A High School Homecoming...
The little Clique, made up of my former classmates who had been in charge back in High School, was elated. The very fact that he had bothered to respond at allto their invitation was considered to be quite a feather in their cap.
The E-mail sent from his office, no doubt by his Secretary, had simply read:
Tour schedule permitting, I'll try to make it home this year for our Class Reunion.
I found myself laughing at the irony of it all. These same people, who wouldn't have given him the time of day back when we were all classmates, now couldn't wait to flatter and fawn all over the guy if he did show up.
Okay... , I will admit—I did feel sort of happy, to receive a copy of that important e-mail from the brave little clique of Wantabe's. I guess they're hoping for a good turnout, I thought. Even after all these years, because of their thoughtless cruelty, I still felt a trace of bitterness.
Smokey Joe (I'm not going to tell you his real name), and I had one thing in common back then—we had both spent our high school years on the outside, looking in.
Smokey had transferred in from Butler High School in our junior year. I happened to meet him on his very first day at Eldridge High, when he stopped me in the hall to ask directions to the General Business class we were both taking that semester.
Sneaking a sideward glance at him, as he walked me to class, I could see he was good-looking, and quite tall, thin, and sort of awkward around girls. He's a sweet guy, I thought. He has such warm gentle eyes. I found myself liking him, right from the start.
I remember thinking... With his height, the Basketball Coach is going to be after him. I wondered if he would go out for the team.
My little basketball recruitment prediction came true even sooner than I expected. The way one of the other players told it, Coach Geiger called Smokey in the next day. The Coach had a reputation for being tough. No one had ever dared to say no to him.
"Yeah," Blake Warner said, filled with his own self-importance, "the Coach and I talked to him for a half an hour. He kept claiming he liked basketball, but he had to protect his fingers. I think he plays guitar or something. Anyway, the Coach is mad as hell about it."
"What's going to happen?" one of the other players asked.
"Well, I think the Coach is going to get Andy Burkett to call him in. I doubt he's going to say no if the School Principal asks him," he said, with a grin.
The Principal fouls out...
"What's this I hear, you don't want to go out for the basketball team, Smokey?"
"I'm sorry Sir, but I can't take a chance on jamming up my fingers."
"You know, Smokey, we don't often get a guy with your height. That's why we'd really like it, if you'd come out for the team."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Burkett, I like to play basketball, but I don't want to run the risk of injuring my hands."
"Did you know I played basketball against your Uncle Clifford back when I was in High School?" the Principal said, trying another tack.
"Yeah, Uncle Cliff mentioned that to me a while back. He said during a game against Greentown High, he fell down and was skidding along the floor. You come over and picked him up, dusted him off, and asked him if he was okay."
Principal Burkett nodded and laughed. In spite of his refusal, he felt there was something about this boy that was very special.
"You know, Smokey, I have to tell you. I have never known anyone with your last name that didn't play Sports."
The boy nodded, then with an apologetic laugh he said.
"Mr. Burkett, people who have my last name do one of two things. They go out for Sports or they play Music. I play guitar and sing. So, if you ever need someone to sing between Acts at the Junior or Senior Class Play—I'm your guy."
"Okay," Principal Burkett laughed, "You'd better go. I wouldn't want you to be late for your next class."
So... , that's how it went all the way through High School. Even during Smokey's and my Senior year, they didn't ask me to be on the school paper, or to help with the Senior Year Book or anything.
Because by then they could no longer deny his talent, they did grudgingly asked Smokey to cover the Music Department for our Year Book.
I'm sure no one who was there is ever likely to forget the night our new classmate, Smokey first stepped out onto our High School stage, to entertain between Acts at the Senior Class Play.
That night, he removed any doubt; that not only was he an excellent guitarist, but he had a warm vibrant voice that came across as pure as Spring Water.
After all these years, I have never forgotten the first few lyrics of the song he sang that night. Walking out on Stage with his guitar, he brought his guitar pick down across the strings, ripped out a single chord, then leaned into the microphone, and begin to sing.
"Well... , I went down to the River, Just to watch the fish swim by,
When I got to the River, so lonesome I wanted to cry,
Well, I jumped in that River,
But, the doggone river was dry...
When the School Paper came out that month, for once, they got something right—they called his performance electrifying!
I have to admit, like everyone else, I was dumbfounded. Who knew? After he finished that first old Hank William's number, the audience would not stop applauding.
After a bit, his hands on his hips, now completely at ease, he leaned into the microphone. Shaking his head, in mock exasperation, he laughed and said.
"Okay, Folks... ! Let's not overdo it... !"
Well, Smokey did two more numbers that night. I can't remember what they were. I just know he caused the Class Play to run longer than had been expected. I don't think any of the teachers or students ever expected him to be that good. As one of my other classmates sitting next to me in the audience said, "He's the Real Deal!"
Anyway, before I leave this part of the story I would like to talk about basketball one last time. Okay?
Near the end of our Senior year, the entire high school was called over to assemble in the Gym for some sort of a convocation. The Senior boys were out on the floor just finishing their class in Physical Education. Naturally... , all of us girls were watching. Near the end of the class, Coach Geiger decided to have them shoot free throws.
"Come on Smokey," he said, "Since you wouldn't come out for basketball, if you expect to get any kind of grade from me this semester, get out there and line up with the team. I want you to shoot a few baskets."
I remember the President of our Senior class, Maxie walked up to the free-throw line to shoot first. He hit his first two free throws, and then bounced one off the rim.
Ribbing him, Coach Geiger laughed and said. "And people wonder why we lost our first game at the Sectional Tournament this year."
"Okay, Smokey... ," he said, "You're next. Keep shooting baskets until you miss one. Then as an aside, in his usually sarcastic manner, he added," Why do I think we'll all be going home early?"
Smokey nodded. Then looking at Coach Geiger, he laughed. Stepping to the free throw line, he launched his first shot. It dropped through the basketball net without ever touching the rim.
Not getting the results, he had hoped for—and determined to prove that first shot was a fluke; Coach Geiger was determined to rattle him. After all, this was the guy, who in the Coach's words, "thinks he's too good to come out for the team."
"This guy can't stand success," he said, baiting him in a mocking tone of voice.
Smokey looked over at the Coach and smiled. Coach Geiger looked annoyed. Then Smokey bent to the task before him.
Ball after ball sailed through the basket. After about five free throws, the whole High School was with him. In total, —someone who was keeping track said—he scored 15 free throws before he finally laughed and threw a last one so crazy and erratic, that everyone laughed. They realized he had intended to miss. Retrieving the basketball, he tossed it to the Coach.
Walking away from the free-throw line, out toward mid court, he yelled back at Coach Geiger.
"Hey, Coach," he said, laughing, "How about letting me see if I can shoot one from out here?"
The Coach shook his head in disdain, and tossed the ball toward midcourt. It bounced a couple of times. On the second bounce, Smokey scooped it up. He leaped into the air, the basketball left those talented fingers in a high ark, sailing its course toward the basketball hoop at the far end of the gym.
Everyone held his or her breath, watching as it sailed serenely on. A moment later, it dropped, through the hoop without ever touching the rim.
Smokey laughed. Turning toward the Bleachers, filled with teachers and cheering students, he made a sweeping exaggerated bow. I'm not ashamed to say, I was the last one to stop applauding.