.
They say you can never go home again and, for the most part, you can't . But it sure is fun to drop in now and again for a visit. (I am listening to James and Joni as I finish up this blog.)