Les Walters, the best man in my wedding and fellow newspaperman, sent me this text a couple of weeks ago.
“CJs reunion gathering at 6 p.m. at Oh! Bryan’s on Saturday, July 28. Order off menu. Also serving up a lot of old stories. Come on!”
After graduating from college in 1984, I returned to the place where I grew up and started working for my hometown newspaper, The Hamilton (Ala.) Progress.
I’d been involved in just about everything in school.
So, as a young man just getting started in the business world, I had to stay involved. I had to give back to the community.
Les was a member of the CJs (not Jaycees), a men’s civic club. He invited me to a meeting. And the next thing I knew I was involved in efforts to help improve my hometown.
I think Les was the youngest member until I joined the group.
We had a lot of fun. But we worked hard and got a lot accomplished – a lot of good.
One of our biggest fund-raisers was the haunted house each October. Nobody put on a haunted house like the CJs.
And we relived a lot of those memories at the reunion this past Saturday night.
As the young guy, I typically ended up in the coffin.
I tried it in the first Haunted House I remember at the old Sugar Bend Schoolhouse.
“That was our best one ever,” one of the CJs said during our get-together.
It was definitely the best setting – an abandoned schoolhouse with classrooms and each room holding a different scare tactic.
The next year our haunted house was in a building downtown. I had pretty much graduated to the full-time dead person in the coffin.
Les told the story at the reunion of some teenage boys who came through and got a little rambunctious at the coffin. He successfully came to my defense, in what almost ended up being a big fight.
We had a hog’s head in the haunted house, a chainsaw and some snakes enclosed and protected by glass.
I guess rules and regulations were a bit more lenient back in the early 1980s.
“We made a lot of money off the haunted house,” one of the CJs said at the reunion, “but we didn’t make a lot of money off anything else.”
It was special indeed last weekend reuniting with the group of civic-minded men.
Les, who had written about the reunion in the paper he edits (The Journal-Record), said someone asked him, “Are y’all coming back?”
His quick answer was “no.”
At age 56, I was the youngest person at the reunion.
I looked around and there was a great group of guys surrounding me who I admired as a high school student and then was fortunate enough to join at age 23 in community projects.
The best of these projects had to be the Christmas for Kids project which serves needy children. The outstanding project continues in 2018.
Reunions are wonderful. We don’t have enough of them anymore.
“We need to do this every year,” two or three said as we left Saturday night.
Eighteen attended. The restaurant almost closed before we all left. The stories just kept coming. It was a special night with special people.