Sometimes I like Facebook. Sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I am grateful to it for keeping me plugged in with friends scattered all over the world. But on my birthday, I truly LOVE Facebook.
The birthday wishes, funny gifs, emojis and the old – and often embarrassing – pictures all make for great fun on your birthday. Yesterday, as I turned 67, a friend posted a collage of pictures from the “old” days that sent a wave of nostalgia and gratitude for my hometown.
Melanie Mathis Hatley posted a photo of our second-grade Brownie Scouts troop from our days at Lexington City School. There are 15 of us, all in our Brownie dresses and our Brownie beanie hats. Our troop leaders aren’t in the photo, but they were probably my mother and Norma Jones, Beth’s mother. I am not positive they started with us as Brownies, but they took us through most of our Girl Scout days.
I showed the photo to my husband and rattled off the names of everyone. He looked at me in astonishment. “How many of these girls do you still ‘know?’ he asked.
“What are you talking about?” I answered. “I still know all of them except Julia, because she moved away in like fifth or seventh grade, and I don’t know who Paulette married or where she is.”
I began spouting current-day facts I thought might bring it all into perspective. “Well, you know Sheree, of course. She was here not long ago. This is Melanie, who married John. Remember me talking about Elizabeth who lived down the street? This is her, and this is Liz; she lived a couple of blocks over. And you have heard me talk about Jenny, who keeps us all connected. This is Carolyn. She’s in California and had triplets. This is Charlotte, remember? We always stopped at their store on the way into Lexington?”
And on and on, as Neville just sat there, shaking his head.
“Do you even realize how remarkable this is?” he asked. “In this picture, there are 14 girls plus you when you were 7-years-old. You haven’t lived in your hometown since 1972, and here you are, 60 years later, and you know husbands and occupations of 12 of them!”
“And children and some grandchildren and whose parents are still living,” I added quietly.
As I thought about what my Knoxville-born-and-raised husband was saying, I began to see that it does probably sound remarkable – unless you grew up in a small town with a close-knit community. Some of the girls in the photo have known each other since birth. I was a late comer, having moved in when we all started kindergarten. We were together for 13 years. Some stayed in Lexington and still call it home. Others moved, and still call it home.
I said a prayer of gratitude for that. I’m thankful that I can talk about Mamaw Ward, Uncle Naughty and Uncle Beanie, and every one of these girls will have a memory and a picture in their head. I am thankful that they all remember Papaw Ward and Uncle Gib’s Gulf station, that they all bought gas there at one time or another and played in the icehouse. Before they got married, my mother helped most, if not all, of them pick out the china and crystal they would use for their new homes and saw to it that their engagement pictures got “good placement” in Flynn’s front window.
When you are 67, your life is full of memories: weddings, children, sports games, children’s weddings, grandchildren’s births and more and more and more.
For 13 years, however, life was pretty simple, and we lived every day of it in Lexington, Tennessee. We were all in it together. Those are the memories that bind us, as surely as do those more important ones that came later.
Here’s to the Brownies. I know we were quite a troop!
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.