The year was 1971 and I was in the 11th grade. That meant, given the fact that there was no kindergarten back in those days, I had been going to school thirteen years and graduation was most likely less than a lustrum (five years) away if I could ever pass trigonometry. Ah the memories of those days are rich and plentiful.
There are very few things I can recall from my high school years more poignant than gatherings under a huge oak tree on our campus. That tree was monstrous in size and loftier yet in symbolism. It was a place where dreams were first spoken out loud, where buddies learned about the birds and bees, and it was the primary location for asking a girl out on a date because of its intrinsic value as a romantic setting.
The only recollections from those years that might rank higher from an emotional standpoint were my beloved ’67 Mustang, a date with the prettiest girl in school, a twenty point game in basketball, scoring a direct hit with a spitball on my romantic arch-rival without him knowing about it, and making 70 in trig. There may have been a few others but the tree was still up there relatively speaking.
Even though we spent many hours under the big oak, experienced many rites of passage there and even though many eventful things took place on that sacred spot, one incident remains at the epicenter of my remembrances. Unfortunately it had nothing to do with dreams, dates, or passing that hard math course.
No sir. The most memorable incident that took place under that tree was was an accident and I will swear under oath to this day that I had nothing, or at least very little to do with it.
It was kind of a boring day at the school house and a group of guys were milling around under the great tree during lunch time. Someone, though not me, got the bright idea to try to swing from one of the lower hanging limbs and since no one was able to jump up and latch on we boosted one of our buddies up so he could get a hold. It was a big branch but not too big to hang on. It is also worth mentioning that the tree was in its prime and therefore had a considerable amount of elasticity to it.
After our companion had hung there a minute we (they) decided to pull on his legs and bounce him up and down a little. That tugging actually led to a full-fledged pull down as our chum held gamely on and the green limb began to arch downward into a highly coiled position. Then without warning everyone let go simultaneously and our boy was shot up into the upper reaches of the legendary oak. When he finally reappeared he was in the nose dive position and tried to break his fall with his hands.
I along with my friends didn’t really get a good look at the actual landing because by the time he came back to earth we were all on the steps of the auditorium trying to appear innocent. I’m sure we looked like a spooked covey of quail as we took flight. I was leading that hasty retreat primarily because the girl I was dating happened to be the principal’s daughter. I knew that among other punishments I would never darken the door of their house again if it was discovered that I was among the semi-guilty.
I assume that trying to break the fall with his arms didn’t work very well because he showed up at school the next day looking like the witness in the movie Walking Tall. Both arms were in a full cast and extended away from his body at a ninety degree angle. He never ratted on anyone and as explained earlier I wasn’t really involved except maybe as a cheerleader goading the boys to pull the limb down as far as possible.
Alas, a storm actually toppled the big oak last year and with it went the memories of several generations of high school students.
But I remember it well. It was 1971 the year I passed trigonometry, wrecked my Mustang, had one more date with the prettiest girl in school and was questioned intensely by the school principal over an incident involving an airborne student.
If that tree were still standing I’d tie a yellow ribbon around it.