Thursday, March 23, 2006
By Barry Burleson
Visit rekindles good friendships
For the first time in more than 20 years, I walked the halls of my high school Thursday.
A rare day off took me home to Hamilton, Ala.
I spent Wednesday night with my mom and then Thursday I drove to town to see some good friends.
My initial stop was the newspaper office. I know what youre thinking. You take a day off and you go to a newspaper office?
One of my best friends, Les Walters (who was best man in my wedding), is editor of The Journal-Record, the newspaper covering Marion County, Ala.
We talked and relived old times while some members of his staff faced deadlines for their weekend edition. They publish twice a week.
Les actually gave me my first newspaper job writing sports while I was in high school.
Then after graduation from the University of North Alabama, I worked with him two years full-time before making the move to Mississippi in 1986.
We particularly talked about the technology changes over the years involved with getting out the newspaper. I remember working all night on Tuesdays with Les and the rest of our staff, using the old Compugraphic machines. We designed the pages by hand, with scissors, wax, border tape and other such tools.
Les and I occasionally ran the newspaper delivery route together, too. He had a little Chevrolet truck. We liked to call it, S-10 in the wind.
I was a bit hesitant, but my next stop Thursday morning was Hamilton High School. I told Les I probably wouldnt know anyone there. Most of my teachers are no longer in the classrooms, with the exception of one of my all-time favorites, Charlotte Rich.
But as soon as I walked through the front doors I saw a familiar face, teacher Sheilah Wiginton. She recognized me, too.
She said, You have to go see Mrs. Rich.
I was concerned about interrupting Mrs. Richs class without checking in at the office with the principal or anything.
Go ahead, Mrs. Wiginton said. It will be fine.
Mrs. Rich, who teaches English, is in the same classroom she was 27 years ago. I knocked on the door. She did a double take from her desk.
Barry Burleson, she shouted, as she came to give me a hug.
Mrs. Rich has been battling cancer for several years. Shes a wonderful example of staying upbeat in adversity. Shes an inspiration.
It was a special visit, which lasted about 30 minutes in the hallway. We were later joined by principal Ronnie Miller (who moved to Hamilton after retirement in Mississippi). I had not met him but hes obviously doing a great job at my alma mater. The old building is undergoing some much-needed renovations.
Mrs. Rich updated me on a lot of my former classmates who still live in Hamilton. She reminded me of a letter I wrote one time in her class to the sports editor at The Birmingham News, inquiring about his work.
Barry, youre one a few students I remember who had a passion (journalism) in high school, stuck with it and succeeded, she said.
Before leaving, I walked down to the old gym, used now for physical education classes. I spent many, many hours there, practicing and playing for the Aggies. However, it was locked. The prom was set for the next night.
My next stop was at KFC. Little did I know I would end up spending a couple of hours there with owner and good friend James Dodd and another good buddy Bill Nowlin, who I had not seen in more than 20 years.
Our best memory is going to the Liberty Bowl in 1982 for Bear Bryants last game as coach.
Theres nothing like going home.
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