I have this vivid memory of attending a high school pep rally in downtown Russellville, Alabama, my hometown, on a sweltering summer evening in the late summer of 1976.
Americans were still reveling in the afterglow of that summer’s July 4th Bicentennial celebration.
It was a week away from the football season opener. A short, lively, determined and slightly, pugnacious man named Clint Floyd was the Russellville High School Golden Tiger’s head football coach at the time. Sadly, as the season’s final record ultimately demonstrated, all this decent man’s earnest and meticulous planning and coaching turned out to be tragically flawed and ill-fated, but that came later and is an entirely different story.
After the rally I ended up sitting with a few friends on the front steps of First United Methodist Church and watching the passing of the Friday night traffic. This was at a time when main street cruising, a pastime popularized by the hit 1973 movie “American Graffiti, had reached its zenith.
After a half hour or so, I noticed that my Mom had parked at the corner across the street and was yelling for me to come see her. (I was only a week or so away from beginning my sophomore year at RHS, and I was still too young to apply for my driver’s license.)
As I was crossing the street, I heard my name being called in a sweet, very feminine Southern drawl.
I looked up and noticed an older girl – an RHS senior – actually, not just any older girl but one on whom I had a major, all-consuming and profoundly awkward crush. I won’t describe her, for fear that she would be instantly outed. Suffice it to say that she was the most appealing and heavenly creature on whom I had ever laid my eyes – or so it seemed at the time. Seriously, folks, it was that all-consuming an infatuation.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
Thoroughly befuddled and practically speechless over her attention, I couldn’t summon any response other than to say, “I’m going to see my Mom.”
The light then turned green. She gave me this sort of clueless look and drove away. Seconds later as I completed may trek across Main Street, the thought occurred to me that she may have been in the process of asking me to cruise with her. By the time I reached my mother, I was slapping myself in the forehead, exclaiming to myself: “YOU…STUPID…STUPID…IDIOT!!!!”
I often reflect on how fortunate I was to have grown up in that town and to have experienced a Norman Rockwell/American Graffiti childhood.
That botched pickup from 40-plus years ago – at least, that is what I’m still hoping that it was after this incredibly long stretch of time – turned out to be one of those countless formative, but thankfully harmless and humorous, experiences for a clueless, teenage boy in small Southern town.
It’s one of those memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.